With so much on offer in South Africa, it can get a little daunting when deciding what to do and what is right for you.
Safaris in South Africa have something to offer to everyone – experience the adventure of budget camping or the opulence of luxury camping safaris.
When choosing your safari experience, it is important to know all the options so you can make an informative decision. Trips can be tailor made according to your travel preferences, the time of year, what you want to see, and your budget.
Remember that many of these multiple safari options are available in the same areas and parks, and that what differs is generally the accommodation facilities offered and the guiding experience; not the actual wildlife and the scenery that you will see.
A self-drive budget safari traveller can see the very lion pride that a luxury safari traveller can. What differs is the experience with that sighting.
Guided or going it alone?
Game drives are often the most important part of a wildlife safari. Travellers will ultimately travel to South Africa to see the wildlife, so it is important to know what to expect. There are several types of standard game drives to fit any budget.
While some options may seem cheaper at first glance, the add on costs once you arrive can add up, making it a more expensive option in the long run. It is important to consider the experience in its entirety as the age old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
With a do it yourself safari you are able to choose the types and duration of the game drives you go on. These safaris take place in the national parks across South Africa where you purchase a permit to enter the park and self drive through to spot wildlife. This certainly appears the most cost effective way to safari. You can purchase day passes to enter and leave the park in the same day, multi-day passes and stay in the rest camps in the park or even purchase multiple entry passes (known as the WildCard) for those who wish to visit a number of times across the year.
There are a number of rules and regulations that need to be followed when in these national parks. As a self-drive safari traveller, you are responsible for your own safety and that of the wildlife. There are no options to go off road which sometimes means having to spot wildlife from a distance.
Without a trained guide and tracker, you often lose the vital knowledge of how to access or find the animal quickly and the explanation of what you are witnessing and experiencing. It takes a good guidebook or previous research to know what you are spotting.
South African National Parks website SanParks is a wealth of information for those looking to self safari – https://www.sanparks.org/
While you can still self safari through the parks and book a guided safari for select times, a guided safari is mostly set and controlled by the lodge or camp you are staying at.
There are pros and cons to a guided safari in a private wildlife reserve. These guided safaris come with a higher price tag, more comfort and luxury which can often take away from the raw, rough camping experience.
The perks however far outweigh these cons. It offers incredibly close proximity to wildlife. Not only do you avoid long drives before your safari starts, as the action is right there, the wildlife can come right up to your bedroom door.
There are fewer crowds. Safari jeeps on a private reserve may hold only six people compared to a dozen or more in big parks, guides will be able to give you individual attention and when, say, a pride with lion cubs is spotted, there will not be a feeding frenzy of jeeps.
At a private reserve,you can easily create your own menu of activities, such as guided walks through the bush or tours that focus on particular species.
Most important is the experience and knowledge of the guides and trackers. They will know the area well and the wildlife even better. The information they can give about the wildlife and their behaviours far outweighs anything you can read in a guidebook. Often, these guides will also be avid photographers so they will know how to place the vehicle for optimal photograph opportunities.
What to expect on a game drive
Game drives can be long, hot, dusty and bumpy, but are great fun. Most game drives avoid the heat of the day when many of the animals are sheltering from the sun and it is generally recognised that early morning and late afternoon game drives provide the best opportunities for game viewing, but as the animals go where and when they want, this is not always true.
Early Morning Game Drive
An Early Morning Game Drive starts just before dawn at around 6 am and normally finishes by 8:30 am when you return for breakfast. Virtually all lodges and camps will have tea, coffee and biscuits etc. available from around 5:30 am, so you can partake of a little light refreshment before you go.
Morning Game Drive
A Morning Game Drive usually starts after breakfast at around 7:30 am and finishes in time for lunch at around 12:30.
Late Morning Game Drive
A Late Morning Game Drive is usually done in tandem with an Early Morning Game Drive and starts between 10 and 11 am, returning for lunch at around 12:30.
Afternoon Game Drive
An Afternoon Game Drive usually starts around 4 pm, returning before dark between 6 pm and 6:30 pm.
En-Route Game Drive
An En-Route Game Drive usually takes place in the morning or late afternoon and as the name suggests, is performed en-route to a lodge or camp etc. The duration can vary wildly depending upon the journey undertaken, and can even be just the short drive from the lodge or camp to the park exit and vice versa.
All Day Game Drive
An All Day Game Drive, as the name suggests, effectively lasts all day and usually a packed lunch is provided. They normally start after breakfast at around 7:30 am and return before dark between 6 pm and 6:30 pm. They are usually done in large parks/reserves where you cover long distances, or in the case of the Ngorongoro Crater, to avoid dual entry fees.
A night drive can be a completely different experience to the day drives as the nocturnal animals become active. This is also a time when man animals begin to hunt. Sometimes, lodges will organise a bush dinner, set up in the bush for a truly incredible experience dining under the stars.