To experience animals in their natural habitat, not confined by cages or domesticated via human interaction is something that everyone should try to achieve in their lifetime. Safari appears on many people’s “bucket lists” but is largely unattainable due to the (expected) sky high costs.
While planning our recent trip to South Africa, we almost never made it to Kruger National Park given that is is on the opposite side of the country to the rest of our plans (Cape Town and the Garden Route). In the end, we decided that it would be silly to fly that far (UK to South Africa) and not tick off a bucket list experience.
RELATED: You can view the rest of my African bucket list here!
Re-jigging our itinerary to include Kruger was an overwhelming experience, there are so many options, so many choices and so many people giving their opinion on the “right” or “wrong” way to experience this magical land. It goes without saying that the prices of some options were also terrifying – so the aim of this post is to de-bunk the myths of Kruger safaris and help you plan a trip within YOUR budget.
The bird in the photo below is basically me whispering into your ear, spreading the secrets of “cheap” safaris…
We flew into Johannesburg O.T International Airport and began our trip to Kruger from here. This is what many people that we met along the way were also doing, so for the purposes of this guide, I have assumed that you will be doing the same (but of course, Kruger is accessible from other South African cities and even other neighbouring countries!)
We spent 4 days in the Johannesburg/Kruger area, with the first and last days being mainly driving days and the middle two days being filled with game drives. Obviously, the time that you spend in Kruger will increase/decrease the price as appropriate!
Costs are shown in South African Rand (ZAR) and where we actually incurred these costs, I have shown the GBP figure incurred on our credit card statements (September/October 2017), otherwise the prices have been converted using the approximate exchange rate of October 2017 (0.056).
HOW TO GET THERE
£ Drive from Johannesburg O.T Airport
Without a doubt, the cheapest way of getting to Kruger National Park (KNP) is to drive from Johannesburg O.T Airport. Car hire is cheap in South Africa and we weren’t charged any surcharge for being below the age of 25 (which is always good)!
Road conditions from the airport to Kruger are fantastic and there are plenty of places to top up your petrol or grab a bite to eat (although we did find that these places were closer to Kruger than the airport, so on the return journey, make sure you re-fuel early!
The journey is easy as the entire journey is a straight line but it is long. Kruger is larger than many European countries and therefore the length of the journey will depend on where you are staying within the park. We were driving to Crocodile Gate which took around 4 and a half hours. Make sure you have plenty of snacks, a good playlist and maybe a few podcasts to keep you going!
Our total car hire costs were R1,140.99 (approximately £73). We rented a brand new Ford Fiesta from Bidvest Car Rentals (booked through Drive South Africa) and this price included hiring a GPS, registering a second driver (even though I ended up doing none of the driving!) and the usual car hire costs such as topping up petrol when you return. We also spent R491.50 on filling up with petrol (approximately £27).
Our total costs = R1,632.49 (approximately £100 per car = £50 per person).
££ Baz Bus
Baz Bus is a South African backpacker’s dream! If you aren’t comfortable driving from Johannesburg to Kruger by yourself (I certainly wouldn’t be if I wasn’t travelling with Callum as I HATE driving), the Baz Bus 4 Day Kruger Park Safari Tour is certainly a good alternative!
The price for this option can’t be directly compared to the other journey options given the fact that the Baz Bus tour also includes open vehicle game drives, meals as specified in the detailed itinerary and accommodation in permanent erected 2-person dome tents for the duration of the trip.
Advantages of this option obviously include having everything planned for you and meeting lots of new people, however if you enjoy the freedom of exploring at your own pace and making your own decisions, maybe this isn’t the right choice for you.
Total cost = R8,000 (approximately £445 per person).
£££ Fly to Kruger National Park
If the 4.5+ hour drive to Kruger is too much for you to handle, there are regular flights leaving Johannesburg to three Kruger-serving airports. Depending on the area of Kruger that you are visiting, the airports you need are as follows:
- Northern Kruger Park: Phalaborwa Airpor
- Central Kruger Park: Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport
- Southern Kruger Park: Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
We had the option of flying from Johannesburg to Nelspruit but at approximately R2700/£150 – R3600/£200 per person for a return flight (50 minutes each way), it didn’t seem worth it to us. Especially as we would have had to wait in Johannesburg for a few hours between flights meaning the flying/waiting time would have been equal to the driving time!
Once you arrive at your chosen airport, you will need to hire a car to take you to the park (Nelspruit is approximately a 1.5 hour drive to Crocodile Bridge Gate). The costs of which would have been largely the same as in option 1 (with less petrol usage – therefore estimated R1,140.99 per car (approximately £73 per car or £36 per person).
Alternatively, our accommodation offered a transfer for R400 per person from the airport (approximately £23)
Total costs would therefore be R3,100-R4,170 per person (approximately £173-£236 per person).
£ SAN Parks Lodging
South Africa National Parks (SAN Parks) have an incredible range of accommodation located in the heart of each of their national parks.
This is originally the accommodation that we tried to book but availability was seriously low (at the time, we didn’t know that we would be visiting the park on a South African public holiday). I would advise that if you want to take advantage of these cheap and cheerful lodgings, you book at least 6 months in advance.
There are 12 main rest camps in Kruger National Park and the two which were of interest to us (due to their location in proximity to Johannesburg) were Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp and Lower Sabie Rest Camp.
There are lots of different choices of accommodation within the rest camps including a patch of land to pitch your tent, “safari tents” which are permanent basic buildings, adorable little bungalows fully kitted out with kitchen facilities for two people and larger guest houses for bigger groups. Prices vary depending on the type of accommodation, the number of people staying in the property and the rest camp chosen.
We entered Lower Sabie Rest camp a few times to use their toilets/restaurant facilities and would have been more than happy to stay here!
Rates for Lower Sabie Rest Camp can be seen here and vary from R305-R2,320 per night for 2 people (approximately £16-£128 for two people or £8-£64 per person).
££ Off-Site Mid-Range Lodges
With the SAN Parks accommodation fully booked, we panicked thinking that there were no other affordable options. Various google searches showed results that would a) give me a heart attack and b) bankrupt me beyond belief.
Then I turned to my trusty Booking.com to see if there were ANY alternatives – it turns out there is! We settled for Crocodile Kruger Safari Lodge which is located in Marloth Park (a quick 10 minute drive South of Crocodile Bridge Gate to Kruger National Park).
Our booking included both breakfast and dinner every day (both of which were absolutely gorgeous) and we were very happy with our choice!
The lodge was absolutely stunning and really felt like a “safari lodge” but without the hefty price tag!
In September 2017, we paid R2240 per night for 2 people (approximately £124 per night for 2 people or £62 per person).
£££ Luxury Private Reserves
I am a member of many travel groups on Facebook and the number of people that think luxury private reserves are the ONLY option when booking a safari is unbelievable. With safari being a bucket-list luxury, prices can be hiked accordingly (and in many instances, extortionately).
My lovely fellow travel blogger Lucy recently had the opportunity to stay at a luxury private reserve called Klaserie Sands and boy did it look gorgeous! There are plenty of these private reserves available throughout safari destinations in Africa and a quick google will help you find the lodge of your dreams.
Prices at Klaserie Sands are currently R10,200 for two people per night (approximately £566 for two people or £283 for one person).
£ Self Drive
The cheapest way to view the animals is to self-drive around the park. If you are on a strict budget, this is without a doubt the best way to view the animals. You don’t need a 4×4 to access the park but be warned that the roads do get quite bumpy!
The downside to self-driving is that you don’t have the knowledge and expertise of an experienced guide and being in a car (which is much lower than a safari jeep) means that the animals are often harder to spot as you may not be able to see over bushes/plant life. On the plus side, you can spend your time exactly as you wish.
Self-drive is as expensive as you decide to make it – Free! (Other than petrol)
££ Guided Drive
With only two full days to explore Kruger, we decided to splash out and join guided game drives (despite the fact that we had a car). Our accommodation (Crocodile Kruger Safari Lodge) arranged the game drives for us using their trusted guide (Solomon – you’re the best!) and they were AMAZING.
I would highly recommend doing a guided drive if it is within your budget. Safari guides are very talented at spotting wildlife (you don’t realise how well camouflaged animals truly are until you see them in their natural habitat) and know the best spots to see certain creatures.
Our accommodation charged us R670 for a full game drive plus conservation fees of R306 for each day. This price was applicable whether you did a full day (around 5am to 5pm) or a half day (times dependent on availability).
The total cost for a full days game drive would therefore be R976 per day per person (approximately £54).
SUMMARY OF OUR COSTS & VERDICT
|Total||Per Person||Total||Per Person|
|Car Rental + petrol||R1,632.49||R816.25||£100.00||£50.00|
|3 x nights accommodation & food||R6,720.00||R3,360.00||£372.00||£186.00|
|2 x full day game drives||R3,904.00||R1,952.00||£215.00||£107.50|
£343.50 for a once in a life time’s experience – was it worth it? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY.
Of course, that price is still out of reach for many people, but remember, you could make it much cheaper! Pitch a tent in the SAN Parks accommodation to ensure you’re not wasting money on a hotel you won’t spend much time in and self-drive to save on guide fees.
We did debate doing the Baz Bus 4 Day Kruger Park Safari Tour and if I was travelling on my own, this definitely would have been my choice. However, when travelling as a couple, it was cheaper for us to drive ourselves, stay in a mid range lodge and pay for guides (£343.50) vs pay for a tour (£445). The tour does look truly great however and takes you to some other points of interest during the driving days such as Blyde River Canyon (which looks amazing).
I also feel that our accommodation was incredible and I’m glad that we didn’t pay another £100 for the Baz Bus tour to sacrifice our gorgeous lodge for camping.
Have you ever been on a safari? Was it as expensive as you thought?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.