After having lived a first memorable safari experience in Uganda, I really wanted to go on safari as soon as possible, this time as a couple. And since Monsieur had never been on a safari and didn’t feel comfortable enough to head straight to a destination as off the beaten track as Uganda, we chose South Africa for our couples safari. . And what a great idea it was, since these two weeks in South Africa will have been quite simply one of the best trips of my life!
South Africa, it is large animal reserves, wonderful landscapes, easy communication thanks to English, well-developed tourist infrastructures adapted to all budgets, and the possibility of experiencing a high-end safari with much better value for money than in other destinations.
In this article, I come back to the different stages of this dream trip, which took us from the Kruger to Cape Town, with a quick passage through the small state of Swaziland (Eswatini), and an unforgettable train journey with Rovos Rail …
SOME TIPS TO PREPARE YOUR TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA
Before coming back to our itinerary, here are some practical tips to help you prepare for your safari trip to South Africa.
SECURITY IN SOUTH AFRICA
This is the main question we ask ourselves before leaving for South Africa. Personally, I had heard a lot of dirty stories about security in South Africa, so we left with a little apprehension at that level … And indeed, we do not hide it from you, the risk linked to corruption and social inequalities remaining very present in the country exist. Moreover, it was not missed, we were the victim of police corruption on the way back to Johnannesburg airport. We almost missed our flight but luckily, it ended well and that did not prevent us (with a little hindsight of course) from having very fond memories of this trip!
In short, I advise you to remain vigilant wherever you are and in particular around Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as in certain areas of Cape Town. And just in case, try to take as few valuable things as possible with you… On the other hand, once you are on a safari in a game reserve, there is no real risk – other than an unfortunate encounter with a Big 5. Elephants are said to be killing people on South African roads every year, so always keep your distance, especially when facing male elephants in musth (in heat) and never turn off your engine when in self- drive! Also know that in large parks like the Kruger your car insurance will not cover you if you have an unhappy encounter …
WHEN TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA?
It depends, as I already told you in detail in my article on the Kruger. In summary, during the austral winter (our summer), the temperatures are pleasant, we can see the animals more easily and the accommodation prices drop, while during the austral summer (our winter), it is hotter and humid. , accommodation prices can increase quite a bit, especially during the winter holidays, and you have to look for animals a little more, but on the other hand, it is the right time to see baby animals.
FORMALITIES AND HEALTH
To be able to return to South Africa, you simply need to be in possession of a passport valid for at least 30 days after your return and have proof of your return (plane ticket or other). The tourist visa, valid for 3 months, is issued free of charge upon your arrival in South Africa.
There is no compulsory vaccine in South Africa but be up to date with your general vaccines, in particular the tetanus vaccine, but be careful not to forget to take treatment against malaria / malaria if you plan to go in one of the affected areas (the Kruger is one of them).
In safari, it is of course important to have good photo equipment and in particular a fairly powerful zoom. Here is the equipment I had during this trip:
Since several of you have asked me the question, all the photos of this safari were taken with this equipment:
- Olympus OM-D EM-10 Mark II
- Panasonic Leica telephoto lens (compatible with Olympus therefore) DG 100-400mm f / 4-6.3 – just perfect for me!
- and a UV filter to protect the camera lens
THE BUDGET FOR A SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA
As I told you above, what I found rather cool in South Africa is that there is really a way to go on a safari whatever your budget (which was more difficult in Uganda) because for for smaller budgets there are hostel type accommodation and it is possible to drive yourself in most animal reserves. By cons, by putting a little more budget, we can say that we really get what we pay for. Granted, some lodges and experiences aren’t cheap, but I’ve found them to be still worth their price. And the fact of having such a diversity of prices in terms of accommodation allows, for example, to really enjoy yourself with a few nights in luxury lodges (or luxury train) and compensate with other accommodation.
For comparison, the budget for this 2-week safari in South Africa was similar to that for my one-week safari in Uganda, while the experience was clearly more luxurious in South Africa since it included 2 nights in the most beautiful accommodation I have ever stayed in as well as a 3-day trip on the Rovos, considered the most luxurious train in the world (and a truly unique experience!). Also, don’t forget that the price of high-end / luxury lodges often includes full board and 2 game drives per day, whereas in a simpler bed & breakfast lodge the additional costs add up quickly.
MEANS OF TRANSPORT
If you plan to visit several parts of South Africa (which I recommend), a rental car is almost essential. During this trip, we combined 3 car rentals, a domestic flight and a train ride.
Driving in South Africa is not particularly complicated, you just have to watch out for potholes in the roads in some areas and always watch out for wild animals that may cross. However, be careful not to leave anything in the passenger compartment of your car.
There is no network everywhere in South Africa but if you want to stay connected to a minimum, it is possible to get a SIM card when arriving at the airport (the most interesting is the Vodacom tourist package ) . Also check that your mobile package does not include South Africa (at Orange in Belgium the country is included in the “Best Destinations” package).
The Wild Card is a pass that gives you unlimited access for one year to the national parks of South Africa and Swaziland. If you are planning a safari itinerary similar to ours, this card pays for itself very quickly! It must be ordered on the internet before your departure.
OUR 2 WEEK ITINERARY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Here is the general recap of our 2 week itinerary (good, rather 18 days including trips to be exact) in South Africa and Swaziland. You will find there the links to my detailed articles devoted to each stage of this journey.
DAY 1: BRUSSELS / PARIS – JOHANNESBURG
The first day, we left by train from Brussels then took a flight from Paris to Johannesburg (the Air France train-plane formula is very practical because it allows you to check your luggage directly at the Midi station in Brussels. , so when you arrive at CDG you can go directly to the boarding gate!).
DAY 2: JOHANNESBURG – GRASKOP
After an overnight flight, we arrived in the morning at Johannesburg airport and collected our rental car. Then, a long drive to Graskop, the gateway to Blyde River Canyon.
Hotel: 1 night at B&B A Pilgrim’s Rest in Graskop, a superb little bed & breakfast in an English colonial style (one of the best value for money I have ever seen!).
DAY 3: GRASKOP – BLYDE RIVER CANYON – KRUGER
We spent the day discovering the Blyde River Canyon, the largest “green canyon” in the world, and one of the most beautiful corners of South Africa!
Then we drove to the entrance to Kruger National Park, where we spent the night.
Hotel: one night at the Sabie River Bush Lodge, a nice little lodge with comfortable tents and a swimming pool with a view of the hippos!
DAY 4: SAFARI IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
First day of safari in the Kruger National Park. We started with a morning of self-drive before joining our lodge and doing our first game drive with our great guide. We were lucky, we saw the Big 5 from day one!
Hotel : 2 nights at Hamilton’s Tented Camp , an exceptional luxury lodge located in the private concession of Mluwati, in an “Out of Africa” colonial style… Unforgettable!
DAY 5: HAMILTON’S TENTED CAMP (KRUGER)
Magical Safari Day at Hamilton’s Tented Camp!
DAY 6: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
After a last morning game drive in Hamilton, we drove down to the south of the Kruger (Crocodile Bridge Gate), where we spent the night.
DAY 7: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – MLILWANE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY (SWAZILAND)
After an extra morning of self-drive in the Kruger, we temporarily left South Africa to spend a few days in Swaziland (Eswatini), a small landlocked country in South Africa. Fairly easy border crossing, then drive to Swaziland’s first national park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Hotel: we spent the night in a beautiful rondavel in the camp of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which allows you to sleep among zebras, antelopes, and warthogs… quite nice!
DAY 8: MLILWANE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY – HLANE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK (SWAZILAND)
We started the day with a “bush walk” at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary before reaching Hlane Royal National Park, where we did a two-day safari in a very wild setting. The Hlane is the ideal park to see rhinos and live a unique experience, the “rhino walk” …
Hotel: we spent 2 nights in a rondavel in the main camp of Hlane Royal National Park … without air conditioning and without electricity, complete disconnection!
DAY 9: HLANE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK (SWAZILAND)
Full day safari at Hlane Royal National Park.
DAY 10: HLANE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK (SWAZILAND) – JOHANNESBURG – CAPE TOWN
Last morning safari at the Hlane before a long day’s drive: we first returned to Johannesburg airport, where we returned our rental car before taking a domestic flight to Cape Town, where we arrived late of the day. Pick up a new rental car for one day.
Hotel: 2 nights in one of the chic districts of Cape Town, Hout Bay .
DAY 11: CAPE TOWN
A full day of sightseeing in Cape Town… We fell in love with this city! A dream day between paradisiacal beaches, vineyards, mountains, and an unmissable penguin colony …
DAY 12: CAPE TOWN – ROVOS RAIL
Early morning in Cape Town before joining Cape Town Station and embarking on a 3 day – 2 night Rovos Rail luxury train journey between Cape Town to Pretoria, a real journey through time and an experience to be lived at least once in his life …
DAY 13: ABOARD THE ROVOS RAIL
Waking up in a luxurious room aboard a train crossing the desert doesn’t happen every day! The perfect start to a dream day aboard the Rovos Rail…
DAY 14: ROVOS RAIL – PRETORIA – LESEDI CULTURAL VILLAGE
Last day aboard the Rovos Rail, which we leave in the afternoon at Pretoria station, where we collect a new rental car before heading to the Lesedi Cultural Village, a center that allows us to learn more about the different peoples from South Africa.
DAY 15: LESEDI CULTURAL VILLAGE – ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY
We left the Lesedi Cultural Village to reach our last safari destination of this trip to South Africa, the Entabeni Safari Conservancy, a Big 5 reserve located in the UNESCO listed Waterberg Nature Reserve.
Hotel: 2 nights at the Wildside Safari Camp (one of the 5 camps in the park) , a barrier-free camp with comfortable chalet tents in the middle of nature.
DAY 16: ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY
Full day safari with guide at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy.
DAY 17: ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY – JOHANNESBURG (RETURN TO EUROPE ON DAY 18 IN THE MORNING)
Last morning safari at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy before returning to Johannesburg.
As we had a few hours left before our flight, we decided to spend them in Sandton, the expat district, considered one of the safest in Johannesburg. We saw the beach tribute to Nelson Mandela and ate some excellent South African matured meat at a renowned restaurant, The Butcher Shop. But apart from that, Sandton is mostly uninteresting shopping centers: you feel a bit like a ghetto of the rich …
It was while leaving Sandton, at the entrance to the motorway towards Johannesburg airport, that we were stopped by a rotten cop… We almost missed our flight because he had taken our passports and wanted to give them back to us jewelry, money or watches and we had none of that! Fortunately, we managed to negotiate and he ended up accepting the equivalent of the 5 € we had left… In short, we could have finished this trip better, that’s for sure! But despite everything, as I told you at the beginning of the article, we have very good memories of this trip and I would go back there again without hesitation!