Going on safari is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It is also, especially for tourists from other continents, a great unknown, before they come. Having just been on a fabulous safari in the Greater Kruger National Park, I can now make a few points on what to expect, for those feeling a little nervous of what it’s all about.
Warm air and warm people
While winter temperatures can drop considerably, the average minimum – even in the dead of winter – seldom drops below 10°C. Mid-winter daytime temperatures average in the mid-20°C’s, so pack t-shirts, shorts and sun cream, regardless of the season you’re travelling in! (Don’t forget your jacket, though, for early morning and evening safari drives).
The people in Kruger match the weather – they’re warm and hospitable, and will go out of their way to ensure that your safari trip is comfortable and pleasant. Don't forget to tip for good service. Unsure how to tip? See our definitive tipping guide.
Expect to see all the incredible animals that Africa is known for. This is Big Five country and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see them all, and more! Remember, though, that one of the biggest ‘Wow!’ factors of the Greater Kruger is that it’s an enormous unfenced area (20 000 000 hectares), allowing the animals free rein to move about in their natural habitat.
What this means for the safari-goer, is that nothing is guaranteed, but what you do see, is spectacularly exciting. An added bonus is that guides and trackers in the park are so skilled that they’ll ensure you’ll see as much as possible.
As an example, on our 3-day safari, we were sad not to see lion or leopard, but the fact that we saw many elephant, a huge herd of buffalo, a tiny hyena napping and a cheetah(!), to name just a few, more than made up for it.
It is near impossible to describe the feeling of being on an early morning game drive. Watching the sun rise, the Acacia trees making beautiful silhouettes, birds chirping, the fresh, cool air warming ... It’s breath-taking. Add to that, listening to an elephant chewing on a branch for its breakfast (we were that close!) and you’ve pretty much got perfection.
Camping out. While we didn’t do this, two young German girls that we met on the first night, did. After our braai in the bush, we left them behind to sleep under the stars, with two trained guides. We met up with them at breakfast on day three – they were tired and dirty, and positively beaming, having loved the experience. Definitely one for the more adventurous type!
These are just two of the many experiences offered in Kruger.
Fabulous flying creatures (and annoying ones)
While people tend to focus on seeing the big animals, the birds one sees on safari are fantastic: from the gangly ostrich, to the bright-blue Cape Glossy Starling to the unfortunate-looking Southern Ground Hornbill, Kruger offers around 500 species of bird.
It also, unfortunately, has smaller, more annoying flying creatures, a.k.a. mosquitos, so don’t forget your insect repellent! See our post on malaria for everything you need to know.
Plants and flowers
Another often forgotten, but wonderful, aspect of the Greater Kruger Park, is the flora – huge Acacia trees that are synonymous with Africa, Dr Seuss-like Baobabs, and green-barked Fever trees lead to vast savannas of grazing wild grass. A walking safari to see, smell and feel the textures of the African bush, is highly recommended.
Flexible 'Set' Programme
While there is generally a set programme on safari, with specific times for meals and activities, remember that these are not set in stone. This is the wild, and the wild is beautifully unpredictable. From trees pushed over by elephants, blocking the road, to sticking around to watch a lion cub frolic and play next to its mother, time is ever-so-slightly mercurial in the bush: I’d recommend leaving your watch at home!
In just three days, I made friends with an older couple from Melbourne, a newly-married couple from Poland, two young girls from Germany, a couple who spend their time between Spain and Thailand, and a lovely Spanish guy who lives in New York.
It’s one of the joys of travelling and shared experiences. In general, meals on safari are communal, with everybody sharing tables and stories from their days – who saw what, where. From there, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to friendships formed around camp fires beneath the magnificent African, star-scattered night sky.
Bottom line of what to expect from a safari: incredible experiences, sights and sounds that’ll amaze you, vast open skies and land that stretches to forever, fresh air, new experiences, fantastic wild- and birdlife, new friends and natural exhiliration.