Going on safari in South Africa was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Seeing these magnificent animals up close was thrilling and surreal and I still can’t believe I’ve had this opportunity. It’s fun to look at pictures, but the reason I work hard is to get out and see this beautiful world we inhabit amongst so many other beautiful creatures. It’s easy to get caught up in ourselves and in our everyday routines, but traveling opens your mind and reminds you that there’s a bigger picture out there.
South Africa is an incredibly beautiful country, with distinct terrains and landscapes, and to best experience it, make sure you see everything from Cape Town to Johannesburg (you’ve come this far). And you certainly can’t miss Kruger National Park, home of the Big 5 animals: lion, water buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros and elephant. Formerly used as a term to denote the most dangerous animals to hunt, it is now thankfully used to delineate the most exciting animals to shoot with cameras only.
I bless the rains down in Africa…
South Africa is definitely a country in which I recommend taking a tour. First of all, it’s a large country, and getting from interest point A to point B can be difficult and somewhat less secure than if you travel with a reputable group. Usually packages include meals or hotels, and in more remote areas, that can be a concern if you’re on your own. Secondly, tour guides have tips and trained eyes to spot animals and interesting sites. If not for our excellent guide, Elizabeth, I probably wouldn’t have seen as many animals as I did. They do this for a living, trust them.
We entered through the Malelane gate at the southwestern part of the park. This took us on the Skukuza main road through mountainous greenery. This park is known for having granite rock formations that are protected and are very delicate.
First animal encountered upon entering the park in our coach was a white rhinoceros. To be honest, I would’ve been content if that were the only animal I saw. These lumbering creatures don’t get the due they deserve. They’re basically like dinosaurs. Respect. (Don’t @ me, I know they are mammals and dinosaurs were reptiles, just making a point on their appearance).
In a large bus, you’re not going to see a ton of animals up close, but we did see a leopard (or at least a flash of one up in the trees). Make sure to pack binoculars for this trip as the animals do camouflage themselves and there’s a ton of bird species as well.
We stayed at the Protea Hotel (a Marriott property) which was a very safari-themed (think wooden beam treehouse vibe) resort just outside the park. Located across from the Kruger Gate on the banks of the Sabie river, wildlife are plentiful in this area, see the monkey having the time of his life above.
Just so you know, I did not purposely get this close, he came out of nowhere and scared the bejeezus out of me, until I regained the wherewithal to snap a picture. Take at your own risk. And remember animals are wild and will rip your head off if you engage with them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Elephants like to use this river as their watering hole, so in the mornings, we’d see a herd grazing while having breakfast. This is the view you get in South Africa. Amazing.
The best way to see animals up close and personal is by safari jeep. The tour guides and drivers know the roads like the back of their hands and will keep you safe as long as you practice safe behaviors.
Pick a tour that will get you out there at least 2-3 times at different times of day, preferably the morning when animals are out grazing like this guy above.
And these guys, zebras for days in the park. So gorgeous. Zebras travel in harems and come together when they feel threatened to disguise themselves from danger.
Below is one of the top 5 best pictures I’ve ever taken in my life. Check out the umbrella thorn tree. (It could be another type of tree, I’m no botanist). It looks like real life Lion King (!!!). Nants ingonyama…
Tame impalas at the side of the road:
Water buffalo, likely an older gentleman, resting in the marsh.
At Skukuza rest stop, a colony of bats lives in the thatched roof. I’m terrified of bats.
Sometimes the beauty of nature lies in its simplicity. Here’s a baby hanging onto its mother’s belly, nature’s baby bjorn.
The most incredible, and a little scary, moment was coming upon a herd of elephants.
This blurry picture is to show how up close and personal they were.
That sighting capped off an amazing first jeep ride. FIRST RIDE. Right? Still not over it.
Breakfast and dinner are usually provided in your hotel package, as there is not much else going on around the park, you’re pretty isolated. You will dine on skewered meats, kind of like a South African Fogo de Chao. There will be normal meat and there will be game meat like Ostrich and Kudu and Crocodile. It will all taste like beef or chicken.
Second morning, we woke up before sunrise to head out on the roads. This is the best time of day to see as many animals as possible, because like us, they get hungry.
Babar over here was lovin’ it.
As was Geoffrey. Leaves ‘R’ Us.
This greater kudu was jogging away from something…
And this is where the guide proved to be invaluable. She could tell that the tracks were fresh and in what direction the big cat was likely heading. And so she had the driver turn around and go into that direction and…
There she goes.
There she goes again. Pulsing through my veins. And I just can’t contain, this feeling that remains.
Just the most beautiful girl in the world. So strong, so graceful, so poised, so deliberate. They’re perfect mammals.
These guys agree.
I was overwhelmed at this point, but there were still animals to see! Another rhino, although he did not wish to turn around. They’re reclusive animals.
Pumbaa living that hakuna matata life (it means no worries).
And then as if it couldn’t get any better, it did, because I literally saw Zazu, aka a red-billed hornbill. What are the odds.
I’ve been to incredible destinations in my life, but this is one of the top for sure. It’s an experience I will never forget and one that I hope to repeat at least once more in my lifetime. Completing the circle of life, if you will. Can you feel the love for Kruger?
Has anyone been on safari in Kruger? What were your animal sightings?