It’s taken me far too long to write this post about our South Africa trip last year. My excuse is that the trip was so incredible that it was difficult to sum it up in a way that did it justice.
The post that follows is definitely too long to be classed as a summary, but I tried my best!
In our 11-day trip we only scratched the surface of this fantastic country. The trip was a safari; we did not try to combine it with a city break to Cape Town or anywhere else. Flying in and out of Johannesburg, we stayed in private nature reserves around Kruger Park.
Below is a brief summary of our trip and the highlights, followed by some practical points which may be of use if you’re considering organising your own trip to South Africa.
It’s actually a little silly to title this section ‘trip highlights’ because every moment was special. Nevertheless, there are a few things in particular worth highlighting.
- Umlani Bushcamp
In the Timbavati private nature reserve, Umlani is an absolute gem of a bush camp. It strives to be environmentally friendly and promote responsible tourism, and adheres to Fair Trade principles concerning fair wages and respect for human rights, etc.
The game drives were nothing short of spectacular. Our guide was informative and always willing to answer questions. The small size of the camp is another bonus, as it means there were usually only six people in each jeep.
- A Night in a Treehouse in the African Bush
Ok, we’re still with Umlani here. (I promise I’m not getting paid by them to write this!!)
Umlani Bushcamp has a treehouse 1.5km away from the lodge itself. You can visit it during the day, but it’s also equipped with a toilet and beds (with mosquito nets) if you want to stay the night.
I’m not going to lie, this was slightly intimidating. One of the guides drove us to the treehouse after dinner one night, and watching his headlights disappear in the darkness as he drove away (and realising we were totally alone in the bush) was both exhilarating and terrifying.
The treehouse is pretty much open, but as the baboons are asleep during the night, you don’t have much to worry about (we decided not to think about leopards). Anyway, you’re not really spending the night there to sleep, but to experience the sounds and feeling of the bush.
This wasn’t just a highlight of the trip, but in fact a highlight of my life, as Arturo took the opportunity to propose (insert upside down smiley face emoji and a sequence of multi-coloured hearts here).
Even if we hadn’t agreed to spend the rest of our lives together while we were up there, though, the experience would still be a fantastic one, and we’d definitely recommend it if you find yourself in this part of the world. (Good place to propose, too, I can vouch for that!)
- Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre
As if we hadn’t had our fill of amazing animals already, we headed to Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre towards the end of our trip to see some of the excellent work they are doing.
You get a guided tour of the centre, which explains the work they do (and why it is so important), and you of course get to see the animals. Seeing the cheetahs was certainly a highlight as they are a very rare sight in the wild.
However, the top prize had to go to Stoffel the honey badger. If you aren’t already acquainted, you can check out his video here. Honey badgers are pretty badass.
- Blyde River Canyon
Most of our trip was focused on animals, but we also had the opportunity to take a short boat cruise in Blyde River Canyon, which is one of the largest canyons in the world.
On the cruise itself you can learn about the canyon from an informative guide who goes with you. Even without the added benefit of learning about the geography of the area, the cruise itself was astonishingly beautiful and peaceful. Oh, and you’ll probably see hippos!
Tips for Planning a South Africa Safari
After doing some solo research, we decided to book through a brilliant little company called Inspired2Explore, which is based in Cape Town.
We found this pretty convenient as Janine at the company got us reasonable rates, and was also on-hand to answer any of our questions. As we had limited time (just 11 days) and not a huge budget, this was perfect for us.
However, if you’ve got a little more time (both for the planning and the trip itself), you could certainly book something yourself.
Some of the lodges don’t publish their rates online, so you’ll need to be prepared to contact them for a quotation, and you may need to be flexible with your budget.
Here are some tips and pointers which may prove helpful:
- Trip Costs
Safaris seem to be the domain of old, rich, white Westerners. Indeed, it’s no big secret that safaris are expensive. Having said that, cheaper lodges do exist besides the better known luxury lodges that cater to wealthy Europeans and Americans. You just have to do a bit of digging to find them.
If you’re booking a safari trip, you’ll find that most lodges provide complete packages including accommodation, game drives, food and drink. Although this means you’ll pay for most of the trip upfront, it’s important to bring South African rand with you so that you can give tips.
- Responsible Tourism
We found Janine and Inspired2Explore through ResponsibleTravel.com, which is a great reference and a reliable source of responsible travel operators who respect nature and wildlife.
We stayed in Umlani Bushcamp, Pungwe Safari Camp and Khaya Ndlovu Manor House, which have good credentials.
Going to places which prioritise environmentally friendly practices and which do not engage in harmful activities was important for us. If this is a priority for you too, you can rest assured that there are plenty of eco-friendly, sustainable (or however you want to call it) lodges in South Africa. You just need to do the research.
I recently watched the Louis Theroux episode on hunting, which I found quite eye opening and helpful. My gut reaction to hunting (by which I am referring essentially to trophy hunting) is that it is deplorable and disgusting, but this is not a helpful attitude to anything.
However you feel about it, the reality is that hunting is still an accepted practice in many places in South Africa. Many people argue that the money from tourism doesn’t meet the demands of conservation, while the income from trophy hunting is huge.
Poaching is major problem. Chat to the locals working at the lodges for their insights into the issue, or do some research online. Save the Rhino is a brilliant charity if you want to learn more or donate to a good cause.
- Trip Duration
We met several people at the safari lodges who were only doing a safari for a couple of days as part of a broader South (or Southern) Africa trip.
I can understand that, because South Africa is a vast and stunning country with so much to see. If you’re serious about seeing animals and experiencing the landscapes available around Kruger, though, I’d honestly recommend focusing your trip on safari. (Unless you’ve got several weeks to spare, that is!)
People who only had a couple of days for the safari seemed much more concerned about ticking off animals from their list, particularly the “Big Five”. Game viewing is excellent all around Kruger, but if you can go at a gentler pace and appreciate all the animals you see (from the common sight of impala to the majestic lions), I think you will get much more out of the experience.
Just a quick one for the vegetarians. We had absolutely no problem as vegetarians at our lodges. In fact, we were always very well catered for, with delicious veggie options.
Just give your lodge/bush camp a heads up when you book that you have particular dietary requirements. In our experience it was no issue.
And that’s about it for this post. If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!