3 days Safari in Kruger
Kruger is the name of the National Park which is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and one of the most famous in the world. It covers more than 19,000 km2 in northeastern South Africa, extends 360 km from north to south and 65 km from east to west. It borders Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.
A Game Reserve is a protected area where animals, especially those considered "game" or endangered, can live and thrive in their natural habitat. Reserves are free from hunters and human invasions. They may be state-owned (Kruger National Park) or privately owned (private game reserve, such as Sabi Sands, Mala Mala, Thornybush, etc.) and may be open to tourists or restricted. Contrary to what is first thought, there are no fences between them (only between them and residential areas being these carefully monitored).
Difference between visiting the Kruger by yourself or staying in a reserve: You are probably reading articles from people who drove through the Kruger with a rental car and wondering if you can do the same. Yes, you can.
But, besides some obvious risks (do not get out of the car to take a selfie with the elephant, by the way), the experience will be different. - The park is shared by many tour companies and the main distinction is that it is forbidden to drive off-road. What does that mean? Unlikely on a game reserve, when the tracker or ranger sees an animal, they will not be able to follow it closely and follow it through the savanna, they must remain on the main road at all times. Practically that means losing some great moments with the animals.
- Games on private reserves are done on roofless land rovers with few people. In the Kruger, you have the option to drive your own rental car or take part in a tour, but keep in mind that the cars are larger, which means more tourists. - The hotels at the private reserve usually have two games, one leaving at 5 am and another at 4 pm. Both take from 3 to 4 hours. In the park, you will have all the time in the world, as long as you respect the opening hours, which are from 5.30 am to 6 pm (varying a little each season). After that time you are obliged to return and stay in one of the rest camps or bungalows. There are more overnight options for different types of demand and budget in the park. When staying in the park sometimes you also have to take care or pay separately your own food, while in the hotels - which are mostly all-inclusive - you just need to watch out for your figure!!
It is important to note that there are no fences between the park and private reserves. Animals are free to travel throughout the territory, meaning the difference lies in how you will appreciate that moment, depending on your budget, of course. Guides from hotels of the same reserve communicate with each other by radio, so the likelihood of finding a rare animal is much greater.
I wish I had done a few days in the park and others in a private reserve, I think it would be the best experience. But with only 3 days available, we decided to stay in a private reserve and have everything else taken care of.
There are three airports serving the large national park: Nelspruit is the most trafficked and largest of them, located in the city of the same name; Hoedspruit is located within a reserve and has direct access to reserves and hotels further north in the park; and Skukuza, the most convenient arrival for Sabi Sands and Mala Mala reserves. Which flight you should take depends on which hotel/reserve you are staying in, and multiple flights depart daily to all 3 airports from Johannesburg and Cape Town. The price charged for transfers between the airports and the lodges is absurdly high so we decided to rent a car from the airport instead. Driving, on the other hand, involves enduring hours of VERY bumpy roads without the help of a phone or GPS signal (even inside the reserve until reaching the hotel, which makes unassuming tourists "easy" prey for lions). The 3-hour trip requires a courageous driver, so I only recommend this to those who really know what they're doing. Print all the maps and information gave by the hotel and study the roads before going!!
Our 3 days:
Arriving at the lodge I could already feel like in the Lion King while having lunch watching animals drinking water in the background.
Are you ready to see this from a little closer?
We did our first game the same day in the afternoon and already saw things like these:
Yep, mommy lionesses and their cubs! Few-feet-from-us!!!!!!!!
Then, Simba and Nala:
Pumba. (Without Timon) :-(
And right after, we encountered a Leopard for the first time. (Yes, there were leopards in almost all of our games. Sabi Sands reserve is a very good one to spot them.)
When you find yourself facing a Leopard who scares a Black Mamba (the world's deadliest snake) is when you realize what you put yourself into!!!
And there's no running away!!
Are you already wondering how the heck is this possible?
No worries, It was the first question I asked our guide!
1) Since we are in the car, the animal sees us as a whole, like a great animal that does not impose any type of risk. Thanks to many years of peaceful interaction between the animal and him.
Yes, it's hard to believe, especially when he looks you in the eye! Yep, they do!!
But gradually you relax and enjoy it.
2) Obviously there are some rules: never leave the car in the presence of an animal without the guide's permission, never put your arms out, or get up abruptly. But you can speak at a normal volume and take pictures!
3) Why wake up so early when you are on vacation?
Well, at dawn is when you have the best chance to spot active night hunters, like felines, since they sleep during daytime.
There is always a stop for a coffee with zebras or rhinos, if you are "lucky"!
Big Five is the term used to nominate the savage 5 biggest mammals, which are the hardest to be captured. They are the Lions, the Elephants, the Rhinos, the Leopards, and the Buffalo.
Before you go, you care about being sure to see the five, once you are there, you realize that this is not the most special thing there, but mostly, to experience peculiar things like hearing hyenas laughing by your side.
Yes, they do "laugh" and are adorably clumsy!
There are also "real wildlife" situations, like following a group of savage dogs (which are very rare) going for a hunt and cornering a wild boar mom - who was smart enough to protect her offspring in a water duct.
There is something magnificent and inexplicable about witnessing the law of nature in its purest, and sometimes cruel, way.
I must confess that I didn't imagine I would enjoy this experience so much, but now I strongly recommend to everybody, and can't wait to go back to African savanna one day.