Posted by: Tommy | December 19, 2010

Myths about safari

As I write this, we’ve just finished our 3rd amazing day of safari.  One of the conversation topics that has dominated our discussions over the last couple of days is how every single person we’ve met in Kruger National Park is South African.  We have met about 2 dozen people and they all want to know where we are from (accent gives us away).  Then, we ask them – and they are from South Africa.  Many of the people we’ve talked to come to the park at least twice a year, some as often as every month.

Thinking about that, we started wondering why there aren’t more foreigners here – and we think its because it doesn’t really seem easily achievable.  But it is – our time at safari has been remarkably easy and remarkably inexpensive.  And so we wanted to debunk some myths about safari in the interest of convincing more people to try it.

Myth #1 – It’s prohibitively expensive.

Absolutely not.  If you can cover the flight with frequent flyer miles, a couple could do a 10 day safari for as little as $1000.  That’s right – 2 people – $1000 total! – for 10 days.  Again, using miles for the flight is a big help as round-trip flights from Texas to South Africa run between $1500 and $2000.  But once you are here, you can get a perfectly adequate rental car for about $30 day, a camp site runs $20, we bought food at the store for $10/day.  There is a one-time “conservation fee” that is quite expensive – around $250 for a couple.  Gas has been costing us $15/day.  If you were willing to spend $1500 (but still willing to camp, as the next cheapest lodging is around $100/night) you could get a much nicer car or eat out for every meal instead of sticking to canned food and cereal.

Myth #2 – I need a good set of binoculars

Binoculars help for some things, sure.  But we’ve seen plenty of things without them.  Today alone, our car was threatened by an elephant, 3 rhino and a pride of lions.

Myth #3 – You need a guide to find animals

So far we’ve been on 2 guided drives.  We saw less on those two drives than on any of the drives we’ve done alone.  Not that the guided drives weren’t great – they were – but there is so much wildlife here that having a guide doesn’t help you see more.  Really, it’s a matter of how alert you are and being in the right place at the right time.  Yesterday, as we were driving back to camp a leopard was just walking in the road.  Today, we were speeding back to camp to make it before the gates closed – and came across an entire pride of 8 lions crossing the road.   After we watched them for a while, we went another mile or so, then came across 2 lionesses who had just killed an impala.  About 30 minutes later, a large male lion was sitting by the road.

Myth #4 – Seeing the “Big Five” is like finding the Holy Grail

The “Big Five” is the term used to describe the five most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa.  They are elephant, rhino, water buffalo, leopard and lion.  These are the five that, if you shoot at them and don’t kill them, they will try and kill you.  Hippos actually kill more people than these others, but will run away if you shoot at it.

Seeing the Big Five is a big deal here; everyone you meet that hears you are headed to Kruger wishes for you to see the Big Five.  So far, we’ve seen each of the Big Five in one day, every day.  Rhino and elephant are everywhere; you can’t go an hour without seeing at least one of them.  Lions and leopard are such an amazing thing to see that you’ll frequently find a pack of cars parked around them.  So far, the buffalo have been the most difficult thing to see – and they travel in herds of up to 500.  We’ve only had 1 buffalo sighting each day.

In addition to the “Big Five”, we’ve seen hippo, giraffe, zebra, impala, kudu and waterbuck every day.

Myth #5 – To enjoy safari, you need to be an “outdoorsman/woman”

A proper cityslicker could function here just fine.  There’s no hiking in Kruger – you aren’t even allowed to get out of your car except in designated areas.  So you spend about 90 percent of your time driving around.  Every 20 miles or so, there’s a rest stop with a restaurant and bar, bathrooms and a shop.  Even in the campgrounds, there are flush toilets, hot showers and bathtubs (in the women’s bathroom) and a full kitchen with 5 stoves, 4 sinks and a tap for already-boiling water.

For a little more money, there are hundreds of safari tents (basically a house, made of canvas), huts (small stand-alone room with private kitchen, bathroom and A/C) and chalets (free-standing house made of brick, just like home).  If you can roadtrip and stay in a hotel, you can safari.  It’s mostly driving with some sleeping in between.

I had looked at safaris as a potential honeymoon destination before Anna and I got married – but the travel agent I talked to was quoting me around $25,000 for 2 weeks.  And I’m sure that would have been fabulous.  But from a practical standpoint, the $1,000 is a lot more feasible.  These 3 days have been amazing – and thankfully there are 7 more to come.



  1. Looking forward to pictures!

  2. Kruger National Park is an awesome place. Did you see the online safari cams they have in the park? You can watch them from the internet.
    I am glad you guys are seeing so much life on your adventures.

  3. Wow — much better than the zoo! I think it would be thrilling to see those animals so close to your car. Yikes —

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