First, there are itinerant or travelling safaris. This in itself is a large category with many different options. For example, you can go on guided, driven safaris through big areas (like the Okavango Delta, Kruger Park, Namibia) in overland trucks. These trucks can be very rudimentary (you have to pitch your own tents every night and cook your own food) right up to luxurious, small-group overland expeditions where you travel with a guide in a group of say ten in a large overland truck, staying at lodges every night and dining at a high standard. You can also self-drive an itinerant safari in a rented and fully equipped 4x4 camper (although you don’t have to camp every night or camp at all if you don’t want to). More on this below. Generally, this type of safari should be seen as an adventurous option.
Second, there are fixed location safaris where you are accommodated in the same location (either a game lodge or a bush camp) for the entire period. You go on perhaps one or two game drives a day, mostly in the early morning and late evening when the animals are most active, leaving the middle of the day to sit and relax. You can go up and down the entire scale of luxury from ultra basic (but ultra authentic) bush camps right up to five star game lodges complete with private pools per room and fine dining. This should be seen as the most conservative option.
Third, there are self-drive safaris. Here, you drive yourself to large park at a given place for say five nights and make excursions in different directions from that place. You can either drive a normal car and stay in the park’s own accommodation or hire a 4x4 camper and sleep in that. This is an increasingly popular option as when you tire of the camper’s tent, you can always just check into a B&B if you like. This kind of option works well if you want to see more of the country as well as seeing wildlife. It also gives you total independence and generally works out cheaper than the other two options (watch out for hidden costs, though, like fuel and gate fees which can add up).
There are almost as many choices of location and reason for going on a safari as there are types of safari (just to confuse and amaze you). Here are some other choices you need to consider.
Unusually for Africa, South Africa boasts game reserves that are both public and private and also private reserves within public parks! The distinction is that public parks are accessible to anyone which means that you can navigate them perfectly easily in a normal car. They are also much larger than private parks and accommodation in SANParks (South African National Parks) can be very good although not luxurious. Private reserves tend to border on public parks and are much smaller, some not much bigger than farms so can feel a little ‘zoo’ like. Most visitors to South Africa opt for private reserves because they are better at marketing themselves and tend to be more luxurious and require less independence. However, most South Africans never visit private parks and would insist on visiting only the public parks as they don’t consider animals in private reserves to be truly wild. It’s a tough choice so we think it’s important that you’re aware of it.
On top of this, there is the staggering variety of biome that you can see game in. There are game reserves in the sea, on river deltas, beaches, lagoons, mountains, lakes, savannah, bush, and forest. Some parks even boast more than one type of biome. Which you choose depends on many factors: for example, the Big Five is often on a first-time visitors list but when you really drill down, you find that most people have a particular interest in one or two animals (say elephant and lion) and then a general interest in seeing as much as they can. South Africa has a vast range of endemic and migratory marine wildlife too as well as an amazing range of birdlife.
Most guests find, if it’s the first time in Africa, that they often overbook the safari section of the trip, spending too many nights at one location. Generally, we would advise booking three to four nights at most at one location, moving on to another area (like a city, town, beach) and then, if budget allows, considering another night or two at another game viewing location later on. The reason is that whilst the game viewing itself is nearly always spell-binding, the stay in a private lodge can develop a monotony which is best broken after a shorter period of time than a longer one. If you’re going to self-drive or be driven on an itinerant safari, then you’ll be wanting to spend at least a week on this sort of trip to merit the distance travelled and the necessary preparation.
Any safari you go on it going to be expensive and normally, it’s the most expensive part of the trip (even more so than your international flights in some cases). The more independent you can be, the less it costs so a self-drive itinerant safari can be as little as R2 000 a day. However, to be realistic, three star game lodge in the Kruger will cost at least R3 800 per person per day. A five star game lodge is going to start at around R8 000 per person per day and can go as crazy as R20 000 per person per night (we really don’t think that’s worth it). Bear in mind that theses prices are ‘all in’ (so three ample meals a day, infinite snacks and beverages and at least two game drives a day, perhaps more).
A cost that is often overlooked is the price of getting to and from a safari destination. For example, to get from Cape Town to Kruger is not going to cost less than R4 000 per person one way for a direct flight and at least R2 500 per person one way for a indirect flight and car rental. Getting to the Eastern Cape reserves is generally a lot cheaper from Cape Town as they are much closer to the main airport (Port Elizabeth). Kruger is a six hour drive from Johannesburg so most guests opt to fly, which adds to cost.
So this will give you a lot to think about: what kind of safari you want, and what you want to see in what kind of environment. This is the most difficult part of the trip to get right so we always concentrate on this first, planning the rest of the trip around it.