Sunrise leopards. Hundreds of elephants walking into the sunset. Giraffes manicuring acacia trees. Vultures swarming a kill. Black-maned lions patrolling shoulder to shoulder down the road. A cheetah scanning the plains from her perch on a fallen tree.
Kruger National Park in South Africa is all this and more.
I fell in love with elephants on my first safari at Mole National Park in Ghana in 2014 (read about them here). From Ghana I traveled to Kenya where, after reaffirming my newfound wildlife love with the orphaned baby elephants at David Sheldrick in Nairobi, I went on an eight-day safari through Lake Nakuru, Crater Lake, Hell’s Canyon, and the Maasai Mara parks. I learned what bad wildlife luck is like on this trip (only two sleeping lions, one distant rhino, no flamingos, and a handful of elephants and giraffes), but I also learned that wildlife watching is not all about counting what you have and have not seen, because the wilderness is often equally stunning.
Since then, I searched America’s western wilderness for bears, bison, wolves, and mountain goats amongst beautiful settings like Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton National Parks while I lived in Utah. I never found those mountain goats up close, though.
Upon moving to Swaziland as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have dedicated nearly all of my vacation days to beautiful vistas and wildlife. For as much as I have loved exploring new places across southern Africa, I have nearly run out of money and vacation days.
My favorite vista and wildlife combination is this view on Christmas Eve from the Okaukuejo watering hole at Etosha National Park in Namibia.
So I booked another organized trip to Kruger, and I know I will not regret the decision. I will spend another four nights at Lower Sabie where I hope to hear the lions roar throughout the night and then excitedly depart camp at 5:30 a.m. hoping to see those same lions right outside the gate.
Even though I have done this trip once before and went to Kruger again while my parents visited, I am not concerned about being bored with the same scenery. Another rainy season is winding down. Kruger is vast and would take years to fully explore. The animals are ever changing, and I never get tired of seeing elephants. And if the wildlife gods could arrange some wild dogs for this trip, I would be so thankful.
Things to know before you go
Kruger is a giant place and it would be hard to explore alone on your first visit, especially if your first visit is your first safari. Trying to look for animals and drive a car at the same time is tricky, even when you have some experience. An organized visit will also provide a guide, who will be adept at spotting animals from a distance and be able to share facts about the animals and the wilderness.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I recommend traveling with All Out Africa. The company runs monthly three- and five-day trips to Kruger, camping at Lower Sabie. PCVs receive a volunteer discount and transport is organized from the pickup at Lidwala to the return there. All meals and game drives are provided, as well. The drives start at dawn and continue until dusk, with breaks for meals in between. One of the best aspects of this trip is that the camping happens inside Kruger, rather than in one of the gate communities. This means more time for game drives!
The rack rate for the five-day trip in 2018 is R5870 and for PCVs is R5170. The price drops to R3858 if you have a Wild Card, the card for free entry into South African and Swazi national and provincial parks. If you are a SADC resident, a single Wild Card costs R565. Buying a Wild Card will save you money.
Please note that I receive no compensation for recommending this trip. I simply think it is awesome enough that you should take it, too! Plus, about 10 PCVs from my cohort have taken the trip, and some of them brought their parents and friends. Everyone has loved it!
Other note: South Africans refer to Kruger as the Kruger, which I find particularly entertaining as I come from the state that calls its largest university the Ohio State University.