Rumbling on a dirt road your safari guide stops the SUV and turns off the engine. A family of elephants is making its way to a nearby watering hole. Thereâ€™s about a dozen in the herd, adults lumbering, young ones hiding in between. The mighty mammals splash and cool themselves in the water, just a few meters away from you. Everyone in the car has a big smile on their faces.
With world-famous Kruger National Park and nearby Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa is one of the continentâ€™s most popular safari destinations. Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat is a rare and wonderful experience.
If youâ€™re planning to go on a once-in-a-lifetime African safari, here is insider info on how to get the most out of your adventure.
After making sure to pack your camera, learning the difference between game reserves and national parks might be the most important thing to do for your trip.
National parks are protected land where animals are free to roam in their natural habitat. You can visit a national park with a local tour operator, who will drive you and your group along designated roads. Some parks even allow private cars to make the rounds on their own.
These routes offer travellers an affordable option to see some wildlife, but do have some downsides. By taking a standard tour through a national park, you are limited to only the animals you can see from the main roads, and from inside your car during daylight hours. Depending on the time of year, this can also limit the potential for good viewing. In the more popular parks, these public roads can get quite busy. Beware, rhino traffic jam ahead!
Private game reserves on the other hand provide the most luxury and access.
Located within or just outside national parks, game reserves lease area from the parks and therefore can host guests right in the middle of the action, allowing you to experience Africaâ€™s wilderness in a more authentic fashion, getting closer to animals in their natural environment.
Generally, game reserve vehicles can go off-road at any time (night or daytime drives) â€“ letting you linger as long as you like to photograph a grazing giraffe or lounging tiger â€“ unbothered by any potential traffic jams. Also many game reserves offer luxurious camping or lodges, catered food, and more time to explore and learn from their on-site guides.
A private game reserve will save you driving time, spoil you with comfort, and provide you with epic access to nature.
You might even wake up one morning to find an elephant hanging out in the backyard. Hope you packed that camera.