After a long hiatus, I decided to pen down my travel experience in South Africa. Well, I did skip to blog about my Sikkim and Los Angeles trips over the past couple of years, thanks to my never-ending hustle between my job and freelance styling! Hopefully, I will try to pull in sometime to write about those as well!
I wouldn’t have probably taken my time out to write about this if my trip didn’t turn out to be that extraordinary! South Africa got me hooked with its magnificent panoramic views that I have not encountered so far in any of my trips to 12 countries, including USA and Europe!
Be it, the unimaginable range of adventures, the rich flora and fauna, or those mind-blowing sunsets, South Africa has it all. This country wouldn’t disappoint any age group, be it, the younger ones or the elderly people. It has two sides to it, one which is the beautiful one who makes you to just catch a flight and the other, which holds you back from booking a flight 😛
So, Let me drop the harsh truth of this trip. “Safety is a MAJOR concern” This doesn’t hold true when you are inside National Park though as it’s perfectly safe and you can drive after sunset too (Evidently, staying with the wildest of the wild animals is safer!)
For me, South Africa was worth the RISK!
If you are willing to take few precautions all through the trip (will be covering them in this blog), then you are GOOD to go 😀
Best Time to Visit : May to October (winters) – For viewing wildlife and Nov-Feb – For bird watching
We visited during the end of February and stayed there for 8 days. The temperature and weather was perfect as we prefer warmer climate.
Temperature : It usually varies between 25-30˚C during Feb/March.
Two major attractions in our trip – Kruger National Park and CapeTown. We landed in Johannesburg as international flights are cheaper to Johannesburg and that’s the only major city near Kruger.
Our 8 Day Travel Itinerary :
Day 1 – Land in Johannesburg and explore Mandela’s House, Nelson Mandela Square, and Sterkfontein Caves in Cradle of Humankind
Day 2 – Drive to Kruger (I would say, take a flight to Krugers to be safe) and reach Skukuza Camp; do a night safari
Day 3 – Go for an early morning safari and stay overnight stay in Skukuza
Day 4 – Head to Satara Camp via Lower Sabie and overnight stay in Satara
Day 5 – Go for an early morning safari and drive back to Johannesburg
Day 6 – Head to CapeTown and enjoy the evening at V&A Waterfront
Day 7 – Explore CapeTown major attractions on Hop-on Hop-off bus (Red/Blue Line)and end the day with sunset at Camps Bay beach
Day 8 -Explore Bo-Kaap in the morning and drive towards Muizenberg beach; and then head towards Boulder’s Bay and end the day by watching sunset at Chapman’s peak on your way back
Day 9 – Head to Groot Constantia vineyard for wine tasting and then, drive to Cape Point National Reserve for spectacular views, ostriches and drive back to Capetown with a quick stop at Witsand
I would be covering everything about first half of the trip in Johannesburg and Kruger in this blog and will publish another blog on Capetown soon.
One of the major cities in South Africa which has good connectivity with international flights. Had it not been in our plan to go to Kruger, this city wouldn’t have been on our travel itinerary.
How to Reach : For international passengers, there are frequent flights. We took one from Mumbai to Johannesburg with a layover at Doha. It was a 15hr flight in total. Do plan your travel in such a way that you don’t reach too early in the morning before 5 am or late after sunset as it’s not safe to drive or take an uber to your hotels. In case, you reach in the midnight, I would suggest to wait at the airport till the morning.
Accommodation : One can’t pick any random neighbourhood and stay as it’s not safe. You can stay in Sandton to be safe. Please be cautious if you are signing up for homestay or airbnb (I wouldn’t recommend it though).
Duration of stay : 1 night
Places To Visit :
- Sterkfontein Caves – Cradle of Human Kind (UNESCO Heritage Site)
These limestone caves have been very popular among historians for discovering fossils which are 2.3 million years old. Definitely, an insightful and educative experience. It is a 40 min drive from the city and you need to book your tickets in advance as they don’t accept payment on site. The entire visit around the site takes around 2-3 hrs.
- Nelson Mandela Square
The bustling square is a good place to sit back and relax, with good options for food, drinks and shopping.
- Nelson Mandela House
It’s again a place of historical importance where Mandela stayed and it’s been converted into a musuem explaining about his struggles, challenges and achievements during the Apartheid movement.
- Apartheid Museum
It’s one of the major attractions within the city but unfortunately, we couldn’t visit it as it didn’t open after COVID. Do visit if you get a chance
- Melrose Arch
It’s another bustling neighborhood within the city with a range of shopping and restaurant options.
Kruger National Park
An incredible experience would await you if you love watching animals in their natural habitat and a first-hand experience into a world where animals are not held captive. We spotted over 46 species over 3 days!! You would still be in awe even if you end up staying for a week or more.
Kruger is famous for Big 5 – Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, Rhinoceros and African Wild Buffalo. Most of the visitors try their best to spot them as they are rare.
There are around 18 rest camps in Kruger but we decided to stay at Skukuza and Satara. Skukuza is usually the most popular one among the first-timers as it is closer to the entrance and has more facilities with good internet coverage and restaurants.
How to Reach :
* Drive from Johannesburg to Skukuza rest camp in Kruger is around 7 hrs , or
* Take a flight to Skukuza from Johannesburg (I would prefer this over the other one as driving is not safe – risks mentioned in this blog)
There are multiple options ranging from budget friendly rest camps to luxurious lodges. You can book the private lodges on Booking.com but the Govt. rest camps can be booked only on their official website (You might face payment issues at times, do email them with the requirement and they will help you book one with a separate link)
Rest camps are comfortable, easy on pocket and safe to stay. They have restaurants and fuel stations within the rest camp.
Duration of stay :
We stayed for 3 days and 2 nights with 1 night at Skukuza and 1 night at Satara rest camp.
Exploration Tips for National Park
- It’s always better to rent a vehicle so that you can drive around and spot the animals along your way
- Every rest camp has a sightings board showing the location where people spotted Big-5’s. Please do take a note of that so that you can drive accordingly
- Invest in good binoculars. They come really handy in watching the animals or birds in detail as you can’t go very close to them
- Always remain inside the vehicle, and avoid getting down except inside the rest camps
- You can purchase a Kruger guide book inside the convenience stores of the rest camp.It has a checklist with pictures of the animals and birds along with their names which makes it easy for the first-timers to identify the species
- Do carry a flash light if you are going for a night safari, it helps you spot easily in the night
- Download offline route maps when you have network as most of the rest camps other than Skukuza have poor network coverage
- Restaurants close at different timings at different rest camps. Please do take a note of that
- Maintain a distance of at-least 6 feet from the animals when you are using your own vehicle. They feel intimidated when you get close
Things To Do/Places to Visit :
- Safari Drive
The rest camp management arranges for safari drives within their vehicles at different hours of the day – early morning, noon, sunset and night. I personally would recommend early morning drives which start at 4 am and go on up till 7:30-8 am. That’s the best time to spot animals as they would finish hunting and would be relaxing.
We even went for night drives. Night drives would be best to spot owls, civets, leopards, and elephants mostly.
You can even drive around with your car and end up spotting enough animals. The Big 5 are difficult to spot for the first timers. For those, I would recommend signing up for the drives at rest camps which would cost you around INR 3000 per person.
- Skukuza Rest Camp
This is the rest camp around which you could spot a huge range of mammals like lions, leopards, rhinos, and wild dogs. Impalas, Zebras and Giraffes are a common sight all along the roads.
We ended up spotting 4 among the Big 5 at Skukuza within a day.
- Lower Sabie Rest Camp
The drive route from Skukuza to Lower Sabie is where you end up spotting humungous African elephants, crocodiles, apes and hippopotamus.
The lake near Lower Sabie rest camp would be the best place to spot huge crocodiles, and elephants could be spotted all along the Sabie river.
- Satara Rest Camp
This rest camp is famous for lions, cheetahs and leopards. It’s also a good place to spot huge Kudus, wild beasts, and wild buffaloes.
- Berg En Dal Rest Camp
This rest camp is popular for spotting rhinoceros. Rhino sightings are usually not reported as they are most vulnerable to poaching and it’s genuinely hard to spot them as they are shy and avoid humans around.
Travel and Safety Tips (Outside National Park)
- Get your SIM card sorted at the airport itself. MTL and Vodafone are the best ones. However, only MTL has coverage in Kruger and they do offer traveller packages
- Try to schedule rental pick-ups and drops at airport
- Ensure you return back to your hotels before sunset
- Always carry a pepper spray with you
- If you happen to be out post sunset, please be extremely vigilant as there have been in-numerous incidents of car-jacking
- Even if another car hits you from behind during the night, please ignore and try not to step out of your car. This is the way that they usually do car-jacking
- Avoid halting your car at traffic signals in the night. There could be homeless people asking for help with placards (Another way to do car-jacking)
- None of the car rentals offer insurance in Johannesburg as they are aware about this situation while they do offer in Cape Town which is relatively safer. We booked our rental car with Thrifty in Johannesburg and with Hertz in Cape Town
- It’s a right hand drive but with traffic rules similar to USA. Please ensure you are aware about the rules before you signup for rentals
- DISCLAIMER: Policemen in South Africa are always in look out for quick money especially, from noon till sunset even if you violate a single rule. We ended up paying huge sums initially as we were not aware and later figured our way around.
Try to keep very less cash with you so that you can negotiate with them as per the cash you have even if they quote a higher official fine.They are looking for easy money so please deal accordingly.
Even if you have cash, please keep it somewhere inside so that they don’t notice it.
- Don’t dress extravagantly and avoid flashy gold jewellery
- Avoid any neighborhoods other than the most safest ones
Cape Town travel tips will be up in the next blog.
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Photos by Satwik Kodangal Varala
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