User Reviews – South Africa
35-50 years of age | Experience level: over 5 safaris
A beautiful country which offers visitors a wide variety of bush experiences.
Most people who travel to South Africa have two key destinations on their itinerary: Cape Town, and Kruger National Park. While both are fantastic holiday options, there is so much more to the country than that, and if you’re contemplating a visit to South Africa, you really should consider travelling to other areas too. South Africa offers such varied bush experiences and while many of the parks pale in comparison to the size of Kruger, when it comes to gorgeous landscapes and game-viewing opportunities, they certainly give Kruger a run for its money.
The province of KwaZulu-Natal, for example, has outstanding parks in its northern regions. Up here, in the land that once was ruled over by Shaka Zulu, it is classic rhino country and there are a number of parks, such as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Phinda, where you’re likely to see the Big Five. Many parks up here also offer the chance to go on walking safaris – guaranteed to give you a totally different perspective of life in the bush.
The landscape varies vastly across the country, and if you’re a keen photographer, parks like Golden Gate, Camdeboo, Pilanesburg, Karoo and the Kgalagadi will be an absolute delight. In these parks, the sheer scale of vast open spaces will almost dwarf the wildlife, and shooting during the golden hours will be an absolute treat.
It is very easy to self-drive in South Africa – in fact, it’s recommended. The quality of the roads is good, especially between the major cities, and taking a road trip through this country will reveal some of its quirks and hidden corners. If you are going to do the classic Kruger/Cape Town holiday, consider taking a week or so to drive between the two, and stop off at parks like Golden Gate, Addo Elephant Park, Mountain Zebra National Park. You’ll be so glad you did.
Email arnorab | 65+ years of age
A GENUINELY DIFFERENT SAFARI:WOLHUTER
The Kruger Park is somewhat overvisited but this safari will show you the real bush in a different way. You travel in the usual 10 seater Land rover with a genuinely knowledgeable guide. Each night you camp in the open, protected by an electric fence connected to the batteries of the safari vehicles. You sleep in tents that are set up for you, luggage and all, in a new location each night. The food is cooked over a log fire by a wonderful, inventive cook and there is plenty of it as well as plenty of whatever you fancy to wash it down with. Occasionally you will have a night game drive during which all the nocturnal animals, the one you miss in daylight, are all visible and active. Other than that there are usually game drives very early in the morning, after a cup a real coffee, followed by a freshly cooked breakfast of your choice when you get back to camp a couple of hours later. The rest of the day is quite leisurely and usually ends with another game drive in the cool of the evening. Every member of the team seems to want to ensure you see all that is to be seen and that you enjoy it. Toilet facilities are ample and straightforward but don't go expecting things to be at a 5* level. The tents and beds are comfortable, the food is delicious and the whole atmosphere jovial and convivial.
Going to South Africa culminated a dream that began in fourth grade geography class. Through the years I've nurtured a fascination with all things African, but especially I became enchanted by South Africa's history as the ancestral homeland of human kind, as a place of historic adventure, and courage, and strife, and an amazing rebirth at the hands of Nelson Mandela.
I began planning my trip to Africa months ahead of time and picked dates in September, which put me in South Africa after the European tourists had gone home but before the South Africans began their summer Christmas holiday season. September means taking a chance on rain now and then, but it also means low prices for food and lodging, and usually no crowds. I travelled alone. I'm a photographer by profession and enjoy travelling solo that I may practice my craft. I love travelling through wild, unknown places and having the countryside almost completely to yourself.
I flew to Johannesburg via Amsterdam, then spent several days in Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands private game reserve. I returned to Joburg for a few days more and visited Soweto, Nelson Mandela's familly home with the stone memorials, went to see Sterkfontein Cave and Maropeng, then flew to Cape Town for a few days of walkabouts, music, day bus tours, and wonderful food. I stayed in Bo Kaap. Finally I rented a car and drove the Garden Route to Hermanus, then on to Knyssna, Addo and Port Elizabeth, then back to Amsterdam and on to home.
If I start listing highlights I will have to detail the entire trip, but I will always remember: Sterkfontein Cave; Soweto and the Apartheid Museum, Kliptown/Walter Sisulu Square, and the Freedom Charter; Nelson Mandela's final home in Joburg; Cape Town, Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Aghuilas, the Tsitsikamma coast, whales, the upside-down Moon, driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, and so much more...
Water safety: I took my cue from the locals. Most places the tap water is fine.
Food safety: I ate everything everywhere, including at street markets in Soweto, with no ill repercussions, although I avoided bush meat.
Personal safety: Be smart, keep your eyes open, do NOT leave anything in your car!!!
Remember to tip: Eighty five percent of South Africans make their living on tips for services rendered. Tips may range from a few Rands ($1US or less) for a personal service, like getting driving directions from a traffic assistant, or for fueling your car, to R200 to R300 per day for professional services (a safari guide or driver, or city day-tour guide).
I also visited Tsitstikamma National Park and Table Mountain National Park.
65+ years of age
A world in one country - from berg to bush to beach to battlefields - with friendly people.
South Africa offers the international tourist a wide range of national parks and game reserves across it length and breadth for tourists to experience game viewing in which everything from the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) not to mention hippo, crocodile, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest (gnu) and a vast array of different breeds of antelope, including springbok and impala may be seen. The parks are also present a paradise for serious bird watchers. Coupled with this, whales and dolphins may be seen respective either lazing not far beyond the breakers in the oceans or surfing in on the waves and cutting away just before they break on sandy shores of rocky coves. The National and Game Parks have very different characteristics depending where they are located in the country, ranging from semi desert in the Karroo, Mountain Zebra, Camdeboo and Gemsbok National Parks, to the grass and bushveld mosaic in the Kwazulu-Natal Parks of Hluhluwe-Mfolozi, Mkuze, Tembe and Pinda to the bushveld of the Kruger National Park with its flanking upmarket private parks of Sabi Sand, Londolozi, MalaMala, Thornybush, etc., to the grasslands set amongst the yellow sandstone crags of the Golden Gate National Park, to the grassland of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Trans-frontier Park straddling KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho and with its Yellowwood scarp forests on its steep south facing slope valleys.
The scenery of the country ranges from the pristine white sand beaches and knarred, twisted and buckled mountains of the Western Cape, dating from when the Falklands were torn from the African continent (then Gondwanaland), to the stark and serene beauty of the Karoo with it unique vegetation and iselbergs, to the majestic basalt topped mountains of the high Drakensberg (+- 3000 metres)with their deep valleys with crystal clear waters, to the subtropical forests of KwaZulu-Natal coastal belt, to the bushveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo which stretches the length of the Kruger National Park – a reserve larger than many countries. And yet this is not even half of it!
The climate, in Northern hemisphere terms, is nearly always pleasant. A winter’s day is generally warmer than a summer’s day in Europe. Rainfall generally occurs in winter in southern Cape with the rest of the country experiencing the majority of its rainfall in summer, and then it is often short and sharp where after the sun comes out again. It is not for nothing that South Africans generally prefer a braai (barbeque) any day to a formal inside meal.
A variety of accommodation is available for tourist from the most luxurious (and expensive) to the good clean but reasonably priced; be this within the national parks, along the highways and byways, or in the international cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Food to suit most, if not all tastes, is available throughout the country. To many locals eating out is a national pastime so finding a suitable restaurant should not be a problem! Many of the parks however require the tourist to bring in their own food as only limited food is available in the park. Best to check beforehand! With the odd exception, the local water may be drunk without any fear of after affects. Bottled water is however available for those who would rather not take the chance.
South Africa is served by an excellent infrastructural network with freeways or motorways in and beyond all the major cities; high class roads link them and offer the opportunity for those that would prefer to self drive with hire cars from Avis, Budget, Tempest and others. Major and International Airports serve the country and is by far the easiest and quickest way to travel around a country as large as South Africa. Apart from South African Airways and British Airways, there are budget airlines such as Kulula, Mango and One Time where a considerable saving may be made. While there are Greyhound and other bus services, this is perhaps the least favoured means of travel. There are however many tour bus company, both large and small, which the tourist may utilise if they are less adventurous and would prefer to leave their direction and choice of accommodation to others.
Email Todd | 20-35 years of age
I was in the bush for 5 days, and saw large amounts of wildlife every time we went out. Leopards in trees, elephants, rhinos, impala, lions, giraffe, zebra, hippos, etc etc.. even had a rare siting of 4 male cheetah.... truly amazing. The scenic beauty was amazing. It is a majestic feeling. You are a million miles from anywhere and you truly feel as if you are witnessing something spectacular. You get a feeling of being a part of something that is extremely secretive. Hard to explain, its just simply an amazing experience. You are in the back yard of these animals home. The colors of so many of the birds were just amazing too. I don't recall the name of the bird, but this one bird was a deep blue color and was just beautiful. Some of the birds are just huge too.
South Africa is so amazing, I ended up never wanting to leave... so I haven't!
I first travelled to South Africa over New Years 2008/9, I loved it so much it was only 8 months before I was back and then I've stayed here (in various Game Reserves) since Dec 09.
My experiences vary -
I initially did a short trip through the country: Game Drives, cultural tours, (a bit of partying), visiting the sites. I visited most of the National Parks on the East side of the country and would say my highlights were Addo, Cintsa (Buckanners Backpackers) and Cape Town.
My next trip started in South Africa but was an overland trip through Southern and Eastern Africa, South Africa didn't feature too heavily but I did manage to get to The Cape of Good Hope which, even in bad weather, is still definately worth the trip. My advice for Tabe Mountain - get there as EARLY as possible, the crowds alone is the main reason but if the wind is high enough, the close the cable cars. (Take the double decker bus too - it's cheap and you get a tour all over the city and surrounds)
Since I've been back I've now experienced a variety of volunteer programmes. You'll find these vary in facilities, organisation, tasks, activities and what's included. I can say I've gotten a mix of everything. I have specifically vounteered in the wildlife area but some of this will be relevant for any area.
If you're interested in volunteering, ask what facilities the place has, we have so many people now that "expect" things and you simply have to say that you're in the bush, you're lucky to get a lot of what we do provide! Some places might vary in terms of hot water, electricty, how many people to a room, food situation (very important for me being a vegetarian!), vehicles.
In terms of what you'll be doing, don't volunteer if you're just looking for a cheap safari - volunteering means that although you get so much more of an experience than a lodge guest (you'll learn more, spend more time, get to know specific animals and not be as stressed to "tick off your list") you do need to give a bit in return. Enjoy what you're doing though - you'll learn so much more by being enthusiasic about helping out (and usually get better opportunities out of it as well - staff are always more willing to help out a great volunteer rather than one who's not)
Some places will say what's included but be aware, some may still "forget" to mention that the price only partially covers extras like excursions. Kruger trips would be a big example. Many don't mention that you will have to pay the conservation fee out of your pocket in addition to whatever they have said.
Most importantly though, have fun when you're volunteering - meet new people and get to know the locals more than you would normally.
Splendid trip to Sabi Sands
Our family group of six stayed at Jaci Sabi house in Sabi Sands and had a wonderful experience. Ralph, our ranger, and Nkosi, our tracker did a splendid job of finding animals for us. We spent more hours pursuing animals with Ralph and Nkosi than we did on our prior visit to Sabi Sands five years ago. We did more searching for animals in the dark on this trip than on our previous trip. Highlights of this trip included nearly an hour spent with a leopard including seeing the female leopard kill and eat a crested francolin; an hour spent with a pride of ten lions that included five females and five cubs, all in a lazy post prandial state. We saw bush babies, civet cat, genet using spotlight after dark. The birding was terrific with sightings of fish eagle, tawny eagle, Bataleur eagle, Verreaux's eagle owl, pearl spotted owlet, ground hornbill, goshawk, crested barbet, lilac breasted roller, ostrich male and female, oriole, go away bird, others that I would need to check my notes for. I saw many, many owls on this trip, which was not the case on my previous trip. We visited Sabi Sands five years ago and had a wonderful experience then as well, staying at Chitwa Chitwa. Jaci Sabi house is smaller, with a group size of six the usual maximum. The Jaci Sabi House household staff were wonderful and went out of the way to accommodate a wedding anniversary of our daughter and son in law that occurred during the trip. I am an amateur astronomer and visiting during new moon afforded terrific views of the southern Milky Way, southern cross, omega centauri, coal sack, eta carina, and before dawn the large and small Magellanic clouds were visible. I had no telescope but enjoyed binocular views of objects. Quite honestly, there were exquisite things to be seen around the clock, making it difficult to know when to sleep.
Email Annon | 35-50 years of age
Recently went to South Africa for a week.
Apart from the bad roads, worn down farms/buildings next to the road, rubbish everywhere, just like in Namibia, in some towns, and the fact that we were almost hijacked in Kimberly, I was pleasantly surprised!
We got great and friendly service from everyone right from the start, good food and drinks, exept from one place, best/affordable accommodation, clean malls, clean bathrooms, the weather was perfect and from the animals that we could see was a nice experience!
We visited a total of plus minus 6 towns. Every town is different. Every landscape is different.
Email L Mullin | 50-65 years of age | Experience level: 2-5 safaris
We were a family of 4 and used Viva Safaris with a stay at Tremisana Lodge. We did a 5 day/ 4 night safari. It was the most amazing experience from beginning to end!! We saw all the “Big 5” and so much more ! Tremisana Lodge was wonderful. The grounds were rustic and beautiful , the food excellent, and staff amazing.
Viva Safaris was beyond our expectations. The safari guides/ drivers were beyond knowledgeable and our itinerary perfect. The itinerary kept us busy, but with the needed downtime in between. It was the perfect balance of activities. From Bush walks, game drives, and animal rehabilitation centers, there was so much to do and see!! We would highly recommend Viva Safaris and a stay are tremisana Lodge!!
Email Terry | 50-65 years of age | Experience level: first safari
What an amazing animal adventure, one of my favorite trips!
We went primarily to see the wildlife in their natural habitat and the trip surpassed our expectations. The animals came so close to our vehicle and were not bothered by our presence at all. We got to see them behaving as they do, protecting their babies, protecting their kill, playing, eating, and sleeping. January is a good time to see the babies. The big cats are as awesome as you expect, the elephants are a delight to watch play in the mud, the giraffes are elegant, and who knew warthogs could be so cute! We did see the big five but those and the vervet monkeys and baboons were our favorites. I did not know what to expect with accommodations or food, but both were fabulous! Viewing animals outside your bedroom window is really cool and they fed us more delicious fresh, food than we could ever eat. The service was outstanding everywhere we went. People are friendly and helpful and our guides, Sebastion and Armand, and tracker, Rifos, were extremely knowledgeable. We hated to leave! Six days was really not enough to see and do all that South Africa has to offer. I recommend staying 10 days to 2 weeks if you want to get enough of animals, scenery and culture. We could have spent more time viewing animals and we missed out on museums and culture. Lastly, save room for the South African wine!