If anyone’s happened to catch Taylor Swift’s dreamy, beautiful video for ‘Wildest Dreams’, you’ll probably have thought that a trip to the plains of Africa is indeed the trip of your, uh, wildest dreams. Now, you don’t necessarily want to swan around in a billowing yellow dress, inches from a pack of lions, but you do no doubt want to roam free under the setting orange sun, spotting wild animals and kicking up dust with the wheels of your jeep. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and should be tickling the top of any intrepid traveller’s bucket list.
Naysayers may claim that safaris are ludicrously expensive, or that they’re too strenuous, or difficult to plan. All of those are myths. A South African safari is a completely achievable trip, one that needn’t remain a dream for much longer. Why not check out BUCKiTDREAM and see if there are any other dreamers out there who’ve had similar thoughts, or even better, someone who’s actually gone ahead and done it already? You can look through their snaps and get some inspiration going, or check out this article to get some ideas fired up for your own adventure. Don’t forget to take note of the best ones in your handy BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Kruger National Park
The most comprehensive safari experience, the one that will make sure that you don’t do things by half, is to be found in Kruger Park. With rolling acres of awe-inspiring scenery and an exotic animal at every turn, Kruger is Africa’s second largest game reserve and the largest to be found in South Africa. It contains the full house of the ‘Big 5’: African lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, African leopards and the so-ugly-it’s-cute-rhinoceros. Though the term was originally coined by hunters in reference to the five hardest animals to hunt on foot, in Kruger the animals are completely safe and are free to roam their natural habitat.
Kruger is a one-stop shop for the complete safari experience. You won’t need to leave the park for the duration of your stay; that is assuming you could safely trailblaze your way out of the 320km by 65 km expanse of Kruger (top traveller tip: don’t try it). It features a number of self-catering rest camps that vary in price and location, but all equipped with a genuine African atmosphere that’ll keep you close to the animals and very much out in the wild.
The majestic flat-topped peak overlooking the sprawl of Cape Town and the jewel in the crown of the surrounding national park, Table Mountain is certainly a sight to behold. Plenty of other sights wait to be beholden if you can make it to the top, which you should definitely do if you get a chance to visit the provincial capital of South Africa’s Western Cape province. You don’t even have to walk it if you don’t feel up to it; instead, why not take the famous Cableway? This aerial tram will take your breath away as it suspends you in mid-air and carries you towards Table Mountain’s namesake, the ‘table’ at the tip-top of the summit.
You’ll probably catch a few sights around Cape Town while you’re there; a popular spot to stay in is the beautiful Manna Bay Hotel, a little boutique number that won’t break the bank and sits right at the foot of Table Mountain. From your cosy base at the Manna, you can head off for a safari in the surrounding wilds of the capital, and catch most of the animals you can see at the bigger reserves on the other side of the country, while still keeping close to the urban centre of Cape Town.
Stellenbosch Wine Tours
Just outside the capital lies Stellenbosch, (one of) the gourmet capital(s) of the world. For those of you who love food and drink just as much as wild animals, this is definitely worth a stop on your dream trip of South Africa. An experienced tour guide will lead you through the expansive, sun-drenched wine fields, where you’ll get the chance to taste some authentic, mouth-watering vino and catch some amazing views from the Cape Winelands region. There are a number of tours available, with ones to suit both your tastes and schedule, and the kind staff at Stellenbosch Wine Tours will pick you up and drop you back to your hotel when you’re finished. And it doesn’t stop there; hand in hand with the wine comes fine dining. The Stellenbosch area is packed with top class restaurants for you to take your pick from, each of them serving up a selection of national and international menus. Clos Malverne, Tokara and Towerbosch are all ranked among the best of the best.
How long you spend here is up to you. It’s easy to slot in a couple of days as a breakwater to the safaris, and it’s maybe easier to kick back and relax here for a whole couple of weeks. The problem with South Africa is that everywhere is too interesting, the experiences too new and exciting, that you’re often spoilt for choice. And on that note, let’s throw another one into the mix.
The Garden Route
It could be that guided tours aren’t your thing. Maybe you don’t like being led around, and would rather do things on your own time, at your own pace. That’s fair enough; this is your dream holiday after all. And while we certainly wouldn’t advise manning your own safari expedition into one of the National Parks (seriously, don’t do it), what you can do by yourself is traverse the majestic Garden Route, a coastal paradise that lies on South Africa’s southern coast. There’s organised trips too of course, but the best way to see all the delights of this area (and there are many) is to rent a car and drive it.
The stretch of coast they call the Garden Route is just under 300km, but the range of natural sights on offer is staggering. You can get involved in a number of activities, from canoeing the ancient rivers to hitchhiking through the near-magical forests or just simply soak up the sights, which include beaches, lakes, lagoons, mountains, fauna; pretty much any natural delight you care to imagine. An absolute must-visit is Coffee Bay, home to the world’s most beautiful sunrise and a place where you can ride bareback on horses across the golden beaches; stay in style at Ocean View Hotel or chill out at the more affordable Gecko’s B&B.
The All-Inclusive Safari
On the other end of the scale are the all-inclusive safaris, the ones where someone other than you takes care of everything and takes you all over the hotspots of South Africa. These all-in-one packages can be found all over the country and are a great choice to take the hassle or intimidation out of a maiden safari trip. These tours are contained and all-inclusive; with operators such as Kuoni, you’ll get to see everything we’ve talked about above – South Africa’s Greatest Hits, as it were. Kruger, Swaziland, the Garden Route and Cape Town are all covered, and all you have to do is show up at the right time, then kick back and relax as you’re lead across one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Tips and Advice
First of all, when should you visit? The most important thing to remember about South Africa is that the seasons are inverted compared with the Northern Hemisphere; summer is November to January, while the off-peak months are June, July and August. The latter months are better for discounted rates on trips and accommodation, but the best weather is certain to be found around Christmas, strange as it may seem.
Second, you’ll probably want to know what to pack. Well, that depends on where you plan to visit. It’s not uncommon to experience a number of seasonal weather hallmarks in a day over at Cape Town and other coastal areas, while the northern areas such as Kruger can be affected by heavy summer rains. When it comes to safaris, the best thing to pack is a pair of comfortable and practical shoes, followed by lightweight, comfortable clothing and a warm jacket or jumper for the chillier evenings and potential early morning starts.
Everybody’s out for a dime in the larger cities of South Africa, so if you’re not keen on haggling, the best advice is to book everything ahead to secure a set price. Be aware that if you look too much like a tourist, the local merchants will try and take you for a ride or two, so keep your wits about you and don’t get conned by an opportunistic salesman.
South Africa traditionally gets a bad rap for its crime rates, but you shouldn’t treat it any differently than you’d treat a major European or US city. If you use your common sense, don’t walk alone at night and don’t dress up too flashy, you should be perfectly fine. Obviously, the closer you get to the major cities, the more dangerous it gets; out in reserves like Kruger you’ll be safe and sound; just keep an eye out for the lions.
As we mentioned before, many people think safaris are too much hassle and too expensive to organise. In today’s world, that is entirely untrue. Don’t let thoughts like these stop you from having a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll never forget; a South African safari seriously is the stuff that dreams are made of. If you like what you’ve read here, start up a list in your BUCKiTDREAM planner today, and start charting a route for your very own dream safari holiday.