Honeymoon Diary Part II: African Safari Trip Guide

plan-african-safari-trip

I am so excited to finally share my African Safari travel guide with y’all! If you haven’t already, check out my Cape Town travel guide which also includes a lot of general, know before you go information for a southern Africa trip!

An African Safari trip is a truly indescribable, once in a lifetime experience! It’s a quintessential bucket list trip.  It was magical. It was surreal. It was larger than life ….

If you ever have the chance to experience an African Safari …. DO IT! I hope this post will provide all the information you need to plan your safari trip! There’s a LOT of information to share so, stay with me! Before we get into the details, here’s an overview of our whole trip – 

4 days in Cape Town
3 days at Chobe safari in Botswana
1 day/overnight at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
3 days at Kruger in South Africa

Do you need a travel agent?

To be honest you don’t need one, but it has it’s advantages to an extent. We started off working with a travel agent but ultimately, decided to plan everything on our own for a couple of reasons – 

  1. We used points/miles for our flights as well as our hotel in Cape Town. Since we were already taking care of planning a big chunk of the trip, the agent’s up-charge just wasn’t worth it.
  2. We were told most of the lodges we were interested in couldn’t accommodate us for our dates. We ended up just reaching out to the lodges ourselves to see if they had other dates open, and we re-worked the logistics of our itinerary around that. The only thing the agent was really doing then is booking those lodges for us. Since we’d done most of the work anyway, we felt like the agent wasn’t adding any value.

That said, it did help to get started with an agent because he gave us some ideas on how to plan our inter-Africa flights and road transfers, etc. But lucky for you guys, you can get all that information here! :)

chobe-river-botswana-safariChobe River Cruise, Botswana
Interesting fact: This is a floating restaurant and it’s located in Namibia! The land you see in this photo is Namibia, which is across the river from Chobe National Park in Botswana!

How to pick which African safaris

When I first decided on African safaris for our honeymoon, I was kind of set on the Masai Mara in Kenya. However, if we were going all the way to Africa, we definitely wanted to include South Africa, specifically Cape Town. With that on the table, Kenya wasn’t ideal logistically because that’s in east Africa. So, that narrowed us down to southern Africa. We also wanted to go to Victoria Falls and Chobe in Botswana is very close to it. So, we picked Chobe in Botswana and Kruger National Park in South Africa. These are two very different parks so, we thought this would give us two very different experiences.

Chobe National Park in Botswana

Chobe is known for it’s large elephant population. At this park, Chobe Game Lodge is the only private reserve & the only lodge in the actual park. What this means is that you’d have to stay at a lodge outside the park, and during your game drives, you can’t go off road into the bushes; you have to stay on the designated paths. However, in Chobe, you can also do river cruises so, you get the opportunity to see hippos, alligators, etc up close. You can also see large herds of elephants (and other animals) come down to the river for a drink and it’s pretty magical to see from the river. Check out some of my photos from Chobe on Insta!

Kruger National Park in South Africa

The Kruger was a completely different experience. It’s significantly larger than Chobe and has large areas of private reserves. This means there are a lot of lodges inside the park and because they’re private reserves, you can go off road into the bushes. This is where we had the opportunity to chase a pack of wild dogs as they were on the hunt and see it all in action. Check out some of my photos from The Kruger on Insta!

best-africa-safari-tripImpalas in Chobe National Park, Botswana

Best African safaris for big 5

The African safari big 5 are lion, leopard, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, and elephant. We saw 4 of these – all except rhino – in Chobe National Park, and we saw all 5 at Kruger National Park. In our experience, the sightings were better and more frequent in Kruger National park, but there is never really any guarantee.

We were actually really lucky to see all 5, and multiple times at that. However, this isn’t the norm. We even met people who’d been on multiple safaris and hadn’t seen all 5. So, I would highly recommend that you manage your expectations. We constantly reminded ourselves that this was going to be an incredible experience regardless. Chobe is known for its elephant population so we knew we’d definitely see elephants. We told ourselves anything we saw in addition to that would be a bonus!

big-5-kruger-national-parkA lioness and her cub, Kruger National Park

Things to consider when picking your safari lodges

Safari lodges book months in advance & we started planning our trip in late January, for mid May. So, a lot of the lodges were already fully booked which narrowed down our search quite a bit. The nice thing with safari lodges is that a majority of your day is already planned. While the schedule varies by lodge, your typical day at a safari lodge will likely be something like this – 

5/530am – Wake-up call
6/630am – Depart for morning game drive after a light breakfast
930/10 am – Return to the lodge and have full breakfast
1230/1 – Lunch
330/4pm – Depart for afternoon game rive after a light snack
730/8pm – Return to the lodge and have dinner

Your days are pretty busy but you do have some time in between where you can relax in your room or in the common areas. Based on this, you can figure out what your priorities are when picking a lodge but here are some things to consider when picking your African safari lodges –

Location of the safari lodge

I only wanted lodges that are located next to a river. This way you can see animals that come down to the river for a drink. Sure enough, we saw a leopard and herd of elephants from our lodge in the Kruger – it was really fascinating!

Service at safari lodge

African safari lodges are known for their next-level hospitality and most lodges are all-inclusive. However, if you’re planning on a budget option, be sure to do your due diligence. Some budget options may not be all-inclusive so, you might end up paying extra for activities, alcohol, etc.

Safari Lodge Accommodations

Are you looking for a camping experience in a tent or a more luxurious experience? Of course, this also ties into your budget but definitely something to consider. Even if you want a camping experience, there is a range of budget to luxury options.

Safari Lodge Aesthetic

There are lodges ranging from a modern, minimal aesthetic to a classic, safari aesthetic. I spent a lot of time looking at photos, and pictured spending our free time on the property. We wanted a classic, safari feel so that’s what we ended up picking for both our lodges.

Responsible tourism at safari lodges

Spending time in these national parks really gives you a sense for how beautiful our planet is and how delicate the environment is. Because the existence of these lodges is so intertwined with the local ecosystem, it is crucial that they are mindful of this, and not disturbing the ecosystem. You can check the lodges’ websites to get details on their efforts in ecotourism, conservation, and environment & social responsibility.

Cost of a safari lodge

This can help you narrow down your list. More on cost below.

For Chobe, we really wanted to stay at Chobe Game Lodge, Ngoma Safari Lodge or Chobe Chilwero but they were all booked for our dates. So, we started contacting a bunch of lodges just to check for availability. We ended up going with Chobe Bakwena Lodge which isn’t a luxury safari lodge, but we stayed in a treetop chalet which was pretty cool. Plus, the lodge was on the river which I definitely wanted. You can see some of our photos from Chobe on Insta!

chobe-botswana-elephantElephant at sunset by Chobe river in Botswana

For Kruger National Park, we stayed in the Sabi Sands private game reserve, which was a totally different experience. This was the last part of our trip so we definitely wanted to end it on a high note. Every property on these private reserves is incredible so then our decision came down to availability and cost. We ended up picking Dulini Leadwood Lodge and we were blown away – it was luxury on a whole different level.

 

How much does an African safari trip cost?

African safari trips are expensive, but SO worth it! So, cost is a huge consideration. The timing of our trip was decided based on this. A lot of lodges’ rates basically double in June-August. We’d initially planned on going around the July 4th weekend but then decided on May because it was essentially cutting our budget in half. Lodges offer different promotions, especially for couples/honeymooners, so I would recommend reaching out to the properties you’re interested in an asking about any specials/promotions they may have available.

The cost varies on so many factors – where you’re traveling from, time of year, destinations and more – but I’ll provide general guidelines on how to budget for an African safari trip. A lot of African safari lodges operate like all-inclusives. So, the cost is per person, per night. You safari trip can cost anywhere from about $200/person/night all the way up to about $2,000/person/night.

There are definitely ways to stretch your budget – you can do stay in state-run camp sites & do self-drives but I, personally, do not recommend that especially, if it’s your first trip. For us, this was our first (and quite possibly only) African safari trip. So, we wanted to make sure we do it the right way. Staying in a lodge, where the game drives are included and everything is planned for you, made our experience a lot better.

sabi-sands-private-reserve-duliniOur incredible villa at the lodge in Sabi Sands Private Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa

How to get around internally

We mostly flew between destinations. As I’d mentioned in my Cape Town travel guide, Johannesburg is the main entry port for southern Africa so most flights to south Africa go through Joburg. We connected in Joburg for every flight. We flew from Cape Town to Kasane Airport (BBK), for Chobe, and that airport is really close to all the lodges. 

After Chobe, we headed to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. This was the only portion of our trip where we did a road transfer because of how close the two locations are. Plus, the whole drive is through Zambezi National Park which is pretty cool – we spotted some elephants along the road!

From Victoria Falls, we flew to Hoedspruit Airport (HDS) for The Kruger. This wasn’t ideal because there are two other airports closer to the Sabi Sands Private Reserve – Kruger/Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP), and Skukuza Airport (SZK)-  but we ultimately decided on HDS due to cost & flight availability. It’s about a 2-hour drive between HDS and Sabi Sands but it wasn’t bad at all.

We booked our airport transfers and our road transfer from Chobe to Victoria Falls through the lodges and had absolutely no issues.

what-to-pack-african-safari-tripKruger National Park

What to pack for an African safari

First off, the less pieces of luggage you have, the better. Trust me – when you’ve got multiple destinations, you really don’t wanna lug around & keep track of like 10 pieces of luggage. Between the two of us, we had 1 checked bag, 2 carry ons, and 2 back packs. Yep, that’s it! If we can do it, you can, too!

What to pack for an African Safari trip depends a bit on what time of year you visit. When we went, it was the beginning of their winter. Plus, we were also going to other destinations so, I wanted to pack as many versatile pieces as possible.

The safari lodges include daily laundry services so that makes it a littler easier. Your safari game drives can get pretty cold, especially in the morning, but then also really hot as the day progresses. Also, on safaris, it’s recommended that you don’t wear anything too loud/bright. So the key to packing – layers & neutrals. Here’s what I packed – 

  • 3-4 basic white/neutral tees
  • 4 sweaters/sweatshirts – lightweight wool sweaters are great because they’re warm and don’t take up too much space
  • 4 pairs of pants – a pair of dark jeans (great for travel + dressing up), a pair of olive pants, & another pair of light, linen-y pants. Oh, and the white jeans that I literally only packed for this one outfit – don’t miss the (not really) funny story in that Insta caption
  • 3 pairs of shoes – comfy, neutral sneakers (this exact pair), wedges (this exact pair – they’re so comfy I have them in two colors), and flat sandals
  • 1 neutral colored rain coat
  • 1 light scarf – this is great to cover your head/face during game drives, too!
  • 3 dresses – 2 casual and 1 fancier
  • 2 bathing suits – although I didn’t really get to use them
  • 1 sun hat – although I didn’t actually use it because during most of the game drives I had my scarf wrapped around my head/face so that took care of coverage from the sun. If you’re going in hotter months, I definitely think a sun hat would be crucial. Just make sure it’s got a string
  • 1 cross body bag that was big enough to fit my camera lenses and other essentials
  • Panty liners – I’m listing this specifically for safaris. They really come in handy during game drives. Game drives are typically about 3 hours and in most cases you don’t have access to a proper bathroom with toilet paper

What camera equipment I used

This was a very last-minute decision for me. I already own a DSLR – Canon EOS Rebel T2i – with a couple lenses but I knew my lenses wouldn’t do justice to this trip. So, I took to Google to find the best canon lenses for a safari trip and found a few options. After debating and considering a few things, I settled on the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens. Between that, the stock lens & my iPhone, I felt like I was pretty set. Of course, I could’ve used a couple more lenses with higher zoom and/or lower f-stop but I feel like these two lenses were sufficient enough. I bought a used lens – all my camera equipment is used – it’s a great way to save money without compromising on the quality.

best-camera-safari-tripCasually hanging out watching a pride of lions

This is when I took one of my favorite photos from this trip – this photo of a lion cub!

Know before you go

I already shared a lot of general, know-before-you-go kind of information – currency, vaccines, voltage converter, etc – on my Cape Town travel guide, but sharing a couple more things here there are specifically relevant to safaris and/or Botswana

Tips at safari lodges

Ok you guys, this is really important. With safari lodges, you’d typically have a ranger – that’s the person who takes you out on your game drives. Depending on the lodge, you might also have a tracker – this is the person who sits basically on the hood of the car and tracks footsteps and sometimes, actual animals into the bushes. So, you’d tip your ranger & tracker, in addition to the general lodge stuff – cleaning, laundry, kitchen, etc. These tips do add up to a significant chunk of your budget, and it was a miss when we were working on our budget for the safari trip.

This is really the only thing you’ll need cash for. Recommended tips – 

– A minimum of $15 – $20/day for your ranger
– A minimum of $10/day for your tracker
– A minimum of $10-$15/day. For the general staff, there’s usually a shared tip jar where you’d leave this money.

Language in Botswana

We hadn’t done any research on this but turns out, everyone in Botswana speaks English. In fact, our ranger told us that English is mandatory in schools!

Currency in Botswana

The currency in Botswana is Pula and when we went, it was 10.70 Pula to 1 USD. If you’re only in Botswana for the safari, you don’t necessarily need to have the local currency on hand because they lodge will likely accept USD or South African Rand. You can confirm with them in advance.

africa-white-rhino-krugerThe incredible white rhino at Kruger National Park, South Africa

When we saw this magnificent white rhinoceros in Kruger, our ranger said something that absolutely broke my heart – “Guys, let’s stay here for a while and spend some time with this guy. Really take it in because 8-10 years from now they’ll be completely extinct.” This is, of course, due to illegal poaching which, despite attempts at establishing rules/punishments around, continues to be a really serious problem. In the Kruger, they’re poached at the average rate of almost 3 rhinos/day. Yes, EVERY DAY! They’re basically hunted for their horns and then left for the dead. If that’s not really freaking messed up, I don’t know what is.

And that’s just rhinos. There are entire species of incredible wildlife, facing extinction because of illegal poaching. Because these tusks & horns are trophies. Because they make cool “exotic pets”. Because some cultures have widespread myths that some animals’ body parts have healing powers or help improve sex life. But that’s exactly what they are – myths. In most cases, the final consumer is not a local. These parts are sold on international markets for outrageous profits – the actual poachers are often impoverished locals for whom the risk of being busted & punished for poaching is worth the minimal profit they make from it.

You guys, these animals really don’t deserve this & this treatment is truly despicable! So, I’m sharing some ways for you to donate to help wildlife conservation, if you’re interested. Or if you just wanna learn more, these websites are fantastic resources.

DONATE TO WWF

DONATE TO SAVE THE RHINO 

      Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe travel guide

As I’d mentioned earlier in this post, and in my Cape Town travel guide, we were in Zimbabwe for a quick stop – to see Victoria Falls. I think we were actually there for less that 24 hours. We did a road transfer from Botswana to Victoria Falls. If I’m being totally honest, I wasn’t thrilled with our experience during this portion of the trip. I feel awful saying this, considering the economic turmoil that country is facing but for that reason, I would’ve expected much better hospitality since the country can really use the tourism income! Also, we’d heard from multiple people about the incredible hospitality in Zimbabwe and that just wasn’t our experience.

Zimbabwe Visa

For Zimbabwe, you need to get a separate visa and you can’t get it in advance. The visa is $30 USD/entry, which means if you’re planning on leaving Zimbabwe and coming back, you’ll need a multi-entry visa. If you’re planning on also visiting Zambia, you can get an UNIVISA which is $50 USD and allows visits to Zimbabwe & Zambia for 30 days. With this visa, you can also do a day trip to Botswana but if you’re planning on staying overnight, you need an additional UNIVISA to re-enter Zimbabwe or Zambia.

You can get this visas at the airport if you’re flying in. We had to get it at the border and it is a rather unpleasant experience. It’s the simplest thing but they move super slow. When we got there, I think there were maybe 7-8 people ahead of us and we were there for, at least 2 hours. So, definitely plan for that. We flew out of Zimbabwe and that wasn’t the most pleasant experience either. So, I imagine it’s just a challenging experience whether you’re going by road or air. It was all just chaos.

Currency in Zimbabwe

At this time, as the country recovers from the economic crash, the the US Dollar is the official currency in Zimbabwe. And Zimbabwe is not cheap. For instance, the hotel we stayed at was $400+ for the night – yikes! Anyway, you can’t use any cards there and there is no cash in any of the ATMs. So, definitely plan on having cash on you if you’re planning on visiting.

Visiting Victoria Falls

We only saw Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side and it was definitely surreal! We didn’t do a guided tour – there’s a path and we just walked ourselves. Was it worth the chaotic, unpleasant experience we had during this part of our trip? I really don’t know. But I’d like to think maybe that’s no the standard experience. If you’re able to, I would say add this to your itinerary but manage your expectations. The falls really are something to see. If you do end up going, plan for the helicopter tour. I was definitely bummed we didn’t have time to do this because we met other people who’d done it and said it was incredible!

victoria-falls-zimbabwe-tipsIn the midst of the mist at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I think that covers everything but if you have any other questions, feel free to send me a note! You can also check out the “Honeymoon” highlights on my Insta to see more! I’d love your thoughts – be sure to leave me a note in comments!

Need help looking for flights? Check out my 6 Websites to find Cheap Flights post for all my tips & tricks!
Wanna travel more? Here’s a post on How I did a Trip a Month in 2017!

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