I went on an incredibly amazing safari in Tanzania in East Africa before I met Keith. So intensely magical was that experience that it overshadowed my euphoria from successfully summiting Mount Kilimanjaro during the same trip.  I had a safari fever and was looking forward to share the same great safari experience with Keith. So when we  planned our travel to South Africa,  there was no question that a safari adventure was going to be the main highlight in our itinerary. South Africa after all is considered one of the premier safari destinations in the world.  We visited two of its  prime game reserves – Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.

Did our South African safari measured up to my East African safari experience? Did it become the high point of our time in South Africa?

Kruger National Park
Kruger is the flagship among more then 20 game parks in South Africa. About the size of the state of Connecticut or Israel, it also the largest. It boasts a rich variety of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and trees. It is said to deliver the best Big 5 (lion, rhino, elephant, leopard & bufallo) game viewing in South Africa.Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaWe arrived for our morning game drive very early.  The best times for game spotting are early morning and late afternoon. We visited  in June. It is said that the winter period of April to August is a better time to go for safari here as the vegetation withers around this time,  making it easier to spot the animals.

Sunrise in Kruger National ParkThe beautiful sunrise at Kruger National Park.

Rhino on Safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa Our first wildlife sighting of the day – a robust black rhino! It was coming out from the bush and seemed to be checking both directions before crossing the street.

A Lion on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaHello, king of the jungle!  You may blend with the rock but we still see you.

Lion on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaA king scouting for prey from above a rocky hill.

Giraffes on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricWe were watching these three graceful long necks peacefully mingling with one another when all of a sudden the bigger two got into a fight. They were hitting their necks against each other so hard that we thought they were about to break.  After about a couple of minutes, the neck wrestling suddenly stopped and they calmly walked away from each other as if nothing had happened.  We wished we knew what the fight was about

Bird on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricA beautiful blue bird on a bush.

Zebras on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaA gathering of the stripes.

A zebra on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaA Burchell’s zebra upclose and personal.

A zebra on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaWhat could possibly caught the attention of this herd of regal female impalas? A lone male impala passing by.

Mangoose on Safari in Kruger National Park, South AfricaMongooses in their hole.

Bonfire and Perfomance at Safari Lodge in Kruger, South AfricaWe enjoyed a bonfire on our last evening of safari in Kruger at our lodge. We were also treated to traditional dance and music performances by talented local youths from an orphanage in the area. They raise funds to support themselves and their institution through their performance.


Hluhluwe-Imfolozi ParkJeep Safari in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, South AfricaThe oldest proclaimed national park in South Africa,  Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park  is only twentieth of the size of Kruger but boasts rich wildlife and impressive conservation efforts. Rhino in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve Park, South AfricaThe park is world renowed for its conservation of almost extinct white rhinoceros.  Due to the success of its program, the population of white rhinos grew from less than 20 in the mid-1900’s to more than 10,000 today.

Warthog on a Safari in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, South AfricaA hungry looking warthog.

Elephants on safari in in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, South AfricaThump thump thump…Here comes a huge elephant claiming his territory.  He was walking into the direction of our jeep that we had to back up.  I guess after being satisfied with having enough space between him and our jeep, he turned on the roadside and started munching on the greens. He probably didn’t want to share his meal.

Nyala on safari in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, South AfricaAn elegant lone nyala.

Giraffes on Safari in Hluhluwe-Omfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa AfricaWe couldn’t have enough of these statuesque beauties.

Water Buffalo on safari in in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, South AfricaA cape buffalo in a mud spa.

Zebra in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, South AfricaA zebra looking so tranquil.

A bird atop  a dead tree during safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa

 A bird atop a dead tree.

So how was our South African safari experience?  We saw four of the Big 5 at both parks; the leopard was elusive as always.  We saw more wildlife at both parks than we were able to photograph; it was either they were very far high up on a hill or were partly covered by thick bushes. Even in the winter we found the vegetation very lush.

Overall, it was a delightful experience. It is always fascinating to see the wildlife in their natural habitat and to observe and learn about their behavior. However, we both didn’t feel the kind of overwhelming amazement I had during my safari in Tanzania.

South African vs. East African Safari
I found the wildlife sighting in East Africa much more abundant. Being  surrounded by myriad of grazing wildlife in the savannah of Tanzania was astonishing, It made me feel like I stepped into a National Geographic documentary film.

Sighting in South Africa was sparse in comparison. It was far and few in between.  However, this doesn’t mean that there is less number of wildlife in South Africa. The big disparity in sighting lies in the difference in topography.

East African game parks have an advantage of being situated in savannahs or plains dotted only with occasional acacia and baobab tree and offer panoramic view as far as the eye can see. This landscape certainly afford easier viewing of plethora of wildlife. The landscape in South African game parks, on the other hand, is  far from flat and open.  They are situated in bushvelds characterized by very lush vegetations, craggy hills and valleys making it harder to see the wildlife in the open.   We could sometimes hear them but not see them.

The biggest draw for me in East African safari  is the marvel of the great migration. Seeing a staggering number of wildlife in one location is an incredible sight to behold. This ecosystem phenomena does not occur in South Africa.

One thing that surprised us in South Africa was that the roads were paved in the  game parks for the most part. We felt that it took away from the rawness of the surrounding and somehow made us feel that we were in giant theme parks rather than in the wilderness. However, it makes the game drive more comfortable and you don’t run the risk on being stuck in muddy areas.  If you prefer a more comfortable and more sanitized game drive then South African safari is for you. This being said, South African safari is more suitable for family with young children. There are also some game parks in South Africa that are malaria-free zone and ideal for families.

IF your main goal for traveling to Africa is to go on a great safari and intend to make it a trip of a lifetime as well as to see Africa in its raw form, I suggest that you head to East Africa (Tanzania or Kenya – or both!). To make it much more memorable, time your trip during the great migration.

But if you prefer multi-faceted activities  with a safari being just one of them, then I suggest that you consider South Africa.  It is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country with so much to offer. Other than going on safari adventure, you can soak in the charm and sophistication of its world class city of Cape Town, go vineyard hopping in its gorgeous wine country, beach bumming in Durban, hiking in the soaring Drankensberg range, whale watching, cage diving to see the great white sharks, take a scenic road trips along the Panoramic Route and Garden Route, trace the footsteps of one of the greatest heroes of our modern time – Mandela, and many more.

So what became the highlights of our trip in South Africa if not the safari? They were the unexpected.  For Keith, it was the visit to Mandela’s house in Soweto and his cottage in Paarl where he stayed during his house arrest. Those places seemed to vibrate with his powerful presence. It was touching just to be there. The highlight for me, being a history buff, was witnessing for myself how far South Africa had come along since the era of apartheid. It was very heartening.

Related posts:

About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

67 responses to “South African Safari Experience

  1. Hi Marisol, What do you think was missing this time around. Was it just that you had seen less of the world the first time you were there? Or was the experience itself different in some way? We definitely want to go to East Africa to Safari but would also visit South Africa for the other reasons you mention. Did you see the migration? I loved your photos. I’ve not seen the Warthog in blog photos before – he is a beauty.
    budget jan recently posted..The Strangest Food I’ve Eaten While Traveling or a Cup of Pink Pickled CabbageMy Profile

    • Marisol

      HI Jan, sorry but I don’t think I understand that first two questions (I’ve only been to both Tanzania and So Africa once, so the trips I referred were both first time around). If you’re asking about the difference in experience between East African and South African safari, yes they’re different in a lot of ways as I outlined in the post. Yes, I did see the great migration. You should not miss it when you go on your East African safari. You will be blown away. The warthogs are certainly adorable!y

  2. Agness

    The fact you could get so close to these wild animals makes me feel so jealous, but I also admire your for being so brave and adventurous. Amazing photography. I went on a safari trip in Sri Lanka 2 years ago, but I can’t compare it with your South African one.
    Agness recently posted..25 Lessons Learnt While Travelling In Asia For 3 YearsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      HI Agness, in some cases the animals were not as close to us as they appeared in photos. We used zoomed lens:) But those that we did really see upclose was really amazing, I hope you get to an African safari someday.
      Marisol recently posted..South African Safari ExperienceMy Profile

  3. Sophie

    Gorgeous photos – and Interesting, useful comparison of safaris. I’m trying to persuade my kids to go, and have been thinking Kenya or South Africa. So maybe Kenya for the safari, then – and then South Africa for everything else.
    Sophie recently posted..Svartisen Arctic GlacierMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Sophie! I’m glad you found the comparison useful. I hope you and your daughters will have a great time in both Kenya and South Africa.

  4. Molly S

    Amazing photos! I’d love to go on a safari. My aunt and uncle live in Cape Town, and I keep meaning to go and visit them but haven’t managed it yet. It must be incredible to get so close to the animals in the wild.
    Molly S recently posted..Friday photo….My Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Molly! What are you waiting for? Go pack your bag and visit your family in Cape Town. Keith and I love Cape Town and would go back in a heart beat. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it, too!

  5. Erica

    Such an interesting comparison! My family lives, and I grew up, in a town about 2hours away from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game reserve, and I love it! I agree that the experience might not be as ‘authentic’ since the roads are paved, but with the rain we get there, it’s certainly necessary or else only those in game viewing vehicles or off-road vehicles would have access. There’s little I enjoyed more as a child than packing up my dad’s little car early in the morning, heading off, and spending the day driving around seeing the animals, finding the hides where nobody goes, and getting to experience wildlife in such a personal way. I only went on a ‘safari’ on honeymoon, and frankly it wasn’t as much fun as going it alone.
    Erica recently posted..The week of… waving.My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Erica, oh wow! What an amazing childhood! You were so lucky to have the reserve in your backyard! I’m sure going on a safari can’t compare to experiencing wildlife in such a personal way like you had. Thanks for pointing out about the amount of rain SA gets, hence, the need for the road.

  6. Bama

    The paved roads remind me of Hong Kong in a way, where hiking trails are mostly paved, such a stark contrast to what one will see in Indonesia. However as you said, visiting South Africa is a lot more than just going on a safari. In fact, when it comes to South Africa what come in my mind are the diverse cultures of Cape Town, the Table Mountain, the vinyards and the old colonial towns.

    Marisol, just out of my curiosity…how often do you travel in a year? Because it seems like you and Keith are constantly hopping from one corner of the world to the others in a matter of weeks. :)
    Bama recently posted..The Jewel of Eastern BaliMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Bama, paved hiking trails? Interesting. I prefer them natural:)
      Ha! Ha! Yes we travel a lot. But this one is not a recent trip. We have a huge backlog , which makes it appear that we’re hopping somewhere every week:)

  7. johanna

    Loved your photos and love safaris! We lived in SA for many years, and I so miss everything about the experience of being in the bush. Thanks for the memories, Marisol :)
    johanna recently posted..Inspiring women – Brenda EllenMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Jo, thanks! I’m jealous that you have lived in so many amazing places! It must have been a wonderful experience living in SA. I can see myself living there – love the country, love the people. I’m glad we brought you good memories.

  8. Katie

    Seems like you can’t go wrong with either area for a safari, but if east Africa tops your photos here, count me in! A safari has been on the top of my list for ages… The great migration would be so amazing to see. I can’t lie, I’m a little jealous that you got to see safaris in several areas. :) Too bad those leopards are so elusive, but 4 out of 5 is pretty awesome!
    Katie recently posted..Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, ThailandMy Profile

    • Marisol

      It’s true you can’t go wrong in both places, it just a matter of preference. I’d say yes I think my East African safari photos top the ones here, mostly because of the enormous amount of wildlife cover in most shots. Unfortunately, I shot them in film and scanning them to post will not come out the same. But we do plan to go to East Africa sometime soon and I’ll sure share the photos. The migration is truly amazing to see. I hope with all my heart that you get to experience it soon – and that you get to see those elusive leopards!

  9. Beautiful! Good to hear the comparison between the SA safari and East Africa. I would love to see a migration (and climb Kili!). What a magnificent experience. But you sure saw some beautiful creatures in South Africa too!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Surrendering expectations in Lake AtitlanMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Sarah! I sure hope you get to see the migration and climb Kili sometime soon.. They’re amazing experiences.

    • Marisol

      Thank you Nancie. I know, it was quite a shock to see them fighting,

    • Marisol

      Hi Janice, thank you! Glad we were able to bring you back fond travel memories.

  10. Corinne

    Marisol, I think safaris are one of my favorite things to do. I’ve not been to Tanzania or Kenya. I really want to go to the Serengeti migration. I will one day. Love your photos and great write up!
    Corinne recently posted..K is for Korea (A-Z Blogging Challenge)My Profile

    • Marisol

      Thank you Corinne. I truly hope that you make it to Serengeti sometime soon. It’s landscape is beyond amazing and the wildlife will blow you away.

  11. Marcia

    Hey Marisol & Keith,

    Congrats on climbing Kilimanjaro. I was surprised to read that your safari experience in Tanzania topped that it but having done a safari in Zimbabwe, I totally understand.

    I’m glad you had the two experiences to compare. When we planned our trip to South Africa, our travel agent strongly suggested we do our safari in Zimbabwe because of the reasons you mention. South Africa is great but their parks are “managed.” In other places, you’re in the true wild.

    We had wonderful sightings each drive we went on. We saw of 4 of the Big 5, including the elusive leopard. We didn’t see the rhino. My dream is to see the Great Migration, that I know is quite an experience.
    Marcia recently posted..African Burial Ground National Monument, NYCMy Profile

    • Marisol

      HI Marcia! I didn’t expect myself that my safari experience would top my Kili climb.. I trained so hard for the climb and so focus on it and the safari was just an afterthought. But I was really blown away by the wildlife and landscape.
      I’m so glad to hear that you had a good safari experience in Zimbabwe. Nothing can beat having a wildlife experience than in the true wild. We wish to make it to Zimbabwe sometime.. Did you have a good Victoria Falls experience?
      I hope you get to experience the great migration soon.

  12. Ah, I’m so jealous right now! I loove giraffes, my dream is to see them in the wild. One day…
    Catherine recently posted..Bollywood ExplainedMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Catherine, don’t be jealous, I’m sure you’ll get to see your dear giraffes in the wild sometime soon. (I just said a little prayer for you:) It’s really amazing to see them in the wild. Be prepared to be blown away.

  13. Gorgeous photos and I loved my virtual safari tour with you guys. Your adopted siblings enjoyed these pictures as well :) A safari is on our “dream trip” list and we hope to do this soon. If only it didn’t cost an arm and a leg for a family of 4. Thanks for the tips. I think if I were to go to Africa, I would enjoy it in its raw form so Kenya and Tanzania it is. But, at least I know who to ask for information :) Have a blessed Holy Week.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..The Wonders of Lower Antelope Canyon ArizonaMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hello Mary, aww…I’m so pleased that my adopted siblings enjoyed the photos. I really hope that you’re family will get to experience the safari of your dream sometime soon. I know it can be really expensive for a family, but it will be really really worth it. I can just imagine the look of awe from the kids. Feel free to ask for any info. Have a blessed Holy Week to you, too.

  14. These photos are incredible. I would love to go on a real safari some day. My friends who has kids the same age as mine went on safari in Tanzania in January and absolutely loved watching the great migration. In comaparison, we were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the same time (during the Polar Vortex) and all the animals were hiding from the cold. I would love to see the Big 5 – and that warthog – in their native habitat.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Chiang Mai’s Golden Temple on the HillMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michelle, thanks! LOL! Poor animals, Not even the hot-blooded creatures got spared from polar vortex. I really hope that your family can experience the real safari soon. It’s an experience like no other. Nothing can compare in seeing the wildlife in their natural habitat. I can’t imagine the priceless impressions it will leave in your kids’ mind.

  15. Thanks so much for this overview/comparison of safaris in the East vs. South. I’ve had my mind made up for a long time that I’d love to go on safari in Tanzania during the Great Migration – it’s a dream trip that we were supposed to take last year that fizzled. But hope is still alive! I love the picture of the lion – they’re so beautiful yet so intimidating! I also love that you were able to see one of the tribal dances. Oftentimes, I think that the people of Africa get overshadowed by the animals, so it’s great that you got to experience some of the local culture.

    • Marisol

      Hello Dana Dear, our pleasure. I wish with all my heart that your Tanzania safari dream will materialize very soon. Hope is always alive! Wait till you see the lions in person!! You and Jave will have a priceless time.
      We were really happy to see the tribal dances in South Africa, especially because we hardly seen traces of indigenous culture during our time there.

    • Marisol

      Hi Noel, it truly was a gorgeous trip. I’m please you enjoyed the photos. I hope you get to visit there soon.

  16. Oh my what an adventure. The photos are incredible, it’s like you’re just a few feet away from them.
    Photo Cache recently posted..Cancun: El MecoMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hey Maria, thanks! And thanks to the magic of zoom lens!

  17. If only I could afford to be a safari junkie, I think I’d sit in a jeep and go round and round all day looking at the animals! I agree with you on the comparison of East VS South Africa. I enjoyed Kenya and Tanzania more than Kruger National Park and to a certain extent, even Botswana. I did these safaris in the days when I had a little point and shoot camera. I’d love to go back and takes some more photos…Yours are fabulous.
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted..Postcards from the KimberleysMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Jenny, sounds like you’ve been to a lot of safari! Good for you. I’d love to go to Bostwana myself. I think going back on safari to take better photos is a good excuse to do it again.
      Marisol recently posted..The Old City of JerusalemMy Profile

  18. Lady Fi

    Your shots are so beautiful. What a great experience.

    • Marisol

      Thank you Fiona. It was yruly a fun trip.

  19. fun60

    What a great post describing your experiences. I feel I have been able to to share a little through your photos.

    • Marisol

      Thank you! Glad that we were able to take you there.

  20. Reading the comments, it’s great to see many people love and are excited by African Wildlife Safari’s. It is especially encouraging because back at home many peopls including the authorities, still take these resources for granted.

    an addendum …
    South Africa is much more developed economically has more tourist facilities, more marketed and so more visitors. East Africa, especially the Mara and Serengeti have larger concentrations of wildlife than any place in the world. East Africa also offers much more than wildlife safari other attractions include the sugar white sand beaches along the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania (at par if not better than the Asian and carribean beaches), the ancient swahili civilizations of Lamu and Zanzibar, Mountain Gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda and mountain climbing Mt Kenya and Ruwenzori (2nd and 3rd highest peaks in Africa), much cheaper but more difficult to climb than the Kilimanjaro.

    Great post, looking foward to reading more of your trip in South Africa.
    Rachel M recently posted..Lake Nakuru Nat. Park; Wildlife GaloreMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Rachel, thank you so much for that informative addendum. A return to East Africa is on the horizon so I’m really taking note of it. What a rich region..

  21. Thank you for the comparisons of East and South African safaris. I didn’t know there was so much of a difference. South Africa has been on my bucket list for a long time. Hopefully I get there soon!

    • Marisol

      Hi Kendra, my pleasure. South Africa is truly a beautiful country. I hope that you get to visit it soon.
      Marisol recently posted..The Old City of JerusalemMy Profile

  22. Shey

    What an amazing experience you’ve had, which convinced me to experience this someday too. The images are also beautifully captured!
    Shey recently posted..Blood MoonMy Profile

  23. Such great tips! I have been to Africa 4 times, but never made it to a safari. I would love to go someday! I love that you got to go back with your husband – it’s always so great to experience things together. Great photos of the animals – I especially love the ones you took early in the morning! That ‘golden hour’ light looks amazing on the animals!
    Erica Baker recently posted..Photography Tips for Bloggers – Shooting with White BackgroundsMy Profile

  24. Marisol

    Hi Erica, thanks. Glad you enjoyed the photos. I hope you get to do on a safari next time you’re in Africa. Yes, I was really glad to get to experience this with my husband.
    Marisol recently posted..The Old City of JerusalemMy Profile

  25. Wow, superb weblog layout! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for?
    you make blogging glance easy. The full look of your web site is wonderful, let alone the content!
    google.com recently posted..google.comMy Profile

  26. Hey guys it was beautiful in watching the photographs taken by you. After seeing it I love to have a trip to Africa.

  27. Igot this web age from myy friend who told me about thiks website and at
    the moment this tiime I am browsing his website and rading very informative articles or reviews here.
    safari book hologram recently posted..safari book hologramMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge