Kruger National Park
Lion Sands Game Reserve
Last summer, I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa to experience something I had dreamed about for years - a safari. Before flying down to Kruger National Park, however, we stopped in Capetown for a few days to explore and become acquainted with the city.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
One of our very first stops in Capetown was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain, it features a beautiful array of flora and fauna largely native to South Africa. There are numerous walkable pathways to take around the gardens, as well as a tree canopy walkway that allows you to explore above the trees and experience breathtaking aerial views of the gardens. Kirstenbosch was my favorite stop of my first day, as the weather was beautiful for walking around the grounds and I was ecstatic to be absorbing my first taste of South Africa. If you get hungry during your visit here, there is the Kirstenbosch Tea Room located on the grounds of the gardens, which along with tea features a variety of platters and picnics.
Another one of my favorite experiences in Capetown was the following day when I visited Boulders Beach, a popular tourist destination due to the African Penguin colonies that have settled there. As soon as we began walking down the street to reach the beach, you could already see penguins running down the side of the road. Although you cannot walk directly on the sand, there is a boardwalk that extends over the beach and provides a perfect view of the penguins. We were able to watch them waddle around on the sand and into the ocean- it was a wonderful experience to observe them in their natural habitat. Located nearby at just a minute’s walk away is Boulders Beach Lodge and Restaurant, which serves seafood as well as offering vegan and vegetarian options to accommodate anyone you may be traveling with.
Lastly, I have to mention my visit to Table Mountain, arguably the most iconic destination in South Africa. We had been wanting to make the trek up the mountain since we arrived, but our tour guide had been waiting to take us when the weather had the best visibility. Because the mountain is so tall (3,558 feet to be exact), on cloudy days, there is a chance you may not be able to see anything from the top. To reach the peak of the mountain, we took a cable car which provided spectacular views as we ascended the mountain (though it was rather scary when I thought about us dangling from a cable 3,000+ feet in the air!). Although far more chilly once at the top, the views from Table Mountain which overlooked the city were phenomenal, and well worth the wait. Additionally, there was a cafe located at the peak of the mountain, which was perfect to stop at for snacks and beverages.
Kruger National Park
After four days filled with exploring all Capetown had to offer, we hopped on a plane and flew to Kruger National Park for the safari. Upon our arrival, we were greeted in the small airport parking lot by our assigned guide and tracker in a safari vehicle. To my surprise, we drove on the road like it was a regular car, and after a few minutes pulled into our lodge- Lion Sands Tinga Lodge. This was one of the most beautiful places I had ever stayed, as it had a grand entryway that flowed directly to the outside with a sweeping porch that overlooked a river- although this was not the actual place where we would be residing. There was a main building where guests arrive, eat, congregate, and depart for safaris, while each individual lodge is accessed through pathways on either side of the building. In the daytime, we were free to go back and forth from the lodge and main area whenever we liked, but at night, needed a staff member to accompany us. There were frequently animals on the property and oftentimes by the pathway, so this was to ensure the safety of all guests.
Each day you stay at the lodge, you are taken on two game drives- one early in the morning, and one in the evening before dinner. I visited in June, which meant that it was chilly in the early mornings and once the sun set at night. However, with a fleece jacket and blankets that are provided in the safari vehicles, it was very manageable. The first three days, we drove around on the Lion Sands Game Reserve, which Tinga Lodge operates on. Here we were able to see the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo. Although this term was originally coined by game hunters as referring to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot, it is now used widely by safari operations as the animals that tourists most desire to see. However, there is an almost endless list of all the other animals you are able to sight at Kruger Park. Based on my experience, I also observed hippopotamus, giraffe, warthog, zebra, and hyena, to name a few.
On our last day, our guide took us off the Tinga Lodge grounds and into the official Kruger National Park general land. This is where I experienced my favorite moment of the trip, as our vehicle passed an elephant about to cross the path. We had been observing animals from a safe distance the past few days, but were lucky to encounter this moment where the elephant stood only feet away from our car. Although we couldn’t stop for long, as the guide said the elephant was indicating that it was uncomfortable with us being so close, it was an extraordinary moment that I will never forget.
When to Visit
I visited South Africa in June, which is considered to be the start of the country’s winter months. This meant that the weather typically averaged around 60°F (15C), which I found to be quite comfortable for walking around. This can be contrasted with the hotter summer months, which in South Africa fall between November and February. These are typically the busiest months for tourism in South Africa, which can mean accommodations are hard to book and popular attractions will be crowded. I would personally recommend planning your trip in the winter months, between June-August, as there will be significantly less tourists and more comfortable weather. This ensures that you will be able to enjoy all the country has to offer without worrying about long waits and big crowds at all of your stops.
Visiting South Africa was one of my favorite experiences I have had travelling in my life thus far. I hope to someday be able to return to go on another safari, but in the meantime, I can reminisce through these photos and memories. Hopefully once the pandemic is over we can all resume our traveling journeys and be able to have unique experiences like these once again.
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