I’m passionate about wildlife but I’m pretty darn cheap. I’d pay money to go on a safari, like in South Africa or Sri Lanka, but it seems that many of the tours offered are incredibly expensive.
So a long time ago I decided self-drive safaris are the way to go. But when I tell people that they look at me like I want to be mauled by a lion. But it’s totally easy!
When we were in the park and I saw these Mercedes sedans driving around the park, I had to laugh. Why do people think you need to pay tons of money to see wildlife? My guess is one of the following reasons:
- The driver can navigate the park.
- The driver knows where the wildlife normally is.
- The drivers communicate and tell each other where the rarest animals currently are.
- You need a special car.
- Otherwise, you get lost.
There is a little bit of truth to all this, but it’s all nullified.
- Navigating the park is extremely simple. It’s often a few roads in a circle and they give you a map.
- The map has the wildlife hot spots and waterholes listed.
- The drivers are so busy trying to get in an out, it seems that any inside tips are rarely helpful.
- You can rent a 4×4 car.
- Again, navigating the park was super super simple.
And with regards to a special car… there were Mercedes in the park! Of course, there are some roads they couldn’t go on, but the main road of the park was paved. Many parks have main roads that are
well decently maintained.
I rented a 4×4 truck from thrifty and when I got there I thought, “man, we could have gotten the $10 a day car.” Although, we did hit some back roads.
And with regards to the guides seeing more animals. The only times I saw the tour groups were for the peak times (morning and evening) but it was brief. And they were always staring at a group of zebras or something. We’d go around, like, “I’m so over zebras”.
We saw it all. We did. Well not leopards or chetahs, those are quite rare at Pilanesberg, but we saw everything else. We have pictures to prove it.
(Check out our post on Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa for a ton more photos).
The first cheap thing we found as far as tours was $200 a person to be in an open-air kind of shuttle bus.
Another thing is that they lie to you. At least our hotel (the InterContinental) told us that the park would be 40 minutes away. What a joke. It takes 2.5 hours each way. That’s 5 hours of your day right there. Now if you’re doing a 7 or 8 hour tour, that’s 2 or 3 hours of wildlife. Max.
Call it jetlag, but I was up at 3:30 am. and we left at like 4:30 not realizing how long it takes. We did have a GPS for my first time ever. It was efficient (and somehow I thought there would be a toll road) and we didn’t hit traffic, so it was more like two hours.
This way we got to see both prime times, the morning and evening. And we spotted the same lions upon entering and leaving.
What we spent:
$16.30 -park entry + map
$67.34 -1 day 4×4 vehicle rental
$4.89 -GPS rental for 1 day
$76.70 -fuel for truck
There’s no way you could possibly convince me that our truck with GPS wasn’t 100 times better than being in that shuttle bus tour. We saw everything the tour busses did. I know this because they were all telling us about this Kotu, which we saw all over.
“You saw a Kotu huh…neat. Yea, I see. Alrighty, see ya later.”
Rules & Safety
- Never get out of the car, except in designated areas.
- Do not be a jerk and leave your car running when you’ve stopped to see an animal. Period. It scares the animals off, so as much as the AC is nice, have some respect for the animals and other people paying to be in the park and turn off the car when you stop. This and humanizing by sticking your body out the window will scare off most animals.
- The first person to see the animal seems to have the right to sit there as long as they want.
- Don’t piss off the elephants. Really, don’t get too close.
- The booklet they give when you enter the park, yea, read it.
- Get there early or stay late. And when I say early, I mean sunrise.
- You see more in wide open places, and obviously bodies of water can not only serve as a wide open place but as a watering hole.
- Go slowly. Where there’s a group of animals, there’s often more.
Picking the car:
I would get a 4×4. The only reason not to is to save money. But I imagine not all parks have such easy roads. However, just google or youtube the park. When I looked up Kruger national park, I saw a video of a ton of paved roads. You could go in your lowrider and be fine. There may be roads you wouldn’t go on, but I imagine the paved road goes to all the main places.
So for Kruger and other big parks, check Dr. Google or youtube. If you want to save the cash, get a cheap rental car if the majority of the footage you see is paved. But even in Sri Lanka the dirt roads were completely flat and well maintained. However, I could see a big rain making a mess. So we opted for the 4×4.
Get the idea out of your mind that there are some special qualifications or skills required to be a safari driver. It’s easy, simple and a heck of a lot of fun.
Reasons not to do a self-drive safari:
- You enjoy other people telling you when/what to do.
- You prefer paying more money when possible.
- You don’t know how to or can’t drive a car.
- You prefer having a driver.
- You want a limited amount of time in the park.
- You want other people’s heads in your photographs of animals.
If those don’t appeal to you, rent a freaking car. There are even a number of companies that rent camping gear with the truck. Many times the tent goes on top of the truck. When you get into overnight safari prices, then you’re really getting ripped off. Even the hotels near Pilanesberg were very expensive.
All there for you, if you’re ready to save money and see wildlife.