EP006: Kruger Safari and Blyde River Canyon, Easy and Cheap

For those of you like animal roam wild, add Kruger National Park into your bucket list.  We’ll also be showing you the easiest way to get to the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon, and Echo Caves.

  • Reasons to visit Kruger
  • Safety Advice
  • Advantage of Doing It Yourself
  • Getting to Kruger orpen Gate and Town of Malelane
  • Accommodations at Orpen Gate
  • Park Hours and Fees
  • Recommended Inner Route for Orpen Gate to Olifants River
  • Getting from Olifants River to Blyde River Canyon
  • Sunrise at Blyde River Canyon and Local Handcraft Market
  • Echo Caves

I love seeing animals, especially roam freely on the planet we all share.  I can’t imagine how I will feel if I got locked up in a cage with strangers walking by everyday or forced to perform on daily basis.  That is one of the reasons I rarely visited the zoo or places like SeaWorld or places that held animals primary as tourist attractions.

So, where do you go to see the big five game animals; African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros and other ones like grafts and kudos?  Consider Kruger National Park in South Africa, easily accessible from Johannesburg.

Reasons to visit Kruger

  • Tourism discourage poaching by creating jobs within this sectors and with greater number of visitors, the harder it is to poach.
  • Greater appreciation of nature and our beautiful magnificent planet.
  • Many affordable and inexpensive options
Open jeep carrying tourist in Kruger.
Open jeep carrying tourist in Kruger.

With that begin said, let begin our journey from the Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport.  Given majority of us never being to a Safari, this is a rare case where I actually recommending joining a tour group given higher level of crimes in South Africa, including carjackings and safely involving interacting with wild animals.  Not to mention the convenience of having tour guide who knowledge of large varieties of safari animals, able to prepare your sleeping tent and cook you a fresh meals.  The average cost of budget all-inclusive 3 to 4 day tour is approximately $450 to $700 USD, including park admission fees.

Safety Advice

But for those of you who are adventure enough to drive, here is some great safety tips:

Malaria

  • Kruger is located in the malaria risk area with the highest risk period between December to April.
    • If beware of the following symptoms:
      • shaking chills that are moderate to severe
      • high fever
      • profuse sweating
      • headache
      • nausea
      • vomiting
      • diarrhea
      • anemia
    • Follow the ABCD approach
      • Awareness of risk – find out whether you are at risk of getting malaria.
      • Bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering your arms and legs and using a mosquito net.
      • Check whether you need to take malaria prevention tablets – if you do, make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the right dose, and finish the course.
      • Diagnosis – seek immediate medical advice if you have malaria symptoms, including up to a year after you return from traveling.

Carjackings and driving

  • South Africa has high incidences of carjackings, so always drive with windows close and doors locked.
  • Always keep a phone with you in case you need to call a roadside assistance, which should be included in your car rental.  Be sure to check if the air conditions works, trust me… you’ll need it.
  • While in the safari, do not get out of your vehicles, unless you are on the private reserve without carnivores predator that pose danger to human.
  • The maximum speed limit is 50 km/h on tar roads and 40 km/h on gravel roads. Please note that not all roads are accessible to caravans.
  • The maximum speed limit for rest of South Africa is 60 km/h on a public road within an urban area, 100 km/h on public road outside an urban area which is not a freeway, and 120 km/h on freeways.

Predators and Animals

Charles Huang on a private reserve in Kruger National Park, where ground tour is allowed
Charles Huang on a private reserve in Kruger National Park, where ground tour is allowed
  • Light draws many insects along with their predators, including bats and frogs.  Therefore, make sure to keep your screen doors closed to prevent any unwanted animals
  • Always walk around at night with a torch as spiders, snacks and scorpions are part of the environment and will not harm you unless being threaten.  If you do come across one of these predators, do not try to catch them.
  • Do not feed any animals, feeding them will result them being more aggressive and may have to be destroyed.

Advantages of DIY = Doing it Yourself

Now, you are on a the DIY Travel Show, DIY = Do It Yourself.  So, we’ll focus on making the most out of this trip and getting there on your own.  Some of the advantages includes:

  • More freedom and spend time on areas that interests you
  • Able to drive over to Swaziland and Mozambique (with appropriate auto rental agreement)
  • Save money by choosing different types of accommodations

Getting to Kruger and Town of Malelane

There is three recommended way to get to Kruger

  • By air from Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport to Skukuza Airport in Kruger via a feeder airline such as Airlink
  • All inclusive tour of Kruger National Park (Very Recommended!!!), again, it only cost $450 to $700 for 3 to 4 days for a all inclusive tour (including park admissions)
  • Do it yourself by driving there for a self-guided tour

Given there is so many entrances, we recommended Orpen Gate due greater abundance of inexpensive camping tent accommodations and large varieties of animals roaming on the open grasslands, including the Big Five.

You need to rent a SUV, yes… please check if the air condition is working!!!  The average cost of rental for SUV should cost no more than $75 USD, insurance included.  However, beware some rental companies that charges low, but only provide with low mileage allowance, avoid them!

Now, here is the recommended directions from the O.R. Tambo (JNB) to Orpen Gate.  Although this route consist of tolls, it is also one of the more safer route, with lower possibility of carjackings – open in Google Maps:

O.R. Tambo to Orpen Gates Recommend Route
O.R. Tambo to Orpen Gates Recommend Route

However, we recommend you pickup some sandwiches, drinks and snacks in the nearby town of Malelane since food inside Kruger are extremely over priced.  You can find both Pick and Pay and Spar where you can stock up for the dinner and breakfast.

Spar Super Market in Malelane
Spar Super Market in Malelane

 

Accommodations near Orpen Gate

Typical Camping Tent in Kruger
Typical Camping Tent in Kruger

Don’t forget to pickup some cold beer, try the Castle, its the national brand and fill up your petro/gas tank for long Safari drive tomorrow.  For rest of the day, check in to your hostel or hotel to relax, enjoy your cold beer and some good night of sleep to wake up early for the speculator sunrise drive.  The average cost of the tent accommodation for a night is approximately $25 to $40 per couple or $60 to $70 for bed & breakfast types, in US Dollars.

Park Hours and Fees

Gate Times

Jan

Feb Mar

April

May June Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Entrance Gates Open

05:30

05:30 05:30

06:00

06:00

06:00 06:00 06:00 06:00 05:30 05:30 05:30
Camp Gates Open

04:30

05:30 05:30

06:00

06:00

06:00 06:00 06:00 06:00 05:30 04:30 04:30
All Gates Close

18:30

18:30 18:00

18:00

17:30

17:30 17:30 18:00 18:00 18:00 18:30 18:30

If you want the true safari experience, we recommend you wake up early and go for a sunrise drive, the sunrise typically starts 5:30 am, so try to wake up around 4:30 am for breakfast and heading to the Gate.

South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R66 ($6.50) per person, per day
R33 ($3.20) per child , per day
SADC Nationals (with passport): R132 ($13.00) per person, per day
R66 ($6.50) per child, per day
Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors): R264 ($26.00) per adult, per day
R132 ($12.50) per child, per day

We recommend you book in advance, given there is a daily quota for each of the gates, 60% is reserved for advanced bookings and 40% being kept open for visitors to enter on a first-come first-served basis.  you can reserve in advance by calling (012) 428 9111

Recommended Inner Route for Orpen Gate to Olifants River

Recommended Route from Orpen Gate to Olifants
Recommended Route from Orpen Gate to Olifants River

Kruger National Park consist of 19,485 square kilometres and trust me, you do not want to get lost.  Also, for your safety, you should leave the safari area before closing hours or if you are staying over night, continued to your camp accommodation within Kruger. I recommended the route seen above, which is on the main road and in my option, safer and easier than other alternatives.  It is also widely used given it is most likely you’ll encounter all Big Fives, additionally in event that you car breakdown, you can assure there will be passer by.

Kruger After Dark Guided Game Drive
Kruger After Dark Guided Game Drive

It is my opinion after full day of driving, you’ll make the most out of your safari adventure by relaxing at one of the inexpensive camps and staying over night to enjoy the clear safari night sky and stargaze.  It’s also dangerous to wonder at nights when some of the large predator are active at nights and the risk being caught after the closing after the park hours, you could be fined by the rangers.

However, there are many licensed guided night game drive operated by local tour groups, they ranges from $25 to $50 per person.

Olifants River to Blyde River Canyon

Olifants River to Blyde Canyon
Recommend Route for Olifants River to Blyde River Canyon

After a good night of rest and stargazing, its time to head over the our next destinations, the Blyde River Canyons.  If you use the recommended route, you’ll see more of the Big Fives along with other amazing animals.  The drive should take about 5 to 6 hours depending on the road conditions.  On the route, make sure to drop by little towns to pick up some nice handcrafts to support the local economies, few dollars might not mean a lot to us, but it goes much further for them.  Again, after a long drive, find accommodation nearby such as a bed and breakfast, or self-catering style accommodation starting at R450 or $40 USD.

Sunrise at Blyde River Canyons

Blyde River Canyons
Blyde River Canyons

I have to confess, I didn’t take this lovely photo seen above since on the day I was there the weather was really terrible.  But that is how it should look like if you go there during the sunrise.

Taken on a rainly day at the Blyde River Canyon
Taken on a rainly day at the Blyde River Canyon

I recommended you get up around 5 am to catch the sunrise.  But make sure to bring a windbreaker and careful of the slippery slops.  Along the side of the road, you’ll find many local handcrafted arts and jeweleries.  Make sure to bargain and never accept the first price, the average piece of art work cost less than $5 to $8 USD.

Local Handcraft Shops at Blyde River Canyons
Local Handcraft Shops at Blyde River Canyons

Echo Caves

Echo Cave near Panorama Route along the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga
Echo Cave near Panorama Route along the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga

With short driving distance away is the Echo Caves, echo was given to the cave, as a certain stalactite formation produces a distinctive echoing sound when tapped on.  It is arguably one of the most beautiful and popular travel destinations in South Africa.

Tour Hours: 8:30 am to 4:00 pm

Admission Price: Z50 or $4.50 US Dollars for Adults, R20 or $2.00 for Children under 12

The recommended tips are R20 or $2.00 US Dollars, the tour guide made their living from tips, so make sure to be generous.  He’ll give you a history of the caves and dangerous area to avoid.

Breathtaking Formations at The Echo Caves
Breathtaking Formations at The Echo Caves

Finally, I hope you enjoy this guide and if you find it helpful, make you subscribe to our channels on YouTube, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest.

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