If you're looking for a Big 5 safari experience in South Africa, you can go to almost any province however, the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces remains an iconic tourism drawcard.
The Big 5 - teaming of lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos - move around the park and you see them by self-drive, guided drives or guided walks through the bushveld.
But remember, you are not in the middle of a National Geographic documentary. You may well see all Big 5, or you may not, but note your chances are high. Drive slowly, stop at waterholes, listen for the warning calls of birds, watch when other vehicles stop and always keep your eyes open.
If you're heading for one of the private reserves you can fly to Kruger Park International Airport (KPIA) in Mpumalanga and be picked up there. Or your lodge can arrange a charter flight from Johannesburg. Or hire a vehicle at KPIA and drive yourself in Kruger. It's best to hire a van or combi because you will have more leg room, and you'll sit up higher for spotting game. Reserve well in advance.
Drive yourself in Kruger National Park, the roads are excellent. Arm yourself with a good map you can buy on arrival. Or take a guided game drive. If you stay at a private lodge you will be driven in an open-air game vehicle by your ranger.
Game drives in your own vehicle are fun, but nothing can beat a ranger's practiced eye. Go on a drive or walk guided by a ranger. You will learn plenty, and see much more than you might have on your own.
Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Authority
Tel: +27 (0) 13 759 5300/01
Fax: +27 (0) 13 755 3928
Kruger Lowveld Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)13 755 1988
Reservations: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Kruger National Park
Limpopo Tourism Agency
Tel : +27 (0) 15 293 3600
UK TOUR OPERATORS
If you have kids, stay at one of Kruger's bigger camps which have a pool, a shop, a restaurant, and often nightly open-air video shows. Good tip: it's always better to make a telephone booking than on line.
Check with the private camps if they take kids - not all do. Here are a few examples:
Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges
MalaMala Game Reserve
Timbavati Game Reserve
Klaserie Game Reserve
There's something delightful about every season. But late winter or early spring are particularly good. The grass is still low after winter, and water is concentrated in only a few places, making spotting easier. The other attraction is that it's birthing season in the bush, which is just starting to flush green after the first rains.
If you're keen on seeing all of the Big Five, give it at least three days. But remember, there are no guarantees in the wilderness.
Prepare to be amazed. To see a leopard dozing in the bough of a tree, spotting a black rhino half-hidden in thick shrubs, finding a pride of lions in the shade after a kill, or watching a large herd of elephants or Cape buffalo move soundlessly across the road - these are all priceless moments you will not want to miss.
Always remember that you're dealing with wild animals and that you're in their territory. Thereffore, there are rules of engagement relating to Big 5 safaris in South Africa. Read your guidebook carefully and heed the words of your ranger at all times.
Accommodation for Big 5 safaris in Mpumalanga are either within the Kruger National Park or on the neighbouring private reserves. Some lodges pride themselves on showing the Big 5 to guests in record time and you'll even walk away with a certificate.
Once you've accomplished Big 5 activities in Mpumalanga, it's time to ‘sweat the small stuff' and learn about wondrous creatures like the dung beetle...
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