What is a self-drive safari?
A self-drive safari is the kind of safari where you are in complete control. You get behind the wheel of your vehicle and head out into the wilderness for a no-frills safari.
A regular two-wheel-drive (2WD) car is sufficient for most self drive safaris in South Africa, including Kruger National Park. This is because most park thoroughfares are either paved or regularly graded.
A four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle is highly recommended for almost everywhere else, including the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. (If you decide to go on a 4WD self drive safari, it’s best to take a refresher or a beginners’ training session in the vehicle you intend to travel in.
The benefits of a self drive safari
- It’s affordable – If you are traveling on a budget, a self drive safari is an excellent option because it is way more affordable than a guided tour.
- It offers flexibility – With a self drive safari, you can control where to go, when to stop, how long to stop, etc. This is not the case if you are on a guided tour because they may be on a strict travel schedule.
- It’s private – With a self drive safari, you are traveling with your friends and/or family, as opposed to perfect strangers.
Things you should know before going on a self-drive safari
The best sightings for self-drive safaris are almost always early in the morning. You can always nap in the middle of the day or go to bed early, but you don’t want to miss the best time for the sightings.
Make sure you have enough gas/petrol
With the exception of Kruger National Park, most national parks don’t have gas stations. They could be hundreds of kilometers away. To avoid being trapped on a game drive, make sure you have a full tank before entering the park.
Obey the speed limits
Wildlife can be cleverly disguised. There may even be animals right next to the road. You will not see them if you drive too fast. On gravel roads, most national parks have a speed limit of 50 km/h, and dirt roads have a speed limit of 40 km/h or less. That may seem slow, but make sure you stick to these guidelines at all times.
These speed limitations are in place to keep you and the wildlife safe, so don’t be tempted to go faster – even (or especially) if you spot something fascinating in the distance.
It’s possible that you won’t see anything for a long time, but don’t be discouraged. They are out there, so be patient. It’s part of the pleasure to not know what’s going to happen next, so accept it and take in the landscape.
Use an app to help you spot the animals
The Latest Sightings app keeps track of sightings in Southern African national parks. Guests report sightings, which are updated in real-time with GPS coordinates, so you can go to the exact location where an animal was spotted.
Turn off external sounds
When traveling about on a self-drive safari, you want to remain as quiet as possible. This means that music, podcasts, audiobooks etc should be turned off at all times and voices should be kept to a whisper.
Stop and listen
Stop your car, turn off the engine, and listen to the sounds of the bush. Keep an ear out for unusual high-pitched animal noises or continuous bird chittering. Smaller animals will usually give this warning sign if they notice a predator hiding in the bush.
Pack a picnic
Game drives can be unpredictable. A two-hour game drive can quickly expand into a three, four, or five-hour game drive. There may be pit stops to get snacks here and there, but this is not always available. It’s, therefore, best to take your own food and water.
Depending on where you go, there may be several authorized picnic locations. You could also eat while you are driving.
Plan your potty breaks
Toilets are often far apart. You are not permitted to leave your vehicle except in authorized areas, so plan your toilet breaks. The toilets are well-marked and noted on maps.
Do not go off-road
Keep in mind that the bush vegetation is extremely fragile. Off-roading causes erosion and the spread of invasive plant species.
Respect the animals and the environment
Please don’t litter, yell, or scare the wildlife while you’re in their natural habitat.