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Budget African Safaris

Budget Safaris in Africa

I woke up to lions roaring. I unzipped my tent and looked at a full moon. Hippos bellowed loudly only 60 feet from me, and huge fruit bats flapped and squeaked overhead.

An African safari is expensive in most African countries, but in South Africa the locals offer dozens of cheap hostels all connected by the door-to-door “BAZ BUS,” a budget traveler’s dream. For about $80 a day visitors can take a budget safari in Kruger National Park, one of the best wildlife viewing places in Africa.

I booked my tour at Nelspruit Backpackers Hostel in the town of Nelspruit, a stopover between Pretoria / Johannesburg and Maputo, Mozambique.

Our safari camp boasted manicured grounds, park headquarters, restaurants, stores, and a gas station—all surrounded by fences to keep the wild animals out. Our tents had mattresses and down comforters. You can also stay in traditional African huts. A clean shower and toilet building was nearby. A cook prepares all meals.

For most of the day—17 hours—we travelers from all over the world were in a safari truck, stopping only for meals and no more than 10 minutes to view an animal. We drove on through the park—with our guide Pieter barely mentioning the dozens of gazelles, zebras, deer, colorful birds—until we came to a halt as a cobra slithered across the road. We also saw a herd of cape buffalo with birds on their backs, a lion, leopard, and an elephant, giraffes, baboons, hyenas, mongoose, fox, warthog, impala, springbok, steenbok, insects the size of your ears, and magnificent birds—all from our perch in the shaded safari truck. Just before the camp we spotted a rare black rhino a few yards away. We came back to camp exhausted, but with grins on our faces.

For More Info

Any hostel in Nelspruit or elsewhere in South Africa can book the budget safari tours. Pickup at the hostels is 6 a.m. Stay overnight at the hostel and leave your excess baggage behind.

Nelspruit Backpackers, 9 Andrius Pretorius St., Nelspruit, South Africa; Tel. 011-27-13-741-2237; nelback@hotmail.com; www.nelback.co.za. Their tours are called Mbombel Safaris. The hostel offers clean dorms $8 or double rooms $18. Call from the bus
station and they will pick you up.

The Mozambique consulate in Nelspruit is open in the mornings. Local tel. 753 2089. Visas $9. It's a long hassle to get a visa at the border and more expensive.

There’s an international airport in Nelspruit  but most travelers fly into Johannesburg and take the bus. Ask if your hostel can pick you up at Johannesburg International Airport. There aren’t any buses and taxis start at $60.

Airport

Backpackers (Tel. 011-27-11-394-0485; airportback@hotmail.com) is 1 mile from the airport and will pick you up for free. Even better is to stay in the charming capital Pretoria from where the buses head off for Nelspruit. I stayed at Kia Ora hostel (257 Jacob Mare St.; Tel. 011-27-12-322-4803; hostel@absamail.co.za). Dorms from $7, rooms from $17. They charge $25 for an airport pickup, cheaper per person if a group.

Getting to Nelspruit from Johannesburg

Greyhound, Intercape Mainliner, City to City and Translux have daily buses to Nelspruit (5 1/2 hours; $22). All start in Pretoria; some continue on to Maputo, Mozambique (7 more hours). www.greyhound.co.za; www.translux.co.za; www.intercape.co.za.

The Baz Bus (www.bazbus.com) offers door to door hostel service at about 3 times the regular bus fare, or there are 7- and 14-day passes. This is a South Africa backpackers institution. There is also the train, “The Komati,” but at this time it goes at night arriving in Nelspruit 4 a.m.

There is malaria in Kruger Park but not Nelspruit. Be sure to take malaria tablets and protect yourself from mosquito bites. Consult your doctor before you go as you need to start the tablets some days before you arrive in a malarial area. More information at www.cdc.gov.

For South Africa tourist information, go to: www.southafrica.net.

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