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Safari in South Africa on a Budget

Giraffes seen on a safari enjoying a meal at Kruger National Park in South Africa
Giraffes seen on a safari enjoying a meal at Kruger National Park in South 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 $475 for three days, visitors can take a budget safari in Kruger National Park, one of the best wildlife viewing places in Africa. Many other options and packages exist including "ecocamps," for those wishing to visit for longer periods, families, types of transportation and accommodations, and activities.

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.

Camping during safari in South Africa
Camping during a safari in South Africa. Photo by David A. Smith.

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.

White rhino and lion in Kruger National Park
White rhino and lion in Kruger National Park.

For More Information

Almost any hostel in Nelspruit or elsewhere in South Africa can book the budget safari tours. Get picked in the morning. Stay overnight at the hostel and leave your excess baggage behind.

Nelspruit Backpackers. You book inexpensive tours and see the many wildlife parks and botanical gardens in the region, including the Jane Goodall Institute.

The Mozambique consulate in Nelspruit is open most of the day.

Transportation to Nelspruit from Johannesburg

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 are expensive.

Greyhound and Intercape have daily buses to Nelspruit. All start in Pretoria; some continue on to Maputo, Mozambique (7 more hours).

The Baz Bus offers door to door hostel service in the form of a "Hop on Hop off" ticket, or there are 7- 14- and 21-day passes. See the website for more information. This is a South Africa backpackers institution.

There is also the train, “Komati,” but it runs at night arriving in Nelspruit 4 a.m.

Normal Health Precautions

As a matter of normal precaution, be sure to take malaria tablets and protect yourself from mosquito bites if you go on a safari in South Africa. Consult your doctor before you go, since you need to start the tablets some days before you arrive in any such area. More information regarding all vaccines you might need in this part of the world is available at

Visit South Africa tourist information for more information.

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