South Africa has been on my list of countries to visit for many reasons; the culture and history, scenery, wineries, and of course ANIMALS!!! Last November I found a cheap flight to South Africa and squealed with excitement because I knew that this was going to be my chance to go on a safari and see all of the animals from my Wildlife Fact File binder. *Please tell me I am not the only dork that had this book of animals as a kid?
When researching South African safaris I was overwhelmed with the information on the internet. So, I made a list. Yes, a list. This helped me narrow down my search so my brain didn’t explode from safari info overload. Here is what was most important to me: 1. Game viewing (that’s a no-brainer) 2. Limited crowds 3. Affordable and all-inclusive and 4. Near the Garden Route (since I was renting a car to drive the route I wanted to be somewhat close).
Why I didn’t choose Kruger National Park
It was a tough decision. Kruger is Kruger, it almost felt like it was a must do. However, after reading reviews it didn’t fit my list. 1. Game viewing – well of course you are probably going to see animals in Kruger. 2. Limited crowds – I did my research and while Kruger can be amazing, it is also a shitshow of tourists who want to get that perfect shot. Once one vehicle spots an animal the hoards arrive. There might be two lions with 20 or so cars crowded around, that doesn’t seem authentic to me. 3. Affordable – Kruger can be affordable especially if you choose to self-drive. But, if I am driving how am I going to spot animals? 4. Near the Garden Route – nope. Not close. The reason I decided to pass on Kruger was the overcrowding of vehicles when viewing wildlife.
What is a Private Game Reserve?
My next option was a private game reserve. Private game reserves are large chunks of land where animals live without fear of being poached and are hunted in a controlled environment. Most game reserves serve as a wildlife preserve, animals are bought and placed on the land.
There are TONS of lodges that offer safaris on private game reserves. I don’t know how I stumbled upon Amakhala Private Game Reserve but it was a diamond in the rough. Amakhala had everything I wanted. It is near Port Elizabeth, the perfect starting point for driving the Garden Route to Cape Town. That is another reason I chose this reserve.
1. Game Viewing Without Hoards of Tourists
In a private game reserve you get to see the animals without the crowds and with excellent rangers. Amakhala has a rule that only two safari vehicles can be at an animal sighting at one time. You don’t have to fight for the perfect shot when there are only to cars. And the best part is since it is a private reserve those safari vehicles can go off-road and get closer to the animals.
2. Private is Private
Sharing is not caring, at least in this case. Similar to the hoards of tourists lining up to view that one lion. At a private game reserve there is a limit of how many people can be on the reserve at one time. At a national park, such as Kruger, anyone can enter which can lead to traffic jams and people who don’t know how to drive (they are the worst). At a private game reserve you might stumble upon two or three other game viewing vehicles on your four hour drive. That is is…two or three. This allows you to view wildlife in their natural environment doing what animals do.
3. Everything from Budget to Luxury Accommodations
Amakhala has several lodging options, you can stay in a lodge, swanky private cabins, or as I did a tent. The tents at Woodbury Tented Camp aren’t just any tents, their tents and lodge are nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed at and just look at this view! The tents are secluded, I think they have eight or so tents on the property and the only tent I saw was the one I stayed in. Definitely nice for when I want to be naked and sit on the deck (ok, I didn’t do that because Carly was there).
4. All-inclusive Option
Another big reason I chose Woodbury Tented Camp at Amakhala was because it was all-inclusive. Two safaris a day plus booze and food were included. In the morning the chef would ask how we wanted our eggs, and for dinner we were given a few options to choose from which were made to order. The kitchen crew made sure all of our meals had a taste of South Africa, one night we had a braai (aka South African BBQ).
5. Family Style Meals = Easy to Make Friends
I was a little nervous about the family style seating. As much as I call myself an extrovert I have introvert tendencies and being forced to be social wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Was I wrong! I loved eating family style, we told stories of what we saw on safari that day, made connections with people from all over the world, and got liquored up laughing the night away. I think one of the reasons I loved Woodbury so much was because of the other guests.
6. Guides Who Know Their Shit
On to our guide, Jason, he was AMAZING! Jason was beyond knowledgeable on South Africa, African animals, Amakhala, and life. At times Jason would stop the car, get out, look in the dirt, and say “there was a cheetah here earlier, look at the tracks, let’s go find him”. Like come on! He was an animal tracking wizard, he knew where to look and how to spot them all while driving the car and chatting with us. Just amazing. You can probably find knowledgeable guides anywhere, however guides know their reserve like the back of their hand. They know where the elephants like to have breakfast and which bush the cheetahs lay under.
7. Ability to Off-Road
On a private game reserve the guides can go off road to get a better look. One morning Jason spotted the lion pride from what must have been two football fields away. He quickly pulled off the road and drove towards the lions To make experience even better Jason was our guide for the duration of our stay.
8. Nighttime Game Viewing
The beauty of staying at a private gamer reserve is exploring at night. Night drives offer you a completely different experience. For example, on our night drive we saw the lion pride on a hunt and more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life. National Parks such as Kruger close at night so you don’t get a chance to see the nocturnal animals.
I am beyond happy with my choice. When I thought of a private game reserve I thought it would be small and we’d see the same thing everyday. That was not the case, I stayed four nights and each day Jason took us on a different route around the reserve. There was a couple in our group from Singapore and they mentioned the reserve is bigger than their entire country. The staff was friendly and accommodating. The food was tasty. The animal viewing was SUPERB. If you are looking for a budget friendly safari in South Africa I highly recommend Woodbury Tented Camps at Amakhala.
This safari took me back to my childhood; flipping through my wildlife fact book imagining myself spotting animals in the bush. I can’t wait to book my next safari. Let me know if you have any recommendations.
*This is not sponsored. I just loved Amakhala so much I want to share it with you.