When it comes to wildlife, the most spectacular and awe-inspiring scenes take place when no one else is around. This is how I once came to see a lion in the process of eating a hippo climb inside the same, very-dead hippo for better purchase, get briefly stuck, and sit up wearing the hippo like a hat.
African safaris, the go-to for tourists who want to see similar awe-inspiring scenes but aren’t always sure how to go about it, occupy a weird space in our public consciousness. Popularized by wealthy colonizers taking pampered hunting expeditions with every comfort money and imperialism could buy, safaris are romanticized as dusty adventures where folks rough it.
Even as photographic safaris have surpassed hunting ones in popularity, the modern safari is more often a luxury-driven experience where you pay $800/night for glamping tents and guided tours, hot stone massages and meals provided by private chef. The more modest ones can still feel out of reach for people who’ve neither the budget nor the temperament for all that. Big groups also make you noisier, more conspicuous -- you might find yourself wishing for alone time so you could (patiently) wait for wary animals to emerge without anyone else around to scare them off. Big Cats wearing a hippo like it's a tauntaun, for instance.
Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the top safari destinations in the world. Tour pricing varies by company, departure point, time of year, and degree of luxury, but you can expect a basic five-day guided safari package to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000. This is obviously a lot of money, but on the lower end of safari-pricing.
What’s often less advertised is that you don’t actually have to be on a guided safari tour to enter the park. If you’re someone who wants to go to Kruger to see some wildlife and is figuring out whether you have the coin: There is absolutely nothing stopping you from renting a car and simply taking yourself on a safari instead of paying someone else to. Kruger is flat, crisscrossed with paved and dirt roads, which means you don’t need a 4WD Jeep situation to traverse it. You can do it in any old sedan, and for less than half of what you’d pay on a tour.