Maria Yee and her boyfriend Aloysius booked flights to South Africa with their sights set on the abundant wildlife in Kruger National Park. With a strict budget in mind, they worried that planning an amazing safari would be tough - but they ended up having an unforgettable experience at a reasonable price. Read on for Maria's advice to budget-conscious travelers and some of her favorite moments in South Africa!

Where are you from? Tell us about your travel style. 

Maria and Aloysius on a game drive. Photo courtesy of Maria Yee. 

My boyfriend and I are both from Singapore, so we usually take shorter trips around Asia. Our only experience traveling out of the region was to Germany a few years ago, so we were definitely overdue for another long-haul trip. We tend to do leisurely trips with exciting sights, plenty of history and culture, and a dose of adventure. We love seeing new things and trying new things! Prior to this trip, we'd never been to Africa so it was really exciting for us. South Africa definitely did not disappoint. The country is so diverse in landscape and environment, it was a wonderful and unforgettable trip.

How did you choose South Africa, and specifically Kruger National Park, as your destination of choice? 

Impala herd grazing in Kruger National Park. 

We originally intended to go to Japan for our holiday, but when it came to booking our flights, we realized that flying to South Africa would take the same amount of air miles - it was a no-brainer. We'd never been to South Africa, but knew that going on safari was a must. I asked friends for some recommendations and Kruger National Park, being one of the biggest game reserves in South Africa, was at the top of the list. It quickly became clear, however, that there were lots of alternative reserves and lodging options. I didn't want to spend countless hours researching to find the perfect safari lodge. 

Through kimkim, Howard from Africa Travel Gateway helped narrow the choices according to our preferences. We ended up staying in a private reserve adjacent to Kruger. It had everything we wanted - private game drives with knowledgeable guides, a great location within the park for spotting animals even when resting at the lodge, and comfortable accommodations at a reasonable price. The experience, both in planning for the trip and the safari itself, was outstanding.

You mentioned that you had a tight budget for your trip. Did you find it challenging to plan a safari with your budget in mind? 

Elephants with Maria's tent in the background. Photo courtesy of Maria Yee. 

Planning a safari on your own can be a challenge, and many people in Asia book through local tour agencies. These tend to be either large group tours or bespoke luxury trips, both costing a premium but none really meeting our needs. Before finding kimkim, I approached an Asia-based agency that specialized in safaris for a quotation - our budget, not to my surprise, was way below their minimum. While we weren't willing to lose out on service and experience, a simple but comfortable safari lodge would have sufficed. So, planning a safari with our budget in mind would have been very challenging, but it ended up working out really well with kimkim.

What part of your stay in Kruger National Park stands out as a favorite? Were there any challenges that you didn't anticipate?

View from the tent in Kruger National Park. Photo courtesy of Maria Yee. 

All of it was exceptionally memorable. When we got to the safari lodge, we found out that we were staying in the best tent in the lodge - the only tent that had a direct view of the watering hole. We'd be lying in bed or sitting on our front porch while watching the animals quench their thirst or bathing right in front of us. It was amazing! We saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, warthogs and African buffalos, just to name a few, and saw all of the "big 5" within two game drives. Each subsequent drive was better than the last.

On the other hand, my boyfriend fell ill while on safari; probably a mixture of the travel and heat. The sun was scorching in the afternoon. Luckily we were well prepared with medication. I would recommend packing extra vitamin c, doctor-recommended travel medication, and sun protection just in case!

How did the safari fit in with the rest of your South Africa itinerary? Would you recommend this route to others?

Safari sunset from the Jeep. Photo courtesy of Maria Yee.

The rest of our South Africa travel was centered around Cape Town and the Garden Route further south. Kruger National Park, being in the Northeast, is quite a distance away. There are plenty of highly recommended safaris available along the Garden Route which can be more convenient, but we chose Kruger anyway because it is one of the biggest reserves in South Africa and felt that there would be more variety in landscape and animals. Ultimately it was worth the extra travel, and we would definitely recommend it.

Do you have advice for travelers on a budget who are interested in doing a safari in South Africa? 

There are many ways to go on a budget safari, depending on your priorities. There is the option of staying outside of Kruger National Park and doing a self-drive into the park every day, or hiring ad-hoc guides. We chose to stay within the park and take private game drives, but opted for simpler accommodations to lower the cost.  Many game reserves are less expensive than Kruger, and if you choose one nearer to the Garden Route you would cut down on additional travel costs. 

Where are you hoping to go on your next adventure?

Mongolia or Morocco!

Maria's trip was planned through kimkim by Howard Spencer-Wilsonour local travel specialist based in South Africa.