When I traveled home to South Africa in August, on a whim, I booked a trip with Intrepid Travel to go to the Kruger National Park. I booked the four day Kruger Park Lodge Experience, and was excited to travel to one of the best places in South Africa, and my first time on Intrepid as well. This is my review of Intrepid Travel's Kruger Park Lodge Expereince in South Africa.
What is Intrepid Travel?
Intrepid Travel is a small group tour company, that boasts over 1,000 different trips in over 100 countries. They even include trips to Antarctica. With this many trips, you would think they sacrifice quality. I don't think so, at least not by the standards of my trip with them. Their tours are led by local guides and leaders, and they promote sustainable and responsible business and tourism practices.
Why Intrepid Travel?
You'll find in the past I have always used Contiki as my travel tour guide go to. I have been to Mexico with Contiki as well as Peru, but unfortunately, Contiki does not offer any trips to Africa, other than to Egypt and Morocco (under the Europe section, wth Contiki?). Normally, as a local to South Africa, I would also usually go to the Kruger with my family, doing our own self-driven safari as such. But, this time on my trip home, I didn't have my family with me. Plans fell through with some "friends", and I was left devastated thinking I would have come all the way to South Africa to not even see any animals - the one thing that I missed the most in the US. I suddenly remembered that a friend of mine, who I met on my Contiki Peru trip, had used Intrepid Travel to visit the Kruger some weeks before. After conferring with her, I booked my trip on Intrepid's Four day Kruger Park Lodge Experience, and was super excited albeit nervous. It was not going to be possible for me to drive the five hours to Kruger on my own, find a booking near by or within the park, and then drive around on my own for the trip. So, I did as a tourist does, and booked my place, very quickly and conveniently I might add, with Intrepid.
INTREPID TRAVEL'S Kruger Park Lodge Experience Itinerary
travel to Greater Kruger National Park Region and lodge
pick up early AM in Johannesburg
Lunch time at the lodge
Afternoon/Early evening game drive at Kapama Game Reserve
I got up super early in order to be on time for my pickup at the Fourways City Lodge Hotel. There was only one other guest with me on the way up to Kruger, an elderly gentleman from New Zealand. He really was quite old, and we had to help him a few times with getting on and off the bus, but he was very sweet, paying for my lunch even! I hope that he enjoyed his trip as much as I did to be honest. The drive up to Kruger was a long one, but not unpleasant, particularly because I was used to this drive from the many times I had made it with my family. We stopped once or twice for gas, snacks and bathroom breaks, but it was full steam ahead in order to get to Kruger by lunch time. Our driver was reserved and very quiet, but a lovely and safe driver. I was thrilled to see my favorite "we are nearly there" sites such as the waterfall, tunnel, and moss covered mountain sides.
We arrived around lunchtime and after dropping off the other guest at his lodge, I was welcomed to Thornhill Safari Lodge by a tiny herd of buffalo and a refreshing orange juice. I was thrilled with my accommodation, and the staff were so friendly. I have a review of Thornhill Safari Lodge on my blog, and it really was a spectacular stay there. After lunch, announced by the beating of African djembe drums, I had some time to relax before heading to Kampana Private Game Reserve. Our driver picked us up again, and sped us over to Kapama.
Kapama Game Drive
I was a little bit hesitant about our game drive in Kampana. I had read some reviews on Trip Advisor (why!), and to be perfectly honest, I'm a bit of a Kruger Park snob. To me, it's not the real deal unless it's in Kruger and you found it yourself! I guess throughout the trip I was about to learn that this wasn't the case. There is definitely a great advantage to being a proper international tourist when you come to South Africa and go on safari.
Kapama Game Reserve is a private game reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park region, and is located west of the park. It encompasses 13,000 hectares and within its many animals species, includes the Big 5. One of the great advantages of this smaller reserve, particularly over the Kruger, is the ability for it's rangers and vehicles to go off-road. This means that you get closer to sightings, and better photography. They particularly offer photographic game drives on their website.
We joined the rest of the parties that were also traveling with Intrepid, G Adventures and other tour groups, and piled into one of two little game trucks. I made the decision to go with a smaller group so I could get a window seat, rather then be squished in the middle. Our game driver however was not as experienced as the other though, so that was a little bit of a downside. He got lost in the reserve a few times and was often radioing for directions, which was a little bit disappointing. I did get my window seat though, so I guess that's the flip side. And by window seat, I mean not an actual window... Just not sitting next to anybody on the other side!
Kapama, like Kruger, has been seriously struggling from the effects of the drought that is currently plaguing South Africa. I have never, in all my years of traveling to the Kruger, seen so many caracasses and skeletons. In winter months, the reserve has had to put out grass and hay for the grazers to eat, because it was just so dry. The buffalo also looked skinny and like they were struggling, which is great for the carnivores. Most of the cats I saw, across my entire trip, were full and healthy as a result.
One of my favorite sightings of my trip was when we saw a pride of young males. They were lounging in the sand at sunset, clearly bellies full after another meal. They re-united with their mother and all sat cuddling together in the dwindling warmth. It was lovely. I was surprised when we drove another half a km and then got out to enjoy biltong, crackers, snacks and a sundowner drink. It was a little bit unnerving to be out on the ground after seeing 5 large lions. At least their bellies were full!
After our drive, we were picked up by our driver again, and went home for dinner and a good night's sleep. Seriously some of the best sleep I have ever had.
Full day safari in the Kruger National Park
Oh my god, what a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You can read all about this most magical day at my on safari in the Kruger National Park post, but this was truly spectacular. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to have a day like this. My driver and guide, Shoes, picked me up at 6 am and we arrived at the Kruger, Orpen Gate, around 7 am. We spent the whole day in the park and I was extremely lucky in seeing the Big 5 plus cheetah within five hours. It was truly incredible and an absolutely wonderful day for me. Probably the best day I've had in a very long time.
Intrepid usually has a whole other range of activities for your third day at the lodge, which you do have to pay for. You can just chill at the lodge or go to one of the activities they offer. One of the activities is the Panorama Route, which includes visits to Bourke's Luck Potholes, God's Window, waterfalls and the Three Rondavels lookout point. I've already been there and it is beautiful and worth the trip. Another option is the Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Center or the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center. I haven't been to either of these before, but I have heard good things from other guests. I enjoyed another day at the Kruger instead, as this was my sole reason for coming to this area anyway. Shoes was my driver again, and while we did not have as much luck this day, no cats at all, I still enjoyed just being in the bush and seeing animals. After my day in the Kruger we headed back to Thornhill Safari Lodge, and had a wonderful meal at the Boma under the stars. Again, I had another truly wonderful restful and peaceful sleep.
Early morning guided nature walk
Return to Johannesburg
Pit stop at the Three Rondavels and Blyde River Canyon
Included in your Intrepid tour is the option to go on a guided nature walk early in the morning. Seeing as I had never done this before when I lived in South Africa, I was definitely keen, despite not wanting to get up early. Nelly was my guide and he greeted me enthusiastically at around 6 am. Stupidly, I forgot my battery for my camera, so I had to rely on my phone for all my pictures. Nelly showed and explained lots of the tracks that we saw in the nature reserve and even showed me some ostrich eggs. He even convinced me to stand on one, to show how strong they are. Sorry, baby ostriches. Actually, the nest was abandoned so I don't think there were any babies to start with but still, I felt bad! He then showed me some giraffe poop. And then asked me to see how far I could spit it. Much to my reluctance, dismay, and disgust, I could not spit this poop very far. Don't worry though, I didn't have bits of giraffe poop in my mouth all day, because their poop is actually completely dry and hard, thanks to the food they eat and their digestive systems. You really should try it! It was just a little bit awkward when we came across the giraffe whose poop I had put in my mouth. I believe he was quite judgmental and walked away rather in a huff pretty quickly. Sorry, Mr Giraffe!
After a wonderful morning on my nature walk, I had breakfast back at Thornhill and was shuttled back to Johannesburg. This time I was completely on my own. My driver was very different to the one who brought me up here, he was extremely vocal and talkative. I enjoyed this though, I loved being able to talk with people from my home country who I probably never would have spoken to. Sam, from Cosmo City, told me all about how he was excited the DA had gained so much power, and maybe it will get his ANC to wake up, and how his young daughter was very naughty and had started stealing money to buy KFC for her and her friends after school. I hope he managed to get that one sorted out! We also stopped at the look out point at the Blyde River Canyon to see the Three Rondavels. As a South African, I've seen these sights a few times, but I was quite excited to see it again. Unfortunately, the farmers in the area were burning their fields, and so the entire way back to Jozi was somewhat smokey, and the picture below was what I got. Actually, the picture below has been edited substantially so you can actually make out the mountains and valley. This was not my actual view! It was super smokey and disappointing, but I did see the Big 5 and Cheetah so! Six hours later, I was quite sad to pull up back to the hotel in Fourways, back to Johannesburg, as I could have stayed in Kruger much longer. I feel like I always can!
This trip worked out perfectly for me, although I had to request a minor tweaking, which my accommodation, Thornhill, was more than happy to do. The staff on all ends were fantastic and friednly, and my needs were always taken care of. The accomodation was fantastic, and the transport was great. This was exactly what I needed for my trip. It was short enough to squeeze into my very limited time in South Africa, and allowed me to go on my own, without doing too much work. If you are thinking about this trip, these are the points that I would consider that made it perfect for me:
short duration, which meant it did not take up a lot of time from my limited time frame
everything is already organized, so I did not have to do anything or worry about anything
no need to worry about hiring a car or getting up to Kruger from Jo'burg
I got to do everything that I wanted to in a short period of time
I could travel alone to Kruger, safely, and meet up with other loners too
If you are looking for an in-depth experience of Kruger or multiple days of going on safari, this trip is not for you. If you have unlimited time and a long duration in South Africa, I wouldn't recommend this. BUT! If you are on a tight schedule, don't want to do any heavy lifting, and are on your own, this is a perfect trip for you. If not, don't worry, Intrepid has a whole bunch of longer trips available that explore other countries too, so they are worth checking out.
I throughly enjoyed my time with Intrepid, and apart from seeing my friends, this was the highlight of my trip back home. It was food for my soul, and was a very spiritual and healing experience for me, for a multitude of reasons. If you want to read more about my time in Kruger with Intrepid, I have a post on my safari experience in Kruger, and how it became one of the best days of my life!
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Have you traveled with Intrepid before? What did you think?