Sensational Safaris for All Budgets

If the call of the wild has you craving adventure of the animal kind, grab your khakis and head to South Africa for some of the best safari camps in the world.

Safari vacations are always a huge investment in time and money, so you want to make sure you get what you're looking for.

Do you want to splurge and stay at a private game reserve, or pitch a tent at a rest camp? Whatever your budget, South Africa's Kruger National Park has you covered, from the affordable to the outrageous. Kruger is one of the top-rated safari destinations in Africa and continues to impress with new safari options.

The goal of any safari vacation is to spot the "Big Five" -- the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Be sure to bring binoculars and have your best camera gear ready because what you'll see will blow you away.


Safari Option #1 -- Affordable Rest Camps

One of the best-kept safari secrets is that you can actually camp out in Kruger National Park. This is a popular budget option because two people can stay in a tent for less than $50 per night. The area where you camp is fenced off to keep the animals out, unlike the private game reserves where you can wake up and have a rhino on your front porch.

Skukuzza Rest Camp
Skukuzza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park. Credit: Karen Schaler

A top rest camp in the southern part of the park is Skukuzza. This is a prime animal sighting area and a favorite with families because you can stay in a tent -- or spend a little more and rent a simple bungalow for around $75 a night. This camp is set up like a small town and can hold up to 1,000 people. If you're looking for a more authentic experience, you'll need to venture into the bush.

Djuma Game Reserve in South Africa. Credit: Karen Schaler

Safari Option #2 -- Private Game Reserves

There's nothing to match the safari experience of staying on a private game reserve. Private reserves are what put African safaris on the map.

These reserves aren't fenced off, so you're truly living in the middle of an amazing animal kingdom. At any moment, a zebra can stroll by your table while you're having lunch, or you can spot a giraffe or elephant from your bedroom.

This unfiltered wildlife experience means you have to take extra safety precautions, and at night most camps don't allow you to walk around without an armed guide.

A stay at a private game reserve in Kruger is usually all-inclusive, with all your meals and safaris included in the price of your stay. It's not unusual for the top camps to charge several hundred dollars per person, per night.

These game reserves usually focus on a more luxurious, private experience, so you're only sharing the camp with a few other guests.

The safari guides at the private reserves are some of the best in South Africa. They're at the top of their game when it comes to scouting out the most impressive animal sightings.

On private reserves, you're allowed to drive off the roads to track down your animals. You're also allowed to get out of your Jeep and stretch your legs.

In the rest of the park, you have to stay on the roads during your safari drives, and you're only allowed out of your vehicles when you're back inside the gated living area.

A favorite pick for a private reserve is Djuma Game Reserve in the popular Sabi Sand area of the park.

On this award-winning reserve, there are three separate camps with the Vuyatela camp taking top honors. At Vuyatela there are only eight luxury chalets, and each one has a huge private deck with a small plunge pool and outdoor shower.

What's unique about the design of this camp is that it's African chic with a twist. You have quirky artwork, a funky chandelier made from coke bottles, and throw pillows with Nelson Mandela's image on them.

For meals, you can all sit around a cozy fire pit and share stories of your safari adventures and toast another day in Africa. Prices run around $600 a person.

If money is no option and you can afford to splurge and spend several thousand dollars a night, then you'll want to check out the following four private game reserves. These are the best of the best in South Africa.

Sabi Sabi
Mala Mala
Royal Malewane

Amelia Island Plantation
Walking safari at Rhino Post Camp. Credit: Karen Schaler

Safari Option #3 -- Private Concessions

Another new safari option that's off the beaten path is staying at one of the park's private concessions. This is where safari camp owners lease a large area of Kruger Park for their camps but still follow park rules when they're running their lodges. A fantastic pick for a unique safari stay is Rhino Walking Safaris, where you can sign up for a rare "walking" safari.

For this adventure, you're actually trekking through the bush for several hours searching for animals. You're protected by two armed guides who show you how to follow animal tracks and share history about the area.

After several days of riding around in a Jeep, it's nice to stretch your legs and get some exercise. From the ground, you're able to experience the bush from a whole different perspective. It's also a huge adrenalin rush when a rhino comes running out of the bush!

An all-inclusive stay at the Rhino camp starts at around $300 a person.

Amelia Island PlantationPlains camp at Rhino Walking Safaris. Credit: Karen Schaler

Insider Tip: If you're planning a safari vacation to South Africa, your best bet is to go through a top-rated tour operator like Siyabona Africa. These operators can help you set up all your travel arrangements for free (they get paid by the properties), and they can often find you better deals than what you can find on the Internet. So go ahead and price your trip first, and then check with a tour operator to see if they give you a better deal. It could save you hundreds of dollars!

For more safari options go to Karen Schaler's TRAVEL THERAPY Web site at