Best of Bush & Wetland Safari in Kruger and iSimangaliso

A 11 day trip to South Africa 
5 out of 5 stars
9 reviews

The rustic savannah and the lush wetlands are two iconic landscapes of diverse charms. One is open and expressive, filled with the drama of the Big Five. The other is serene and surreal, as time in a canoe reveals the wildlife of the water. By combining the Kruger with the iSimangaliso wetlands on this safari, you will experience these exquisite contrasts and immerse yourself in two of Africa's wildest environments. Think beyond the Big Five and watch the wildlife interact as nature unfolds for your 11-day adventure. 

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Kruger National Park, Balule Nature Reserve, Sabi Sands, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Balule Nature Reserve – Serene Introductions to the Iconic African Bushland

A lioness wanders along the Olifants River, sipping serenely as the rest of the pride comes into view. Along the horizon, there are elephants, an incalculable number gracing the trees. Wildebeest were here, but they've quickly scampered away, leaving behind a trail of dust. It's an iconic safari introduction, and you're not even on a game drive; you're watching the scene from the lodge's verandah. Balule is a private reserve on the western fringes of Kruger National Park; it's unfenced, and thousands of mammals roam freely, attracted by the bounty of the Olifants River, which crisscrosses through the heart of the reserve. By watching the river, you can see much of the enchantment, your private verandah offering an energizing place to relax after the flight. To reach Balule, it's a short domestic flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, then a sublime transfer through the rhino-dappled savannah.

In the afternoon you will explore, a game drive weaving past the paw prints along the river. Water is king in the bush, even if the landscape doesn't always show evidence of providing it. By taking a game drive in the vicinity of the Olifants, you capture the drama of Kruger life: a tower of giraffe seeking solace, antelope horns clashing on the banks, prints left behind by a solitary leopard, eagles swooping above the remains of a carcass. It's the prime safari introduction, a chance to move slowly and encounter many of the famous animals. Rhinos gracefully wander past, elephant herds splash in the shallows, and you quickly discover many of the famous sights.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, safari, dinner

Day 2: Balule Nature Reserve – Walking Safari and Nighttime Driving

As you wake there's a strange sound; part huffing, part snorting, part chomping. It's not the only sound as you open the curtains to a herd of buffalo that graze just meters from your room. In the Kruger ecosystem, you are never alone, and the safari never stops. When the buffalo leave, enjoy your breakfast as you watch the wildebeest splash around the river as a pod of hippos grunts intermittently. In the morning, head out on a game walk and follow the tracks in the sand towards intimate encounters. A zebra herd stops and stares, barely ten meters away. Springbok skip past, a giraffe rises high, and a herd of impala watches you closely. Bush walks are about getting close, not to the predators, but to the ungulates that roam in their thousands. With an expert guide, this experience provides a mystical connection with the wildlife world.

After some relaxed time at the lodge, an afternoon game drive will continue your exploration. Roam through the bush to find the cheetah cubs in a playful mode as the sandy banks are where the hyenas snarl. Onwards, the herds of bachelor buffalo and baboons jump furiously on uprooted branches. As dusk falls you stay out to hear how the sounds of the night take over as wild calls echo through the darkness. The nocturnal world takes over as antelope stand scared, fearful of the cats' legendary eyes. A nighttime game drive brings another new angle, a chance to appreciate the atmosphere of the wild. For when your vision is also restricted, the other senses come alive to the ambiance that pervades every piece of the Kruger.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Balule to Kruger to Sabi Sands – Exploring the Scale of Kruger

Balule is a compact private reserve, as the Olifants River brings the wildlife to you. For the first two days, you have explored a compact and abundant area. Today's full-day drive will crisscross the enormity of Kruger National Park to the wind along the trails where surprise is king. Turn a corner, and half a dozen horns will point skyward as the rhinos graze blissfully on the savannah. Head through a sting of trees and the elephants swing their trunks comically. Hippos are found in a remote waterhole, springbok move in their thousands as lions rest in the shade of your safari truck.  So much happens in the Kruger as the national park covers tens of thousands of square miles.

Essentially, you will drive from north to south, to connect Balule with the Sabi Sands in the southwest. But it's a journey that follows the herds and the clues while embracing the rustic charm of the bush. It's always impressive to see a rhino, a lion pride, or an elephant herd. It's even more impressive when you lose count of how many you've spotted. The savannah stretches on and you keep going as every turn brings a new surprise in this vast untouched wilderness. Arrive in the Sabi Sands by late afternoon to spend the rest of the day amidst the luxury of the lodge as your verandah overlooks the Sabie River, another integral waterway in the Kruger system.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 4 – 5: Sabi Sands – So Much More Than the Big Five

Dream about a safari and it's difficult to conjure images without the Big Five. These famous mammals certainly enchant, but a safari in Kruger is about so much more than a fabled snapshot with a particular giant animal. It's not just an elephant as you watch the babies wander beneath their mothers' gaze as lone males clash tusks, and youngsters quarrel in the water. It's not just a lion; it's a whole pride; a male's mane ripples in the breeze, lionesses communicate with their eyes and cubs play-fight in the dust. The Sabi Sands is one of Africa's most plentiful reserves, and a remarkable concentration of wildlife can be found in a compact area. So you never remember just the Big Five; you remember how they were acting, how they interacted, how they were moving through the realm.

Over these two days, the itinerary provides both morning and afternoon game drives. Explore in the cooler hours when the animals are at their most active as you admire the behavior between species. Birds and monkeys chirp to alert springbok to a cheetah in the grass. The antelope scamper off and spread fear to a small herd of zebra and wildebeest. A leopard watches and follows the movements to prepare an ambush. Nearby, there is two hyena so you will stay close, but also keep respectfully away – for now at least. This is just one on wildlife scene amongst thousands, and for two days you watch it all unfold.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6: iSimangaliso Wetland Park – The World Heritage Wetlands of South Africa

The colors change today as the iconic reds become lush blues as the kaleidoscopic orange becomes a rainbow of green. You are on the move as you fly from Sabi Sands by light aircraft, to fly over one of the world's biggest wetlands. Touch down, and there is only so far that a vehicle can take you. Wind through a canopy of trees to wave hello to elephants and listen to the calls from primates. It is slow and often muddy, a real off-road track that leads to a camp hidden in the wilderness. Vervet monkeys chirp, colobus monkeys sit bashfully, and a troop of baboons scampers past. You are staying in the woodland to overlook the waterways of the iSimangaliso World Heritage site.

Much as in the Kruger, the safari continues at all times. There's often wildlife to see from your verandah. But unlike the Kruger, the only way to really explore is by the water. Traditional canoes take you through the wetlands as a gondolier skillfully paddles you past huge pods of hippos. Some snort, others grunt, and when you gaze up, there's a herd of zebra on the riverbank. Traverse tropical lagoons and surround yourself with the wildlife orchestra to slowly feel immersed in the wetlands. An afternoon canoe safari is followed by a relaxed evening at the camp.

What's Included: accommodation, private charter flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7: iSimangaliso Wetland Park – Intimate Wildlife Experiences in the Land of the Tonga Tribe

On the water, you will travel nearly silently as a Tonga tribesman will guide you around by canoe. This silence means you're mostly unnoticed, so the wildlife doesn't run, it stops and stares to return your gaze, whether it's an eland, a monkey, or a big male hippo. With the Tonga guides, enjoy a thrilling intimacy, both among the trees and, when the river opens, on a serene lagoon. Disembark the boat on a pristine sandbank to paddle beside the snorts of elephants, and feel the wilderness pull you in with its sounds. No motors, no shouting, just the atmosphere of a land that's never been interrupted by modernity. The day is flexible, with the recommended program involving a combination of canoe safari and a walking safari in the woodland.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 8 – 9: St Lucia – Sublime White Sand and Indian Ocean Waters

This morning your canoe will not go back to camp as rather it continues, past the hippos, towards where the wetlands move into the Indian Ocean. A blanket of white sand awaits as iSimangaliso spills onto the long St Lucia beach. Very close to the sand you may still see hippos, and you will encounter monkeys, even when as sunbathe and there is nobody else around. But for these two days, the safari program halts and you will enjoy an iconic Indian Ocean beach break. After the early morning starts, it's a chance to lie in and fully recharge your batteries while you enjoy another side to South Africa's beauty. Your boutique lodge will overlook the beach, and there is always enough space in St Lucia to make the beach feel private.

What's Included: accommodation, canoe transfer, breakfast

Day 10: St Lucia, Day Trip to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park – Final Safari Memories

Africa's oldest game reserve is an easy day trip from St Lucia. A remarkable number of rhinos roam across Hluhluwe-iMfolozi to join an already burgeoning population of lions, elephants, buffalo, and other safari favorites. For over a century, this land has been protected as a haven when so much of the surrounding habitat was being scorched into farmland. Take a game drive to absorb your final safari memories as a rhino mother cares for her calf, such emotion in such small eyes. Impala joins the springbok to graze merrily on the grassland. Giant tuskers, some of the world's largest, bash their rumps against the trees before you see an elegant mane of a male lion who yawns and goes back to sleep as you drive past. This is a reserve of charm, one that's easy to explore yet always delivers a wonderful array of memories. Return to St Lucia in the late afternoon, and the evening is at your leisure as you overlook the Indian Ocean.

What's Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch

Day 11: St Lucia – Departure

After breakfast, you are transferred to the nearby Richards Bay Airport for a short domestic flight to Johannesburg. A representative will greet you and assist as you transfer to the international terminal for your return flight home.

What's Included: airport transfer, breakfast 


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.