Drive through South Africa and Uganda on safari
Driving holidays aren't always about pottering along the Costa del Sol in your comfortably air-conditioned hire car - some of them can get much wilder. We look into the safaris on offer in South Africa, then ask Laura, world traveller and author of Laura the Explorer, to tell (and show) us about her recent safari road trip further north, in Uganda…
Ideal first safaris in South Africa
While classics like Kenya and Uganda are known for the classic "jolting jeeps and close encounters" safaris you typically see on nature documentaries, South Africa offers many excellent and accessible options too – over 600 national parks and game reserves, plus offshore you'll find marine life every bit as fascinating as the creatures on land. If you've never been on safari before, these are good places to start:
Kruger National Park
Boasting over 140 mammal species including Africa's "big five" – African elephant, Black rhino, Cape buffalo, lion, and leopard – accessible Kruger offers a range of accommodation within its grounds, and permits self-drive safaris as well as guided exploration.
Greater Addo Elephant National Park
South Africa's third largest game reserve, and home to the country's most concentrated elephant population. You can also see leopards, lions and rhinos here, with whales and sharks off the coast.
A private game reserve with a spectacular open landscape, Samara is home to endangered cheetahs, which you will track with highly trained guides. Accommodation is subtly luxurious, ideal for a safari honeymoon.
When to go: Trees are less leafy between June and September, so it's easier to see the animals.
Bring: Binoculars! And layers of warm clothing, for cool early starts and warm days.
How to get there: Fly into Cape Town or Johannesburg, where you can also hire your car.
Road Trip Photos
Laura the Explorer's Uganda safari
"Going on Safari in Africa has been at the top of my bucket list for a very long time. I was beyond excited upon leaving Kampala (Uganda's capital) and setting off into the wild…
We had a whole day's drive ahead of us, but instead of sleeping in the back we were all content, gazing out of the windows at the ever-changing scenery passing by.
The only bad things about the journey were the horrific speed bumps all the way along it! Ugandan road-builders have a tendency to create either one huge speed bump that brings you flying over and smashing back down to earth the other side - no matter how slow you go - or to string 4 or 5 smaller speed bumps together in a row, so it feels like you're driving over a cattle grid. The journey was seven hours long - we'd debated taking public buses when arranging the trip, so we were glad we opted for a car instead, after seeing some of the buses juddering over those bumps. They hurtle along, barely missing other cars coming in the opposite direction!
We started spotting wildlife almost the moment we arrived in Queen Elizabeth Park. Our first encounters were baboons, Ugandan cob, waterbuck and warthogs. After a bit more driving we reached an open and completely deserted space where we would be camping. We built a fire and gathered round for dinner under the stars before jumping into our tents for the night.
Despite all the wildlife wandering around the tent, we managed to get to sleep! But we were rudely awoken the next morning by something very large, which we could hear munching on the undergrowth just outside the canvas. After listening for a minute and deciding it wasn't a lion, I popped my head out for a quick look round.
A huge mother elephant was standing just next to our tent! I looked around and saw a whole herd of elephants just milling around the campsite with their babies. I quickly got back inside so as not to anger the creatures, and waited for them to disperse.
We set off in our 4x4 as the sun was rising, to drive around the park, first meeting buffalo, then more waterbuck, cobs, warthogs, hippos and elephants. Finally we caught word from another driver that there were lion tracks nearby, so we set off in the same direction and followed the tracks to the edge of an open area, where a gorgeous huge male lion was lying around in the sun…
It was a truly amazing sight, but we were sure glad to be seeing it from the safety of a vehicle - that thin sheet of metal provides a huge amount of comfort when staring a massive lion in the face. This is by far one of the most memorable experiences I've had - I'll never forget this drive through the park!
After exploring Queen Elizabeth NP, we drove 50 miles south to beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, then ventured into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track gorillas."
Length 360 miles, depending on how thoroughly you explore the cluster of national parks in this area.
Location Queen Elizabeth National Park is about 150 miles west of Kampala; Bwindi is about 50 miles south of Queen Elizabeth.
Animals Lions, Elephants, Ugandan Cob, Warthogs, Buffalo, Baboons, Waterbuck, Hippos, crocodiles and Golden Monkeys in QENP, and mountain gorilla in Bwindi. You should only undertake this route with a 4WD and a knowledgeable local guide!
Road Trip Map