With few exceptions, safari accommodation in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is at two very opposite ends of the price and comfort spectrum. On the one side, you have the incredibly luxurious accommodations – opulent tented camps or lodges worthy of royalty – that can cost $1000 per night or more. On the other, you have basic cabins, hostel-type accommodation, or camp sites. One of those rare middle-ground options is the Kapama Buffalo Camp, a luxury tented camp that delivers high quality at a mid-range price.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted at the front gate by a safari guide and then whisked through the bush on a 15-minute ride to the lodge. We hadn’t been inside the gates for more than five minutes before we saw our first giraffe. Once at the lodge, which is set deep in the property and surrounded by a fence to protect guests from the animals, we had just an hour to relax before reporting to the main lodge for our evening drive. Drive times vary with the seasons but generally start in late afternoon, by about 4pm, and last until just after sunset.
There are just ten tents available at Kapama Buffalo Camp (one of four resorts on the 32,000 acre Kapama Private Game Reserve) which ensures a high level of service and an intimate feel. It also means that, for better or worse, you tend to get to know your fellow guests over meals, around the pool or lodge bar, and on game drives. However, despite a nearly-full camp during my stay, I never felt as though the lodge was crowded, and there were never more than eight guests in our ten-seater safari vehicle, which has auditorium-style raised seating to provide unobstructed viewing no matter where you sit.
Days at Kapama Buffalo Camp, as at most safari lodges, have an easy rhythm. You wake before sunrise for a light breakfast in the lodge before your morning drive, which lasts for about three hours and is only interrupted for a brief coffee break. By 10am, you’re back at the lodge for a more hearty breakfast; at Kapama this ranged from fresh fruit and eggs to fluffy waffles and pancakes. Between breakfast and lunch, guests can book spa treatments, relax by the small plunge pool, check email on the communal computer or using the camp’s wifi, read or play games in the lodge, visit the adjacent animal rescue center, or simply relax in their room or on the attached deck.
Most days, I opted for the last option, resting from the early mornings in my inviting room. Though the accommodation is a tent, it’s a far cry from camping. The rooms are built on stilts and have hardwood floors, running water, and electricity. There’s no air conditioning but a fan was enough to keep me cool during the day, and I found myself reaching for the blankets once the sun set. Each room has an ensuite bathroom with toilet and shower, a mini-fridge and coffee maker, hair dryer, small vanity desk, safe, and a private deck perfect for spotting wildlife (like the family of kudu I saw resting just below my deck one morning, or the three little warthogs who darted by during a brief rainstorm).
Lunch is served daily and then guests are again free to relax until the afternoon game drive, on which they’ll stop for traditional sundowner snacks and drinks (prior to departure, the guides ask what each person wants to drink and stocks the cooler accordingly). Guests return to the camp by around 8pm for a lavish dinner served under the stars in the glow of a roaring fire. Over my three night stay, the entrees ranged from familiar meals like grilled chicken to local specialties like various grilled game meats.
Three meals per day, plus early morning breakfast and afternoon tea, are included in the price of the stay, as are two game drives per full day of your stay (plus one afternoon drive on the day you arrive and one final morning drive on the day you check out). Spa treatments, alcoholic drinks, and other activities are extra. But of course, the main draw is the safari experience, and Kapama’s is top notch.
The Kapama Private Game Reserve is home to all of the Big Five – elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos – as well as dozens of different types of antelopes and gazelles, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, hippos, and more than 350 bird species. Over three days we saw them all, multiple times, from up close and far away, resting and playing.
Each open-topped vehicle goes out with two staff members, a driver/guide and a spotter, who sits up front and helps the guide track the animals. I was constantly impressed by the depth of the guides’ knowledge and skill as they pointed out animals hidden in the bush, shared information about each one, and even taught us some of the secrets of tracking.
The Kapama Buffalo Camp shares the property with three other Kapama lodges, but while there can be up to 222 guests on the reserve at any time, we very rarely saw another vehicle. The guides were in constant communication to ensure that they didn’t crowd any one area, but they also shared information about animal sightings so that other guests would have equal opportunity to see some of the incredible wildlife that makes its home on the reserve.
Rates at Kapama Buffalo Camp, which does not allow children under 12 years old, range from $500-$630 per night for two people sharing, including two daily drives and three meals per day.