Surprising South Africa Part 3: Kapama Safari

zebra kapama south africa 1

First I took you adventure traveling through KwaZulu Natal, then sightseeing in Cape Town. Today I want to share with you my experience on safari in Limpopo, South Africa at Kapama Private Game Reserve. It truly was the experience of a lifetime.
kapama south africa elephant

I even made some new friends along the way: Isoul HarrisChadner Navarro, and Colleen Friesen.
kapama game reserve vehicle

You will be shocked when I tell you how affordable and family-friendly a safari in South Africa is. It’s affordable luxury unlike anything you could imagine stateside.
kapama river lodge spa

Oh, the things you can do…
hot air balloon blyde river canyon south africa

and the things you will see.
kapama south africa leopard
kapama lions grooming
Come see the wild experience that’s just a plane ride away after the jump…

We checked out of The Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, Cape Town, and I signed the guest book, which I flipped through and made my heart go a flutter with all of the wandering souls who had been touched by the most beautiful city on earth…
check out the bay hotel camps bay cape town

Then we hopped our South African Airways flight. You can actually fly direct from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, which is the airport in the province of Limpopo, where most South Africa safaris will happen.
south african airways landing in hoedspruit

You can safari in Krueger National Park, which I am positive is quite lovely, or you can safari on a private game reserve. We went to Kapama Game Reserve and I CANNOT RECOMMEND IT ENOUGH, for lots of reasons, but one of the best ones is that once you land at Hoedspruit, Kapama is literally across the street from the tiny airport (if you safari in Krueger, you will still be at a private lodge on the national park, but it’s several hours drive from the airport). Once you land at the airport, you will be met by personnel from your lodge with a land rover vehicle of some sort, which has no roof or doors and is the same vehicle you will safari in. Our was a land cruiser, and it’s basically a battleship on wheels.
kapama game reserve vehicle
Yes, you get that close to wild African animals, with that little shelter. And you’ll be fine. It seems crazy, at first, but by the end you are quite comfortable with it.

As we made our way to the hotel, moments after landing, my mind imploded and I was in tears within minutes, over the wildlife we saw… and we weren’t even on safari yet. Upon entering the park we had the great luck to see RHINO as our first animals… rhino are the most endangered of all South African wildlife and one of the hardest to see, so we were so lucky to see them IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF OUR VISIT!
rhinoceros south africa kapama baby and mom

We also saw vervet monkey immediately after, which we had seen before in KwaZulu Natal but seemed so much more wild here…
kapama south africa vervet monkeys

And still before our 15 minute drive to the lodge was complete, a dazzle of zebras crossed our path:
kapama dazzle zebras

And of course, before we arrived we saw so many Impala. I was so impressed and everyone from South Africa was laughing, seeing an Impala to them is like seeing a deer to us. Not that impressive, and also delicious. But I was amazed.
south africa kapama impala

Then we arrived at our lodge. Kapama Game Reserve has four different lodging options, of which I saw all four and stayed at two. The most luxurious is Kapama Karula. IT IS INSANE LUXURIOUS. Here are some views of my room. Yes, this was just my room, just for me. This place runs around $500 US a night (so that’s for the most luxury, you will die when I show you what you can get for $200 a night), including all your game drives, bush walks, dinners (from a menu, not a buffet), alcohol, and only six people to a car on your game drives (which means everyone sits on the outside of the car, no one in the middle). It was insane, I felt like a princess from one of Scarlet’s fantasies.
Kapama Karula South Africa Suite 1
Kapama Karula South Africa Suite 2

When I go back to Kapama with my family, I will stay at Kapama Southern Camp, which is undergoing renovations right now but will be almost as luxurious as the Karula. If I was going to go without kids I would stay at Kapama Buffalo Camp, which is adults-only, and all the rooms are super luxurious with bathtubs over the bush, but they’re also all tents! Both of those camps run around $250 a night all-inclusive. Amazing.

This was my balcony at Kapama Karula, where I got some work done right after our arrival…
Kapama Karula South Africa Suite 3

..and an Inyala came by to visit.
inyala kapama karula south africa

And then you have your lunch and order charcuterie, your western self expecting a plate of salami and prosciutto but instead getting this mystery meat…
kapama karula food - impala and crocodile carpaccio

So you take that to your room and start to eat, but then when the inyala and your meat intersect in your field of view, based on your last two weeks of trying Kudu and Ostrich for the first time, you decide to ask the chef if you are eating your cute visitor…

And you discover that while you are not actually eating Inyala (yay), you are eating Impala and Crocodile carpaccio. Yay, you, you adventurous eater. All of a sudden your favorite (the crocodile*) starts tasting bad, now that you know what it is. *you know you are lame and don’t care. Time for a tour of the luxurious surroundings. Oh, hello, infinity pool over the bushveldt:
kapama karula pool

That evening, you set off on your first game drive. It is about three hours long. You aren’t expecting much because you just arrived from the big city and aren’t quite in the “safari” headspace yet, but you embark with much curiosity. Your vehicle will have a ranger (who also drives the vehicle) and a tracker. The tracker sits on a jump seat at the front of your vehicle, like so:
kapama game reserve tracker

This is terrifying to you at first, until you talk to him and realize his father was a tracker, and he has a degree/certificate in tracking, and the sun starts setting…
kapama game reserve tracker 2
…and in the dead dark of night (you don’t know dark till you’ve been in a place with no electricity for miles) he spots a three inch tall bush baby. Then you aren’t worried for him anymore, or for yourself, you feel safe.

AND THEN, your mind is blown. First you see some Impalas nursing, and you are all “omg, that’s the cutest, stop the car so I can take a picture for the Prudent Mamas of nature and breastfeeding!”
kapama south africa impala nursing

And the ranger and tracker are like “Aww, that’s so cute, she finds impalas interesting!” You don’t get it for like 45 minutes until you’ve seen 387 impalas and you are over them as well. Then all of a sudden they come upon LIONS. WILD FREAKING LIONS. THAT YOU ARE THREE FEET AWAY FROM. WITH NO WALLS OR DOORS. LIKE NOT AT A ZOO. OMG.
kapama south africa sleeping lion

I mean, amazing, right? Don’t you want to go there right now?
kapama south africa lion sleeping sunset

So you can understand… you are at least thisclose… actually i think this was the farthest i was from a wild lion my entire trip.

Of course, I had to have some fun with it…

As the sun set, I was surprised to learn that safari lasts past sunset. Our tracker helped us to spot many nocturnal animals. And FYI, yes it was COLD, they give you blankets and you forget about the chill of the wind in your face when you see the things we saw. One animal I had not counted on seeing was HYENA. But there were two juvenile hyenas out prowling the night and we got to watch them in their natural habitat and their most active time of day… it was amazing.
kapama south africa hyena

And the night ended with what was my most favorite magical moment of our entire trip to South Africa… we were lucky enough to come upon a pride of lions eating a warthog. OMG, the smell, the steam coming off of it, one lion taking the stomach for her own and dragging it to the side, 13 lions having their meal… it was amazing.
kapama south africa lions eating warthogkapama south africa Lions Eating Warthog 2
It’s hard to do this justice here. Yes, it was raw, but yes, I would let me child join me in seeing this. It’s how nature works. Africa is the land of the big cats… there are mo wild dogs, no wolves, no coyotes… there’s lions and cheetahs and leopards and they eat meat. This is life in the bushveldt and it’s wonderful to get to see it without a TV screen separating you form it. I can’t even describe the sensation. And then the next morning when we started out on our a.m. game drive, what did we see but the severed head of the warthog. #circleoflife
kapama warthog head

So that was exciting. We headed back for a luxurious dinner at Kapama Karula, then a much needed night of sleep. When you are on safari at a game reserve, you rise early in the morning for a game drive, around 5 a.m. Don’t worry, they will wake you up even if they have to set your alarm, call you, knock on your door, or jump on your bed. You do a game drive from right before sunrise until about 9-10 a.m., then you rest/spa/eat/swim until dusk, when you set out on safari again around 5 pm. This means you will see so many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, that your heart will grow to five times it’s usual size. See…
kapama safari sunrise
kapama safari sunrise 2
kapama safari sunrise 3
kapama safari lake
kapama safari vista

The next day we enjoyed a morning and evening game drive. What did we see? All of the big 5 and more…
kapama south africa lioness

I saw an African otter, which our ranger told me was so rare he had only seen one 4 times in his 25 year career. I didn’t get a picture of the otter, just a picture of where we saw it…
kapama safari otter no show

Lions…a whole pride relaxing…
kapama lions sleeping

and mama lions grooming their cubs…
kapama lions grooming
kapama pride of lions

a stretch…
kapama lion stretching

and a yawn…
kapama lion yawning

Then out of nowhere our amazing tracker spots a leopard across the lake from us. I don’t know how he did it, this is with a zoom lens and I can barely see it, but I guess this is his job. Leopard is the most difficult of all the big five to spot and many people visit Africa and come and go without ever seeing a leopard… it’s basically considered icing on the cake if you actually get to see one. Well we did! Here it is across the lake from these lions…
Kapama south africa Leopard Across Water

Then, just after our tracker spots the leopard, mama lion spots it as well!
kapama lions sees leopard

All the lions go into full alert mode, and we drive our vehicle over towards the leopard to get a closer look. Leopard pattern seems so loud and bright to me, but it’s actually the perfect camouflage for the way the light speckles through the bush veldt…
kapama leopard camouflage

There it is.
kapama hidden leopard

It’s truly an amazing thing to see a leopard. AND I GOT TO SEE ONE TWICE! Here’s the next time we spotted one, walking right along the road, as the cats tend to do at dusk:
kapama south africa leopard

What else did we see?
zebra kapama south africa 1
zebra kapama south africa 2

Warthog (before being eaten and after, they didn’t notice losing one of their own – yes, I asked the ranger if they were sad and he laughed at me): kapama warthog pumba

Wildebeast (which I also ate, it was good, like a super exepensive steak):
kapama wildebeast

Elephant (truly the most majestic, amazing, and terrifying of all the animals you will see):
kapama south africa elephant
elephant kapama south africa safari
elephant kapama south africa baby
kapama male elephant

Cape Buffalo
kapama south africa cape buffalo

kapama south africa vulture

A hippo family…
kapama south africa hippo

And a lone male hippo…
kapama hippo swimming
kapama lone male hippo
kapama lone male hippo 1
kapama lone male hippo 2
kapama lone male hippo 4

these crazy caterpillar type guys that get in line to cross the street…
crazy caterpillars south africa

then take over a tree.
kapama caterpillar tree

kapama giraffe
giraffe kapama south africa 1

And giraffe remains, a meal for a pride of lions, i freaked out when i saw it from this distance,
giraffe carcass remains 1

but made peace with it up close. Circle of life.
giraffe carcass remains

One night, we ate dinner in the bush. As in, no fences between us and the animals. Just our ranger, Mike, with a humongous gun. It was exciting and no animal attacks were had.
kapama south africa bush dinner

On my last night at Kapama, I transferred from the Kapama Karula to the Kapama River Lodge. The river lodge is not quite as luxurious, but stunningly beautiful. AND YOU CAN STAY HERE FOR $200 A NIGHT, which includes all of your food and your twice daily game drives and bush walk! And kids are half price! $100 a night to take your kid on the most amazing trip of his/her lifetime. You can’t stay in a motel 6 in LA for that price.
kapama river lodge

The spa suites are lovely, with bathtubs overlooking the bush, I saw a giraffe while taking a bath. And the pool overlooks a waterhole.
kapama river lodge pool

This is also where the Kapama spa is – I had an African ranga massage in the open air over the bush. It was amazing.
kapama river lodge spa

On our last morning game drive, another vehicle got trapped in wet sand right next to these two sleeping/alert lions, adn we had to pull them out…the rangers had to get out of the vehicle and work on the truck while we trembled in fear and the lions watched in anticipation:
kapama male lion afternoon
kapama lioness
kapama trapped by lions
kapama lion couple

It was all life-changingly amazing, but the highlight was Hot Air Ballooning over Blyde River Canyon, which I will share with you in my next post…
hot air ballooning limpopo

Until then, tell me, do you want to visit South Africa?

See more of my journey to South Africa here:
Surprising South Africa: Part 1, KwaZulu Natal
Surprising South Africa Part 2: Cape Town



Debra Komar

Yes! Sign me up. I’ve really enjoyed your trip vicariously. I think I need to take this trip with my family. Amazing photos!! Thanks for sharing.


More than amazing! I am, starting this moment, saving for a safari adventure in South Africa; I also would not have thought it was that affordable. Thank you for sharing your photos/words/insight with your readers.

Erin's Creative Energy

I want to go to Africa so badly. My husband has been to Namibia and my Father-in-law has been all over Africa. It is a definite bucket list item for me to go. So I take it there were no African Wild Dog in the area you were in? Also, your wildebeast photo is actually a kudu.

And I am so jealous of all those close encounters with such amazing animals. I love it all!


Wow it looks like you had an amazing adventure in Africa. I’m planning my 3rd trip to Africa for my 50th b-day / 25th Anniversary… looks like I should check out the Kapama Game Reserve. Thanks for the great photo diary!


YES YES YES YES YES !! I do I Do !! lol
what beautiful pictures and stunning memories to hold onto for a lifetime.
I’m so jealous it’s NOT EVEN FUNNY !!
thank you so much for sharing your adventures !! <3


what an awesome opportunity and a fabulous series of posts. I can only dream of going to Africa, as hubby isn’t so keen. I would love to be able to use your zebra photo on on a my blog. I am planing on making a horse on a stick type craft but altering it to be a zebra since my grand daughter has quite taken to one after seeing at the zoo recently.


What an amazing opportunity you have had. I can only dream of a trip to Africa. I am very keen but hubby is not. I would love to use one of your photos (of the zebra) in a proposed blog post on making a zebra (horse) stick for a little tike! On Of course I would credit your photo and I could write a brief introduction to your post too if you grant me permission.


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