Walking trails are guided on-foot safari experiences that appeal to people who want to truly connect with the wilderness, step out of their comfort zones, and get to know the bush. Without the protection and security of a 4×4 vehicle, the idea of being on a walking trail is full of vulnerability, but it’s that extra care and alertness that brings things into true colour. Getting the blood flowing in nature is invigorating and inspiring and it gives walkers an opportunity to see the details of the bush, like tracks and signs, insects, nests, and to learn about medicinal uses of wild trees. Encountering animals on foot is a bonus, and will make for an unforgettable life experience.
A trail is a dedicated multi-day walking safari experience, unlike guided bush walks that are offered at a variety of camps and lodges throughout southern and East Africa. The whole activity is about walking the bush, picnicking for lunch, and settling in for the night around a campfire and resting those tired legs while feeling at one with the wild world that surrounds you. In the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger region, some of the world’s last remaining true wilderness areas are protected and untouched. About half of the national park is considered true wilderness, off the track, and away from any infrastructure and road networks. The surrounding private nature reserves enjoy the unique privilege of exclusive access and professionally guided trails. There is nothing quite like getting spiritually lost and found in the African wild, and we’ve selected three different types of Kruger walking trails that are on offer to produce the kind of experience we know to be so connecting and life-altering.
This is a three night, catered and accommodated trail with two full days spent walking along the Olifants River with a SANParks field guide. Food and accommodation are basic, yet comfortable and wholesome, and facilities are limited while providing the necessities. A maximum of eight people can partake in one trail, accommodated in four chalets.
Highlights: The landscape of the Olifants River valley is a huge drawcard, and the presence of water and riverbanks means lovely, big trees as well as wildlife that gather to drink. There is a strong presence of hippo and crocodile, as this is their preferred territory, but of course, the park is home to an enormous diversity of animals, including the Big Five. There are no cellphones, generators, or private vehicles allowed, and there is no electricity, so think of this as a blissful break from reality.
Departure: Letaba Rest Camp. Guests must sign in and book at Letaba Rest Camp in time for departures on Wednesday afternoon (trail ends Saturday) and Sunday afternoon (trail ends Wednesday).
Duration: Three nights
Accommodation: Four simple thatched chalets each sleeping two people. An ablution area with gas geyser showers, and a kitchen with gas stove and small fridge. A covered lapa area for eating and socialising, and a fireplace for any cooking done over coals. No electricity means kerosene lamps provide light.
Catering: There is a cook at the trails camp who prepares wholesome food either on the fire or gas stove. Meals are balanced and tasty and can accommodate vegetarians as well as meat eaters, but specific dietary requirements might require guests supplying their own special items. Own beverages must be provided yourself.
Programme: Two walks per day for two days. Morning walks longer at around 6km covered over 4 hours. Depart Letaba in a vehicle and enjoy a game drive through the park to the trails camp for your first night around the fire and enjoying a good meal, getting to know your guide and group before an early morning departure on foot. After a sunrise starts and walking until mid-morning, you will return to camp and have a cooked brunch and a siesta before a shorter afternoon walking complete with sundowners. The second day is the same, but with a different route, and a whole new chance to see completely different and surprising things in the wilderness. The third morning there is no walk as you enjoy breakfast and then depart.
Cost: About R4500 per person sharing for three nights
This trails option is based up in the northernmost reaches of the Kruger National Park in the Makuleke Contractual Park, and it is truly a place of wonder. A minimum of two nights is required for booking (three nights recommended) and accommodation is provided for in a stylish luxury tented camp. The addition of adventure, romance and nostalgia is an asset, and there is no electricity to distract from the wilderness you are here to connect to.
Highlights: Perhaps, the Pafuri area is the most sought after by nature lovers and bird watchers in particular. It is famous for fever tree forests, baobabs, rocky koppies, and riverbeds carved deep into the earth. Elephant and bird sightings are magnificent, while Lanner Gorge and Crook’s Corner are location highlights. This is a higher-end experience than the SANParks trail with attention to detail, comfort, and service.
Departure: Check in at Pafuri Camp before departing for the tented trails camp with your guide.
Duration: Minimum two nights, recommended three nights to make the most of the experience and to really let it sink in.
Accommodation: Four tented safari camps, pitched and set up prior to your arrival with luxurious attention to detail and exceptional comfort. Bucket showers for each tent, en suite and open air with canvas walls. A lounge is set up outdoors under the shade of big trees, and a fire pit is surrounded by chairs for the evening chat under the stars.
Catering: A talented camp chef cooks each meal and it is served on a set dining table under the trees. Dietary requirements can be taken care of without a problem. Dinner is a three-course meal, and brunch is a varietal treat of delicious and filling components.
Programme: A three-night itinerary begins with a check in at Pafuri Camp before making your way to the tented trails camp to prepare for a short afternoon walk before sundown and dinner beneath the stars. Day two begins with a walk at dawn, also measuring around 6km in length, walked in three to four hours. Longer walks of up to 10km can also fit in well before getting back to camp for a cooked brunch and a rest during the heat of the day. The late afternoon offers a snack and some refreshments before an afternoon walk, sundowners, and then a night drive. The following day follows the same routine, and there is also a short morning walk and brunch on the last day before returning to the main camp to check out.
Cost: Starts at R2860 per person sharing per night.
This experience is next level wilderness connectedness and will most likely suit the brave and adventurous souls out there. The big difference here is that this is a carry-all trail requires no tents, has no cooks, and no vehicle in sight. A primitive trail is designed to take you back to your roots, realign your senses, disconnect you from the world that is full of technology and routine. The guides at Lowveld Trails in the Timbavati are the best in the business and will guide you through this recharging experience.
Highlights: Sleeping under the stars without any barrier between you and the open Kruger wilderness, creating a sensory experience that will take a bit of getting used to. This trail is about discovering your limits and pushing past them in a way that opens your mind and soul to what is going on in the present moment. It is an unforgettable experience that will impact you for the rest of your life. This is fully immersive and about participation, not spectatorship.
Departure: Guests meet at the Bush Pub and Inn just outside the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve gate near Hoedspruit at 11h00 on the day of booked departure. Your guides will meet you here and you will be driven to your starting point.
Duration: Three nights.
Accommodation: None! The stars above your head, and a sleeping bag to keep you warm. There is nothing more revealing and thrilling than this experience. There are no demarcated campsites and the trail promotes a “leave no trace” practice, so each night’s sleeping spot will be different and with no structural features whatsoever. There is no shower or toilet, so it isn’t about being glamorous.
Catering: Trails walkers have to carry what food and drink they need in their backpacks, and any cooking will be done on a small, portable, gas stove. Meals and snacks are there as sustenance and fuel, and nothing more. Often, guests pack too much, while the idea is to keep it simple. Recommended food items include pasta, tuna, trail mix, protein snacks like biltong, and cereal like instant oats and Pronutro.
Programme: The programme for the four-day trail is to walk at a pace set by the group as a whole and allow time for discovery, reflection, and connection with nature. There are no limitations – only the availability of water, which also has to be sourced in the bush – so each day is a discovery. Stop for breakfast, lunch, and finally for dinner and to camp overnight. On the fourth day, you will get picked up and driven back to the Bush Pub at 12 pm.
Cost: R25 500 for a group of 8 people.