Millions of visitors flock to South Africa every year to experience the country’s amazing wine and wildlife. Unfortunately, for the most part, the wine is concentrated in the southwest and the wildlife is largely in the northeastern corner of the country. Given that these two regions are separated by over 1,000 miles of rugged terrain, the only reasonable way to experience the wonders of Cape Town and get the safari experience of Kruger is to take a domestic flight with a layover in Johannesburg. At the end of the day, flying across the country really isn’t terribly difficult or expensive, but you’d be surprised how much of a deterrent this is for many tourists. As a result, many visitors feel the need to choose one or the other and many will spend their entire visit on the Western Cape or on safari in the greater Kruger area. Both trips are unforgettable experiences in their own way, but returning from a visit to South Africa without seeing the wildlife or without taking in the breathtaking views in Cape Town would certainly leave something to be desired. This is where the Eastern Cape comes into play.

Relative proximity to Cape Town

Cape Town
Photo: Sharon Ang

If you wanted to drive from Cape Town to Kruger National Park, it would take you close to 20 hours and the majority of the drive would not be particularly scenic. It just isn’t a drive that anyone wants to make. The Eastern Cape, by comparison, is closer to 8 hours by car and the drive is stunning. Eight hours is not a short drive by any stretch of the imagination, but you can realistically make the drive in one day if you’re a road warrior or turn it into a multi-day road trip with stops at multiple destinations along the world-famous Garden Route. You can make a pit stop in Hermanus and watch whales from shore, or stop in some of the quaint coastal towns along the Garden Route such as Knysna, George, Wilderness, or Nature’s Valley. The scenic drive is a destination in itself.

Big 5 safari experience

Photo by author

If you decide to go on safari in the Eastern Cape, you will still have the opportunity to encounter South Africa’s Big 5. The Big 5, who received this designation by being the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot, are lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and cape buffalo. There are several private game reserves in the region that are home to the big 5 as well as dozens of other highly sought-after animals like giraffe, zebra, hippo, and hyena. The primary difference in terms of wildlife viewing is a matter of quality versus quantity. You may not see herds of 300+ buffalo like you might in Kruger, but your sightings will often be from incredibly short distances, and chances are there will be fewer guides competing for the same sighting.

Mountainous landscape

Eastern Cape
Photo: South Africa Tourism

The game reserves on the Eastern Cape are lush, forested, and mountainous in comparison to the flat, dry landscape of greater Kruger. Many of these game reserves would be worth visiting even in the absence of wildlife simply due to the incredible mountain vistas. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by a herd of elephants as they traverse the mountainside.

Malaria-free

Photo: Mike Mamy

Taking malaria medication is no fun and often comes with side effects that can put a damper on your trip. While Kruger has not had as many malaria cases as other sub-Saharan safari destinations, it’s still strongly recommended to take the necessary precautions in that region of the country. The Eastern Cape, on the other hand, is 100% malaria-free.

Affordability

Photo by author

There are ways to do Kruger on a budget, but in terms of bang for your buck, the Eastern Cape has an edge. Lodges in private game reserves are never cheap, but you’ll have to pay a lot more for luxury in greater Kruger than you would on the Eastern Cape.

The beauty of the Eastern Cape is that it prevents the need to make sacrifices while visiting South Africa. Visitors can easily dine on the waterfront in Cape Town, tour the vineyards of Stellenbosch, and get up close and personal with lions, all in a week-long trip. If schedules and timing permit, the greater Kruger region is incredible and is absolutely worth visiting; however, oftentimes it’s not realistic to fit it all into one trip. If you can’t decide between sipping pinotage on the coast or sipping Amarula with the giraffes, then the Eastern Cape is the way to go.