Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s largest game reserves. It is one of the best places to see the Big Five and is teeming with all kinds of wildlife! Planning a visit to Kruger, especially if you haven’t been on a safari before can be very daunting! This post is a complete guide to visiting Kruger National Park. In this guide, I will explore accommodation options, share tips and valuable links to planning and booking your visit to Kruger National Park.
Note: This post is a complete guide to visiting Kruger National Park. In this guide, I will explore accommodation options, share tips and valuable links to planning and booking your visit to Kruger National Park.
Table of Contents
- Where is Kruger National Park
- How to Get to Kruger National Park?
- How to Get Around Kruger National Park?
- How Long to Stay at Kruger?
- When to Visit Kruger?
- Park Opening Times
- Where to Stay at Kruger?
- Rest Camps
- Accommodation Options at Rest Camps
- Amenities Inside A Rest Camp at Kruger
- How to Reserve a Rest Camp Inside Kruger
- Pros and Cons of Staying Inside Kruger
- Pros and Cons of Staying at a Hotel Outside the Park
- Luxury Private Reserves In Kruger
- Pros and Cons of Staying at a Private Game Reserve
- What to Do in Kruger?
- Can You Get Out of Your Vehicle?
- Tips for Visiting Kruger
- What to Wear?
- Additional Resources
- Pin this post for later!
Where is Kruger National Park
Kruger is located in the northeastern corner of South Africa bordering Mozambique! It is about 200 KM from north to south and 50 KM from east to west and covers 20,000 square KMs of land. It is home to what is famously known as the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros).
How to Get to Kruger National Park?
There are several ways you can get to Kruger when visiting the national park.
The drive to/from Kruger National Park to/from Johannesburg is about 5 hours (if you are on the south side of the park).
You can also fly to Kruger via 4 airports. In addition to flights to Johannesburg, some even have direct flight to Cape Town. These 4 airports are:
- Hoedspruit Eastgate
- Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport /Nelspruit
- Skukuza Aiport
Skukuza Airport and Kruger Mpumalanga are the 2 common ones. Skukuza Airport is only 9 minutes away from the Skukuza Rest Camp.
How to Get Around Kruger National Park?
You have a few options for getting around Kruger National Park when visiting. One is to self-drive. I cover this in more details in the post below. The other is to hire a private guide who will take you around in their vehicle. Another option is for pre-arranged game drives. If you are staying in a private game reserve, these are more likely included. However, if you are staying in a rest camp, you can still hire a vehicle and driver for the entire day.
If you opt to self-drive and are staying at a rest camp, know that the park is only accessible during certain times of the day. However, most animals come out dusk to dawn. In order to go out of the camp gates during these times, you can easily book sunrise, sunset or night time game drives with the park.
More on all of this in the post linked below!
How Long to Stay at Kruger?
This is a little tricky! You can visit Kruger just one day and see all of the Big Five within a couple of hours or you can be at Kruger for a week and come back only seeing a few of the Big Five. 4-5 nights divided between a couple of rest camps/regions should give you a good sample of Kruger. This being said, you will still see a lot regardless of whether you stay 1 night or 30 nights. That’s the beauty of the animal kingdom! You never know what you will get and no two drives are alike.
When to Visit Kruger?
This is also a little tricky! Kruger is divided in to the dry winter season which runs from May to October and the summer rainy season which runs from November to April. Generally, Kruger is a year-round destination. Each season bring with them different experiences. Some say September and October are great as the dry season brings more animals to the road and watering holes. I visited in May and still saw plenty! I say any time is a good time!
Park Opening Times
Park opening times differ by season. Generally summer hours are 5:30-18:30 and winter hours are 6-17:30. Falls and spring hours change a bit. Click HERE for all the times by month.
One very important thing to note is that, rest camp gates open 1 hour prior to the park gates are open to the general public. Why is this important? As I mentioned, animals, especially the predators are out from dusk to dawn. It’s not uncommon to see lions chilling on the road at dawn before vehicles start coming through. When vehicle traffic starts piling up, these animals tend to go deeper into the bush. The rest camp gates opening 1 hour prior to the park gates is a MAJOR advantage of staying inside a rest camp. More to come below!
Park closing times are not recommendations. They are strictly enforced. If you are self-driving, you have to be either out of the park or inside the camp gates at the designated times.
Where to Stay at Kruger?
Rest camps are run by the government and are managed by South African National Parks (SAN Parks).
If Kruger were a country, Skukuza is its capital. Skukuza is a great first timers rest camp. There is no limit to the game you will see in and around Skukuza!
Lower Sabie is a popular rest camp at Kruger. It is located in the heart of the most productive game viewing areas. Lower Sabie lies in an area with high habitat diversity where lots of different eco zones come together. Which means there’s also diversity in animals. It is also considered a great place for elephants and lions.
Satara lies in the south central part of the park. The habitat in this area consists of grass plains, which is good for herd animals and therefore great for sighting lions and other big cats.
In addition to the 3 above Crocodile Bridge and Olifants rest camps are also frequented by safari goers.
Accommodation Options at Rest Camps
There are a wide variety of options at rest camps, from campsites to bungalows. Here is an example of all the options at Skukuza. You can check out the options at the other camps HERE
Amenities Inside A Rest Camp at Kruger
The main camps are like little self-sufficient villages. Some of them have shops, where you can purchase from groceries to souvenirs and everything in between, ATMs, swimming pools, ATMs, fuel stations, spas and restaurants. I was really impressed by the amenities inside our rest camp.
How to Reserve a Rest Camp Inside Kruger
You can reserve your accommodation on the official SanParks site HERE. In addition to booking your accommodation, you can also book various activities (more below) and pay the conservation fee online as well.
Pros and Cons of Staying Inside Kruger
- You get early access to the park! Rest camp gates open 1 hour before the main camp gates do
- You are inside the park and may even see animals from your rest camp
- After hours game drives
- Affordable and have varied accommodation options for every budget
- Accommodation is very basic. I booked a Riverside Bungalow and it was clean and served the purpose, but there was nothing luxury about it
- You have to get your own food which you can either cook or purchase
Hotels are a middle option between rest camps and luxury lodges. Some of these even include breakfast and dinner. You may even see some animals if you select a hotel closer to the park.
The following 3 hotels are good options if you want a little more comfort than a rest camp but won’t burn holes in your pockets like the luxury private game lodges do.
- Kruger Gate Hotel – Literally just outside the Paul Kruger gate. You won’t waste time driving back and forth with this option
- Burchell’s Bush Lodge by Dream Resorts – This one is also just outside Paul Kruger gate
- Sabie River Bush Lodge – About 20 minutes from Paul Kruger Gate
Pros and Cons of Staying at a Hotel Outside the Park
- More comfort than the rest camps
- Some meals included
- A drive to the park gates so you need to wake up early and factor in that time
- May have to line up at park gate
- People (the ones staying inside camp) are already on the road
- No access to the affordable after hour drives offered by the rest camps
Luxury Private Reserves In Kruger
Ah! I wish I could afford to stay in one of these private game reserves. These reserves usually either border the park or are just outside Kruger National Park, often sharing a fenceless border with the park.
Here are some options:
Pros and Cons of Staying at a Private Game Reserve
- All meals and drives are included (most of the time)
- Luxury and comfort
- Freedom with game drives – since these are privately owned lands, they can go off-road or be out after hours
- Very expensive!
What to Do in Kruger?
You may think this is a strange section! But, there is so much to see when visiting Kruger National Park! These are:
- The Big Five – Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino.
- The Little Five – Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Ant Lion and Rhino Beetle.
- Birding Big Six– Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet- faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-bill Stork.
- Five Trees – Baobab, Fever Tree, Knob Thorn, Marula, Mopane.
- Natural/Cultural Features – Letaba Elephant Museum, Jock of the Bushveld Route, Albasini Ruins, Masorini Ruins, Stevenson Hamilton Memorial Library, Thulamela.
How do you see #1-4 on this list? One is to self-drive BUT you can book game drives during after hours when only official vehicles are allowed out (recall this is the best time for game viewing!)
- Sunrise drive
- Sunset drive
- Night time drive
In addition to these, you an also swim in your hotel or rest camp, watch the night sky (one of my favorites!), relax, braai (BBQ). If you are staying at the rest camps, you can also shop!
If you are a bird lover, check HERE for official recommendations from the park!
Click HERE to see all the activities you can do when visiting Kruger National Park!
Can You Get Out of Your Vehicle?
There are a few designated areas around the park where you can get out and stretch your legs. The map above has these areas marked. There are also picnic sites where you can enjoy a picnic lunch. Another place you can be out of your vehicle is at a hide. A hide is a little hut where you can sit and watch birds.
Tips for Visiting Kruger
- Book your accommodation well in advance. The rest camps fill up fast! This is especially true during the summer months
- Study the rest camp accommodation maps before you book your accommodation to see where they are in relation to the amenities of the rest camp
- Also book your activities like game drives early. There are limited spots in these and they also tend to fill up
- Bring a good camera (unfortunately phone cameras don’t do a good job with distance) and memory cards
- Pack a good pair of binoculars. This is an absolute must have when visiting Kruger National Park
- Bring bug and mosquito repellant
- Check for the malaria advisory for the Official park site and speak to your doctor if you may need malaria prevention tablets
- Start you day early! As I mentioned animals, especially predator’s are out and about dusk to dawn. The earlier you are out of the gate, the better chance you will have of seeing them
- Drive very very slowly and keep your eyes peeled. Divide and conquer the left and right side of the road among people in your car
- Stop by the dams and watering holes and look up trees for leopards
- Check the sightings boards at the rest camps to see what and where people have seen game that day
- Stop and chat with people driving from the other direction! They may have seen something worthwhile up ahead!
- This is not a tip per se but you have to pay a conservation fee to enter the park so factor that into the budget
What to Wear?
You may have heard that you need to wear neutral colored clothing while on safari. This is especially true if you are planning on doing a bushwalk. If you are going to be inside your vehicle, you really don’t have to stick to the neutral color palette. Animals see a vehicle as one unit. However, maybe skip the neon pink or yellow top!
If you are going to be in an open vehicle (most game drives are in open jeeps) during winter, you should pack a jacket and a head cover of some sort. While it’s not as cold when you are stationary (relatively speaking but I’m a polar bear!), it definitely is cold when the vehicle is moving.
If you are self-driving in Kruger, check out the book below that gives the best routes and roads. It has great reviews online and is sure to help you plan your trip! Click the picture below to check it out!
All roads inside Kruger and well marked with distances. However, it is advisable to have a map with you at all times. You can purchase a map inside the park when you arrive or if you like to purchase one ahead of time, check out the one below.
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