When I wanted to visit Kruger National Park during my recent trip to South Africa, I just could not find enough information to figure out if I needed to book expensive tours to visit the park or if I could easily self-drive. During my visit to the park I gathered really great insight that I want to share with you! Kruger is indeed a self-drive park. Which means that you can drive around the park at certain time of the day. This post covers how to self-drive in Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park Overview
Kruger is massive! It is about 200 KM from north to south and 50 KM from east to west and covers a whooping 20,000 square KMs of land. It is home to what is famously known as the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros). In addition to these, Kruger is also home to many other amazing animals and stunning birds.
You could spend a little as a day in Kruger and see all of the Big Five or you could spend an entire week in Kruger and maybe see only 3 out of 5. That’s the thrilling part about game drives! You never know what you will see and no two drives are alike!
Where is Kruger National Park?
Kruger is in the northeastern corner of South Africa bordering Mozambique. As I mentioned, it is HUGE! The park contains several rest camps with the main camp being Skukuza, located in the (somewhat) south.
How to Get to Kruger National Park?
You can either drive to Kruger National Park or fly.
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. 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.
Renting a Car at Kruger National Park
You can pick your rental car up in Johannesburg, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport or Skukuza. The Skukuza car rental is run by Avis and is actually inside the rest camp.
Self-driving at Kruger National Park is pretty easy! The roads are well paved and marked. All intersections have good signage with directions and distances marked. Pick up a map from the gate or a rest camp and have it with you.
One thing to note is that if you are staying outside of the park, then you have to be out of the gate by a certain time. If you are staying inside the park, then you need to be inside the rest camps by that same time. This goes for the mornings as well. You will have to wait until the park gates or rest camp gates are open. Opening times usually differ based on season. Most people line up long before the gates are even open just to be the first ones in.
Pros and Cons of Self-Driving
- Cost efficient – renting a car in South Africa is relatively cheap
- Flexibility – you have the flexibility to choose your own route and stop at various picnic sites. You also have the flexibility to choose what times (during the day) you want to take a drive
- You can stay in one spot as little or as long as you’d like
- You don’t need a 4 wheel drive or a jeep/SUV to self-drive at Kruger Park
- Unless you are an expert at spotting game or have done it before, it can be hard for someone without experience to be able to spot game. This is specially difficult if you are solo and trying to drive and spot game at the same time
- Most animals come out at night and can be seen on the road from late evening to early morning. With access restricted to certain hours of the day, you may miss these early morning and late night sightings but there is a solution (see below)
Recommendations and Tips for Self-Driving Kruger Park
Book Game Drives and Bushwalks
If you are staying inside a rest camp, you can book various game drives and bushwalks. You cannot self-drive during certain hours of the day at Kruger Park (usually sunset to sunrise). However, there is a higher chance of seeing animals from dusk to dawn. Therefore, booking a game drive or bushwalk will supplement your self-driven trip to Kruger Park beautifully.
If you are staying inside a private game lodge, these are sometimes a part of the package. Ask before you book your accommodation!
Drive very slow and keep your eyes peeled for any animal action! Don’t rush it at all! Check tree tops for leopards and all the dams and watering holes.
Binoculars are a must for a safari and game drive. A good binoculars can be a game changer and help you spot animals who are far away.
Bring a Good Camera
If you have read my guide to photography post you know I am a huge fan of phone camera photography! However, I would say that safaris are the one place where you need a really good camera with a good zoom. Sometimes, you may spot a lion way back in the grasslands or a hippo in the water or a bird perched up on a tree and the only way to capture these animals in all their splendor and from a far is to have a good camera.
Fill up on Gas
Fill up on fuel just before you enter the park. Fuel is available at most of the major rest camps but is of course more expensive.
Talk to People
If you see a vehicle coming in the other direction, slow down, roll your window down and ask them if they have seen any cool sightings. It’s usually a mutually beneficial exchange of information!
Check the Boards
There are sighting boards located at all the rest camps. You can go into the rest camps during the day even if you are not staying in them.
Pack a Picnic Lunch
There are a few picnic areas scattered throughout the park, you can easily save some money if you pack your own lunch.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
You will probably spend a long time inside your car, so wear comfortable clothing.
Start Your Day Early
Be ready to hit the ground running as soon as the park gates or rest camp gates are open. Animals don’t love the heat, so they tend to go inwards during the day.
Learn to Drive a Manual
Stick shift or manual cars are a lot cheaper in South Africa than automatic ones. This is not a deal breaker though, as automatic cars are still relatively reasonable. But manuals are significantly lower in cost.
Ok, now that you know more about self-driving, what if you don’t want to self-drive?
- Private game drives – there are many options for these drives. If you are staying at a hotel or private game lodge, these may even be included in your stay. You can still arrange for these even if you are staying at a rest camp.
- Park organized game drives – These are mainly at sunrise, sunset or at night time. Learn more HERE. You can also arrange all day guided drives as well.
- Hire a private driver – This is what I did. I highly recommend Dries de Bruyn. We drove with him all day and then opted for the park organized game drives after hours. You can contact him at email@example.com. Tell him you got his contact details from Malisha.
More on Kruger
Check out my very detailed guide on Kruger below! This post covers which camp to stay at, how to book accommodation and so much more!
Where to from Kruger?
There are daily flight from Kruger to Johannesburg and Cape Town. However, if you are driving from Kruger to or from Johannesburg, it is definitely worth it to spend a day or two on the Panorama Route.
Checkout more by clicking the link below!
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