“The Kruger,” as South Africans know it, is one of the most world-renowned national parks to spot wildlife. It is the quintessential park to have a wildlife safari in South Africa.
The park is roughly the size of Israel and visitors are almost guaranteed to spot the “Big Five” in one day. However, given the popularity of the Kruger finding the sweet spot can be difficult without totally going broke.
A Guide to Kruger National Park
It’s pretty hard to begin planning for your first safari without coming across Kruger National Park. It is the largest South African National Park and has one of the highest densities of wildlife of all the national parks. Kruger is home to approximately 517 birds, 147 mammals, and 118 reptiles.
Visitors to the park are offered a wide range of services. The park offers guided drives, bush walks, backpacking trails, and golf. It’s also the only park we’ve visited in Africa where the rest stops are stocked with cappuccinos, tasty snacks, and even souvenirs. If you’re looking for a park that has all the creature comforts of the west than Kruger National Park is the one for you.
The park itself is the size of Wales or Israel, so it could be its own lion ruling country. With a park that size, we’ve made our guide to Kruger to help any visitor out. To start there are a few questions you need to ask yourself about your Kruger Park safari. Such as, do you drive yourself or hire a guide?
Kruger National Park Fees
- South African Citizens and residents: R76 per adult, per day – R38 per child, per day
- SADC Nationals: R152 per adult, per day – R76 per child, per day
- Foreign Nationals: R304 per adult, per day – R152 per adult, per day
Self Drive or Guided Kruger Safari
This is the question a lot of people end up asking themselves. Should you drive yourself through the park or hire a bush guide with a safari truck? Our advice, as well as many others more experienced than ourselves? Do both! To get the best experience we firmly believe in doing both self-drive and a guided tour. You get the best of both worlds.
With a self-drive, you are afforded the ability to stay in a climate controlled comfy car, move at your own pace, explore, and have a more relaxing experience. The game drive offers you an expert who is connected to the “bush telegraph” and will find animals that you would miss on your own.
Tips for Self Drive
- Arrive early. There are a number of reasons to be the first at the gate. There are a max number of visitors let into the park each day. You want to see as much as possible.
- Bring a thermos with coffee or tea to keep warm in the mornings.
- Drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled on the bush, you will see anything that is on the road.
- Don’t be afraid to ask passing cars about sightings. It’s an unwritten rule to share information with others about interesting animal sightings.
- Pick up a map at the gate. (As of July 2016 the cost is 40 Rand)
- Make sure to pack a lunch or prepare for a braai. The main camps do have food and some of it’s not too shabby. However, the best experience comes from stopping at the more remote picnic spots and having a meal in the bush.
- If you see several cars stopped it’s almost always a sure sign that there is an interesting sighting. Approach with ease and someone will eventually let you in, and even point out where to look.
- Bring binoculars and a telephoto lens for optimal viewing and photography.
Tips for Guided Tour
- Dress Warm! This is a must. Driving around at the crack of dawn in an open-air vehicle is cold.
- Tip your guide. South Africa is a tipping country and should do likewise. From our understanding, 10% is always a good ballpark for a tip.
- Ask questions. Seriously, if you’re paying an expert to drive you around use your resource and ask away. Don’t squander your guide to Kruger.
- Don’t go too photo happy. It’s something else watching a safari truck pull up with a load of tourists and then the sound of all the cameras that go off. Just tone it down, and enjoy the sights.
- Grab a warm cup of coffee or tea for the morning.
- Pack binoculars and a telephoto lens for viewing and photography.
- Always verify what’s included in booking. We always make sure to know what we get in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise. Is lunch or breakfast included? How about the conservation fee?
- We are happy to say that Kruger is also wheelchair accessible!
The Rules at Kruger National Park
- No getting out of your vehicle!
- 50 km is the strict speed limit. You’re there to see wildlife not kill an animal with your car.
- Stay on the road.
- Do not feed or disturb animals.
- Stay on time. The gates and rest camps open and close at set times; make sure to adhere to them.
- Do not lean out a sunroof or window.
- This should go without saying, but DO NOT LITTER. However, we see it time and time again all around the world.
- Get more information at SANParks website.
Five Things to Spot In Kruger
- “The Big Five” – Lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Leopard, 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.
Kruger National Park Map
(Click on the map of Kruger to enlarge.)
Where to Stay in Kruger National Park?
There are a plethora of accommodation options when it comes to visiting Kruger National Park. However, it can be broken down into two basic ideas. Visitors can stay outside the park or within the park. There isn’t a clear answer here, but the short answer is both. Of course, it all depends on budget, time, and interests when selecting your Kruger park lodge.
We chose to stay outside the park so we could explore the Hoedspruit area and we found a great budget safari lodge at Cheetah Paw Eco Lodge. If you have time a great option would be to self-drive through Kruger for a few days before dropping your car off and spending the end of your trip in one of the many private reserves.
Why? You’d likely be disappointed in the accommodation if you stayed in the park first, not that the park is anything short of a terrific safari experience, just hard to compete with the comfort and value of private lodges.
Private Game Reserves
The accommodation here tends to give you a lot more bang for your buck and even goes all out to super luxurious. If you’re looking for that famous 7-star experience you can find it in a number of private game reserves, such as Sabi Sands.
We were in search of that sweet spot ourselves. We wanted all of the creature comforts we could ask for, great hosts, comfortable rooms, good bush environment, and an affordable price. That’s what we found at the Cheetah Paw Eco Lodge. There are a number of private game reserves in the Limpopo region.
You can select from Thornybush, Klaserie, Timbavati, Sabi Sands, and smaller ones like Guernsey (that’s where we stayed).
Highlights From Staying Outside The Park
- Higher availability
- Better Accommodation
- Better Food
- More intimate
- Not necessarily stuck in camp or a car
Lodges in Kruger National Park
Asides from the few high dollar private lodges, Kruger park lodges in the park remain booked accommodation in the park is rather basic. It totally gets the job done, and very few will complain if they know what they’re getting into. You are after all in the park before anyone else and in the park after everyone else.
Which is a big deal when the best time for viewing wildlife is in the morning and evening. Staying in the camps is extremely popular, and most camps even sell out as soon as they release the dates up to a year in advance. Some of the most popular camps are the Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Letaba and the Satara.
Highlights Of Staying In Park
- Cheaper (asides from the few private camps)
- You’re inside THE park
- Lots of wildlife
- Days worth of driving and activities.
How To Book A Safari in Kruger National Park?
Booking a safari in Kruger National Park has always been one of the easiest safaris to plan on your own. There are a countless number of lodges and hotels that are easily booked around the area if you search booking.com.
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion. However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
Essential Items To Bring To Kruger National Park
- It depends on the season, but the right safari clothes are crucial. You can read this post here on what we like to wear on safari.
- Binoculars: If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of binoculars is a must.
- A great packable down jacket is never a bad idea!
- Here is our Africa packing list. As well as a post that details what to wear on safari!
What to Pack for an African Safari
Tour in Kruger National Park
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
- Accommodation in South Africa: We like to use Hotelscombined to compare various booking engines and make sure we are getting the best possible deal. To feel more at home in South Africa we use Airbnb. Here is a coupon for your first stay! Here are the most popular destinations in South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Knysna, and Stellenbosch.
- Flights to South Africa: Compare airlines, dates, and prices all in one place with Skyscanner.
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. We ALWAYS travel with a travel insurance policy. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
- Water: We found the water in South Africa fine to drink, if you want extra assurance then we love traveling with our Lifestraw Go Waterbottle
- Guide Book: Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
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