Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s most famous national parks and the crown jewel of South Africa’s safari industry. It’s vast, it’s beautiful and it can be as wild as you want it to be. Kruger is on top of many safari tourists’ list so if you consider going, here’s my personal take on why and where to go and what to bear in mind.
The simple answer: because it’s Kruger. I have a very close personal relationship with this national park. It’s where I did my training as a game ranger many years ago and it’s where I spend a lot of time guiding, photographing, and just enjoying time in the bush. I love Kruger and I always have a strong feeling of coming home when I drive through any of the gates.
There is a bit of confusion around Kruger because the actual national park is only part of this large protected wilderness. There are adjoining reserves – or concessions – which are not technically part of the national park but part of what is often referred to as Greater Kruger. Timbavati and Sabi Sands are such reserves and to visit them you need to stay at one of the lodges and go on organised game drives. That is usually a spectacular experience and particularly Sabi Sands is famous for its upmarket safari experiences. I highly recommend it, but for the purpose of this text I will focus entirely on the national park itself.
The beauty with Kruger is that it’s enormous and diverse. The south is beautiful, rich in game and rather civilised with reasonable distances between the rest camps and gates. The north is wilder, slightly quieter in terms of game and much quieter in terms of visitors. The general biodiversity is among the best in Africa. Infrastructure, service, and the general safari experience is excellent. There are, simply put, very few reasons not to love Kruger.
Things to consider
As much as I wish I was the only one to realise all of this, that is not really the case. Kruger is popular. Very popular. Visiting the national park side of Greater Kruger is one of the most reasonably priced African nature experiences you can have. South Africans love and take advantage of this, which means that during weekends and holidays it will get a bit busy at times. This is particularly true for the south. Wander off further north and your experience will be different (for the better if you ask me). Travel during weekdays or off season and it will be even more so. If I have the choice I like to arrive on a Sunday afternoon when there is no school holiday in sight, spending the first few days in the south and then start heading north as the next weekend approaches.
Going on self-drive safari in Kruger you will most likely stay in any of the public rest camps. There are some lovely bush camps too and if you want to do self-catering camping there are yet another few options. In the south you have family friendly camps such as Berg-en-Dal and Lower Sabi both of which are good options. My pick would be in the central parts though, either Letaba or perhaps Oliphants for the views. The nearby satellite camp site Balule is also a lovely choice. If you decide on Letaba you should definitely stop by the Elephant Hall Museum and pay your respect to the great tuskers of Kruger.
Ask ten experienced Kruger visitors about what not to miss and you will get eleven answers. We all have our favourite parts, waterholes, viewpoints, roads, and ways of doing things. We all tend to go back to certain places where we have been lucky before and quite often we find that we’ll be lucky again. If it’s your first time in Kruger I’d suggest the south of the park, but as I mentioned I personally enjoy the central parts a lot. So why not enter through Orpen or Phalaborwa gate and spend a few days in that area. When travelling from north to south (or vice versa) I prefer to avoid the main H1 tar road (despite it being famous for predator sightings) and rather drive S36 where I’ve often had spectacular sightings, or the beautiful S37 which is great for open landscape and plains game.
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As fun as it is to do self-drives, you might want to spice up the experience a bit. Going on an organised game drive with a ranger can give you that, particularly if you choose a night drive, but my standard suggestion is that you try to fit in some form of bush walk. You might not have the same opportunities to go off the beaten tracks as we professional rangers do, but there is still a range of options available. Most rest camps offer daily bush walks which is good if you’re pressed for time. Should you really want to get away from the sometimes-busy roads you should consider multi day safari hikes. See SAN Parks website (below) for suggestions.
SAN Parks is the authority looking after all national parks in South Africa. They have a user-friendly website where you can build your itinerary and book accommodation. You don’t need a booking agent charging you extra do to it for you. Also: when driving on your own in Kruger you need to adhere to basic rules, regulations, respect, and common sense. You also need to go very carefully if you are not experienced. The specie you want to be extra careful with is of course the elephants, of which there are many in Kruger. Pick up a copy of the excellent little book Understanding Elephants and read up before you go.