Kruger Park Safari: All You Need To Know
Kruger National park is one of the largest parks in South Africa with over a million annual visitors. Surrounding it are several private reserves offering guided luxury safaris. Kruger is home to the Big Five (buffaloes, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos) together with other favourites including giraffes, zebras, warthogs, crocodiles and cheetahs.
Planning a safari trip to South Africa can be daunting with over 700 publicly owned reserves and a further 200 private game reserves, of which some have no borders separating them from the national parks. If you are feeling overwhelmed, keep reading to find out everything you need to know when planning your trip to Kruger. We hope this will help!
When to go to South Africa
South Africa is a year-round destination but generally speaking, the best time to visit Kruger National park is between the winter months (dry season) of April and September. It tends to be cold in the mornings (10-14°C) but warms up in the day (26-29°C). Animals also tend to gather around water holes, and the bush is more thinned out, increasing your chances of seeing wildlife.
Wet season (summer) starts in October and lasts until April, where it can be particularly hot with day time temperatures sometimes reaching over 40°C, coupled with downpours (particularly from December – February). In March and April, the weather starts to improve again - there is less rain and the temperature at night drops slightly (18°C).
We visited in mid-march and the weather was lovely, it rained once for a few hours during our trip, with temperatures in the mid 20s.
How to get to Kruger
Fly into O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and from here you have several options to choose from to make your way to Kruger.
Taking the shuttle bus is the most cost-efficient way to travel to Kruger, and you’ll enjoy stunning views on your way. We recommend Kruger Park Shuttle, who provide comfortable, clean and spacious vans. They have a punctual daily shuttle at 11 am between Johannesburg and Kruger (Hoedspruit). The drive takes 5 hours in total, with a stop halfway through for some snacks at a café. They provide you with water, wifi and charger ports on your journey! If you would prefer a private charter, they also provide this service.
Car hire is also a popular option – although bear in mind the drive is pretty long and you will probably be coming off a long flight as well! They drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Flying is the quickest but most expensive way to get to Kruger. Fly to Hoedspruit (central and northern) or Phalaborwa (northen). If you only have a few days to spend on safari, this is probably your best option as it takes just 1 hour.
Self-drive in Kruger National Park or private game reserves?
Several private game reserves are set alongside Kruger, offering a wide variety luxury safari experiences for you to choose from. Benefits of staying in private game reserves include increased frequency and closer sightings of the wildlife, with greater chances of seeing all of the Big Five. Some lodges also include game drives as part of their nightly rates. You will be able to enjoy high quality game drives and may be able to drive off road with your ranger which is not normally allowed in Kruger Park itself.
Self-drive safaris on the other hand provide you with greater flexibility and drive around Kruger national park at your own leisure.
Which private game reserves are in Kruger?
Here is a list of private game reserves in Kruger:
Sabi Sabi private game reserve
Thornybush private game reserve
Balule private game reserve
Khaya Ndlovu private game reserve
Timbavati private game reserve
Kapama private game reserve
Manyeleti private game reserve
Makalali private game reserve
Klaserie private game reserve
How long should I stay?
Approximately 2-4 days is a good length of time to be on safari. If you are on safari for more than 2 days, it is best to split your time between 2 lodges in the area especially because some game reserves are not necessarily home to all of the Big Five. Every game reserve varies and offers you different opportunities to see as many animals as possible during your trip.
Where should I stay?
You can choose to stay either outside the park (which tends to be the more affordable option), within lodges situated within private game reserves or in lodges/camps within the park.
Staying within the park/reserves gives you the opportunity to spot wildlife even as you lounge by the pool, and you will be able to get out for drives earlier.
We stayed within 2 private game reserves during our trip: Sausage Tree safari camp and Khaya Ndlobu manor house, and loved both of them!
Sausage tree safari camp is a small luxury camp in the Balule private game reserve with breathtaking scenery. We stayed here for 2 nights and loved everything here from the comfortable tents, en-suite bathrooms, views of the park from the elevated skydeck, and cosy, delicious dinners by the campfire in the evenings. We saw so many animals from here who visited the water hole – from wart hogs to giraffes! Safari game drives were from 5.30-8.30 am and again at 4.30-7.30 pm. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to try Orlando’s (head chef) delicious sticky date pudding.
We spent our next 2 nights in Khaya Ndlovu, a luxurious manor house is situated within the Khaya Ndlobu game reserve, and is a safe-haven for its black rhinos. They have also recently introduced the endangered African wild dogs into the reserve. We loved the beautifully decorated manor house, delicious food, their infinity pool with an elevated view of the reserve (zebras and giraffes love to wander by). They offer a wide range of activities including daily game drives (5.30-8.30am and 4-7.30pm), scenic helicopter flights through the Olifants river gorge, full day trips to Kruger National Park, day trip through the Panorama route and Blyde River Canyon and game walks.
What animals will I see?
This largely depends on where you are staying. Kruger national park is home to the big five (buffaloes, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos) together with other favourites including giraffes, zebras, warthogs, crocodiles and cheetahs. If you are lucky, you should be able to see all of the big five! We can say with almost 100% certainty that you will see many impalas around.
Is South Africa safe?
The majority of visitors to South Africa have no issues with safety and we felt completely safe during our trip. Having said that, crime rates have been notoriously high, especially in large cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
To stay as safe as possible, a few important things to remember include
Not displaying your personal belongings openly in public (phone, wallet, passport, camera gear)
Not to walk around on your own after dark especially in cities
There is safety in numbers
Don’t use ATMs in quiet areas (we used the ATM in the airport before leaving and this felt safe – please check your surroundings)
Organise your trip well – including transfers (for example, it is better to have pre-organised shuttles or transfers already arranged by your lodge)
Consider shrink wrapping your baggage at the airport
Watch your belongings closely at security checks in the airport
If safety is something you are particularly worried about, you could consider booking your trip with a travel agency.
Should I be worried about malaria?
While Kruger is a malaria zone, the risk is small during the wet summer months. Pack mosquito repellent with you on your trip, and it is best speak to your doctor before your travel.
How much does it cost?
This will obviously vary depending on where you're flying from, what type of transfers, your accommodation choices (£<100 per night for more affordable options, >£300 for luxury options) and the number of game drives you do.
Here is a breakdown of how much our 5-day trip to Kruger cost (4-night stay):
Hope this has helped with your trip planning process, let us know if you have any questions!