Travel guide to visit Kruger Park: Useful Safari Tips

How to visit Kruger Park: Useful Safari Tips

When you’re going to South Africa, you can’t skip the Kruger Park. The Kruger Park is one of the most beautiful and largest safari parks in the world. We spent hours there, looking for wildlife, and loved it! The Kruger Park is larger than some small countries in Europe and is just less than two million hectares, so spending one day in the park just won’t be enough. You can’t visit the Kruger Park without a solid preparation. Don’t worry, I have collected all the tips for you!

In this article you can read everything about the Kruger Park:

Why visiting the Kruger Park?

The Kruger National Park is home to the BIG 5 and another 140 different species of mammals, countless bird species and reptiles. The BIG 5 is a concept in African safari parks. The term BIG 5 was historically used to refer to the five most dangerous animals to hunt in Southern Africa, on foot. Fortunately the term is now used to describe the most popular and exciting animals to view, whilst on safari in the Kruger National Park. The BIG 5 consists of the elephant, the rhinoceros, the buffalo, the lion and the leopard. The Kruger Park is packed with wildlife, you can drive through it yourself and you can spend the night there! And what is more exciting than waking up and seeing that there is an elephant in front of your bungalow?

kruger park south africa

Eye to eye with an elephant in a Kruger Park private reserve! @Isilimela Lodge

Difference between the Kruger Park and a private reserve

The Kruger Park consists of two parts: the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger National Park (here you will find the private reserves). The Kruger National Park (or Kruger Park) is managed by the government. All lodges, restaurants, activities and prices in the park are therefore controlled by the South African government. The Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP) borders directly on the Kruger Park, usually without fences or boundaries, and is privately owned by people and/or companies. The Greater Kruger National Park is therefore often called a private reserve or private game reserve. The animals roam freely and can stay in both the Kruger Park and a private reserve. In a private reserve you will get a more unique safari experience, better service and private game drives (jeep safaris) where you can get closer to the animals because off-road driving is allowed.

How to visit the Kruger Park?

There are different ways to visit the Kruger Park:

  • With your own rental car
  • With an organized multi-day tour
  • A safari day tour
Car hire south africa

Our rental car for the Kruger Park, an SUV Ford Eco Sport

With your own rental car

The nicest and best way to visit the Kruger Park is with your own car. So you can drive through the Kruger Park yourself! Your own rental car gives you a lot of freedom and you can go on safari with your own car from early in the morning until closing time. There are paved and unpaved roads, and these are both good.

Multi-day organized tour

Another option is an organized tour. If you do not have your own car, it is best to do a fully arranged tour from a private reserve. We stayed at Isilimela Lodge (with our own rental car), but Isilimela also offers guided tours of 5 days. They pick you up in Johannesburg and during this tour you visit the Panorama Route, the Kruger Park and the Greater Kruger Park.

Don’t feel liking sorting everything out yourself? Do you want to sleep in a private safari lodge as well as in the Kruger Park itself and do multiple safaris? Then take a look at this safari tour.

Day Tour

If you would like to do a day tour, it is best to arrange this from Marloth Park and Komatipoort (south of the park). The tour costs around  $78, but this does not include the entrance ticket to the Kruger Park. You can also do a tour from Hazyview, Nelspruit or Graskop. A day safari from there will cost around $123 including the entrance ticket.

Preparation

What should you arrange before your visit to the Kruger Park?

  • A rental car
  • Accommodation in or just outside the Kruger Park
  • Entrance tickets
  • Malaria prevention in certain seasons
  • Never forget your passport!

Read more about renting a rental car

Buying entrance tickets for Kruger Park

To enter the park you have to pay an entrance fee. R372, approximately $26 per person (per day). You can buy tickets online via the official Kruger Park website. You can also buy the tickets on the day of arrival at one of the entrance gates. In the high season (July to August) it may be wise to buy the tickets in advance because there is a maximum number of visitors per day for the park! It’s on a first come, first serve basis, with the exception of visitors who stay overnight.

Where to sleep in the Kruger Park

Bungalow inside kruger national park

Our bungalow BD2N at Satara Rest Camp

You can stay overnight in the Kruger Park. In the park are so-called Restcamps where you can stay. The Restcamps reminded me a bit of Center Parcs, only with an African touch and a much cooler environment of course. We’ve stayed for two nights in the park. One night at Satara Restcamp and one night at Crocodile Bridge. If you, just like us, want to spend the night in the park it is best to book the accommodation in advance via the official website.

Read this article on accommodation inside and near the Kruger park

Check out the map below with the so-called rest camps (the houses) and entrance gates (G van Gates).

Kruger park map restcamps roads

Entrance gates and opening hours

As you can see on the map above, the Kruger Park has several entrance gates. Choose your access point based on your accommodation or route. We slept the first night at Satara, so it was best to enter through the Phalaborwa or Orpen gate. We chose the Orpen gate.

Tip! Buy a Kruger Park map on arrival, costs $6!

At the gate you must show your ticket and fill in some papers, which you will receive there. In the shop we bought a nice map of the Kruger Park, with the roads on it and an animal checklist! Awesome. From the Orpen gate to our rest camp we have taken many side roads and seen wildlife. Be sure to arrive at your camp on time, because here too you will find a gate that you must pass through! There are guards present at any time.

Kruger park accommodation tips

Kruger park map: buy it on arrival!

Self Drive through the Kruger Park

It is really recommended to drive yourself through the Kruger Park (also called self-drive). You can stop wherever and whenever you want, and there is nothing better than to spot animals yourself!

Here are some tips and details to keep in mind:

  • You are allowed to drive a maximum of 50 km per hour on paved roads in the Kruger Park and a maximum of 40 km per hour on unpaved roads.
  • Our experience is that you do not drive too fast anyway because animals can cross over and you can spot the animals best if you drive slowly.
  • Keep your distance from your predecessor. In the Kruger Park, a car can just hit the brakes because it’s occupants have spotted something.
  • There are speed cameras in the park, so stick to the speed.
  • You are not allowed to drive off-road in the Kruger Park to get closer to the animals, for example.
  • Calculate how much time you need to get from the gate to the camp (or from camp to camp). From Satara Restcamp to Crocodile Bridge it is 85 M, so without stops it is already a 2-hour and 45-minute drive.
  • A higher car (SUV) is nice and comfortable, but not necessary.
  • Turn off the engine when you are close to the animals.
  • You are not allowed to get out of the car except at the camps and certain picnic areas (at your own risk).
  • Refuel your car before you enter the park. Almost all rest camps do have gas stations.

Spotting animals, where are they?

where are the animals in kruger

The Kruger Park is super large and not a zoo. You cannot know where the animals are exactly. It’s just down to luck, really. Some animals walk a few kilometers a day, others are territorial and are always in a radius of X km.

We have been in both the middle part (around Satara Restcamp) and the south of the Kruger Park. We have seen a lot of wildlife in both areas and members of the BIG 5. Around Satara Restcamp many big cats should be seen. In the south there is more water and therefore more wildlife. Many rest camps are also located in the south and this also means that it is busier in terms of tourists and traffic.

Here are some tips to see a lot of wildlife during your ‘self-drive’:

  • Don’t drive too fast and pay attention to other cars (if they stop, they may have seen something interesting).
  • Occasionally ask other drivers if they have seen anything ‘exciting’.
  • Get up early, even though this means that you have to get up at 4 am. The animals are most active in the morning and just after sunset.
  • Look closely under trees and shady spots.
  • Water sources are popular, sometimes you will see just one zebra, sometimes a whole herd of elephants.

spotting big 5 kruger

Book a game drive or safari

Something I can advise you to do, is to book a safari with an experienced ranger. In the Kruger Park they call these safaris game drives, or rides where you look for wildlife and especially the BIG 5. As mentioned above, you can arrange a day safari through an independent tour operator. For +/- $100 per person you can go on a full-day jeep safari in the Kruger Park with an experienced ranger. The Kruger Park itself also offers various game drives via the Restcamps.

Morning game drive

safari Kruger park

Jeep Safari Kruger Park (via Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp)

This safari starts very early, around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., depending on your camp and the winter or summer time. The open jeep with a maximum of 20 people leaves before sunrise. With flashlights you will search for game and the BIG 5. My experience is that the Kruger Park ranger went out of his way for us. The ranger tells you a lot about the park and its animals and that makes a game drive extra interesting. A morning drive via the Kruger Park costs around R325 ($24) per person and the safari takes 3 hours.

You can book this morning drive in advance via the official website. If you don’t spend the night in the park, you can only book such a game drive at a rest camp at the entrance gate! For example at Crocodile Bridge, Orpen or Malelane. You have to report to the gate early in the morning and they will take you to the jeep. If you do stay overnight in the park, you can book the game drive at the relevant rest camp.

Sunset Drive

The Sunset Drive departs from the Restcamps around 4 p.m. During this game drive the sun goes down and you also ride in the dark for a while! Very exciting. A sunset drive through the Kruger Park costs around R325 ($23) per person and the safari takes 3 hours.

game drive kruger park

During the Sunset Drive!

You can book this sunset drive in advance via the official website. If you don’t spend the night in the park, you can only book such a game drive at a rest camp at the entrance gate! For example at Crocodile Bridge, Orpen or Malelane. You have to report to the gate early in the morning and they will take you to the jeep. If you do stay overnight in the park, you can book the game drive at the relevant rest camp.

Night Drive

A number of camps also offer a night drive. Some people are very enthusiastic about this drive, but I wouldn’t book it personally. You need light to spot the animals. Two people in the jeep get a big flashlight and shine it over the park. In the dark you will see the eyes of the animals reflect. The reason why I would not do a night drive is because you will also spot animals in the dark if you choose to take the morning or sunset drive.

A night drive takes approximately 2 hours and usually departs after 8 pm after sunset. Not all rest camps offer this type of safari! Costs R250 / $18 per person.

Bushwalk or morning walk

A very adventurous way to go on a ‘safari’ is a bush walk. You will be looking for wildlife on foot in small groups up to 8 people. Two rangers will join you and they will tell you all about the bush and the animals along the way. These safari trips depart early in the morning and last around 4 hours. Not all Restcamps offer this option. You also have to spend the night in advance in the park to do this activity.

Safari via Private Reserve

safari in private reserve

Our safari in the private reserve turned out to be really private ;-)!

During our tour we also did two game drives in the Balule private reserve. We stayed at isiLimela Lodge and they arranged a morning drive for us. It costs around R500 per person / $36 for 3 hours. During a game drive in a private reserve, you will drive with a ranger in an open jeep through the Greater Kruger Park (different from the National Park).

An advantage of a private game reserve is that the vehicle can be taken off the beaten track. This way you can get closer to the animals than in the Kruger National Park. A maximum of one or two vehicles may also come close to the animal, so you will always have good visibility. The disadvantage of a private reserve is that you are not allowed to drive through it with your own car (except from and to your accommodation).

If you have the time, then my tip is to visit both the Greater Kruger Park and the National Park!

Food, drinks and refueling

Many Restcamps, but not all, have a restaurant. Lower Sabie is a popular rest camp and has a very nice restaurant called “Mugg & Bean”. Prices are slightly higher than in other parts of Africa, but is still very affordable. It is definitely worth having lunch at Lower Sabie! As a day visitor you can also just go for lunch at a rest camp. You can pay anywhere with your debit card (change it to worldwide)!

Rest camps, restaurants and gas stations are accessible to everyone

lower sabie rest camp

Mugg & Bean restaurant @ Lower Sabie Restcamp

Most rest camps also have a gas station. If you only have a half-full tank, you can refuel at each rest camp.

The larger rest camps also have a store / supermarket. We stayed in Satara Restcamp and Crocodile Bridge Restcamp. Both camps had a supermarket. You can buy meat here for the BBQ, drinks, vegetables, breakfast, toiletries, cutlery etc. Prices were, in my opinion, equal to the prices of the supermarkets outside the park.

Of course you can also do your shopping in advance. For example, we had purchased a coolbox with cooling elements, two plates and some cutlery. Just outside the Kruger Park are also supermarkets where you can stock up on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cozy!

Best time to travel

travel kruger park

Many animals give birth in December and January!

You can visit the Kruger Park all year round. Every season has its pros and cons. The seasons in South Africa are the opposite of ours. When it is summer in Europe, it is therefore winter in South Africa and vice versa. The winter in South Africa is dry and still pleasantly warm. In this period (June – September) the chance to see the Big 5 is just a little higher. Due to the drought, the trees and shrubs are less overgrown and you can spot the animals better. There is also a good chance that you will see a lot of wildlife at the (remaining) water sources. From June to September it is high season in South Africa, so more tourists and higher prices.

It’s summer in the period December – February. It is warm and sometimes there is rain. The Kruger Park is nice and green, but the animals sometimes hide behind the overgrown bushes. We went at the end of January and have seen the BIG 5. Many young are born in December! Super nice to see the newcomers. The South African summer holiday is from the end of December to mid-January. In that period it is also slightly busier everywhere.

What to take with you?

If you stay overnight in the Kruger Park, you simply take your whole car and cut with you in your rental car. Here are a few things that I found very useful to have with me:

sightseeing kruger park africa

Bring good quality binoculars with you. You are going to need it!

  • Special travel plug for South Africa (standard world plug does not work).
  • Coolerbox (bought there incl. cooling elements to keep stuff cool in your car throughout the day).
  • Aluminum foil for the BBQ (also bought there).
  • Earplugs.
  • Anti-mosquito spray (‘peaceful sleep’, also buy there!).
  • Good quality photo camera.
  • Good quality binoculars: National Geographic 10 × 50 Porro (really enjoyed it)
  • Cardigan or jacket: if it gets chilly during game drives!

Which camera or lens for the Kruger Park?

which camera for safari

Left: slightly zoomed in with iPhone. Right: zoomed in with DSLR Nikon D3300 (16-300 lens)

Not everyone finds it equally important to take good pictures of the animals. During the game drives we mainly saw tourists taking photos with their mobile phones. You can also take great photos with your mobile phone, but as soon as you zoom in, the quality deteriorates. I took all the photos with my phone during one vacation and now I regret it. In terms of quality, a GSM does not match a photo camera.

To get a great picture of the animals, you must have a device that can zoom in well. I myself use a Nikon SLR camera and a compatible Tamron lens. With an SLR camera, much less quality is lost if you zoom in. The image therefore remains sharp. It’s an investment, but it’s worth it and maybe photography is your new passion! Just before my vacation I bought the Tamron 16-300 mm lens. You can take pictures up close and far without having to change lenses. Ideal for safari, where you sometimes have a few seconds to take a photo! The Nikon D3400 is a nice “entry-level model” for beginners! Regarding the lens, 200 mm is the minimum. A 300 mm lens is sometimes not enough, but it is the only lens where you are still able to hold it in your hand.

Surrounding the Kruger Park

River Blyde Canyon Panorama Route

River Blyde Canyon

There is also plenty to see and do in the surroundings of the Kruger Park. The Panorma Route is a beautiful route with all its sights.

Hopefully you have benefited from my tips for visiting the Kruger Park! If you have any questions, ask them below!

blogger evy

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