The vast Kruger National Park is the largest in South Africa and certainly the most well-known. Established in 1898 by the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger, it has over a century of exceptional wildlife and environmental conservation to its name.
Home to a diverse array of wildlife: from the Big 5 to over 600 bird species, reptiles and even fish, the Kruger National Park also offers a wide variety of experiences. From luxury tented camps in private concessions to adjacent private reserves dotted with stylish safari lodges and into the actual park itself – there is indeed something for everyone.
Where: Understanding the Kruger Park
The Kruger is usually understood to have many areas that offer unique wildlife and game-viewing experiences, with a variety of accommodation to go with it.
- The Southern region of the park is one of the most popular and is known for its large rhino and lion populations. It’s bordered by the Sabi and Crocodile Rivers and is densely vegetated with marula, leadwood and acacia trees.
- The Central region stretches from the Sabi to the Olifants River and is widely considered the most game-rich area, abundant in plains game like zebra, giraffe and wildebeest, which bring with them a healthy predator population!
- The Northern region ranges from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Olifants River and is bordered in the east by the Lebombo Mountains. You can expect to see more unique animals like tsessebe antelope, as well as ostrich, elephant and buffalo. The scrubby, hilly environment is rich in pre-historic artefacts and leopard too!
- The Far Northern region is the best for rare game sightings: nyala, sable, roan and eland can all be spotted up here, while flora lovers will find the large baobab trees a thrill! Cheetah are also regularly sighted.
- Other than the main park, to the south-central border is the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, as well as some smaller private reserves. This game-rich private reserve shares a fence-free border with the main park and is well known for excellent Big 5 sightings and its variety of luxury lodge-style accommodation.
- There are also private concessions within the park – small pockets of untraversed land not open to the public, and which provide a wonderfully exclusive safari experience.
When is the Best Time to Go for a Kruger Safari?
In our opinion, there’s never a bad time to go to Kruger! However, summer and winter offer different safari experiences. The dry winter season between May and October is considered the best for game-viewing as the bush is stripped bare and animals tend to congregate around waterholes – often providing a spectacular backdrop for a live-action kill! It’s also mild, warm in the day and cool in the evenings, making for a truly comfortable stay.
November through to February is the hottest and wettest time of the year; the rains arrive, the vegetation flourishes, baby animals are born, and the birds are out! Called ‘The Green Season’, it’s usually a high-value time to visit the Kruger, but its warm climate doesn’t always suit everyone. March and April see a dip in the temperatures and are lovely months to visit.
How Do I Get There?
Kruger is easily accessible from almost everywhere in South Africa! You can either travel by road from Johannesburg – consider taking a day or so for this journey – but our recommendation is to fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) at Nelspruit; it’s just an hour’s drive from the park. The smaller Hoedspruit Airport offers easy access to the private reserves on the border of Kruger, while Phalaborwa Airport is best for those visiting the more remote northern Kruger.
The alternate option is to fly directly into Kruger itself, its largest camp – Skukuza – has its own runway, while many of the private camps and lodges within the Sabi Sands have their own or a shared airstrip.
Your travel consultant will arrange a private or shared transfer from the airport or airstrip directly to your lodge, or if you prefer to self-drive, you can enjoy a leisurely drive through the Lowveld into the park. Sometimes game viewing begins right at the airport! Keep a look out for impala, hornbills and vervet monkeys scampering along the side of the road as you leave your plane behind.
Once you’re in the park or private reserves, you’ll enjoy game drives from your lodge twice daily, and if you’re travelling to another lodge on the other side of the park, a short inter-camp flight is a fantastic opportunity to view Kruger from above.
Travel Tips to Keep in Mind
- Remember the Weather – if you’re going in the cooler dry season, warm game-drive gear is essential – the wind-chill factor on the vehicles in the early morning and evening can be nippy! There in the summer? Bring flip flops for camp, a sarong or kikoi for lazing around the pool and a big sun hat.
- Avoid the Crowds – Be aware of the South African school holidays (especially December/January) as the southern part of the park especially can get quite crowded. Visit out of season to enjoy a quieter experience.
- Take Precautions – Kruger does sit on the malaria belt, and while contracting the disease is unlikely, make sure you visit your doctor or clinic before you travel. Even if you choose not to take any medication, make sure you take the necessary precautions to avoid being bitten while on safari.
- Be Careful – Kruger is not only home to large, wild animals, but a variety of snakes, insects and scorpions that can be dangerous. Listen to your ranger and host while on drives or in the lodge and make sure you understand how to be safe while on safari.
- Consider the Kids – travelling with your children? Make sure you choose a lodge that offers a family-friendly experience. This can include baking with the chef, mini safari excursions around the camp, an education session with a ranger and even a kids lounge with wildlife videos available.
If a safari is something you’re considering, then the Kruger is a fantastic destination for a first-time or a repeat safari. The variety of experiences, accommodation options and regions to explore is vast, while it’s incredibly accessible and the perfect destination to combine with South Africa, the Garden Route, Victoria Falls or other countries in southern Africa.
Enquire now about a Kruger Safari with Discovering Africa.