On a beautiful cold day in last Dutch October, I jumped for joy when I opened my inbox and found myself with a nice promotion on airline tickets to Johannesburg, South Africa. Instantly, I realized that there was my chance to visit the famous Kruger National Park, the most famous in that country and considered one of the best in the world for safaris.
Rhinos, elephants, giraffes, buffalos, leopards, hippos, zebras and birds of the most diverse species. Yes, Kruger is home to all these and many other fantastic animals, not to mention lush flora.
After purchasing the ticket and dreaming a lot about everything that would be experienced on this incredible trip, we (my husband and I) moved on to the practical part: price research, car reservations, accommodation, etc. And it was exactly at this moment that many doubts began to arise…
How to get to Kruger? Is it better to stay inside or outside the park? Is the park safe for self-drive or do we need to hire a specific service? Are we going at a good time of year to watch the animals? These were some of the questions that haunted the thoughts of a super inexperienced couple, but very excited to debut in the safari world.
Thinking about those who, like us, have taken advantage of promotions for tickets to South Africa, I have created a mini guide with tips that can help a lot, especially if this is your first time at Kruger. By the way, the purpose of this post is to collect tips from readers who have been to the park once or several times, so feel free to contribute in the comments!
Before the tips, let’s know a little more about Kruger…
The park occupies an area of almost two million hectares, a beautiful habitat where approximately 147 species of mammals, more than 500 species of birds, 114 of reptiles, 34 of amphibians, 49 of fish and 227 of butterflies live free and surrounded by a beautiful fauna. There is strong evidence that the first prehistoric man set foot in the region between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago.
The park has a total of 10 entrance gates and is all “cut” by well-maintained asphalt roads on which the vehicle, by law, cannot exceed 50 kilometers per hour. Throughout Kruger, visitors will also find a number of camping sites with excellent infrastructure and accommodation ranging from campgrounds to luxury lodges.
How long to stay and when is the best time to visit
The amount of days in Kruger will depend a lot on the will and intentions of each one. At the time of planning the trip, I heard from some friends that two nights would be more than enough. However, in my opinion, the ideal is to have time not only for the game drives, but also to enjoy a little more of the structure of the camping sites – swimming pools, restaurants, etc.
Not to mention that the park is huge, the speed inside it is at most 50km/h, therefore, it is not advisable to cover long distances in a short period of time. The ideal is to plan shorter game drives and strategic stops so you don’t “end up” tired and enjoying little.
About the climate, well, Kruger is in a sub-tropical region with hot, rainy summers (October to March) and winter (between April and September) with pleasant temperatures, hotter/drier days and cold nights.
I was at the park in early January this year and the days there were very sunny and warm. Okay, come on, we got some rain in the southern part, but we still had no difficulty seeing the animals during the self-drive.
What is the best region in Kruger to see animals?
There is no region better than the other, because game drives are real surprise boxes: you may be lucky enough to see several animals or none of them! What is known is that the southern region of the park tends to have a greater population of animals, but a greater concentration of cars and higher rainfall.
I had the opportunity to stay at a camping site in the south, in Skukuza, and I saw all this movement of cars up close. For this reason, I found the surroundings of the camping site in Mopani, in the North, much more peaceful for observing the animals.
Park Tip: The best time to observe the animals/photograph is very early in the morning (as soon as the gates open) or at night. Ah, at noon several animals meet near the water puddles!
Accommodation in Kruger
Visitors who want to stay inside the park can opt for one of the 17 camping sites in the region and let’s agree that there is nothing better than waking up “next to” all that natural wealth.
Mopani and Skukuza, where I stayed, have – in addition to the camping areas and bungalows with kitchen and barbecue, in various price ranges – swimming pools, restaurants, gas stations, laundries and a shop where everything is sold: barbecue meats, drinks and Kruger brand souvenirs.
Skukuza even surprised me a lot for being a real city with a fantastic structure with ATM and store that looked more like a shopping mall! The reservation at both locations was made via the official website on the booking your trip button, as well as the payment of accommodation / maintenance fees, via credit card.
I printed out the vouchers and presented everything as we crossed the Phalaborwa gate, one of the 10 that give access to the park. Remembering that the entrance to Kruger is highly controlled, after check-in, at the entrance, I received a document that accompanied us from the beginning to the end of the stay in the park.
Hosting outside Kruger
Some people also end up choosing to stay in guest houses/campings and hotels that are located in the surroundings; Establishments that are outside, but very close to the park. Phalaborwa is an example of this… just a quick glance at Booking.com is enough to notice the large number of establishments available in the region.
One of the main reasons for staying outside the park is the prices, which can turn out to be cheaper. Keep in mind, however, that you will have to respect the park’s entry and exit times.
How to get to Kruger
The easiest way to get to Kruger is to hire a car in Johannesburg. Does it need to be a 4×4 car? No, unless you want to drive a 4×4 or go to Transfrontier Park through the Giriyondo gate, the only section that requires a more powerful vehicle!
I opted for a really simple car – the cheapest with air conditioning and power steering – and I had no problem. From the airport in the South African capital to the Phalaborwa gate, 390 kilometers were covered on a good and well-signposted road.
Going with your own car ends up being more convenient to make the itinerary you want and at the time you want. However, it is worth noting that three airports are located in the park’s mediations, making it possible, therefore, to fly from locations such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. At Nelspruit, Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit airports it is even possible to hire cars.
What to pack
Neutral colored clothes – preferably khaki – are essential so that the visitor does not draw unnecessary attention from animals during activities such as a morning walk, for example.
Fabrics in light colors – long sleeves and pants – are also important as they help protect the skin from insect bites. Ah, if you go to Kruger in the middle of winter, don’t forget to take a cardigan/warm clothes, especially if your intention is to go on a night drive or morning walk.
During the safari, be sure to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat/cap and plenty of sunscreen. Another important thing is the choice of shoes. I opted for regular sneakers and I really regretted it, because during the morning walk I wet my feet in the cold water and hurt them slightly when stepping on sticks in the woods. The best, in this case, are shoes with more resistant material. Binoculars are also accessories that help a lot during game drives!
I always take a mini pharmacy in my suitcase with medicines that are used for various emergency situations. However, the main advice is that you consult a doctor before your trip and discuss with him which items cannot be missing from this “little life bag”.
See with him, for example, the possibility of taking medicine to prevent malaria. This is a somewhat controversial subject and much discussed in several travel forums on the internet; this is because the treatment does not guarantee that the traveler will not contract the disease, in addition the tablets can provide unpleasant side effects.
In my “pharmacy”, for example, I had repellent for maximum protection against insects that transmit malaria, medicines for stomach upset, fever, antihistamine for allergic reactions, medicine for insect bites, among others. Reinforcing, however, that it is best to always discuss the matter with a doctor you trust!
Although Kruger is a region with incidence of malaria, the risks of contracting the disease there are low, especially in dry seasons (when water is scarcer). Even so, care should not be given: be sure to apply a repellent lotion on your skin day and night; Long-sleeved, light-colored clothes are also great for late afternoons, when insects tend to give the air of grace, in addition, use and abuse screens, mosquito nets and plug repellants.
Self drive, morning walk, night drive?
In addition to the self-drive – when we drove in the park on our own, stopping whenever we wanted to see the animals – I hired a morning walk in Mopani’s rest camp and a night drive in Skukuza.
Both tours were selected and booked at the time we closed the accommodation, on Sanspark’s official website. The morning walk lasted about four hours and was beautiful from beginning to end. As soon as we leave the rest camp, at 5 in the morning, we can already see a group of hyenas, followed by a hippopotamus and several species of birds.
Best of all, however, was the adrenaline of walking through the forest in the company of two guides who know everything about the region. The two were even armed for the safety of the group – and I confess that I was very nervous when I saw the size of the rifles – but at no time it was necessary to use them. Ufa!
The night drive in Skukuza was done on a safari bus, equipped with reflectors that illuminated the forest well. In the direction of the vehicle, an experienced local guide who, despite his willingness to look for the most fantastic animals, could not find much, at least not those that were in the group’s expectations.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the desired felines, but several beautiful impalas, a large group of beautiful buffaloes, cuddling sleeping hyenas (ouuuuun!!!), a cat-like species known as Genet, and a scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis), quite native to Africa. On the Kruger website it is possible to check all the activities offered to visitors, just click here;
What to expect from your stay at the Kruger
As I said earlier, game drives are like little surprise boxes, making it impossible to predict what will be seen. However, the visitor not only can, but must also be well informed about the places where the animals appear frequently, the rest camps themselves help in this “search” by spreading information every day (see below in the Kruger rules).
However, it is not enough just to look hard for giraffes, leopards and elephants, to schedule your visit for a period with more favorable weather, you must count on the luck factor. As soon as we crossed the park gates, for example, we came across a group of beautiful giraffes feeding very close to the track.
Furthermore, it was during one of the self-drives that we spotted, without much effort, four of the famous Big Five: lions during the basket, adult and baby elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. For those who don’t know, Big Five is the term used to designate the five biggest wild animals in Africa, the four already mentioned here, besides the leopard.
Of course, we were very happy to be able to observe four of the most “coveted” in the safari world, but I can say with certainty that the experience would not be complete without the many delicious moments when we slowly stopped the car to enjoy groups of zebras , monkeys, antelopes, impalas, birds or just the beautiful trees of the Kruger.
Kruger Rules (source: sanspark)
– Visitors must remain in their vehicles and descend only in designated areas. No part of the body may protrude from the window, sunroof or any other part of the vehicle. Doors must also be closed at all times.
– The speed limit is 50 km/h on asphalt roads and 40 km/h on dirt roads.
– Pay attention to the park gates closing time; visitors must be at their campsites or outside the park after these times; Late payments may be subject to a fine.
– The visitor is not allowed to drive “off-road” or on roads with a sign that prohibits entry.
– Disturbing or feeding animals is a serious offense in Kruger; remember that animals also view garbage as food.
– Visitors staying at the park can only stay at a reserved and recognized establishment overnight, in addition, they must report to reception before occupying it. Check-in is from 2 pm and check-out is until 10 am;
– To ensure that you see all the animals you want, be sure to check the picture displayed at strategic locations in the campsites, in order to monitor the location of the animals in the park.