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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

How to visit Kruger National Park

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Would you like to visit one of the most iconic African parks, seeing thousands of animals, with lots of comfort and stunning views, and without spending tons of money? Come with me and I'll explain the how to!


Elefantes cruzando uma estrada de terra no Parque Kruger - Kruger Nationa Park, South Africa

Going on a safari in Africa was a decades-old dream.


I had been wanting to go to sub-Saharan Africa for some time and, obviously, one of the mandatory activities would be to go on a safari. But when I started looking, all I found were overpriced hotels, as expensive as you can charge for sunset drinks by the infinity pool watching the giraffes, zebras and elephants calmly strolling through the savannah, and on top of that with rides that seemed to be kind of 'fakes' (chipped animals, fed cats and the sort), something that didn't appeal to me, not even my pocket allowed.


So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I scoured the internet, read several travel guides, talked to strangers on instagram, sent messages to the friend of a friend, made and redid the plans several times and after a lot of racking my brains, voilá, we not only managed to do the safari of our dreams, as it was one of the highlights (perhaps the highest) of our 20-day trip to South Africa (click here to find out everything we did there, and here for a summary of the trip).


So here is your path on how to visit Kruger National Park, with all the links you need to make this dream come true.



KRUGER NATIONAL PARK


We spent three days at Kruger, but we could have stayed much longer. Seeing animals in the wild, wandering free, was an unique experience.


No matter how many pictures you have seen, the very first moment you spot African animals in the wild will be unforgettable. The expectation of the search, and the emotion at the sight of them, is indescribable.


There, nature dictates the rules. Animals do not have any human interference. They are not fed, are not "chipped", nor are they cared for in case of illness or accident. Wild life as it is.


While animals have a free life, we humans are restricted to the interior of our cars or properly fenced campsites. Exactly the opposite of what we are used to in zoos - an interesting food for though.


Kruger, probably the most famous national park in South Africa, was established in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve and was gradually expanded until it took on its current contours, comprising an area of ​​19,633 km2 (bigger than New Jersey State), extending to the border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is one of the most visited game parks in the world, and has (documented) 507 species of birds, 336 of trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians.


Rio Sabie - Parque Nacional Kruger , África do Sul


WHEN TO GO TO KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA


There are two distinct seasons in the region, the rainy and the dry season.


The hot and rainy season runs from October to mid-March, when the daily rains transform the park, normally arid, into an immense green area, filling rivers and lakes, in a beautiful landscape. However, the increased foliage of vegetation makes it difficult to see animals.


The period from April to September is the dry season, with milder temperatures, warm dry days and cold nights. The vegetation dries, the water is rare, being only available in perennial rivers and in water holes, which facilitates the sighting of animals. It tends to be the best time to game drive.


We went in January, at the height of the rainy season. The park was beautiful, everything was green, with lots of water, several flooded areas, rivers overflowing, the sun was merciless and the weather really hot. There were occasional rains, but it didn't stop us from appreciating the park. Even though it's not the best time of year to see animals, we saw many, many of them.


por do sol na savana africana - Kruger Park, South Africa, Lower Sabie

HOW TO GET TO KRUGER NATIONAL PARK


There are several entrances to the park.


O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB), in Johannesburg, is the main international airport in South Africa, to which there are flights from different parts of the world.


It is possible to go directly from Johanesburg airport to the park, here is a table with the distances and estimated time to reach each entrance. To give you an idea, Numbi Gate is aproximately 370km (230 miles), or about 4h20 by car, from O.R.Tambo Airport; Malelane Gate is 390km (242 miles) or 4h20, and Phabeni Gate 400km (248 miles), or about 4h30. These are entrances in the southern part of the park, if you go to the northern part, the distances are a little longer.


The nearest airport to the southern part of the park is in Nelspruit - Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (CPT), it is 38km (23 miles), 40 minutes by car, from Numbi Gate, 68km (42 miles), 50 min, from Malelane Gate or 112 km (70 miles), 1h20, from Crocodile Bridge Gate.


In our case, we were driving from Graskop, we passed through the town of Hazyview and entered the park via Phabeni Gate.


Pay attention to the opening and (especially) closing times of the gates, which vary throughout the year. Here is the table with the gate hours.


Hipopótamos no lago. Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Parque Nacional Kruger, África do Sul

Lake close to Lower Sabie Rest Camp



WHERE TO STAY AT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK


There are several rest camps within the park. Most of them have an inn/hotel structure and are excellent. Take a good look at the official website www.sanparks.org to check location, structure, available accommodations and everything else, as it can vary a lot from one place to another (Skukuza even has a golf course!). In addition, within the same camp there are several types of accommodation, which vary greatly in terms of size and comfort. There are simple rooms with shared bathrooms to cabins with river views, in the best “glamping” style.


We stayed at Skukuza Main Rest Camp and Lower Sabie Main Rest Camp.


Skukuza is the biggest of all rest camps, it has restaurants, swimming pool (which we didn't use), convenience store, laundry, gas station and several other facilities. Lower Sabie is also quite large, counts with similar structure and, in my opinion, is the prettiest of the two. In both of them we could easily see plenty of animals.


It is essential to book campsites as far in advance as possible, as places fill up quickly. Everything is done through the official website of South African National Parks, www.sanparks.org, specifically on this page.


To have an idea, we booked in August, for our stay in January, and none of them had any accommodation for 4 people available anymore.


girl at the balcony of a safari tent in Lower Saibe Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa

At Lower Sabie we took a safari tent for 2 people (the one in the photo), with bathroom, kitchen, a small living room and a great balcony (this tent was so cool that the girls and I ended up sleeping there) and a triple room with a shared bathroom (which was quite old and not so nice - husband stayed there).


At Skukuza we took 2 double bungalows, one next to the other, each with a bathroom and a small kitchen on the outside balcony.



A tip is to stay at different campsites within the park, so you can get to know distinct areas and have (I imagine) more opportunities to spot different animals. At least, that's what we did and it was great: some animals we only saw in the Skukuza region, others we only saw in the Lower Sabie region - it may have been coincidence or not, but only in Skukuza game drive did we see lionesses, and only in Lower Sabie's drive we saw rhinos and hippos.


Also, unless you want to rest or enjoy the pool (in the campgrounds that have a pool - the ones we stayed in had, but we didn't even get to see where they were, such was our lack of interest in the waters), between the end of the sunrise tour and the start of the sunset tour, the only thing left for you to do is drive through the park.


Here is the table with the distance and estimated travel times between each camp


Restaurante no Skukuza Rest Camp, Parque Nacional Kruger, Africa do Sul
Skukuza Rest Camp restaurant


WHERE TO EAT AT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK


The campsites inside Kruger Park - at least the ones we stayed at (Skukuza and Lower Sabie) have a great structure, with restaurants, bar and convenience store. Eating was not a problem, on the opposite, it was an extraordinary experience.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all well prepared and tasty 😋 and, on the banks of the Sabie River, spotting zebras, buffaloes, giraffes, crocodiles and elephants, in addition to a multitude of birds, I can't see how it could be better located.


But, in case you don't want to enjoy the restaurants, the cabins we stayed in had a kitchen – simple, but complete.


Restaurante no Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Parque Nacional Kruger, África do Sul

Restaurant at Lower Sabie Rest Camp



HOW TO VISIT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK


Wild animals! After all, that's what we went there for.


The thrill of seeing, for the first time, an African animal in the wild, in its habitat, free from human interference, is indescribable. It will stay forever in memory forever.


There are two main ways to get to know the park and spot the animals: with your private car or with the game drives offered by the park. I recommend doing it both ways.


The park is crossed by several paved roads; you can enter (after paying the entrance fee at the gate) with your own car and travel freely along these roads.


But attention, there are some important rules to follow, here are some (complete rules are here):


- you must remain inside your car at all times, unless in if clearly indicated otherwise. You cannot put your arm out of the window, nor your hand, nor even a little finger, much less your head, nor open the sunroof;


- you cannot go off-road - stay on the lanes indicated for vehicles. When in doubt, do not enter.


- respect the speed limit


- camps gates have opening and closing times. Pay attention to get back to your camp before the gate closes! It is not possible to drive through the park after the gates are closed.


- It is not allowed to bring domestic or wild animals to the Park, nor to remove animals.



You can do game drives with the park's official guides, in adapted jeeps, which usually take place at dawn or at sunset, times when the animals are most active. There are also night game drives. Here's the link to the description of these game drives.


The guides can go on gravel and back roads and know the animals' habits like no one else (and they communicate with each other), so the chance of spotting animals is much greater on these guided tours. Try to do as many game drives as you can!


Kids must be at least 6 years old to join a game drive; but there is no limit to getting into the park and going out on your own private car, we saw several babies and toddlers at the camps.


Tours can be booked in advance through the SanParks website after you book accommodation. In this link you book the accommodation, and in a tab on the side you have the possibility to book the game drives ("activities"). You can't book the game drives without having accommodation inside the park already booked - in fact, you can only book these few activities without having booked an accommodation.


It is possible to book the activities at the reception of the camps, but I recommend that you book them online in advance, as all the one we did were fully booked.



In addition to game drives, there are several other activities that can be done in the park. There are hikes along long trails (with overnight stays in campsites), multi-day expeditions in 4x4 vehicles, mountain biking, golf and more, click here to find out about these activities and – if you are like me – to dream of one day, who knows. have time to do all of them.


It's worth remembering: Kruger National Park is enormous and there is no point in trying to cover long distances in a short time.


Take the opportunity to travel slowly and calmly enjoy the beauty of nature. Stop and appreciate the views and watch the animals go by, immerse yourself in true spirit of slow travel.


I assure you that the minutes lost on Kruger's narrow roads will be memories of a lifetime.


por do sol no Parque Nacional Kruger, África do Sul

FINALLY...


Speaking of wasted minutes, on our last day at Kruger, we left Lower Sabie Rest Camp towards Nelspruit Airport (Kruger Mpumalanga), about 150km away, with an estimated 2h20 drive time.

an african elephant blocking a road. Kruger National Park. South Africa

Well, a few minutes after we left the camp, still within the limits of the park, there was a huge elephant standing on the road, calmly feeding. It stayed there, perfectly fine and enjoying his life, for a very long time. Half an hour later he decided to go to another place, meanwhile we stayed, inside our car, just watching. Good thing we had left well in advance, if not, we would certainly have lost our flight...




AFTER ALL THESE TIPS AND INFORMATION on how to visit Kruger National Park, in South Africa, here's our link to BOOKING.COM- you won't spend a penny making your reservations through this link and it helps us keep this site up and running! Click and have a good trip!!



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The complete guide to visiting Kruger National Park, South Africa


AFTER ALL THESE TIPS AND INFORMATION, here's our link to BOOKING.COM- you won't spend a penny making your reservations through this link and it helps us keep this site up and running! Click and have a good trip!!




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