I wrote a first Timers Guide to The Kruger blog post because it really is one of the most special places you will ever visit in your lifetime and it is right on your doorstep.
In fact, from Joburg, the closest gate, Malelane is only four and a half hours away.
That may be pretty obvious to regular Kruger goers, but I do think a lot of South Africans forget just how lucky we are to have such easy access to the park, considering that thousands of tourists from around the world, spend years saving to visit the Kruger, then take the long haul flights with stop-overs and endless road trips, all just to go on a ‘safari’ and see our big 5.
It’s only then you realise just how lucky we actually are to have the Kruger in such close proximity.
With such unspoilt beauty, The Kruger is the perfect destination for any nature lover and nothing comes close to the magnificence that the park has to offer. Stats show that from March 2016 to 2017, just over 1.8 Million people visited the park, which if you ‘round off’ is close to 5000 guests per day!
Kruger has a 2 600-kilometre network of roads, allowing you to explore its diverse habitats on your own and without the need to hire a guide.
A first Timers Guide to The Kruger
When should you go?
There is no wrong time to visit, but there are different things to expect in each season. I personally prefer winter because the heat at the Kruger is INSANE in summer.
That said, in summer we did see a lot of animals because they make the most of the cool mornings and evenings. Below is an easy comparison to help you make your decisions.
The Winter aka Dry Season (April to Sep)
Winter is considered the better season to go for a couple of reasons. The dry season means bare trees and very low grass, so it’s easier to spot animals. Many rivers are very low, or completely dry, so driving to the few remaining watering holes means great sightings. The weather is also very tolerable during the day with a welcomed cooler breeze, but night time can get very chilly so you would need to pack some warm clothes.
Summer AKA Wet Season (Sep to March)
We went in February this year, which is considered the low season. There are many reasons people go at this time – including the fact that you may find better rates at hotels around the park, chalets/camping within the park and tour packages. What we loved most was how quiet the roads were.
But, it is a bit harder to spot animals because the grass is lush. That said, if you wake up early and go out two to three hours before the gate closes for the night, you will be rewarded, as animals wait for dusk and dawn to escape the 30-40 degree heat.
Here is a visual example of the bush in summer VS. winter, comparing the famous Baobab Tree.
Where should you stay in the Kruger?
Now that you’ve decided when to go – you need to decide which camp(s) to stay at.
First decide if you will be camping in a tent (not for me ha-ha) staying in your caravan (going to try that this year) or staying in a chalet. You can view all the accommodation available in the Kruger here. You can of course book outside of the Kruger, but in my personal opinion it’s a lot easier just to stay inside.
There are twelve campsites in the Kruger National Park and they are divided into rest and bush camps. I have only ever stayed at the rest camps, but plan to visit one or two bush camps soon!
The Rest Camps: Skukuza, Balule*, Pretoriuskop, Berg-en-Dal, Satara, Lower Sabie, Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Olifants, Mopane, Tamboti, Orpen, Malelane, Maroela and Crocodile Bridge. At each of these are bungalows, camping and sometimes chalets, guest houses and tented camps, restaurants, shops and even the odd evening film.
*Balule doesn’t really have chalets, they are small little rondawel huts and are a bit rough.
The Bush camps: Quieter and more remote rest camps, also with their own toilets and kitchen facilities, but without shops or restaurants. There is no camping available. These include Bateleur, Biyamiti, Shimuwini, Sirheni and Talamati.
You are not restrained to only one camp and you can plan a trip to stay at different camps, bearing in mind the distance between them. What I mean by that is that there is a 50km/per hour speed limit in the Kruger and there is only so much you can cover in a day, so don’t book camps too far away from each other.
Generally you average around 30km/hour if going along nicely and if sightings are good even less – so bear that in mind for toilet breaks and travelling times.
My top 5 recommendations and why:
This is the biggest and busiest camp at the Kruger situated on the Sabie river. The reason I like it – it serves as a great base point to go exploring. You are almost guaranteed to see animals around this main camp, it happened twice that we drove out and within 1km spotted Leopard. This wouldn’t be a food blog if I didn’t tell you that they have a Cattle Baron restaurant (7/10) and very well stocked shop I’d give an 8/10. That’s important to know because the food in the Kruger is not good at all, so when you find a camp with good shops and decent restaurants, it’s something to be excited about.
Lake Panic Hide
Herds of buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and elephant can be found in the area. This is also good lion country and sightings of lion in the early morning are nearly always likely. They have an average shop that I’d give a 7/10 and a very KAK restaurant I’d give a 5/10. (Food is really not great, I even saw a cook making my pizza and then proceeding to eat toppings off of it)
My favourite camp for a number of reasons. It’s situated on a river, so you can watch hippos and buffalo drink at the Sabie river the whole day, it is well kept, has a very awesome shop (8/10) and the only Mugg and Bean in the park (10/10).
Yes I know, you may be thinking, a Mugg and Bean, what’s the big fuss Cat, but in the Kruger, a Mugg and Bean is an oasis.
Views people. Views for Days. This camp looks like the set of an Amarula advert. The camp is situated atop a hill which towers several hundred feet over the Olifants River. It is spectacular. No prizes for what you’ll see in abundance, the name says it all. I’d give the shop and restaurant a 6/10.
Sunsets at Olifants
We have seen more lion here than anywhere else. The chalets are modern, but there is no restaurant, only a coffee bar and a shop with some sandwiches and pies (5/10). Use your braai or the self-catering facilities to cook. There is only really one main road connecting Orpen to Satara, but it really easy to spot Lion. Driving a little south towards Talamati, you might get the chance to spot the rare Sable Antelope.
Overall recommendation with regards to food:
Try and braai and cook food at camp because you will be less disappointed. Only go to restaurants if there really isn’t anything available at the shops to cook. This happens often as some of the remote lying shops don’t get deliveries of fresh fruit, veg and meat as often as they should.
Which gate to go through?
Once your bookings are done, you will probably decide which entrance gate will be the most convenient to aim for. You can use this guide.
Here is also a very handy map:
What happens when you get to a gate at the Kruger?
You will need to get out of your vehicle to pay a conservation fee. For South Africans, bring your ID. The cost is R83 per adult, per day and R42 per child, per day. Foreigners will pay R331 per adult, per day and R166 per child, per day (usually included in their booking costs if booked through agent).
If you wish to visit Kruger Park at least twice a year, I’d advise you get a wild card which will grant you a year’s access to all 21 of SAN Parks National Parks in South Africa, at a cost of R 545pp, R890 per couple or R1,065 per family.
Last ‘general’ thing to keep in mind, take your malaria tablets! This is very important as Kruger is a HIGH risk area.
I hope this article helped you – please comment below with any other recommendations you may have!
If you need any more convincing why you need to book a trip to the Kruger National Park, I will just leave this video here for you. 🙂