Kruger National Park is wildlife on crack.
Within my first hour of arriving, we saw three of the Big 5, herds of giraffe, impala, wildebeest, elephants and countless species of birds.
I’ve never experienced game density like that in my life.
But planning a trip to Kruger isn’t as simple as hiring a car and paying your entrance fee.
Accommodation at the BEST rest camps can book out six months in advance, you’ll need to secure your spot ahead of time for some of the park’s one-of-a-kind activities, and then there are all the things you need to remember to pack.
Here’s a complete guide to visiting Kruger National Park that will help you plan the perfect safari in South Africa!
How to Get to Kruger National Park
It’s fucking HUGE.
The easiest way to get to Kruger is to start your journey in Johannesburg. It’s the closest major city and use can catch flights from OR Tambo International Airport to Kruger.
Getting to Kruger National Park From South Africa
For our trip, we drove up from Cape Town to Kruger and decided to turn it into a massive three-week road trip. However, if you’re short on time, it’s easier to fly into Johannesburg, rent a car and drive straight to the park.
Kruger is only 4.5 hours away from Johannesburg, and you’ll have the option to explore South Africa’s famous Panorama Route along the way!
Fly Into Nelspruit From OR Tambo
You can fly directly from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Nelspruit. It’s a short 50-minute flight, and the airport is only a 50-minute drive to Kruger’s Malelane Gate or 1h 30 min to Phabeni Gate.
To find the cheapest flights to Nelspruit, use Travelstart. It’s a local flight comparison search engine and compares prices with all of South Africa’s regional airlines.
Fly Into Skukuza
Skukuza is a large rest camp inside Kruger National Park. If you’re feeling like a baller, you can fly directly into Skukuza with Airlink from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban or Port Elizabeth.
You can pick up a car rental from Avis at the Skukuza rest camp, or if you’re staying at one of the luxury private game reserves in Kruger, you can organise an airport pickup.
Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is a year-round destination. However, you’ll get different safari experiences depending on when you go.
Summer in Kruger
November to March means hot (30° C+) and rainy weather in the park. It’s the best time to visit if you’re a birder as a lot of the migratory birds return with the rains.
The landscape is lush and green, but the dense vegetation will make it harder to spot game even in a high clearance vehicle. On the plus side, you’ll be around for all the baby animals and have more daylight hours inside the park!
Winter in Kruger
The dry winter season from April to October is the best time to go on safari in South Africa. The lack of rain means the wildlife will gather around the watering holes, making it easier to spot everything from the Big 5 to massive herds of impala.
The day temperatures are still warm, but comfortable and the nights are cool. The only two downsides to visiting Kruger in the winter is that the days are shorter and it’s more expensive as it’s high season.
You’ll also need to book your accommodation at least six months in advance for popular camps like Lower Sabie.
For our road trip to Kruger National Park, we strategically planned to avoid the June school holidays. This is when the park is at it’s busiest, and you’ll struggle to find last-minute accommodation.
If you can’t travel around the South African school holidays, try your best to book everything as early as possible. You’ll also want to stay inside the park so you can avoid the long lines in the morning.
Best Time of Day to See Animals
The early mornings and late afternoons are the best times of day to see animals. Before and after the heat of the day, the bush is at it’s most active.
You’ll have incredible light for wildlife photos, and the Big Cats will be on the prowl!
Kruger National Park Entrance Fees
For South African citizens, the Kruger Park entrance fee is:
• R93 per adult, per day
• R47 per child, per day
For SADC nationals, the Kruger Park entrance fee is:
• R186 per adult, per day
• R93 per child, per day
For non-South Africans, the Kruger Park entrance fee is:
• R372 per adult, per day
• R186 per adult, per day
If you’re a South African citizen, I highly recommend buying a Wild Card. You can get access to over 80 national parks and reserves in Southern Africa for R640.00 (or R1,055 per couple) for an entire year.
That’s six trips to Cape Point or a week in Kruger!
For internationals, you can get a Wild Card, but you’re going to pay R2,900 (single supplement) or 4,530 (couple) for the same package.
It’s only worth it if you’re planning a South Africa road trip and you’ll be visiting other national parks like Addo Elephant Park, Tsitsikamma or going over the border to Swaziland’s Hlane Royal National Park.
What to Pack
Here are the essentials that you need to pack for a safari trip to Kruger National Park. I’ve got a full packing list coming soon!
• Insect repellent: Trek is the best mosquito repellent I’ve ever used.
• Eye drops
• Anti-histamines for insect bites
• Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat
• Camera gear (I shot with a Canon D700 and a Canon 100-400mm F4.5)
• Cooler box
• Torch or headlamp
• A comfy pair of shoes
• A reusable water bottle
Tips For Visiting Kruger National Park
Car rental: To get the most out of your South Africa safari, you’ll want to rent a high clearance vehicle. A 4×4 is going to help you see wildlife lying down in the grass and give you an advantage with sightings. You’ll also have the opportunity to travel to the north of Kruger which is only accessible by 4×4.
Gate Times: In the summer months (October to March), the gates are open from 5:30 AM to 6:30 PM. In the winter (April to September) the gates open from 06:00 AM to 5:30 PM. From November to January, the camp gates open 1 hour before the entrance gates. You’ll definitely want to stay inside the park if you’re visiting over those months, as the early mornings are incredible for sightings of Big Cats and kills.
Malaria: The national park is in a malaria area, although the risk is low. I’ve never taken malaria pills when visiting the park as I usually go in the dry season when water is scarce. But always consult with your doctor before your trip and get medical advice from a professional.
Get a Map: Due to Kruger’s immense size, you’re going to need to buy a good ol’ fashion map when you arrive. There is no cell service inside the park, and you won’t be able to rely on Google Maps at all. I recommend getting the “Kruger Park Map & Guide 2nd Edition“. It comes with a map, info on all the camps and a checklist for all the mammals and reptiles!
Fuel: There are petrol stations at the main rest camps. You don’t need to worry about driving out of Kruger to fill up your tank.
Speed Limits: There is a 50 km/h speed limit on tar roads and 40 km/h on dirt roads. Make sure you stick to these rules as there are speed cameras and the park loves to set up traps near closing time to catch people racing back to the gates.
Sightings: The best time for sightings is in the early mornings and evenings. The Big Cats are active, and you’ll have beautiful, soft light for photographs!
Shops: You don’t need to pack too much food for Kruger. There are shops at each campsite that have a range of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and bread. You can also buy firewood, biodegradable plates, cutlery, sauces and souvenirs. The shops do accept credit cards, and there are ATMs on site. If you don’t feel like cooking, the main camps have restaurants like Wimpy and Mugg & Bean.
Wi-Fi: The restaurants at the main camps like Mugg & Bean and Wimpy will have free Wi-Fi for guests.
How to Plan Your Self-Drive Itinerary
Due to Kruger’s massive size, you’re not going to be able to see the entire park in one trip. It’s best to pick one area and explore it to the fullest.
For first-timer visitors to Kruger, you should base yourself in the south to increase your chances of seeing the Big 5. It’s easily accessible from Johannesburg, and it’s where you’ll find some of the most popular rest camps like Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge.
Central Kruger is known as Big Cat country. Book a couple of nights at Satara or Olifants rest camp if you want to try your luck of spotting lions sleeping in the grasslands or leopards walking across the road. You’ll also see plenty of herbivores like zebra, buffalo and impala.
If you want to explore northern Kruger, you’ll need a 4×4. As it’s the least popular portion of Kruger, you won’t find many tourists here, and the game density is far less than the south. However, if you don’t mind getting off the beaten track, you’ll find rare birds, and you might spot a pack of wild dog.
Things to do in Kruger National Park
Guided Game Drives
Even if you’re bringing a car to Kruger, you should book at least one guided game drive. The guides know how to read the signs of the bush and speak to each other on the radio.
I’d recommend booking a sunrise drive if you’re a photographer or you hate crowds. We had the entire 20-seater car to ourself and got some amazing photos!
The sunset drive is beautiful, but most of it will be done in the dark. On the plus side, you’ll get to see some of Kruger’s nocturnal animals like African Civet and Bushbabies.
If it’s your first or 100th time in the bush, you should book a walking safari. You miss so much from being inside a car, and you’ll get the opportunity to spot some of the smaller wildlife.
All walking safaris are done with a guide as well as armed rangers.
You can choose from morning and afternoon walking safaris. There are also guided wilderness walking trails that last over a few days.
Guided Mountain Bike Trails
Book a night or two at Olifants Camp and go on a guided mountain bike trail. There are morning, afternoon or full-day trails that are guided by two field guides.
4×4 Adventure Trails
There are three one-day 4×4 trails inside the park:
Madkabantu Trail: The Madkabantu Trail is made up of three routes. The first one starts at Pretoriouskop (42km), the second begins at Satara (46km), and the last one is from Babalala (49km).
Lebombo Overland Trail: Spending a week in Kruger? Tackle this five-day trail that runs from Crocodile Bridge to Pafuri Gate.
Shingwedzi 4×4 Trail: This trail starts at Pafuri and ends at Giryondo Gate.
Next time I go back to Kruger, I’m booking myself into one of the sleepover hides!
There are two in the park. Sable Dam Hide is near Phalaborwa Gate, and the Shipandani Hide is at Mopani.
You’ll get to spend the entire night camped out in the hide overlooking the dam! It’s a photographers dream and exciting way to observe the wildlife in their natural habitat.
If you’re lucky, you might see a crocodile grab an impala or spot a pride of lions coming down to the waterhole for a drink.
Where to Stay
When it comes to Kruger National Park accommodation, you’re spoilt for choice! There are five-star luxury safari camps, budget-friendly rest camps and plenty of hotels close to the entrance of the park.
You should stay inside Kruger if it’s:
• Your first time
• You want to spend as much time in the park as possible
• You’re on a budget
• You want to go on morning and sunset drives or walking safaris
Best Camps in Kruger National Park
We entered the park via Crocodile Bridge and saw a ridiculous amount of animals within the first hour.
If you’re short on time and only have a weekend to go on safari, stay here or in Lower Sabie and explore as much of the south as possible.
Lower Sabie is one of the best places to stay inside Kruger National Park BUT you need to book at least six months in advance. I’m not even being dramatic. We tried to book in March for June, and there was nothing available.
But we did go on a day drive through Lower Sabie and had lunch at Mugg & Bean. The restaurant overlooks the river, and we saw plenty of animals and birds without needing to drive.
While in the area, we saw a huge pride of lions by the river bed, and there were quite a few sightings of cheetah and leopard in the morning.
Skukuza is the largest park in Kruger. It has a post office, golf course, museum, airport, a bank, restaurants and a swimming pool.
Despite all the activity, there are some excellent drives around Skukuza, and the sightings around the camp are incredible.
Some of the best roads include the H4-1, H1-2, S114 and the S1.
Satara is Big Cat country. The savannah plains are where you’ll find lions, leopards, and large herds of elephant, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra on the move.
Satara is another popular camp, so you’ll need to book your Kruger accommodation well in advance as well. While in the area, don’t miss out on the famous S100 road!
It winds past the N’wanetsi River, and there are a few loops you can take to try spot a leopard perched in a Knob Thorn or Leadwood tree.
Home to a landscape of granite outcrops, Pretoriouskop is one of the best camps in Kruger to see leopard.
The surrounding area is also where you’ll find sable (we saw a herd cross the road!) and rhino (one walked right past our car at the watering hole!).
Tamboti is one of my favourite camps in Kruger National Park. It’s a small, remote tented camp with no cellphone signal. Unlike the bigger rest camps, we didn’t see our neighbourhoods and felt utterly hidden in the bush.
After starting our braai, we had a hyena come right up to the gate!
It was a magical and slightly creepy experience! Tamboti is also close to the famous S39 road, which is home to a den of wild dogs.
How to Book Your Kruger National Park Accommodation
If you want to stay at any of the rest camps inside Kruger, you can make a reservation through the SanParks website. You’ll be able to pay for your accommodation, conservation fees and book any optional activities like game drives or walking safaris.
You can also book any of the activities once you arrive at your camp!
When reserving your room, try to get a rondavel or a tent right by the fence. It will give you a chance to spot some of the nocturnal animals. If you’re a photographer, you might get lucky with a good spot for some astrophotography!
Luxury Private Reserves
If you want to spoil yourself, there are gorgeous five-star safari camps inside Kruger. I haven’t stayed at any myself (yet), but here are a few that my friends have gone to over the years and recommend:
Accommodation Near Kruger National Park
There are budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation outside of Kruger. However, if you don’t stay in the park, it’s going to add 20 minutes onto your driving time.
In the morning, you’re going to wait in a long line with other people waiting to pay to get in. You’re also going to spend less time on the road, and you won’t be able to get into the park early enough in the morning for those magical first sightings.
Best Day Drives from Kruger’s Main Camps and Gates
Pafuri Gate Day Drive
One of the best parts about the Pafuri Gate Day Drive is that it’s not popular. If you come across a sighting, you’ll have it all to yourself!
For birders, you’ll have the chance to spot some rare species that you won’t see anywhere else in Kruger, especially along the Luvuvhu River. The S63 and S64 are some of the best roads for bird spotting in the area!
Orpen is the gateway to lion country in the Kruger. There is an excellent day drive that goes to Satara and Olifants and comes back to Orpen on the S39.
The drive is scenic, and there are fewer obstructions which will improve your chances of seeing a Big Cat!
One of the most popular roads in the area for seeing leopards in the trees is the S92. You can also take the H7 coming back to Orpen in the late afternoon to watch the sunset and hopefully see a cat crossing the road.
If you’re arriving via the Phabeni Gate, take the S1 towards Skukuza. Along the way, stop at Nyamundwa Dam where you can often see a variety of wildlife like hippo, giraffe, and zebra.
Keep going and turn on the H11. It’s a busy road, but for a good reason! There are usually excellent sightings, and you’re likely to see big herds of elephants, and in the evenings, leopards tend to hang around here as well.
Continue towards the H10 in Lower Sabie. There’s always something to see here whether it’s cheetah, elephant, lion, buffalo or rhino.
Before the end of the day, drive along the H4-1 to Skukuza. It’s another popular stretch of road that’s considered one of the best in the park for Big 5 sightings.
If you’re staying a Crocodile Bridge camp, you can make a loop up to Lower Sabie via Skukuza. You want to plan your drive, so you make it to Lower Sabie’s Sunset Dam for the sunset (obvs).
The dam is always busy, and it’s an excellent place to spot the Big 5, wild dog and other animals.
This Crocodile Bridge drive is one of the best Big 5 roads in Kruger!
Slow down once you get to the open plains before Crocodile Bridge. You might see a cheetah and other Big Cats as the bush starts to come alive at sunset.
Tips for Photographing Wildlife
Here are some essential photography tips to help you take better photos while on safari:
• Invest or hire a telephoto lens (try to get one with a low f.stop for that bokeh effect)
• Use a high shutter speed to minimise motion blur
• Use a low ISO (100-200) to minimise grain on your photos
• If you’re shooting in low light conditions, you can usually get away with ISO 800
• Use your camera’s silent shutter (if it has one)
• Focus on the animal’s eyes.
Phew! You’ve made it to the end of a massive blog post.
You deserve that glass of wine tonight, my friend. Or if you don’t drink, a tall cup of hot chocolate with alllll the tiny marshmallows!
Do you have any questions about visiting Kruger National Park that I didn’t answer? Did I leave out your favourite rest camp or drive? Hit ya gurl up in the comments and let’s geek out, bro!
Psst…Want more South Africa travel inspiration? Check out my other posts:
- The Perfect Itinerary for an Epic South Africa Road Trip
- The Best of the Panorama Route South Africa: 2-Day Itinerary
- Top Romantic Getaways in South Africa
- 45 Awesome Things to Do in Cape Town: A (Hella Long) Local’s Guide
- 10 Loved-Up Locations to Visit on Valentine’s Day in South Africa
- The Ultimate South Africa Bucket List: 40+ Amazing Places to Visit
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