Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all.” – B. Jackman.
Kruger National Park is the main reason why we chose to visit South Africa, and it is now our favorite place in the word. If paradise existed on earth, it would look like Kruger – a place where there is respect for nature, in all its forms.
A safari in a game reserve with such a huge surface like Kruger is a very special experience, full of enthusiasm, joy and suspense, because you do not know what animals will come your way, when and where.
Kruger is located in the northeastern part of South Africa, approximately 400 km from Johannesburg. In this wonderful park, one of the largest natural reserve in the world, live around 1700 lions, 1000 leopards, about 30,000 zebras, 13750 elephants, over 7000 giraffes, and many other animals.
If you visit Kruger National Park, you must spend at least one day on the famous Panorama Route.
Why should you visit Kruger National Park?
Because here you have the chance to go on a safari and look for the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo). We were lucky enough to see all the Big Five animals in every safari game, but we saw also many other animals including giraffes, zebras, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles, baboons.
Because you will be surrounded by animals: herds of elephants, zebras, giraffes, and other interesting animals.
You will see how the lions walk proudly and confidently through the savanna and you will understand why the lion is called the king of the jungle.
If you are near the river starting at 11:00 am, you will see many animals that descend to the river to drink water and you will see live images you have only seen in documentaries before.
Roads in the park:
You can choose to go on safari with a safari car or you can drive your own car or a rented car through the park.
The roads in the park are very well maintained, even the unpaved ones, so you don’t need a 4-WD car to visit the park.
The maximum speed limit in the park is 50 km / h, and if you drive slowly, you will have more chances to spot the animals through the vegetation.
How can you get to Kruger National Park?
By car from Johannesburg:
We rented a Nissan Micra from Thrifty Car Rental at the price of 150 Euro for 5 days and 125 Euro deposit.
From Johannesburg airport, we drove about 5 hours to Hazyview, a town situated a few minutes’ drive from Kruger.
The infrastructure in South Africa is very well developed and we think that this country is the ideal place for a road trip.
Another option would be to fly to one of the airports near Kruger Park: Nelspruit Airport, Phalaborwa – Hendirik van Eck Airport or the airport inside the park – Skukuza Airport.
From these airports, you can reach the hotel with a rented car or one of the many companies that offer transfer from the airport to the hotel (if the hotel does not have this option).
Where to stay?
How you can book accommodation inside Kruger Park?
There are accommodation units in each part of the park, from the simplest and most economical options to the most luxurious choices.
Accommodations within the park can be reserved only on the Sanparks website.
We tried to book the accommodation 2 months in advance, but unfortunately, the main campsites in the south region of the park were fully booked.
In order to make the reservation, you must make an account on this website, then choose the campsite you want to stay in and further check if for the period of your visit there is something free in the campsite.
Accommodation prices vary depending on the type of accommodation chosen:
- the cheapest option is the green space where you can put your own tent.
- then small huts with shared bathroom and kitchen.
- safari tent or Bungalows for 2 or more people, they usually have a private bathroom.
Type of accommodation units in Kruger:
- Main Rest Camps – these campsites usually have internet, shops and a restaurant and offer many accommodation options.
- Bushveld Camps – are smaller than Main Rest Camps and have no shops or restaurants.
- Overnight Hides – for a more authentic experience, you will stay in an isolated campsite, in the middle of the nature.
- Bush Lodges or Luxury Lodges – is the most expensive accommodation option. Here you will have privacy, because unlike the other campsites that can be visited by day visitors, here only registered guests are allowed to enter.
Accommodation outside the park:
Outside the park, you can stay inside the Private Game Reserves bordering the park or in the cities near the park gates.
Since the main campsites in the southern region of Kruger National Park were already fully booked, we stayed 2 nights in Hazyview and 2 nights in Malelane.
We really liked the accommodation in Malelane and we really recommend the hotel Belvedere on River, located just a few minutes’ drive away from the Malelane gate.
The rooms are very spacious, the owners very friendly, and the cherry on top is the terrace. From the terrace, you will have a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and the animals that come to the river to drink water.
Here you will have a fabulous breakfast while watching the animals in Kruger Park.
How many days you should spend in the park?
The park is huge, close to the size of Belgium, and is divided into 3 main regions: northern region, central region, and southern region.
We visited the southern region of the park and a small part from the central region but we saw most of the animals in the southern region.
We recommend that you spend at least 3 days in the park – enough time to visit one region of the park.
Entrance gates to the park:
You can enter the park only through one of the 10 gates, and you will pay the entrance ticket directly at the gate.
Gates of the southern part of the park:
- Malelane Entrance Gate
- Crocodile Bridge Entrance Gate
- Numbi Entrance Gate
- Paul Kruger Entrance Gate
- Phabeni Gate
Good to know:
If you go on safari early in the morning, you have a better chance of seeing prey animals that are active at night.
If you stay in Hazyview, you can enter the park through one of the following gates: Phabeni Gate, Numbi Entrance Gate or Paul Kruger Entrance Gate.
A limited number of cars per day can enter each gate.
We arrived at Phabeni Gate about 20 minutes before the park opened and there were already about 20 cars in front of us and it took about an hour to enter the park, in the first day we entered the park through Paul Kruger Gate, and we passed the gate in less than 5 minutes.
Gates in the central region of the park:
- Orpen Entrance Gate
- Phalaborwa Entrance Gate
The gates of the northern region of the park:
- Phalaborwa Entrance Gate
- Punda Maria Entrance Gate
It is important to be at the gate before the closing time, otherwise you will be fined.
- November – February: 5:30 am – 6:30 pm
- May – July: 6:00 am – 5:30 pm
- March and October: 5.30 am – 6.00 pm
- April, August, and September: 6:00 am to 6.00 pm
Entrance fee for day visitors:
- Citizens or residents of the Republic of South Africa: 23 Rand/adult and 47 Rand/child.
- SADC citizens: 186 Rand/Adult and 93 Rand/Child.
- International visitors: 372 Rand/adult and 186 Rand/child.
Where you can eat in Kruger?
Here you will find the list of restaurants in the park.
We had lunch in each of the 3 days we spent in Kruger at the Cattle Baron Restaurant & Take Away in Skukuza.
Skukuza is the largest campsite in the park, here you will find a shop, a gas station, a restaurant, and even an airport.
The restaurant has a very nice terrace with a great view over the Sabie River, where you can have lunch and spot some wildlife at the same time.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time here, you can order from Cattle Baron Take Away. The advantage of ordering at Take Away is that you will receive the order much faster than if you go to the restaurant.
The food at this restaurant is delicious and considering the location, the prices are very good. We took 3 meals at the restaurant for only 80 Euros and 3 meals from Take Away with only 25 Euros.
We recommend that you try Cattle Baron’s “STEAKS THAT MADE US FAMOUS”! Here is the menu.
Best time to visit Kruger National Park
Kruger is a year-round destination, and it is certainly very fascinating whenever you visit it.
You have better chances to spot the animals in the winter months (June – August), because the vegetation is not very rich and you will have better visibility.
Winter is the dry season in South Africa, which is why you always have the chance to see animals near the permanent water sources, and in Kruger, unlike the other parks we visited, the roads pass by the river.
The predators know that the prey will come down to the river to drink water and they are lazily waiting for the right moment to attack. We saw a lion hunting a few meters from the river.
Do you need any vaccination to go to South Africa?
There is not a mandatory vaccine you need to do before visiting South Africa. The yellow fever vaccine is only required for those who come from a country where this virus exists or have visited such a country before entering South Africa.
Malaria risk in South Africa:
The Kruger National Park area is situated in the malaria-risk area. Although the chances of contracting malaria are very low, it is good to protect yourself.
The risk of contracting malaria is much lower in the dry season (June-August).
There is no malaria vaccine yet, but there are some pills that can help you fight malaria. The pills must be taken before visiting a malaria-risk area.
You will receive the prescription for the anti-malarial pills from the epidemiologist.
Because malaria is transmitted only by mosquito bites, protect yourself using insect repellent (every 4-6 hours) and anti-mosquito bracelets. Cover your arms and legs in the morning and towards evening with light-colored clothing to cover exposed skin.
We used anti-mosquito bracelets and sprays, so we left the risk zone without mosquito bites.
Open Vehicle Safari:
Our adventure in Kruger started with a full day safari in an open vehicle safari. Most of the accommodation units inside the park or in the cities near the park also have safari cars or there are some companies that will pick you up from the hotel and take you on safari in the park.
Take with you warm clothes if you go on safari early in the morning, because it is very cold, especially in the winter months.
We stayed 2 nights at the Kruger Adventure Lodge in Hazyview and went on safari with them. There are 3 types of safari available from which you can choose:
- Morning Safari: you will enter the park as soon as the gates open and spend a few hours in the park.
- Full-Day Safari: we chose this option and stayed 9 hours in the park.
- Night Safari: You will spend about 3 hours in the park, before gates close.
It was an interesting experience and helped us get an idea of how to organize our self-drive safari for the next 2 days.
Our guide was very experienced and knew lots of information about the park, animals and vegetation. He also showed us some smaller birds and small animals that we would have missed if we were alone.
Useful information for organizing a self-drive safari in Kruger:
The park is huge, and it is very important to plan your itinerary before entering the park.
The only access to the park is the 10 gates and the entrance ticket is paid at the gate.
It is very important to respect the rules of the park: do not exceed the speed limit, do not honk, don’t listen to loud music, do not feed the animals and do not disturb the animals in any way.
Once you enter the park, you will not be allowed to get out of the car except inside the campsites.
At the entrance gates, you will find a shop where you can buy food, coffee, and a park map.
Inside the park, you will find shops or restaurants at most of the main campsites and toilets are present in all the campsites and picnic areas.
The roads are very well signposted and there are signs that show the direction and distance to the campsites and the gates.
The main roads in the park are paved and in very good condition; from the main road, you can enter some short dirt roads, which will take you further into the middle of nature and then return to the main road.
You must stay on the marked roads and not enter the closed roads.
If you see a lot of cars stopped in one place, it means that there is some hard to spot animal. Generally, the safari cars don’t stop for impala or other animals that are found everywhere in the park.
Stop next to the other cars and ask the other visitors what they saw and where.
Take binoculars with you, because the animals are not always near the road and you will miss many interesting scenes if you do not have them (binoculars can also be purchased from the main campgrounds in the park).
Buy a park guide that includes the park map but also a description of the park and the animals in. It helped us orient ourselves in the park and identify different types of antelopes and birds.
What route you should choose if you visit the southern part of the park?
This is the route we have traveled, and you can opt for it whether you are staying inside or outside the park.
On the first day we entered the park through Phabeni Gate and a few meters from the gate, we saw the first hyenas crossing the street.
Just 20 minutes after we entered the park, we were surprised to see a leopard having breakfast in the tree.
If you are on a day trip in the park and want to get off the car, you can visit the campgrounds and the picnic sites in the park, they have toilets and picnic tables.
We received a breakfast package from the hotel and after about 2 hours driving through the park, we stopped at the Nkuhlu Picnic Site for breakfast. It is a very nice place and the tables are positioned overlooking the river.
Just like anywhere else in Kruger, beware of monkeys, as they will try to steal anything that catches their attention … and, resist the temptation to feed monkeys or any other wild animal in the park.
After breakfast, we drove back to Skukuza and entered many of the unpaved roads on the route.
Around 11:00 am we stopped at a place where we had visibility over the river because we observed many animals coming down to the river all together (elephants, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, impala) to drink water. It’s just stunning to see them all together.
For lunch, we went to the Cattle Baron Restaurant in Skukuza. We had lunch on the terrace with an amazing view over the Sabie River.
After lunch, we headed to Lower Sabie Rest Camp. We stopped at Sunset Dam, which is situated just next to Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Here we saw a lot of hippos and crocodiles.
Lower Sabie Rest Camp also has a shop, a restaurant and amazing views over the Sabie River. It is our favorite campsite among the ones we visited, and, on our next visit, it will definitely be our first choice.
From the Lower Sabie, we headed to Crocodile Bridge Gate. We made several stops along the way, and our favorite stop was at the Ntandanyathi Game Viewing Hide – the hide overlooks Nhlowa river.
It was already dark when we left the park through the Crocodile Bridge Gate. We headed for Malelane. Most of the route we drove on the N4 – a well-maintained road that you can drive smoothly after dark.
Self-Drive Safari – Day 2
The next day we entered the park through Malelane Gate. We had breakfast at Berg-en Dal Camp site and bought the lunch at Cattle Baron Take Away in Skukuza.
We waited far less at Take Away than on the first day when we ate at the restaurant and we enjoyed the same view as at the restaurant. There are many picnic tables at Skukuza restaurant and some of them have a stunning view over the river.
How much does a safari in Kruger cost?
Since many people have asked us what the costs of an escape in South Africa are, we wrote in detail in this article how much we spent in each area we visited in South Africa and other useful information for preparing a vacation in this fascinating country.
Do you need a visa to visit South Africa?
Check on this website if you need a visa to visit South Africa and if you need a visa.
Kruger National Park is an exceptional place, a pleasant surprise for all animal lovers and we highly recommend you visit it.
We visited 4 nature reserves in South Africa, and Kruger is our favorite. We have seen most of the animals here and look forward to return to this amazing place.