The Kruger National Park offers some of the most exclusive safaris in Africa, with two million hectares of pristine wilderness inhabited by a number of incredible animal species. The Kruger National Park is surrounded by a number of privately-owned game reserves which are considered to be the Greater Kruger National Park. When planning a safari in the Kruger, it is always important to consider budget, interests, and the time of year. We have put together this guide below to help you plan a safari that meets your every expectation.
The Southern and Central Kruger are open to self-drive visitors and touring companies that bring in guests from hotels and lodges outside of the park. The park does offer guided game drives and walking safaris at a nominal fee and has a number of self-catering rest camps that are great for those last minute getaways and short stays. It is important to note however that all vehicles are required to drive on the tarred roads and that the Kruger can become crowded in the peak seasons.
Lion and leopard sightings are at their very best in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve with several lion coalitions groups to be seen.The Sabi Sands is world famous for its luxurious safaris and incredible big cat sightings, particularly of the elusive leopard. The 65 000 hectare Sabi Sands Game Reserve is privately owned but shares a 50km unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park. The reserve is well habituated, with two main rivers running through the reserve. The game viewing in the Sabi Sands is incredible with animals generally seen in greater numbers. There are always opportunities for up-close encounters with Africa’s most loved wildlife and some breathtaking photography. A unique experience to be had in the nearby town of Hazyview is an elephant interaction, where you get to learn about their way of life and touch these gentle giants. The Sabi Sands is home to 300 of the 500 bird species found in the Kruger, making it one of the best places for bird watching safaris.Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and Mala Mala Game Reserve form part of the Sabi Sands and are both internationally recognized as top luxury game reserves in Africa. They are both top choices for a luxury safari in the Kruger.
Parts of the Northern Kruger National Park are open to the public for day visits and there are a few self-catering rest camps for overnight stays and short getaways. The northern Kruger is generally quieter than the southern Kruger, making it the ideal destination for a more private safari experience and a great choice for travelers who enjoy satellite camps.
The 13 000 hectare private Kapama Game Reserve is the biggest privately owned game reserve located near the Kruger National Park. It shares an unfenced border with Thornybush Private Game Reserve and forms part of the Greater Kruger Park. The reserve is small and intimate, offering a more exclusive safari experience and incredible Big Five sightings. Kapama Game Reserve offers some truly unique experiences, including hot air balloon rides, romantic treehouse sleep-outs, and visits to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. The centre focuses on the conservation of species that are most vulnerable to endangerment, with a core focus on cheetah conservation. It is experiences such as these which make a safari in the Kruger so special. A luxurious deck with a four poster bed set out in the bushveld and beneath a canopy of stars is what makes a treehouse sleep-out experience so magical.
The 53 400 hectare private Timbavati Game Reserve encompasses a truly bio-diverse ecosystem that offers sanctuary to more than 40 species of mammals and as many as 360 bird species. Timbavati Private Game Reserve offers incredible opportunities to view the Big Five but is most famous for the world’s last wild white lions and has the largest population of giraffe in Africa.Ngala Tented Camp nestles on the Timbavati River and has been recognized as South Africa's Leading Tented Safari Camp for 2018.With only twelve lodges in this exclusive reserve, travelers can look forward to an exclusive experience in the African bush.
Bordering with Kapama Private Game Reserve is the 14 000 hectare private Thornybush Game Reserve which is well-known for offering one of the finest big five safari experiences and is involved in various projects, including local community upliftment and sustainable farming. Travelers can look forward to a range of safari activities offered on the game reserve, including horse-back rides, scenic flights in a helicopter or light aircraft, and hot-air-balloon safaris. The reserve has a number of luxury lodges to suit the needs of families, couples, and solo explorers.
Kruger National Park: The Wildlife
The Kruger is renowned for its sightings of the Big 5 - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo, and has the highest number of large mammal species in Africa.There are a total of 148 mammals that inhabit the Kruger, including cheetah, hyena, wildebeest, wild dog, giraffe, and zebra. The Kruger is a favorite when it comes to bird watching, with more than 500 species recorded in the park.The Kruger National Park is one of very few places in Africa where you can still see endangered wild dog.The Kruger has some incredible flora - as many as 1 990 different plant species which are best seen on guided walking safaris. These plants play a crucial part in the ecosystem and Kruger guides love to share their traditional and medicinal purposes.
Within the Kruger National Park itself are a number of well-priced self-catering rest camps that are popular with the locals, offering families with young children the flexibility that they need and the option to either self-drive the park or book one of the guided safari activities. These accommodation at these camps are rustic but comfortable and the facilities are good. In the private game reserves, the accommodation is more luxurious and the safari experience more exclusive, with fewer people on safari vehicles and in the reserve. The nightly rate at these lodges include all your meals, two daily safari activities, and in some cases local beverages.Sir Richard Branson's Ulusaba Safari Lodge is one of the most elite lodges in the private Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
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Kruger National Park: The Activities
A safari in the Kruger generally includes morning and afternoon/evening open vehicle game drives and guided bush walks after breakfast. Game drives in the private reserves are off-road, allowing much closer animal encounters. Bush walks are led by armed rangers and discover the smaller wondrous creatures of the bush, as well as trees and plants that are of great significance. Some game reserves offer optional activities, including local village tours, hot air ballooning, elephant interactions, visits to various animal rehabilitation centers, treehouse sleep-out experiences, and photographic safaris.Game drives in the private reserves of the Kruger are conducted in open safari vehicles which allow for some incredible photographic opportunities.There is also the opportunity to enjoy breathtaking scenery on a panorama tour or take the family on a tobogganing adventure.
The Kruger National Park is a year round safari destination but there are certain times of the year that are considered better than others.The dry winter season (June - August) is the most favorable time of the year for a safari in the Kruger National Park. The vegetation thins out in the winter and animals are usually found gathered at the remaining water sources. This affords travelers incredible wildlife sightings and often some of the best predator action. It is highly unlikely that you will leave the Kruger without seeing the Big Five. The spring months of September and October receive little rainfall which means animals still gather around the waterholes, making it easier to spot them. The first migrant birds also arrive from the north, making it a great time to enjoy some bird watching.You are likely to see large herds of elephant gathered at waterholes in the Kruger as they can drink as much as 200 liters of water in a day.The Kruger National Park is very popular during the summer school holidays (December/January), particularly in the southern regions where access is more convenient. Although the days are incredibly hot and humid, the afternoon thunderstorms bring with them much relief and are spectacular to watch from a safe distance. The Kruger at this time of the year is lush, with migrant birds and newborn animals making their appearance. It is recommended that you book in advance if you wish to travel during this period and should consider the northern parts of the park if you are looking for a less crowded experience.