Southern or Northern Kruger Park for a Safari?

Southern or Northern Kruger Park for a Safari?

sunset in Kruger National Park
Sunsets in the untouched wilderness of the Kruger are a highlight on every afternoon game drive.

The Kruger National Park is enormous; covering an area of 20,000 square kilometers, which is about the same size as Wales in the United Kingdom. The reserve is relatively narrow and stretches 380 kilometers from north to south. The southern part of the park is the most accessible and therefore very popular.

There are ample accommodation/transport options throughout the park, ranging from self-drive, self-catering accommodation to luxury lodges offering every facility including game drives in open safari vehicles.

The size of the park provides visitors with many alternatives for game viewing and touring. The length of the park effectively divides it into two sections, the more arid north and the slightly wetter southern section. Before making plans to visit Kruger Park, it’s a good idea to understand the subtle differences between the north and south to help you decide which section to visit.

Southern or Northern Kruger Park – What’s the difference?

Landscape

The landscape changes throughout the park, supporting a different array of animals and flora. The park is bounded by the Crocodile River in the south, the Limpopo River in the north and the Lebombo Mountains in the east. 

There are several water sources and geographical features in the park, so it is important to understand that what you see on your safari in the Kruger will vary accordingly. Rest assured that whether you visit the north or south, the Big 5 can be seen in both regions.

Wildlife

Because of the northern Kruger’s lower carrying capacity, animals aren’t generally seen in big numbers as they are in the south. 

The south is particularly well-known for its incredible big cat sightings, whilst the north offers encounters with some localized mammals and bird species that can’t be seen in other sections of the park, especially in the summer months when local and migrant birds nest and breed in the Shingwedzi flood plains – a favorite feeding ground for some of the Kruger’s big tuskers. 

There is also a selection of sleep-over bird hides throughout the park that offer incredible photographic opportunities. 

Accessibility

The northern reaches of the park are accessible through the Orpen, Timbavati and Phalaborwa gates which are between 2 and 4 hours away from the Malelane gate in the far south. 

Southern Kruger is most popular during the school holidays and long weekends because it is easily accessible from both Kruger Mpumalanga Airport and Johannesburg. 

On the flip side, with fewer rest camps in the north, many travelers don’t mind covering the extra distance in order to experience a big 5 safari without the crowds. 

Cost of a safari

In terms of cost, both regions of the Kruger offer affordable self-catering accommodation for couples and families alike. Due to higher demand, there is a greater selection of rest camps to choose from in the south. 

The overall costs of a safari in the north and south will depend on the availability of camps, the style of accommodation (campsites, huts, chalets or guesthouses), travel costs and the number of guided activities you wish to book.

Top Camps in Southern and Northern Kruger Park

There are 21 rest camps scattered across to the Kruger, so it can be difficult deciding which camps best suit your travel style and interests. To make it easier, we have put together a list of the most popular camps in each region – those that offer various accommodation options, great facilities and exceptional game viewing opportunities. 

Southern Kruger Park

Main area at Skukuza Rest Camp which overlooks the Sabie River.
The guest area at Skukuza Rest Camp overlooks the Sabie River, providing a tranquil setting during meals.

Skukuza Rest Camp is the hub of the Kruger and largest rest camp – accommodating plenty of visitors all year round. The camp which nestles on the southern banks of the Sabie River boasts campsites, safari tents, bungalows, cottages and guesthouses. Highlights during a stay at Skukuza include an early morning stop at the Mathekanyane Lookout and a drive down the river road (H4-1) towards Lower Sabie, which is known for its incredible wildlife sightings. 

 

Lower Sabie Rest Camp accommodation
The accommodation at Lower Sabie Rest Camp nestles in a beautifully manicured garden, shaded by a canopy of trees.

Lower Sabie Rest Camp nestles on the banks of the perennial Sabie River, which is a primary source of water for the wildlife all year round. The camp which is loved by families offers caravan sites, huts and bungalows. Highlights during a stay at Lower Sabie include exceptional bird watching and incredible sightings of lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino and large herds of buffalo. 

Berg-en-dal river views
A walkway and seating are provided along the fenceline of Berg-en-Dal, offering a place to have a picnic or sit and watch for birds & animals.

Berg en Dal Rest Camp lies on the banks of the Matjulu Spruit and is surrounded by rocky hillsides. The camp boasts campsites, cottages, luxury units and bungalows. Highlights during a stay at Berg en Dal include visits to San rock paintings sites in the surrounding hills and fantastic sightings of leopard and wild dogs. 

Northern Kruger Park

Mopani Rest Camp entrance
The main guest area at Mopani Rest Camp nestles between a number of trees, creating a natural space for guests to relax and enjoy the experience of being out in the bushveld.

Mopani Rest Camp is the newest of the Kruger camps and overlooks the Pioneer Dam – a primary water source for a rich diversity of wildlife. One can view plenty of animals without even leaving the camp! Mopani has 4-bed units, 4 & 6-bed units and a luxury guesthouse. Highlights during a stay at Mopani include the abundant waterbird viewing over Pioneer Dam and the unique sleep-out hide experience. 

Punda Maria swimming pool
Families love the swimming pool at Punda Maria because not only is it safe for small kids but has a very natural look & feel.

Punda Maria Rest Camp nestles in a Sandveld region and is often referred to as the botanical garden of the Kruger. The camp boasts campsites with plug points, safari tents and various bungalows. Highlights during a stay at Punda Maria include the Babalala picnic spot and the Mahonie Loop (S99), which is well known for its leopard and lion sightings.

Entrance of Shingwedzi Rest Camp
From the moment you enter Shingwedzi Rest Camp, you realize that you are in the bushveld and can expect an authentic African experience.

Shingwedzi Rest Camp sits on the banks of the Shingwedzi River and is concealed by mopane trees – a favorite amongst waterbuck, nyala, kudu and elephant. The camp comprises of campsites, huts, bungalows, 5-bed units and a guesthouse. Highlights during a stay at Shingwedzi includes a visit to ‘Red Rocks’, which is known for its elephant, lion and leopard sightings. The Tshanga Lookout is a must, offering incredible views across northern Kruger.

One of our expert consultants ventured on a safari in the Greater Kruger Park. Discover what she experienced and her review of the more luxurious lodges she visited here: Giada’s Greater Kruger Safari Vacation

 

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our guide on northern and southern Kruger Park and wish to plan a trip to the Kruger National Park, you can rest assured that neither of the above rest camps will disappoint.  We do however recommend that you speak to one of our African experts who will help you select a camp that is best suited to your travel needs.