Kruger National Park is the largest and oldest national park in South Africa and is internationally renowned as one of the world’s premier game reserves. The park covers nearly two million hectares and is located in the northeast of the country in the South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. It is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a vast wilderness area connecting Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and, in the future, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. Kruger is one of the easiest national parks in Africa for visitors to explore on their own thanks to its excellent tourist infrastructure and plentiful and varied accommodations. In addition to the Bushman petroglyphs and important archaeological sites,
The climate of the Kruger National Park is subtropical and most of the rain falls in the summer, with more precipitation in the south of the park compared to the north. The best time of year for game viewing is winter (June, July, August), when the days are sunny and warm and the nights are cooler. At this time of year, many trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and the water sources have dried up, making it easier to spot game around the remaining waterholes. Summer brings lush growth and possible sightings of newborn animals.
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Kruger National Park occupies an almost flat terrain, mostly covered by meadows and scrub, with gallery forests often extending along the banks of the river. Most of the southern part of the park is hilly forested savanna. The lifeblood of the Kruger National Park are the five remaining rivers, which flow through it from west to east: the Crocodile, the Sabie, the Olifants, the Luvuvhu and the Letaba. The ecosystem of the Kruger National Park is highly dependent on these rivers. Artificially created waterholes provide additional residual water resources for the game.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kruger National Park
flora in fauna
flora in fauna
Kruger National Park is remarkable for the exceptional amount and variety of its flora and fauna. Nearly 2,000 different species of plants have been recorded in the national park, including some 500 different trees and shrubs, such as briars and mopane. Many of the trees have thick corky barks, which provide protection against savannah fires.
Wildlife is also diverse. The park is home to 114 different species of reptiles, over 500 species of birds and 147 mammals, including the Big Five and zebras, giraffes, impalas, cheetahs and hippos to name a few. The park is also one of the last refuges for endangered species, including the black rhinoceros and the African wild dog. The best times to see the animals are early morning and late afternoon.
Driving in the National Park
Most visitors visit the Kruger National Park in their own vehicles. The park has a network of about 2,300 kilometers of well-signposted roads. Not all are paved, but the dirt roads are mostly negotiable by two wheeled cars. Detailed maps are available upon entering the park. The speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour on asphalted roads and 40 kilometers per hour on other roads.
A particularly rewarding journey is a drive through the entire length of the park, taking in the striking contrasts in the landscape. Alternatively, travelers can use one of the camps as a base and explore the area in a series of shorter trips. At least two or three days are recommended to explore the park.
Guided walks and drives
Visitors can join guided hiking tours for several days, led by experienced game rangers and trackers, ranging from shorter day hikes to overnight expeditions with accommodation in basic cabins. The different camps also organize guided tours in cars. Night game drives are also available.
Kruger National Park is known for its diverse and abundant accommodation options for all budgets. Accommodation is available in campgrounds, government-run rest camps, and private camps and lodges. Most visitors who spend two or more days in the national park stay in government-run rest camps. Guests can choose from safari tents and thatched bungalows to comfortable, well-equipped guest houses. Most have air conditioning and cooking facilities. All of the larger rest camps have restaurants and shops, a gas station, an information center and first aid facilities.
For more luxurious accommodations, guests can stay in one of the park’s private game lodges that rent land, such as the plush Buhala Game Lodge on the banks of the Crocodile River, Jock Safari Lodge , and Pestana Kruger Lodge . Another option for luxury accommodations are the private game reserves on the park’s western boundaries. Since these are not within the boundaries of the park, they allow vehicles to drive off-road to track game moving freely in and out of the national park. The best known reserves are Sabi Sands ( home to Londolozi, Ulusaba , and Lions Sands lodges) and Timbavati Game Reserve .
Below are descriptions of the main government-run camps in Kruger National Park:
Punda Maria Camp
A haven for birdwatchers, Punda Maria is located in the far north of Kruger National Park, at the foot of Mount Dimbo, with luxury safari tents and thatched bungalows. From the camp, guests can enjoy views of the Mopane Plain.
The sand field around Punda Maria is an offshoot of the Kalahari River Basin. Nyala, Kudu, Buffalo and Sharps grysbok are common in this area. To the north, on the Luvuvhu River, the dry savanna gives way to lush forests with fantastic birdwatching opportunities. One of the park’s best birding drives is the 16-mile Mahogany loop around the camp. In Klopperfontein, 20 kilometers northeast of the camp, giant baobab trees grow along the edge of a well. About 23 kilometers further the road comes to the Luvuvhu River picnic area where visitors can see crocodiles and hippos from the bridge. From here, a path runs along the river to the Pafuri picnic area, with a beautiful view of the river banks.
Nestled along a bend in the river, Shingwedzi Camp is located 73 kilometers southeast of Punda Maria and is the largest of three camps in the northern part of the park. Great viewpoints lie along the road from Punda Maria to Shingwedzi, which lies amidst ideal elephant habitat. Accommodation includes bungalows and a luxury guest house. A few miles north of camp, large herds of elephant and buffalo and baboons are often spotted and lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of wild dogs and leopards.
North of the Babalala resting place, cheetah can sometimes be spotted on the open plains. Another track runs southeast from Shingwedzi to Kanniedood Dam , with a bird hide. Look for African jacana and black crake here.
The modern and luxurious Mopani Rest Camp is the newest of all the rest camps. From here, guests can enjoy a beautiful view of the Pioneer Dam. The accommodation consists of a luxury guest house, cottages and bungalows, as well as a birdwatching hut that also serves as an open-air accommodation in the evenings. About 17 kilometers east of Mopani, Nshawu Dam has an excellent wildlife observation point where elephant herds congregate, especially after rain. Waterfowl are common here, especially kingfishers, storks and white-tailed eagles.
Midway between the southern and northern borders of Kruger National Park, Letaba Rest Camp is located on a wide bend on the Letaba River (Letaba means “river of sand”). Tall sycamore, mahogany and sausage trees shade this well-equipped camp, which offers a choice of guest houses, bungalows, cabins, cabins, furnished safari tents and camping sites. Bushbucks, vervet monkeys and fruit bats live in the camp and the area is popular with elephants and many species of birds, especially owls. The Elephant Hall Displays informative exhibits on these magnificent creatures, as well as an impressive collection of elephant tusks, including those of an elephant bull known as Shawu, believed to be the longest ever found in South Africa.
Cheetah and many species of antelope live in the savannah land around Letaba. Elephants, buffaloes, zebras and gazelles come to drink at shady waterholes. The Engelhard Dam to the east and the Mingerhout Dam are also good places for game and waterfowl watching.
About 39 kilometers from Letaba Rest Camp is the Masorini Village Museum where archaeologists excavated the remains of a Stone Age iron smelting plant. Tourists can explore the reconstructed village and domed mud ovens here.
The Olifants camp, with its beautiful old trees, is one of the most beautiful in the national park. Accommodation consists of air-conditioned bungalows and two guest houses. From the camp itself, 100 meters above the ground Olifants River Guests enjoy stunning views of wildlife along the river bank and the rolling plains below. Lion, crocodile and hippopotamus are often sighted here. In the north, mopane trees attract kudu, zebra and elephants (elephants is the Afrikaans word for “elephants”). In the south, buffaloes and giraffes are often seen on the plains. The sunrises and sunsets here are spectacular. About 10 kilometers west of camp is the Nwamanzi Lookout , one of the best game viewing points in the park.
Under a large grove of shady trees, Balule Camp is a small satellite camp of the Satara and Olifants rest camps. Balule Camp’s rustic atmosphere will appeal to the independent camper who enjoys a nature experience. The camp gas is no electricity and visitors not allowed during the day. A fence divides the camp into two parts. One section has six cabins with three beds and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. Paraffin lamps provide relief. Each cabin comes with bed linen and towels.
Near the center of the park, amid savannah dotted with buttonthorn and marula trees, Satara is the park’s third largest camp and is often referred to as, “the cat camp” because it is one of the best areas to spot lions, leopards and cheetahs. The rich grazing land and many waterholes here attract large numbers of antelope, which lure the big cats into an ambush – especially during the dry season when herds of impala come here to drink at the few remaining waterholes. Accommodation is available in thatched bungalows, guesthouses and camp sites.
At Nsemani Dam , nine kilometers west of Satara, hippo and waterbuck are often seen, as well as the occasional pride of lion. About 15 miles northwest of Satara, on the banks of the Timbavati River, is the popular satellite camp of Maroela with tent and RV sites – one of only two sites that caters exclusively to campers and RVs.
Tucked among the aloe gardens in the dry, open plains, the small Orpen Rest Camp is located at the park’s Orpen Gate. Comfortable thatched cottages and larger, more luxurious cottages are the accommodation choices here. Just outside the Orpen Camp gate, a small waterhole attracts game all day long, including rhinoceroses, impalas, baboons and elephants. About seven kilometers away, the Rabelais Dam attracts waterbuck and other thirsty animals. Orpen Camp offers game drives, game walks and night drives.
In the area of the Big Five, Skukuza is the largest camp in the Kruger National Park and offers numerous facilities including restaurants, shops, an internet café, an airstrip and even a nine-hole golf course. An outdoor amphitheater screens nature documentaries, and the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library here is a must-see. His namesake was instrumental in the creation of the Kruger National Park and his assistant, Harry Wolhuter, killed a lion to save his own life, armed with only a pocketknife. Tourists can see the knife and lion skin in the museum. Accommodation at this campsite includes safari tents, guest houses, family cottages, riverside bungalows and a large campsite.
Wildlife is abundant in the area. Warthogs and vervet monkeys roam the camp accommodation, and an observation point overlooks the banks of the Sabie River, where hippos live, and elephants come to the river to drink. Heading northeast from Skukuza to Tshokwane, big game are often sighted despite fairly heavy traffic, and Manzimahle Dam and nearby Lion Pan are often visited by lions.
Lower Sabie Camp
From Skukuza, a road runs along the Sabie River to Lower Sabie Camp, which has a great diversity of wildlife thanks to the fresh grazing land and abundant water. Accommodation varies from a campsite and furnished safari tents to a luxury guest house and bungalows. Big game can almost always be seen in the bush flanking the road, and drivers often have to brake to avoid giraffes, antelopes, elephants or zebras. With its extensive lawns and many trees, Lower Sabie is a popular camp. The Sabie River, which is dammed at this point, is home to many waterfowl and tourists can also see monkeys, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippos and buffaloes.
Crocodile Bridge Camp
Close to the border with Mozambique, Crocodile Bridge is a great area to see the Big Five. The area is known for its many lions and the high concentration of rhinoceroses. The grassland in the area attracts zebras, wildebeests, impalas, kudus, gazelles and large herds of buffalo. In winter, the Crocodile River dries up, leaving only small pools, but these are still an important source of water for animals. About four miles from camp is an observation point where visitors can see hippos wallowing along the muddy riverbank.
In the southwest of the National Park, nine kilometers from the Numbi Gate, is Pretoriuskop camp, the oldest in the park and one of the largest. Wilderness trails surround the camp and guests can cool off in the natural rock pool. Accommodations range from well-appointed guesthouses and family cabins to basic bungalows and campgrounds.
Surrounded by picturesque granite hills, this area is home to many varieties of trees and shrubs, including the coral tree, which produces its blood-red flowers in August and September. Around Pretoriuskop, visitors can sometimes see rare animal species up close, including wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and antelopes. Rhinoceroses are also common in this area.
Berg-en-Dal, about 60 kilometers southeast of the Pretoriuskop camp, is one of the park’s newest camps and offers a beautiful view of the hilly surroundings. It is located on the banks of the Matjulu Sprout, in the southwest corner of the park. Lodging options include bungalows, guest houses and camp sites. A short nature trail passes through the camp, where many species of birds can be spotted, including lilac-breasted rollers and scarlet-chested sunbirds. Leopard, lion and wild dog can also be found in the area. Visitors can view San petroglyphs along the Bushman Trail.
Tips & Tactics: Make the most of a visit to Kruger National Park
- Bring binoculars for a close-up view of wildlife.
- Time game drives and walks for the early morning and late afternoon when animals are most active.
- Check out the animal sighting boards at the camp receptions to see what wildlife might be in the area before heading out on a game drive or hike.
- Remain in vehicles at all times, except in specially designated areas.
- Drive slowly to see hidden animals and avoid hitting wildlife.
- Check the opening and closing times of the park’s gates and camps before visiting.
- Take appropriate precautions against malaria. Kruger National Park is located in a malaria zone.
- Never feed the animals.
- Daily flights to Kruger National Park from Johannesburg to Skukuza Airport, Phalaborwa Airport, Hoedspruit Airport and the Kruger / Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) between Nelspruit and White River.
- Daily flights also fly to Skukuza from Cape Town. KMIA also receives daily flights from Durban and Cape Town, and a shuttle bus runs between the airport and the park.
- Travelers can also fly to Hoedspruit from Cape Town.
- The National Park is a 3.5 to 4.5 hour drive from Johannesburg. Most visitors enter through the Numbi Gate, Phabeni Gate or Paul Kruger Gate. The fastest route to these gates is on the N4 to Nelspruit.
- Tour companies in Johannesburg, Durban and Nelspruit run tours of the National Park in air-conditioned coaches.
Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/