Planning a safari trip to Kruger National Park

by Tanja

Planning a safari trip to Kruger National Park? This guide will cover everything from the Kruger National Park costs to some weather advice, driving tips and everything in between.


Kruger National Park is one of the world’s greatest and most affordable wildlife-watching destinations. The vast network of roads makes Kruger one of Africa’s most accessible parks and the perfect destination for a self-drive safari trip.

In its vast lanscape, all of Africa’s iconic species – elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and zebra – share the bushveld with 140 other mammals, over 500 varieties of bird and the largest rhino population in the world.

To help you plan a safari trip to Kruger on a budget we prepared this guide covering everything from vehicle recommendation to accommodation, costs and everything in between. Let’s go with order, starting from where is  Kruger National Park.

WHERE IS KRUGER NATIONAL PARK & HOW DO YOU GET THERE

Kruger National Park is in South Africa, in the province of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, bordering Mozambique.

The cheapest way to get to the Kruger National Park is to fly to Johannesburg (JNB) and rent a car. The drive from the city to the southern part of Kruger (the closest gate is Malelane) takes around 4 to 5 hours. The road, mostly straightforward highway, isn’t the most exciting drive but it becomes really interesting if you add the Panorama Route to your itinerary.

Have you read my post about Driving in South Africa?

Even if you are leaving Johannesburg pretty early in the morning don’t expect to make it to Kruger in time to do any major safari driving. Not to be rushed we chose to spend one night at the beautiful Bucker’s Africa Lodge overlooking a stream full of wildlife just outside the park.

The easiest way to get to the Kruger National Park – but also the most expensive – is to take a smaller plane to a regional airport closer to Kruger like Nelspruit or Hendrik Van Eck and rent a car locally. These airports connect to Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Use Skyscanner to find the best flight deals.


You might also like WHAT TO PACK FOR A SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA


BEST TIME TO VISIT THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK & HOW LONG TO VISIT

You can visit Kruger National Park at any time of year and every season will be a different experience.
During the dry winter season – April to September  sparse trees and low grass make it easier to spot animals. Most of the rivers are low or dry, so driving to the few remaining watering holes guarantees exciting encounters. The weather is chilly but not too cold.

We visited the Kruger in January, during the rainy summer season – October to March – and we loved it! The rain fills rivers and waterholes. The bush is lush and full of life and it is easy to spot wildlife with their young, born between the end of November and early December. Seeing the Kruger National Park filled with cute newborns is an unforgettable experience! Cons: days can be pretty hot and there’s more chance of rain.

A quick snapshot of the Kruger National Park weather:

November to December: Hot, humid, thunderstorms. Higher malaria risk (+/-) 16 – 34°C
January to March: Lush and green. Perfect for bird watching and baby animals, (+/-) 18 – 33°C
April: Cool evenings, warm days (+/-) 13 – 28°C
May to August: Cold evenings, sunny skies. Wildlife gathers around water and great game drive visibility (+/-) 10 – 27°C
September – October: sparse vegetation (+/-) 12 – 30°C

Another popular question is how many days should I spend in the Kruger National Park? If you are only doing a self-drive safari, 3-4 full days is a good amount of time. If you want enough time to really explore and give yourself a chance to see as many animals as possible 5 full days is a better option.

Watch the video of our safari trip in Kruger National Park

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK ENTRANCE TIMES & FEES

Once you arrive at the Kruger National park the only way to get inside is passing through one of Kruger’s nine gates spread out along the length of the park. They open at sunrise and close a bit before sunset. Take those gate closing times seriously, if you get to a gate late you will be fined.
You can find a full list of the gates, the distances as well as gate opening and closing times here. 

The Kruger daily entrance fee for foreigners is of R372 per adult and R186 per child. You can find the Kruger entry fee here.

A second option is the Wild Card that gives you unlimited yearly access to 80+ Parks and Reserves around Southern Africa. There are many different options for the Wild Card but internationals may only purchase an International All Parks Cluster: R2,900 individual, R4,530 couple, R5,420 family. Look at how many days you are going to be inside the park and who you are traveling with to decide which way is more convenient.

Expect them to check the trunk and look inside your car when traveling through the gates, it is to prevent poaching issues. You don’t have to pay for a gate pass ahead of time. If you booked your accommodation inside the Kruger you will pay day by day at the reception of your lodge/campsite.

WHICH AREA OF KRUGER SHOULD YOU VISIT

Kruger is HUGE. 19,000 sq kilometers and every region of Kruger has different landscapes, wildlife and plants. Picking a specific area of Kruger and plan ahead what you want to see is essential.

Our personal experience: we started our safari trip in the southernmost part of Kruger Park, the Lower Sabie, to spot the big five (the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo) along with many other species of animals. This area is full of rivers and streams. You will witness an explosion of life, colours and countless types of birds – especially in January. From the Lower Sabie we drove to the riverine bush around Skukuza, known for the number of leopards inhabiting the area and we continued north reaching the central grasslands of the Satara, where there is a better chance of seeing lions in Kruger.

Vehicle recommendations

One of the best things about the Kruger is the ability to self-drive and choose your own itinerary. Driving inside Kruger National Park is easy and you won’t need a 4×4. The main road running through the park is paved. Sprouting off the main road are various smaller, well-maintained dirt roads. I would recommend an SUV or a comfortable car for most of your driving and then taking a KNP Game Drive every now and again for the benefit of being out in the park after or before the other cars are allowed into the park.


Read also EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DRIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA


 

safari trip Kruger National Park

Sunrise and sunset game drives

Every rest camp of the Kruger Nationa Park has a daily schedule of inexpensive guided tours like sunrise and sunset game drives, bush walks, bush braai and more. You can book the rangers activities here.
You will be driving in open-air vehicles, so bring something warm even in summer. When the car is moving it can get really cold. The rangers not only take you far off the beaten path but also share their knowledge of the fauna and flora to explain the wildlife habits.

Our personal experience: we loved the sunrise drive departing from Skukuza rest camp. The rangers took us to some amazing spots in limited-access areas where we had some magical encounters with a herd of elephants, wild dogs and a few rare antelopes! The day after we went for a bush walk with two armed and experienced rangers. Our hearts were beating like mad for 3 full hours. We spotted a family of rhinos, wild herbs, skeletons and footprints, learning a lot about wildlife habits.

safari trip Kruger National Park

Morning bush walk

WHERE TO STAY DURING A SAFARI TRIP IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

While visiting the Kruger National Park we stayed in government-run campgrounds, the perfect place to sleep in the park while staying on a budget. In the main camps you will find ATM, petrol station, shop with snacks, drinks and souvenirs, restaurants, braai – South African BBQ – and sometimes even a swimming pool. Satellite camps, instead, provide only the most basic of facilities and no electricity, a low fence is the only barrier that separates you from the wilderness, resulting in a true back to basics experience.

safari trip Kruger National ParkEach camp has different types of accommodation and not every camp has them all. In the main rest camps you will be able to book a camping site for caravan or tent (you must bring your own tent), huts, bungalows, cottages and lodges. The accommodations are basic, clean and rustic, but perfect if you want to stay inside the park without spending a fortune. You can check out all the camps and facilities here. Online booking is essential, especially in high season. If you are visiting during the high season or a holiday be prepared to book anywhere from 6-12 months in advance.

Inside the park you can also find private lodges, much nicer but also really expensive. Most of them come with meals and game drives included in the price per night.  Here is a list of all the lodges in Kruger.

Here’s a rough idea of types of camping in the Kruger Park Camps and prices:

  • Camping – You must bring your own tent. Around €25 per night.
  • Safari Tent – 2 or 4-bed tents with fridge and braai. Communal camp kitchen and bathroom. Around €50 per night.
  • Hut – Single/Double room. Communal kitchen and bathroom. Around €45 per night.
  • Bungalow – Double room units with fridge and ensuite. Some may have a kitchenette. Around €107 per night.
  • Cottage – These may be single or multiple room units with ensuite and fully equipped kitchens. Around €173 per night.

Prices for accommodation in Kruger will change according to season, camp and style of accommodation. Check out all the updated prices here.

➳ Find all: Hotels in Kruger National Park

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK PACKING LIST

Have you read my post What to pack for a safari trip in the Kruger National Park? If not, you definitely need to start there.

In the meantime, here’s a few essentials:

    • Binoculars
    • Insect repellent
    • Torch
    • Warm jacket for game drives (even in summer)
    • Camera with zoom lens (at least 200 mm)
    • Map –  we loved the Tinkers Guide, a beautifully illustrated book with an easy-to-follow map, valuable information about the park and rest camps and an identification checklist of the animals, reptiles and birds of the Kruger.

You can find all these items (including the map) for purchase at the Parks shops inside the main campsites. Also, Kruger National Park is a malaria risk area. The risk is low, but it is still best to take anti-malaria medication and reduce the risk covering up at dusk and dawn.

One last thing…

A common question we get is: what camera do we use for our travels. The body is a Sony Alpha 6000 and this is the telephoto lens we use and love.
The full guide to our camera gear is here.

safari trip Kruger National Park

Heading to Cape Town next?
Check out our guide to the things to do in Cape Town and around!

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.