The Ultimate Guide To South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Welcome to the largest game reserve in South Africa and the most popular tourist attraction besides Cape Town. Occupying an area of almost 20,000 km2 in the northeast of the country, Kruger National Park borders Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe in the north. It stands out among many other national parks in Southern Africa for the variety and population of wildlife, the easier big-five encounters and the variety of tour options. If you have never experienced a game drive before, Kruger is the ideal destination.

Lion near Satara Ryan Kilpatrick License: CC

LANDSCAPE/SCENERY

The park takes up vast territories in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Its borders are naturally drawn by the Limpopo River in the north and the Crocodile River in the south. The Lebombo escarpment stretches in the east along the Mozambican border.

The park’s altitude has a gradient with 200 meters in the east and 840 meters in the west. The highest point is called Khandzalive Hill.

The park has a massive amount of water beds, as many rivers run through it. The main rivers are the Sabie, Olifants, Crocodile, Letaba, Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers.

WILDLIFE

The vast territory of Kruger National Park exhibits features of different climate zones from semi-arid to subtropical. The variety of climate zones projects onto the flora and fauna, creating an incredibly rich ecosystem.

You can observe four different floral zones in the park.

  • The western end of the park is covered in the red bush-willow veld as well as Acacia species clustered around the Olifants River.
  • The southeast region of the park bordered by Olifants River boasts mainly grazing-land with red grass and buffalo grass. Besides, tree species like knob-thorn, leadwood and marula are commonly found.
  • The northwest region of the park is entirely covered in red bush-willow and mopane veld
  • The north-eastern section has vegetation consisting of shrub mopane veld.
Baobab Tree Derek Keats Licence: CC

With almost 150 species and thousands of big five game animals, Kruger National Park is the most abundant in large mammals compared to the other African game reserves. Black rhinoceros, white rhinoceros, lion, elephant, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, antelope, hyena, hippopotamus, crocodiles… the list can go on forever. Any type of game animal you can think of can be found in vast quantities.

African elephants at Kruger
A lioness – a common sight

The birdlife is just as exciting with 517 species of birds, not to mention over 100 species of reptiles including some deadly snakes like black mamba.

Kruger National Park – Glossy starling Christian Keller License: CC

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Kruger the “modern Jurassic Park”.

ACTIVITIES

Kruger National Park’s founders know how to attract every type of travelers from families and couples to solo wanderers. There is an extensive collection of options that appeal to different tastes and budget-levels.

  • Game Drives

Imagine driving past freely-roaming elephants and witnessing a lion attacking its prey from an open safari vehicle. The game drives with 4×4 are guided by experienced locals, who know where to spot the game animals precisely.

Kruger National Park leftcoastenvy License: CC
  • Walking Safaris

If you can’t give up on your hiking for passion, there are multi-day walking safari packages for you. The hiking trails combined with tented accommodation options will make you feel like you are on the set of an Indiana Jones movie.

  • Romantic Safaris

Could there be a more thrilling honeymoon than a safari adventure? Kruger’s honeymoon and wedding packages give you a climax of luxury amidst the rural. These packages generally combine adventurous safari tours with luxury accommodation, spa, and romantic dinner and picnics in the outdoors.

  • Family Safari

Traveling with kids can be exhausting since parents also have to ensure the safety of the little ones. Family safari options provide an educational and entertaining experience for the kids. The ones older than 12 can join the safari tours while the younger ones can spend the day in the massive entertainment center with activities like zip line, face painting and jungle gyms.

GETTING THERE

AIR

You might think that it’s impossible to reach a national park via plane, but Kruger National park offers that, too! There are a few airports near the park. These are Skukuza, Phalaborwa, Hoedspruit and Kruger/Mpumalanga International Airport. You can find daily flights from departing from big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Detailed information regarding air transport can be found here

“Private Connections” is a tour company that offers shuttle services between the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and the park.

You can also rent a car at any of the airports through the company Avis Car Rental.

BUS SERVICES

There are several shuttle services from Johannesburg airport which is 422 km from the Skukuza Base Camp. For detailed information, check out this website

SELF DRIVE

Driving to/inside the park by your vehicle is another option. It sounds scary but there is nothing to worry about because the roads leading to the park are tarred, as well as the main roads within the park. The gravel roads are free of potholes and sharp rocks. Nevertheless, you must be careful not to exceed the speed limit of 50 km/h on the tarred roads and 40 km/h on the gravel roads.

Directions to the gates can be found here.

CLIMATE

The majority of the park experiences a subtropical climate.

The warmest and most humid months are from December to March. The temperature gap is quite small with the highest being 32 and the lowest being 21 degrees. The average rainfall is the maximum during the summer.

The driest period is from May until October. During the dry season, the temperatures during the day are still mild around 27 degrees; however, it drops down below 10 degrees at night. The rainfall is at its minimum.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit Kruger is one of the transition periods between winter and summer. Animal encounters will be less likely in cases of extreme rainfall or extreme temperatures. April and September see pleasant and sunny days with mild temperatures.

HEALTH AND SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

  • We can’t emphasize enough the danger of leaving the vehicles during game drives. It is not only extremely dangerous to come close to the animals and try to feed them, but also illegal since you would be disrupting the ecosystem. So, you might end up in jail if you don’t comply with this rule.
  • Sunscreen is essential regardless of the season. The temperatures are quite high even in winter, so the sunlight can sneakily burn your skin even if you don’t notice.
  • You may not know this but Kruger is within the Southern Africa malaria zone. You will be completely safe from mosquitos in winter, but the same cannot be guaranteed for summer. It is best to consult your doctor regarding malaria pills.

TIPS

  • Bring binoculars: This one is obvious, isn’t it? The guides will also provide binocular or two, but you would have to share it with everyone else. You can spot the animals for longer if you bring yours.
  • The local safari guides will appreciate tips. R 100-150 should do the trick, so don’t forget to bring cash with you.
  • The southern region of Kruger is more populous in animals; however, it is also the busier part of the park. The northern part is quieter, but the animal population shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the northern end of the park is excellent for rare encounters such as elephants walking around the lodges, cheetahs running around or lions tanning after they hunt their prey. The cleverest thing to do would be to spend enough time in both regions of the park so that you can both encounter large packs of animals in the south and enjoy rare encounters in the north without interference.