Being on safari in Kruger National Park awakens all of your senses – from hearing the roar of a mighty lion to the grunts of hippos wallowing in pools of water, seeing the most majestic wildlife in their natural habitat, smelling the natural aromas of the bushveld to the smoke of an open fire during a boma dinner (and enjoying the delicious tastes of freshly prepared meals often inspired by traditional South African flavours), A South African safari will leave tourists with a plethora of recollections of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
The phrase ‘Big Five’ was coined by big game hunters to represent the five most hazardous creatures to shoot, but these five animals are now frequently at the top of the list of wildlife that visitors want to see on safari. Unfortunately, only the buffalo is not endangered or threatened among these five creatures (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo). Seeing these creatures (and many more) in their native habitat is a genuinely unforgettable experience, made even better by learning more about them from knowledgeable and devoted rangers. Safaris are also vital for conservation, and they also assist local people through job and social upliftment projects.
From charming and unassuming lodges to high-end luxury and extravagant lodges, and from traditional safari décor styles to the most current and contemporary designs, South Africa has a safari to fit all budgets and interests. Morning and evening safari excursions in open vehicles are available at the lodges, and some will also offer guided bush walks, sleep-out experiences, and a choice of spa treatments.
Although the Kruger National Park and its adjacent reserves comprise one of the largest and best-known African parks, South Africa has far more than one safari location or area to offer. With many conservation areas and national parks spread around the country, we’ve divided down each reserve with our top suggestions and highlights for each.
South Africa’s most well-known National Park is the world-renowned Kruger National Park. The park’s areas were originally protected in 1898, and it was designated as a national park in 1926. The fences between the Kruger Park and the Klaserie Game Reserve, Olifants Game Reserve, and Balule Game Reserve were removed in the late 1990s and 400,000 hectares were added to the Reserve. Kruger National Park, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique were combined to form the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park in 2002. The park is roughly 360 kilometres long and 65 km broad on average, with a maximum width of 90 kilometres from east to west.
There are several methods to get to the lodges in the Greater Kruger National Park, including driving yourself or flying into Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, Hoedspruit Airport, or Phalaborwa Airport. Direct flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg into Skukuza Airport operate daily (ideal for lodges such as Lion Sands, Sabi Sabi, &Beyond Tengile, Mala Mala, and Londolozi), while Federal Air provides twice daily shuttle flights from their hangar at OR Tambo International to a variety of Sabi Sands and Timbavati lodges.
Because of the ease with which the Greater Kruger region can be reached, a safari stay may be combined with other South African destinations such as Cape Town and the Winelands, Johannesburg, and KwaZulu Natal. Airlink also operates regular flights from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to Livingstone, Zambia, and Vilanculos, Mozambique (please check the flight timetables for days of operation), providing a great Bush and Beach experience.
The northern section of the Kruger National Park is a bird watcher’s paradise, with the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Racket Tailed Rollers, and Arnot’s Chat all found here, as well as being able to see some of the most ancient, giant baobab trees found north of the Luvhuvhu River and driving through a fever tree forest on the way to Crooks Corner (an area where the Luvhuvhu and Limpopo Rivers converge The Outpost, Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp, and Pafuri Walking Trails are among the lodges in this region. This portion of the Kruger is easiest reached via Phalaborwa Airport or by Echo Skies, which operates daily flights from Johannesburg’s Grand Central Airport to the Pafuri airstrip.
The Kruger National Park’s middle portion, near Satara, is frequented by lions who enjoy the surrounding grasslands, while the southern section’s attractions include viewing rhino between Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge, and the riverine bush along the Sabie River is great leopard habitat.
The Kruger National area includes over 3,000 kilometres of public roads, and day tourists are permitted to explore the area, albeit the number of visitors is limited. Kruger National Park features 12 major rest camps, 5 bushveld camps, 2 bush lodges, and 4 satellite camps, as well as over 10 luxury lodges on private concessions. These private lodges and their road networks are not accessible to the general public, ensuring their seclusion and exclusivity.
The following are some of the highlights of the Kruger National Park
- Nearly 2 million hectares of pristine African bushveld
- Over 500 bird species, some of which are unique to South Africa, may be found here, including the Big 6 of the avian world: the Saddle-billed Stork, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Pel’s Fishing-Owl, and Ground Hornbill.
- There are five vegetative zones, each with its own distinct flavour and a broad range of species.
- All of Africa’s famous safari species flourish here, including elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, buffaloes, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and zebras, and the Kruger National Park is home to approximately 12,000 elephants, 27,000 African buffaloes, 2,000 leopards, and 2,800 lions. It is also considered the best site in the world to see a leopard.
Accommodation is provided to suit all budgets, ranging from simple self-catering alternatives at Kruger National Park Rest Camps to a variety of expensive and luxury options, including private lodges on concessions inside the Kruger National Park. These concessions include the spanking new Kruger Shalati (the train on the bridge), Lions Sands Tinga and Narina Lodges, Hamiltons, Hoyo Hoyo and Imbali, Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges, and The Outpost and Pafuri Camp in the park’s northern section.
For those self-driving or being transferred by road, there are a number of gates into the Kruger National Park. Alternatively, there is a small commercial airport at Skukuza that is serviced daily with flights from both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, located just outside of Nelspruit, is an option for those staying in the park’s southern section, while Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport is ideal for those travelling to the park’s middle and northern sections, and Phalaborwa Airport serves as a convenient gateway to the park’s very northern lodges.
Summers in the subtropical climate are hot and wet, lasting from October to March. Summer rains turn the parched park into a lush floral paradise, but the extra greenery makes viewing wildlife more difficult.
The winter months of April through September provide nice, warm, dry days with milder evenings and nights. Traditionally, the greatest time to see wildlife is during the winter months, when the foliage thins and animals cluster around rivers and water holes.
The Greater Kruger National Park
The Greater Kruger National Park is made up of over twenty game areas that share no borders with the Kruger National Park, allowing the animals to wander freely. Timbavati, Sabi Sands, Makuya, Letaba, Balule, Klaserie, Umbabat, Manyeleti, and Thornybush Reserves comprise the Greater Kruger National Park:
Balule Private Game Reserve
With 40,000 hectares of wildness, the Balule is easily accessible via the airports of Hoedspruit or Phalaborwa. The reserve is traversed by the Olifants River, which features a mixed forest eco system with a diverse fauna and flora. The terrain is hilly, with periodic rivers draining the region. The Balule is famous for its enormous tusker elephants, who are frequently seen in the region.
Klaserie Private Nature Reserve
The Klaserie, which spans over 60,000 hectares of pristine terrain, was founded in 1969 and is one of South Africa’s largest privately held reserves. In addition to the Big Five, visitors can observe honey badgers, cheetahs, hyenas, and servals, among other animals. Because there are fewer commercial lodges than in most of the other Greater Kruger Reserves, guests can spend more time at special sightings, and many lodges include trail walks as part of their activities, allowing guests to connect with nature and immerse themselves in an intimate safari experience. The reserve features a diverse animal population, including endangered species such as the African Wild Dog, Southern Ground Hornbill, and White Backed Vulture, as well as the highly sought-after ‘Big Five’.
Manyeleti Game Reserve
Manyeleti, which means ‘place of stars’ in the indigenous Shangaan language, is located between the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Reserves. With 23,000 hectares of land and a diverse biodiversity, lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, as well as baboons and hippo, are frequently observed on game drives. Many plains animals, such as giraffe, zebra, and other antelope, can also be found.
Sabi Sands Game Reserve
The Sabi Sands require little introduction and are well-known for being one of the few areas where you can tick off seeing the ‘Big Five’ in a single day! Sabi Sands was established as a private nature reserve in 1965 and has a long history of protection. The Sand and Sabi Rivers flow through this 65,000-hectare reserve, providing a diversified habitat for a wide variety of species. The reserve is well-known for its big cat sightings, particularly of the elusive leopard.
Thornybush Private Game Reserve
Thornybush is a 17 000-hectare African bushveld reserve near to the Kruger National Park. The reserve is home to a variety of bird and animal species due to its undulating savannah bushveld. In 2017, fences between the Kruger National Park and Thornybush were removed, enabling wildlife to freely migrate between the areas. With exceptional sightings, including the Big Five, visitors may experience morning and afternoon game drives, as well as walking safaris where they can learn about tracking, flora, and insects.
Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Like Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Timbavati has an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park and encompasses roughly 53 392 hectares. Timbavati has fewer lodges than the Sabi Sands, resulting in fewer tourists and cars are allowed to two per sighting. It is also home to bigger herds of buffalo and elephant, and it is notable for its white lions, which were found in the reserve in 1975 but are now extremely rare. The Timbavati’s mild slopes and plains are covered with open savannah bushveld and a variety of woodland species, ranging from scattered Acacia trees to extensive riverine forests with Jackalberry and Fig trees. There are a few dry riverbeds but no permanent rivers in the reserve, and animals may frequently be seen at the drinking holes and dams.
Entry points to the Greater Kruger National Park
With so many ways to get to the Greater Kruger National Park, three towns are well placed for overnight stays for guests arriving after lunch (and potentially missing their afternoon safari), departing onwards to Livingstone or Vilanculos, or staying outside of the Kruger.
White River is a lovely tiny hamlet located 15 minutes from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre has a variety of specialist stores, including restaurants, coffee shops, an art gallery, and a vintage automobile museum, as well as hiking trails in the region and the Lowveld Botanical Garden, which is about 15 minutes away. White River is a 40-minute drive from the Kruger National Park.
Casterbridge Hollow, which caters to single travellers, couples, and families, and Oliver’s, which is famed for its cuisine and also accommodates families, are two possibilities for lodging in White River. For those who want to play a game of golf, Oliver’s guests have access to Leopards Creek Golf Course. Also close is the beautiful, exclusive-use UmSisi House, which is 20 minutes from the Kruger National Park’s Numbi Gate.
Hazyview is 45 minutes from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and 20 minutes from the Kruger National Park’s Phabeni Gate. It is also an excellent base for exploring the Panorama Route, and we have a range of lodging options in town, including Hippo Hollow, Perry’s Bridge Hollow, Rissington Inn, Highgrove House, and Summerfield Rose Retreat, which provides luxury glamping style accommodation.
Hoedspruit is an excellent location for exploring the Greater Kruger’s centre and northern areas, and both the Orpen Gate and the Phalaborwa Gate are easily accessible. It is well located for exploring the Panorama Route and the Blyde River Canyon, and we can recommend a variety of day trips for customers to immerse themselves in this region fully. Options include our Classic Touring, which includes tours of the Panorama Route and game drives into the Kruger National Park, as well as our recently launched Exceptional Touring in Hoedspruit, which includes carefully curated and expertly led tours of both the Panorama Route (including stops at spots only known to the locals) and our Fruitful Community Tour, which includes a walk through a local village, a chance to weave a traditional grass mat, a visit to the Sangoma, and