All You Need to Know about… Kruger

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All You Need to Know about… Kruger

Something about… Kruger. How to get there? Where to Stay? Which way to go? Self-drive or guided tour for game viewing? Here are some info and insights for your trip planning to the ultimate safari experience!

While everyone´s first impression of gaming would be the great migration in Serengeti in East Africa, gaming in South Africa is also an abundance of joy. Kruger National Park is South Africa´s most exciting African safari destination.

When I started planning my trip to South Africa, the information was overwhelming to me. There are so many safari tours, hotels, and lodges, operators, and we had a lot of discussions about whether we should be self-driving or not. So here, I would like to share a little about my thought process behind the entire trip planning.

How to get there?

How-to-Get-thereIt takes about 5 hours driving to Kruger from the Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, and about an hour flight (to any airports near Kruger). Although it would be fun to take on yet another road trip. I decided to reach Kruger flying. There are few airports around Kruger, depending on where you would want to go:

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, Nelspruit

This is where I had flown in from Livingstone in Zambia. The airport is about an hour away from Malelane, and about 2 hours away from Sabie Park; the airport had souvenir stores, tourist offices, and other destinations include Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg.

Hendrik Van Eck Airport, Phalaborwa

Hendrik Van Eck Airport is located next to the Phalaborwa Gate (I mean, 5 minutes away!). Airlink offers flights from Johannesburg.

Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport

Eastgate is located in between Paul Kruger Gate and Phalaborwa Gate, and there are flights connecting Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Skukuza Airport

The Skukuza Airport is located inside Sabi Sands and Flights are available to connect Cape Town, Johannesburg, Londolozi, and Ulusaba.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari 1

Where to Stay?


The first question that I had was whether staying in Kruger or outside.

There are amazing rest camps in Kruger, which offer different kinds of safari experience depending on your budget and preferences. Luxurious camps offer safari packages with full board, guided safari tours, and lodges. Visitors could even sleep in tree lodges underneath the stars, listening to the sound of nature in the open air under a tent!

South Africa, Kruger - Safari 3

Economical options are lodges in safari that doesn’t include meals. However, visitors could bring in their own food and enjoy a delicious barbecue after a day in the safari.

There is an advantage of staying inside Kruger. Visitors could have full experience in the African bush, save time traveling in and out of the park and also save money by paying multiple entrance fees driving day in and day out. However, there aren’t any shops or restaurants in the park (a.k.a. no nightlife), it lacks flexibility as the entrance gates close at 6pm in the evening and it’s not possible to leave and the park until it reopens in the morning. For visitors who are not planning to cook or barbecue, they would have to stay in a lodge with catering.

Which way to go?

Hoe-to-get-AroundIf you are planning a trip to beautiful South Africa, I would implore you to put both Cape Town and the Kruger National Park in your itinerary no matter what; and if you have more time, it’s great to explore so many more places from the Sun City and the Lost City, the Garden Route, the Wind Land, Pretoria, Gold Reef City, to even Lesotho and Swaziland.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Kruger Gate

Let’s get back to Kruger. The Kruger National Park (and I promise I will just use “Kruger” from here on out) is located on the northeast border of South Africa, connecting with its neighboring state, Mozambique. Stretching over 20,000 Kruger is home to an impressive population of game species, including Africa’s Big Five.

Guess what I was trying to say is, Kruger is so big and that it’s rather impossible to cover every inch of the park for a visit. Lucky for us, animals are roaming freely in Kruger and so no one would expect visitors to drive through the entire park for the game. Where to start depends on what kind of accommodation and experience you are looking for.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Elephant

There are a few large communities located around Kruger as a pitstop, like Bosbokrand, Acornhoek, Hazyview, Hoedspruit, Komatipoort, Malelane, Marloth Park, Nelspruit, and Phalaborwa. There are restaurants, supermarkets, and even shopping malls in some of these communities for visitors to re-fill and re-stock (as some tourists may stay in Kruger, which I will talk a little bit about it later.)

There are gates located in the south, central and north of the park. Visit the Kruger website and they have an informative help guide to different regions, game viewing routes, and locations of the entrance gates to the park. Here is where I started to locate which areas and viewing routes are the best for my trip.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Elephant (2)

Kruger National Park website:

Some amazing viewing routes, nearest gates, and highlights: 

Southern Gates

  1. Crocodile Bridge Gate

The Crocodile Bridge Gate is the most eastern entrance to Kruger, located in the South East of Kruger. The northern area between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie offers some of the best wildlife viewings. Along Bume, Biyamiti, and Randspruit Roads is a region defined by low hills with rough and sandy soil on the hilltops that attract Safari browsers. It is one of the best routes in the south of Kruger. The Lower Sabie Restcamp overlooks the Lower Sabie Dam, which attracts a wealth of plants and animals, including Elephant and Waterbuck.

  1. Malelane Gate

Hence, there is the South West. Malelane Gate connects to routes that lead from the Malelane Gate, which connects visitors to a number of rest camps and some good viewing spots. Viewing loops like Berg-en-Dal Loop has the highest rainfall in Kruger and a large diversity of plant life, including the Zulu mulberry and the Cape chestnut among others.

  1. Numbi Gate

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Wild DogsNumbi Gate is one of the great entrances into the Kruger Park in the South West because its higher altitude gives visitors a sweeping vista over the Lowveld to the east and the granite foothills to the north and south. The Pretoriuskop Route is the oldest camp and is also child-friendly. The entire Big Five could be seen in Pretoriuskop if you are lucky. Furthermore, Voortrekker Road is a road filled with history and wildlife sightings.

  1. Paul Kruger Gate

I stayed near the Paul Kruger Gate and it was where I started. In Shangaan word, “Skukuza” means “he who sweeps clean”; it is the Skukuza area and it is the biggest rest camp in the park. The Nwatimhiri Road is a great place for ornithologists and bird watching, keep an eye out for the African hawk-eagle.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Paul Kruger Gate

  1. Phabeni Gate

Phabeni Gate is located between Numbi Gate and Paul Kruger Gate, it is the best way to get into Skukuza from Gauteng.

Central Gates

  1. Orpen Gate

Moving to the Central Grassland of Kruger, Orpen is a region of good pasture, with an abundance of grass and other plants, a great food source for the abundance of game in the area. The central grasslands have the highest lion population in Kruger. Timbavati Road is one of the best routes in the Park. Here, visitors get to see the famous White Lion of Kruger drinking at the Leeubron waterhole and the elusive Leopard in the lush riverine bushes. The Mphongolo Loop is also one of the best drives in Kruger, it is rich in the game such as Lion, Leopard, Elephant, and Buffalo.

The open grasslands in Satara offer sighting of Kruger’s biggest herds of grazers, Lion, and Hyena. On the east side of the park.

Northern Gates

  1. Phalaborwa Gate

Phalaborwa Gate is considered the north of the part and this region is very different from the southern Kruger. From Mopani to Masorini, Wild Dog is common in the western Mopaneveld between the Olifants and Letaba Rivers. These animals prefer to roam the more marginal plains to avoid the Lion dominated central plains. On the Mopani Camp Routes, Lion Cheetah would be seen occasionally with Elephant and Buffalo being the most common animals spotted. Shingwedzi is dominated by Nyala, Kudu, and Giraffe with Lion and Leopard actively in the floodplain woodland because of the high diversity of prey.

The Olifants Viewing Routes consists of three ecosystems that are great for game viewing – it is home to Kruger’s original Elephant herd.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Night Elephant

  1. Punda Maria Gate

Punda Maria and Pafuri Gates are located in the Far North which would be less popular for first-time visitors. While vegetation in the Pafuri region includes a diverse mix of South African Lowveld and African woodlands. On the Mahogany Loop visitors could find rare flora and fauna that are not commonly seen in other parts of Kruger, such as bushwillow species, silver cluster leaves, Suni Antelope, and Sharpe’s Grysbok.

The Kanniedood Dam drive is one of the best in the Far North. In Nyala Drive, there is a good chance of spotting Nyala, Eland, Kudu, Suni Antelope, Lichtenstein’s Hartebeests (a kind of floodplain dwelling antelope), and the Crested Guineafowl (a kind of Guineafowlbird).

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Giraffe (2)

Self-drive or guided tour?

infoAgain, it is all possible depending on your own preference. Guided night safari tours allow visitors staying outside the park to enter the park in the evening after the gates close. While self-driving is cheaper, offers freedom and flexibility, I would recommend to at least participate in a guided tour even visitors decide to drive around the park by themselves. The tour guides know their way around the park, and they would communicate with each other to make sure visitor won’t missing out had there been rare animals were seen somewhere near. Furthermore, many of those guides always give interesting commentaries and share their knowledge of those amazing creatures.

There is a great selection of vehicles for self-driving and some may find the navigation is fairly easy. The animals are accustomed to the vehicles, it’s generally safe unless you get out of the cars and interact with them.

It could be a problem for drivers to look for directions in Kruger (as I said it’s huge), and mobile phone coverage only covers certain parts of Kruger (generally around the rest camps) but not the entire park. For those staying outside of Kruger, they should be aware of the time or they might be locked in if they can’t make it back to the gates before they close.

South Africa, Kruger - Safari Lion
Wow, there’s the lion!

What to do?

CameraWow, to name a few. There are help guides for visitors to look for activities and tours. There are also tour packages that fit different groups of travelers. Classic safari, family holiday, honeymoon, or specialized game viewing… Explore and you will find yourself overwhelmed!

Don’t forget to participate in an evening safari tour because this is the chance that visitors get to enter the park in the evening after the gates closed, and there’s a higher chance that visitors can spot nocturnal animals, including leopard, which is usually more active when the sun goes down ~ 😊

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34 thoughts on “All You Need to Know about… Kruger

  1. […] We had the great opportunity to visit Johannesburg twice during our layovers within Africa. There is so much to see and plenty of activities to enjoy in Johannesburg. During our few days in the city, we were able to do a lot of sightseeing, learn about the city’s history, eat delicious South African cuisine, and stay at two wonderful hotels. Needless to say, visiting Johanessburg is one of several reasons why you should travel to South Africa. Furthermore, Johannesburg is a great starting point to a South Africa itinerary. You can easily take a train from Johannesburg to Cape Town or a quick flight to Kruger National Park. […]

  2. Kruger is an iconic place in Africa and together with Serengeti captures the imagination of people. My only assay into Afric has been Rwanda. But Kruger is up there on the bucket list. This is such an informative post about Kruger. I never knew that one could actually self-drive in Kruger. Is this to be done with an escort?

    1. Thanks Sandy and there are many ways for visitors to travel in Kruger, to me, it might be hard to navigate in the park without mobile reception.

  3. I loved my time in Kruger. Next time I will certainly pencil in time for Cape Town. I have done safaris in Tanzania and South Africa and they were different but both great. I would go back to South Africa in a heart beat.

  4. Wow! What a thorough review of how to see Kruger. I really would like to go on a safari tour someday — I can only imagine how amazing it must be to see the animals in their native habitat. Thanks for the valuable info!

  5. I was just going to Cape Town when we get to South Africa but you have convinced us that Kruger should be a must-see too. Thanks!

  6. This post is great! I’ve never been to South Africa but always wanted to go, and like you were saying, the info is kinda overwhelming and it’s honestly confusing on how best to plan! Thanks for all the info, definitely pinning your post!

  7. I’ve done a couple of budget safari’s in Africa, though Kruger is still on my list, and now that I’m older with a more stable job, I would love to try out the luxury campsite options when I get back. We have done Cape Town, so it was nice to see that you encourage people to travel here too – one of my favorite cities, I could have spent a lifetime there and not left! You saw some incredible animals, and I love the shot of the Elephant at sunset. Thanks for the comprehensive info. Helps plan our own trip!

  8. Kruger National Park is definitely on my African Safari Bucket List along with exploring Capetown. I love your guide with how you explain the pros & cons. I think personally I would definitely want to stay in park and take at least one formal tour to start. Then I could do the additional self driving after getting my bearings. I may even add the organized night tour cause that sounds awesome!

    1. Thanks Eric, that sounds like an excellent plan to have an all rounded experience of safari, please share with us your experience after you do🙏🏻

  9. Amazing! I’m currently living in Cape Town so it’s such a great idea to visit Kruger, loved all the pictures, seems like a nice place!

  10. You’ve achieved another of my bucketlist! I always love to go Africa to see beautiful animals roaming around. I think I’ll take your advice and opt for at least 1 guided tour coz they know the best!

  11. My parents went to Kruger and had so many stories from the experience. They totally loved it and the staff at the park. I so appreciate all the details and information you’ve included about visiting.

  12. We spent 5 days in South Africa last year, but sadly didn’t make it to Kruger. Mainly based ourselves around Cape Town – there’s so much to do in this amazing country you could literally move! I actually wasn’t aware that you could fly straight into Kruger, so that’s really good to know. And I love the idea of sleeping in a tree lodge underneath the stars! You got some fabulous wildlife shots – I particularily love the night shot you got of the elephant under a spotlight with a beautiful pink sky. I think the guided night safari would definitely be something I would do 🙂

  13. You list some excellent resourceful information for visiting Kruger National Park. Nice to know that there are areas around Kruger providing support. There are even malls? Wow, I have got to see that. The self-drive option seems a little intimidating and I would opt for a guide, I think. Cool!

  14. Oh wow, lucky you thus would be a dream come true for me. So want to do a safari and Kruger has to be one of the top places in the world to do it. Your photos are amazing. The evening safari sounds magic.

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