It is worth the journey to South Africa solely to visit Kruger National Park and a self-drive safari offers a unique adventure on a budget.
The park is one of the largest game reserves there, sharing borders with Mozambique to the east and Zimbabwe to the north.
It is a combination of Savannah, thorn veld and woodland eco-zones. The main national park is run by South African National Parks (SANparks), the government agency tasked with running the country’s national parks.
In addition, there are private reserves adjacent to or inside the park. Private reserves are smaller, offering a better chance of animal sightings but are expensive. Kruger National Park, on the other hand, is huge.
Visitors might not see all the animals, but it will be affordable. Which to choose?
Here is a guide for budget travellers to make the most of their trip and miss the least. The Kruger Budget Itinerary covers only budget options so private game reserves are not included.
How to get there
Getting to Kruger National Park is easy. Fly to Johannesburg and hire a car and drive to the park. It is a four- to five-hour drive depending on the traffic. On weekends and long weekends it might take longer.
Or, take a domestic flight to Nelspruit or Hendrik Van Eck. Kruger on a budget? Rent a car and take the scenic route to Kruger via Hazyview, rather than the highway.
When to visit
Kruger is open throughout the year, and anytime is a good time to go. There are two main seasons:
Dry Season: The winter months are considered the dry season and the best time to see animals because there is less vegetation and fewer water bodies — the animals go to the watering holes. April to September tend to be dry and cold.
Wet Season: The wet season falls in the summer months — October to March is the rainy season. It can be hot at this time of year, which should not bother visitors from Southeast Asia. The wet season is budget-friendly.
The length of the stay depends on your interest, but a minimum of two nights and four days is recommended for a self-drive safari. As with any safari, the sightings depend on luck — visitors might see all the wildcats in a day or none during their entire stay.
Where to stay
Those driving from Johannesburg are advised to spend a night in Hazyview or outside Kruger Park to rest up and enjoy the full value of their time spent in the park itself.
On the way, stop at Pot Holes, Blyde River Canyon and Gods Window. Enter the park as early as possible the next day and spend two or three nights.
There are many accommodation options inside Kruger National Park, which are more expensive than staying outside but there are some benefits:
- Visitors are inside the park in an enclosed, wired area and spotting wildlife from the rest camp is highly likely.
- The park opens an hour earlier for those staying inside. How cool is that?
- There is no need to queue every day to get into the park.
Where to eat
The park has many restaurants located inside the rest camps, as well as public picnic spots. They serve food and drink as well as alcoholic beverages.
The prices are higher than other restaurants in South Africa but still reasonable. There are shops inside the camps as well, which offer everything from dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables for self-catering.
The roads in the park are pretty good — the main road is tarred and well maintained. The off routes are gravel so they can be bumpy and scary at times.
Using a 4X4 vehicle would be best to handle both tar and gravel roads, but the main reason would be the height of the vehicle, which offers visibility over the bushes to spot the wild life.
Visitors should book at least one evening safari with their rest camp, which increases the chances of seeing the Big Five game animals – the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo — as official tours have access to roads not open to visitors.
The guides are experts on these animals and the experience itself is fun.
If you’re one of the lucky one, you’ll spot every wild animal on your wish list – lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs as well as elephants, buffalo, hippo, rhino, giraffe and zebra.
There are beautiful birds here too – the starling, roller, kingfisher, hornbill, vultures and eagles.
Amit and Anindita are Indian Travel bloggers who blog at Travel Like We Do. They talk about affordable travel in India and abroad. They are still traveling and capturing their moments.