Kruger National Park is remarkable for the exceptional quantity and variety of its wildlife. The park is home to 114 different species of reptiles; more than 500 species of birds; and 147 mammals, including the Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. Other species include zebras, giraffes, impala, cheetah, and hippo to name a few.
The park is also one of the last refuges for endangered species, including the black rhino and African wild dog.
Kruger is the largest (almost two million hectares) and oldest national park in South Africa. It forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a massive wilderness area linking Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.
This is South Africa‘s most acclaimed safari destination and where you’ll find the country’s most famous private safari lodges and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world.
If ever you wanted to spot a leopard in its natural habitat, stumble upon a pride of lion slumbering beneath anthills or come face to face with the earthly majesty of an elephant, the right place to be is Kruger National Park.
History of the Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park was first established as a wildlife refuge in 1898 when it was proclaimed as the Sabie Game Reserve by the president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. In 1926, the passing of the National Parks Act led to the merging of the Kruger with nearby Shingwedzi Game Reserve, creating South Africa’s very first national park.
More recently, the Kruger became part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, an international collaboration that joins the park with Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. As a result, animals can now move freely across international borders as they would have done thousands of years ago.
The administrative headquarters are in Skukuza.
Safari in Kruger National Park
The park’s incredible size means that it spans a number of different ecosystems including savannah, thornveld and woodland. This diversity creates the ideal habitat for an astounding variety of flora and fauna. 147 mammal species have been recorded within the park’s boundaries, in addition to countless reptiles, fish and amphibians.
Amongst them are the Big Five – buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino (both black and white). The Little Five are also present in the Kruger, while other top spots include the cheetah, the Sharpe’s grysbok and the endangered African wild dog.
In terms of flora, the Kruger is home to some of Africa’s most iconic trees, ranging from the majestic baobab to the indigenous marula.
Where to Stay
Kruger National Park is renowned for its diverse and abundant lodging options catering to all budgets. Accommodation is available in campgrounds, government-run rest camps, and privately run camps and lodges.
it is one of the easiest national parks in Africa to explore on self-guided tours. The park offers a well-developed tourist infrastructure, and its abundant and diverse accommodations cater to different budgets.
You can pitch a tent in basic campsites or book a thatched-roof chalet. And if it’s luxury you seek, you’ll find some of South Africa’s finest private game reserves and safari lodges bordering the park.
For luxurious accommodations, choose one of the private game lodges that lease land from the park. These include the plush, colonial-style Buhala Lodge on the banks of the Crocodile River, stylish Jock Safari Lodge, and Pestana Kruger Lodge.
Kruger National Park accommodation prices are most affordable in the government-run rest camps, operated by SANParks. Most visitors spending two or more days in the national park stay in these camps.
Here, you can choose from a range of accommodation, including safari tents, thatched bungalows, and comfortable well-equipped guesthouses. Most of them are air-conditioned and include cooking facilities.
All the larger rest camps have restaurants and shops, a filling station, information center, and first aid facilities.
The Kruger is easily accessible via road for self-drive guests, with tarred roads leading to all nine entrance gates. Make sure to leave plenty of time when planning your journey, as all gates close at night (although late entry may be permitted for a fee).
Overseas visitors generally choose to fly into Johannesburg and then catch a connecting flight to one of four airports. Of these, only Skukuza Airport is located within the park itself, while Phalaborwa Airport, Hoedspruit Airport and the Kruger/Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) are situated close to its boundaries.
Daily flights also exist between Cape Town and Skukuza, Hoedspruit and KMIA airports; while visitors from Durban can fly directly to KMIA.
Upon arrival at any of these airports, you can hire a rental car to take you to (and around) the park. Alternatively, some private bus companies organize shuttles between the airports and the park, while those on a packaged tour will likely have their transport taken care of for them.
When should I go?
The dry winter season (May to August) is best, as the bush is sparse and animals gravitate towards water holes, making them easier to spot. Temperatures also rarely climb above the late twenties during the day, and can be downright chilly at night, so you’ll have a gentler introduction to the otherwise blistering African climate.
But there are perks to visiting at any time of year. In summer (November to December), for instance, the bush is lush thanks to heavy rains, the bird population hits the roof and you’ll find many of the animals with young.
Why should I go?
Kruger offers what most others don’t: the chance for a DIY safari. Many African national parks are only open to those with the deepest pockets, but partly thanks to its reliable network of roads, Kruger is accessible to all.
You can experience it in your own car, in your own time and in your own way, for a fraction of what you’d normally pay in many of Africa’s flagship reserves – and nothing beats having a lion at eye level. This is it: an easy, authentic experience of the bush.