Outdoor, South Africa

Kruger National Park – How to plan a self-drive safari

A safari is an experience that I wish all of you can experience at least once in their lifetime. Because I think a safari is one of the best ways to be in contact with Mother Nature, and there is nothing better than embrace Mother Nature in all her stunning beauty.

If you are looking for the perfect place to do an African safari, then look no further! Kruger National Park is one of the most beautiful safari destinations in Africa and one of the most interesting places for game drives. This park is located in South Africa, and it is the oldest and the best-known park between the South African National Parks, also known as SANParks.

In this park, you can decide to do a guided safari or a self-drive safari.

When I needed to decide between the two options I had no doubt: I wanted to do a self-drive safari! I wanted to be free to decide the itinerary of my game drives and I wanted to be free to stop wherever I wanted, as much as I wanted.

And honestly, I couldn’t be happier with my decision!

Having the chance to stop the car even just to breathe in the scent of the bush was absolutely priceless! I couldn’t believe I was surrounded by nothing but wilderness! And the intimate encounters with wild animals during my self-drive safari made me so emotional that I almost cried! And even if I cannot say for sure, I don’t think I would have had the same unforgettable experience if I was surrounded by strangers in one of the big 4×4 vehicle used for the guided safaris.

Do you also want to embark on the unforgettable experience of a self-drive safari in Kruger National Park? In this post, you can find all the most important things you might want to know before starting your adventure!

Antelope in Kruger National Park
Antelope fact: Birds and antelopes enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Birds get lunch by eating the fleas and other insects buzzing around mammals, and, in exchange, the mammals get free cleaning.

How to get to Kruger National Park

I arrived at Kruger National Park after a wonderful two-week road trip which started in Cape Town, but, of course, there are easier and quicker ways to get to the park:

1. Fly to Kruger National Park

There are three airports serving Kruger National Park:

Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport and Phalaborwa Airport, in the Central Kruger Park, and
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI) in the Southern Kruger Park.

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI), served by daily flights from and to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, is the easier airport to reach. The other airports (Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport and Phalaborwa Airport ) can be reached using a domestic flight from O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB), near Johannesburg. 

You can find additional information about flights to and from Kruger National Park on this webpage.

Leopard in Kruger National Park
Leopard fact: These big cats spend most of their time alone and like to rest in the branches of trees during the day. Leopards usually drag their kill up into a tree so that pesky scavengers don’t steal their meal!

2. Drive to Kruger National Park

Do you want to live the unforgettable experience of road tripping in South Africa? Then hire a car and drive to one of the nine entrance gates of Kruger National Park.

Johannesburg is the closest city to Kruger National Park. If you go straight from the city to the southern gate of the park, the drive about 420 km. However, you should consider a detour to check out the amazing views offered by the Blyde River Canyon.

The drive from Cape Town is about 1800 km. In this case, you can make an awesome road trip out of the drive by stopping in the many breathtaking spots on the way.

You can drive to Kruger National Park also from other South African cities. The park is about 760 km away from Durban, 840 km from Bloemfontein and 1500 km distant from Port Elizabeth.

Which car do you need for a self-drive safari in Kruger?

Don’t worry, you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle for a self-drive safari in Kruger! The main roads in Kruger are sealed roads, while the secondary roads are all dirt roads in very good conditions. You can basically use the car you want.

Self-drive safari in Kruger National Park

However, it is useful to keep in mind that you cannot leave your vehicle during the self-drive safari. This means that you will spend most of the day in the car. So, be sure your vehicle is comfortable enough and that it has air conditioning. Temperature can be very high inside the park, especially in summer!

How many days to stay?

So, you know how to get to the park and what car you need to do a self-drive safari. Now you have to decide how many days you want to spend in the park. Would you be happy with a day trip or do you want to spend more days in the park?

Gnus in Kruger National Park
Gnu fact: Gnu calves can stand and run within three to seven minutes of being born.

In general, 3 – 5 nights should be sufficient to come across most of the animals you want to see. But, keep in mind that it’s impossible to know in advance how many days you need to spot the animals you want. If you are lucky you can see all of them in one day, or you can also spend several days in the park without any notable sightseeing. So, the decision is yours!

Giraffes in Kruger National Park
Giraffe fact: Giraffes give birth standing up. Baby giraffes are welcomed to the world with a 1.5m drop to the ground. Ouch!

I can tell you that every drive offers a unique experience. Every day you will have the possibility to see different animals and observe them having different behaviours in different situations. And, personally, I could have spent there much more time I actually did.

Kruger National Park Entrance Fees

In order to get into Kruger National Park, visitors must pay an entrance fee. This fee is called Conservation Fee, as it contributes to the conservation of the SANParks’ natural and cultural heritage. Visitors who don’t spend the night in the park have to pay the fees for every day spent inside the park, while overnight visitors must pay the fees for every night spent in the park.

The entry cost for South African citizens and residents (permanent and temporary) is much less than for foreigners, as South Africans already contribute to the conservation of the parks through the taxes.

On the SANParks website, you can find the Daily Conservation & Entry Fees to get into Kruger National Park.

Elephant fact: Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals. The average gestation period of these gentle giants is about 22 months.

If you want to stay in Kruger National Park for more than just a couple of days, or if you want to visit other SANParks, it may be worthwhile getting a Wild Card, which gives you unlimited access to all the SANParks for one year.

On the SANParks website, you can find the price of the card together with the list of parks which are included in the card price. Compare the cost of this card with the Kruger Park entry fees to see what’s best for your circumstances!

Just like the conservation fees, you can pay for a Wild Card at the gate of every SAN park. If you prefer, you can get the Wild Card in advance from the SANParks website.

Where to sleep

Inside Kruger National Park there are several rest camps all extremely organised and well equipped.

You can decide between different types of accommodations:

  • Camping – Bring your own tent and camp in the assigned spot
  • Safari Tent – Pre-built tent with personal fridge and braai station
  • Hut – Single room with communal kitchen and bathroom
  • Bungalow – Single room with ensuite and kitchenette
  • Cottage – Multi-room accommodation with ensuite and kitchen

All the accommodation, including the tents, are equipped with full-size fridges with freezer and braai stations. In the common kitchens inside the camping spaces, you can find electric stoves and hot water disposal. The bungalows have a private fully equipped kitchen in the external area. In any case, linen and towels are always supplied (except if you choose to camp).

Bushbuck at Kruger National Park
Shy bushbucks at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp

The positive aspect of a multi-day safari in Kruger National Park is that you don’t need to worry too much about the stuff that you need to bring with you inside the park because usually, you can find all you need during your stay inside the rest camps, from the food (milk, meat, vegetables, bread, fruits), to the drinks (beer, wine), to the coal for the braai, to the biodegradable camping plates and cutlery. This can make the whole experience very relaxing even for the most ill-equipped campers like me.

The choice of the camp where to stay is a function of several factors such as position and required services. For example, restaurants and additional services, like swimming pools and evening activities, are available just in the bigger camps. Also, you will be more likely to spot different animals in the surroundings of different rest camps.

All the characteristics of the camps are well described in the SANParks website. On the website you can find all the information you need to select the camps that met your needs.

All camps have very strict open and closing times which must be respected even the day of your arrival in the park. Remember to plan your transfers accordingly.

Zebra fact: Every zebra has a unique pattern of black and white stripes

Here you can find a map of the Kruger National Park, with the rest camps, the gates and the petrol stations.

When and how to book your accommodation

It is important to plan your visit to Kruger several weeks ahead, especially during peaks time. If you fail to do so, it might be more difficult to find any availability in the rest camp you want.

To book your accommodation, you have to register on the South African National Parks website and then pick the desired accommodation in the selected rest camp.

Hippopotamus fact: The hippopotamus is the world’s deadliest large land mammal, killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa. With its 3 tonnes weight, it can crush a human to death.

What is the best moment for a game drive?

Early morning and late afternoon are usually the best times to see wildlife. In these moments, the temperature is lower than during the rest of the day and the animals are more active.

And believe me, even if you’re not a morning person, a sunrise game drive will be worth the early morning awakening.

During your game drives, it’s always better to bring a map of the park with you. Keep in mind that there is no network connection in the park.

I heard that night game drives can also be very interesting, as they offer a good chance to see animals that you would not see during the day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try this experience.
But maybe you should consider taking part in a guided nocturnal safari. Remember that you cannot self-drive after the closing time of the rest camps.

You can book an overnight tour on the SANParks website, or directly at the rest camp.

Giraffe fact: Giraffe males (called bulls) fight by butting their long necks and heads to see who is stronger .

How to be constantly updated about the last sightseeing

In order to be constantly updated on the last sightseeing, you can follow @latestkruger on Instagram and Twitter. Plus, you can also ask to be added on the WhatsApp group writing a DM to @latestkruger or to the following number +27835895000. You can also see the last sightseeing on the boards which you can find in each rest camp.

Unfortunately, rhino poaching is still a huge problem in Africa, and sadly Kruger National Park is no exception. For this reason, rhino sightseeings should never be revealed.

If you want to know more about this terrible practice, or if you want to contribute to fight it, visit the site savetherhino.org.

Of course, if people want to believe in prayer, acupuncture or voodoo as a cure for what ails them, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, but if animals are being killed to provide nostrums that have been shown to be useless, then there is a very good reason to curtail the use of rhino horn. There are five species of rhinoceros and, with the exception of one subspecies of African White rhino, all are in danger of being hunted to extinction for their horns. 

Richard Ellis
Rhinos in Kruger National Park
Rhino fact: Despite their name, White Rhinoceros are actually grey.

Malaria and safety

Kruger National Park is a malaria risk area, so it is appropriate to take appropriate measures to avoid mosquito bites.

It is important to use insect repellents and mosquito nets. I found that the repellent I brought from Europe was not effective. So, it is better to buy the proper one directly in Africa. The repellent I bought in Kruger managed to keep all mosquitos away.

Elephant fact: Male elephants leave the matriarch groups between age 12 and 15. Since then, they don’t live alone, but in all-male groups.

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