The One With the Canceled Flight…
Travel blogging isn’t always as glamorous as it appears on social media. Things go wrong ALL the time. I always say there’s no such thing as a perfect trip. Of course, I would consider myself an adventure traveler, meaning my vacations typically tend to have a greater margin for things that can go wrong. On this trip, not only did I book my ticket for the wrong day and have to change it last-minute thus paying a hefty fee (rookie move), but my flight was canceled due to snow storms. South African Airways, insert eye roll here, not only didn’t tell me my flight was cancelled but couldn’t fly me out till three days later. My perfectly strategic plan, that took months to create, of a 5 day safari in Kruger National Park was diminished to a mere 8 hour visit. To add salt to the wound, our new flight getting into South Africa was delayed leaving Brittany, my travel buddy, and I with an 8 hour drive. An 8 hour drive that needed to be accomplished in 5 and a half. The gates located inside the park close at 6:00pm at Kruger. Fortunately, we were able to make it to our rest camp with 5 minutes to spare, thanks to my lead foot. We spent the night at Skukuza and did an amazing night Safari. Although, to be honest, Brittany and I slept for most of it, we were so jet lagged. The next day we drove around the park searching for wildlife and let me tell you, mother nature did not disappoint! We saw almost everything on our safari bucket list. Although, no trips complete without a little stress! I had to film video content for Travel Zoo. I managed to film a few quick shots in an African bone graveyard museum, yes that’s a thing, a few minutes before we had to race back to the Johannesburg airport to catch a flight to Cape town. Which we almost missed because of traffic! Murphy’s law, right? Overall, our time at Kruger was incredible. The hardest part of planning this trip was tracking down all the information and figuring out how to plan your own self driven Safari. I combed through every article on the internet for months. Luckily, I love my readers and I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Kruger National Park below. You can also check out some more photos of my trip to South Africa on my Instagram, @citygirlriss.
When is the Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park?
Generally, Kruger is a great place to visit year round. The winter months, from April to September, tend to be drier. The lack of vegetation during this time makes it easier to spot wildlife. Of course, we were there during a terrible drought so the grass was sparse and the animals were always close to the rivers considering it was the only water source. The South African summer months, from October to March, are wet and rainy supporting an abundance of vegetation meaning less chances to spot wildlife. However, during the beginning of the summer months, the new babies arrive at the park. We saw a lot of babies, in March, including a special moment with a mommy zebra while she was feeding her calf. You can check out the San Park Average Temperature Chart, here, for more specific temperature quotes. We went in March, during spring break, booked months in advance, and still, most of the accommodations were already sold out. So booking as early as possible is highly recommended.
How Long Should I Stay?
The correct answer to this question is to do what makes your heart happy. I personally could have spent months exploring Kruger. It’s honestly so big! As I mentioned, my original plan was for five days. Although, I only ended up staying for one, I would say 3-5 days is sufficient if you plan to do day tours and self drive. If you plan to stay at a luxury lodge I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a few weeks more.
Getting There and Getting Around
Rent a Car
After extensive research, the cheapest and most effective way to explore the park is to rent a car and do a safari on your own. We flew into Johannesburg, rented a car off of Kayak, picked it up at the airport and drove 4 hours to Kruger. Now its four hours to the lower section of Kruger, entering through the Malelane Gate. There are several gates throughout the park and they’re all a considerable distance apart. So it’s best to google how far it is from the airport to where your first nights accommodation will be.
From Malelane Gate to the Skukuza Gate is about another two hours. We spent our first night in Skukuza and had to book it from the airport to our rest camp. When we entered through the Malelane Gate, the guard gave us a suspicious look and said, “You know the gate closes at 6 and you have a two and a half hour drive and it’s 5 o’clock, RIGHT?” I replied, “Yes sir, I know,” and shrugged. Kruger has strict speed limits, and a “no getting out of the vehicle policy,” as well as strict open and close times. Failing to comply with these rules can result in hefty fines. You can read more about the park rules, here.
Fly and/or do a tour
The most popular option for Kruger is to fly into Skukuza Airport. Skukuza is located between the lower section of the park and the beginning of the central section. From there you can either rent a car and drive to a rest camp or arrange to be picked up by a lodge. Many lodges and game reserves offer tours and include daily Safaris. The benefit of having a guided tour by a park ranger is the expertise of knowing how and where to spot animals as well as a large elevated vehicle that makes spotting animals easier. The rest camps also offer day tours for an extra charge and offer a wide variety from day time safaris, sunset safari, bush walks, night safaris, etc. We did a night safari from the Skukuza Rest Camp and had a great time. The park is closed to visitors at night, only a park ranger via guided tour can take you out. This is to protect the animals and limit wildlife interaction. We were lucky enough to see several animals on the night tour including a mother and baby white rhino, who are now considered an extinct species. Your other option is to stay at a lodge or private reserve where you can customize an itinerary/game drives through them. You can even do a few nights at a luxury lodge and then spend an extra few days doing a self driven tour and stay at a rest camp.
To get into Kruger National Park you have to pay a daily conservation and entrance fee. You can choose to either pay per day or opt for a yearly membership, the wild card. You can find prices by going to the Sans Park website. If your going to be there for 5 or more days the wild card might be a better option for you even if you’ll only be visiting this one time. You can purchase these online or at some of the gates.
The Lay of the Land
Kruger is a massive park, broken up into three sections. The lower section is located in the South, from Crocodile Bridge to Skukuza, the central section, from Lower Sabine to Ollifants, and the Northern Section, from Letaba to the border of Zimbabwe. The most popular area of the park is the lower section. Accommodations book up the fastest here. It’s the smallest section of the three but it has plenty of rivers and is great for seeing the “Big 5” if your time is limited. The central section is great for game viewing. Lions tend to hang in prides more in this area, I’m told. The Norther region is the largest of the three and is hailed to be a haven for birds. When planning your trip, it’s best to ask yourself what interests you the most, where your coming from, and how much time you have. From there, you can start to formulate a plan for your itinerary.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right accommodations. For me, during my original plan, I chose to do a self driven safari and to stay at multiple camps. Throughout the park, there are several park run rest camps, think gated community. Every rest camp varies, but generally most offer options to either camp (bring your own tent), rent a safari tent (canvas tent bedrooms), huts (single room units), bungalow (single bedroom units with kitchen and private bathroom), cottage, family cottage, guest cottage, guest house, or luxury lodges. Accommodations are based on availability. The earlier you book the better. We stayed in a safari tent at Skukuza, which was perfect for a quick stay. Of course, you get what you pay for so I highly recommend doing some research to find what works best for you and your budget. You can check out the San Parks website for accommodation availability. Since we did a self guided tour, the original plan was to stay at a different rest camp every night. Keep in mind the distances between the camps when planning your rest camps. Kruger has a strict speed limit but you typically end up going below the limit to stop and view animals. In other words, the google map times can differ from the actual time it will take you to get from point A to B. You can plan and view accurate time tables by heading over to the parks website, here. Don’t forget, gates close as early as 5 o’clock depending on the season. Driving at night without a guided tour is prohibited.
My original plan for the five-day safari was to fly in, drive to the park, enter through the Malelane Gate, finishing the day at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp for the first night. The next day, we would travel to Lower Sabine and spend the next night there. Then, we planned to head all the way up to Ollifants, Satara would work well too, for some elephant and lion viewing. As I mentioned earlier, this is the only night we were able to stay, our final destination was Skukuza.
Your other option would be to stay at a Luxury Lodge or a private hunting game reserve in or outside to park. You could even combine the two and do both options, camp and lodge. I do this on trips sometimes when I really want to stay at a nice hotel for the experience but know I can’t afford to stay there the whole week.
The main rest camps typically all contain restaurants, shops, and gas stations. The best restaurant, in my opinion, were the Mugg & Bean chains, which feature a wide variety of options. You can find locations and menus, here. If you plan to camp, or want to make your own food, be sure to bring cutlery, plates, cookware, etc. All campsites and accommodations have barbeques. Just be sure to lock up your food as the monkeys have built up a highly accurate reputation for theft. Many camps have swimming pools with the exception of the smaller satellite camps. They also typically don’t have restaurants or shops. You can find ATM’s at Skukuza and Letaba although almost everywhere we stopped took cards. You can only get WiFi at Skukuza and Berg en Dal. The camps themselves have decent 3G but no service between camps unless you have an international plan. All the rest camps have “sighting boards,” that use colored magnets to show where certain types of animals have been spotted. I was in a Whatt’s App group with “Latest sightings-Kruger,” that gave me live, updated, and accurate sightings. you can also check out their Facebook page, here. They have an app as well!
Hope this helps! Working on a master list of Safari Do’s and Don’ts. If you have any other suggestions or tips drop a comment below so that other travelers can stumble upon it too!
City Girl Riss