The Greater Kruger National Park is South Africa’s premier safari destination: it’s the largest wildlife conservancy in Africa, set in one of the most accessible yet unspool wilderness areas in South Africa. It encompasses the Kruger National Park and a number of adjoining private reserves which share unfenced boundaries with the park; including Saba Sand, Timbavati, Kasseri and Belle Game Reserves, which are home to a wide variety of private game lodges, each with its own brand of style and luxury.
Kruger National Park Highlights
- One of Africa’s top safari destinations
- Big 5 game viewing
- Self-drive and guided safaris offered
- A wide variety of accommodation to suit different tastes & budgets
- Open all year round
- 5-hour drive or 1-hour flight from Johannesburg
- One of the most affordable safari destinations in Africa
Greater Kruger offers some of the most prolific and diverse game viewing in Africa. Besides Kruger National Park, the private reserves offer a wide variety of safari lodges from basic tented accommodation to cabins, chalets and mere-style safari tents offering the ultimate in privacy and luxury.
Differences between Kruger National Park and the Private Game Reserves
- This is one of the most commonly-asked questions we get, especially for first-time visitors to South Africa. Here are some of the more obvious ones:
- In Kruger National Park, vehicles must stay on public roads, some of which are tarred. In the private reserves, most of the roads are dirt, and the vehicles are allowed off-road so you can get up close & personal to the wildlife.
- In Kruger, accommodation ranges from camping to luxury guesthouses. On our guided Kruger Park safaris, we use standard bungalows which are clean and comfortable, basic and affordable, with air-conditioning and a private bathroom. At private safari lodges, accommodation ranges from rustic to super luxurious and is usually more expensive.
- In Kruger Park, unless you join a guided safari, you will need to self-cater or dine at the camp restaurants. On our guided open vehicle safaris in Kruger, we cater for two meals per day (a mid-morning breakfast or brunch, as well as dinner). If you stay at private lodges, all meals are usually included and catered.
- In Kruger, you’ll get a feeling of its vastness, and have an enormous area to explore, covering different landscapes and vegetation types. Most of the private reserves have a limited traversing area, with a limited area permitted for game drives.
- Due to the size of Kruger, you are likely to see a greater number and variety of animals on safari in Kruger compared to the private reserves.
- Because vehicles from different lodges stay in radio contact, you are likely to see more prime sightings such as predators at private reserves, and can often get up close to big cat sightings, especially in the Saba Sand Game Reserve, which is famous for its excellent leopard sightings.
- In the Kruger National Park, there can be many vehicles at a sighting, especially at a popular one such as a predator kill on one of the main tar roads. Congestion is worse during the peak holiday seasons (South African school holidays). In the private reserves, you are not permitted to drive your own car so there are much fewer vehicles at sightings, and even the lodge vehicles are limited to the maximum of 3 vehicles per sighting.
- In Kruger, you have electrified perimeter fences at the rest camps, and you can view night prowlers like hyenas with spotlights from the safety of the camps. In private lodges, there are often no fences and the wildlife visitors are free to roam through the lodge area. At night, you will be escorted to your room by an armed ranger.
- In Kruger, the camp gates open at sunrise and close at sunset (actual times vary according to season). During the day, you can stay out on game drive as long as you want to. On our guided Kruger safaris, the game drive times are flexible and we do sometimes stay out all day, or for a large part of the day, to maximize game viewing time. In the private reserves, most lodges have a fixed daily itinerary which includes a morning game drive and an afternoon game drive which continues after dark as a night drive (drives are usually 3-4 hours long).
- In general, Kruger is a lot less expensive and is a great safari option for those on a tight budget who want to see a variety of different landscapes and wildlife. The private reserves cost more and are great for those who want a more exclusive, luxury safari experience with the chance of some great close-up sightings.
Our Advice for this Conundrum?
We often advise clients to do both. Especially as a first-time safari visitor, it’s a great idea to spend a few nights in Kruger and then a few nights at a nearby private lodge if time permits. That way you get to experience the best of both worlds and decide for yourself which style of safari you prefer. An example is our popular 5 Day Kruger Park and Private Lodge Combo trip idea.
Our consultants have all experienced Kruger Park safaris and have visited almost all the private safari lodges we recommend. They’ll be happy to share their first-hand knowledge with you, answer your questions and discuss your options. Contact us for more info.