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The Kruger National Park is one of the greatest wildlife destinations in Africa - a place where the bush remains unspoilt and perfectly conserved for future generations. The park opened to the public in 1927, and only 3 vehicles entered the reserve that year. Today well over 1 million visitors come to the 2 million hectare Kruger Park each year.
It is famous as a game reserve where the 'big five' can be seen in their natural environment, and has the greatest number of large mammal species of any game reserve in the world. The big five animals (buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino) were considered the five most dangerous animals to hunt, and today they are among the animals visitors would like to see the most, next to other rare predators like cheetah and wild dogs, which still roam freely in this beautiful reserve. Of course, apart from the big five there are plenty of other interesting animals to look out for, including hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest (or gnu), kudu, eland, sable antelope and plenty others, including crocodiles. There are 507 species of birds to look out for.
We have taken many tourists on safari to the Kruger Park, and I have seen some questions come up regularly from first time visitors. Let me first explain the accommodation options. The Kruger Park itself has about two dozen different "rest camps" or overnight camps. Most of the bigger camps like Skukuza, Lower Sabie, Satara, Olifants, Letaba and similar camps have various accommodation options, including bungalows with en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning, guesthouses for groups of 4-8 people, permanent canvas safari tents, and of course normal camping and caravan sites. Most camps have a well-stocked shop where you can buy basic food supplies, a take-away cafeteria and a quality restaurant. Camp gates open at sunrise and close at sunset, and during the day visitors are allowed to drive around on the network of well-maintained roads in the park. Most of the main roads are tarmac, and the rest are dirt roads that can easily be handled with a regular sedan vehicle (no 4x4 needed). Off-road driving is not allowed. Maps are available from the entrance gates and camp shops. The most important piece of equipment to bring is a pair of good binoculars.
There are also a number of private game lodges in concession areas in the park, as well as in the adjacent game reserves which share unfenced borders with the Kruger Park. Together the whole area is known as the Greater Kruger National Park. The private game reserves bordering the Kruger National Park include famous reserves like the Sabi Sands and Timbavati game reserves, each of which have a variety of different game lodges suitable for different budgets. Generally the private game lodges are more expensive than a safari based at a rest camp in the Kruger National Park.
What about Malaria? Malaria is a concern for many travelers but the Kruger National Park is only considered a low to medium risk area. The risk of malaria should certainly not stop you from visiting the park. Still, precautions should be taken especially in the summer months (rainy season) from about October to April. Malaria tablets are available from most chemists and it also helps to take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Most accommodation is reasonably miosquito proof though. If you're going to sit outside around the fire in the evening, it would be best to use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeve clothing.
Can we do open vehicle game drives? Open vehicle game drives in the Kruger Park are only allowed by licensed tour operators, and the Kruger Park itself also offers morning and evening game drives on open trucks. However, these trucks seat up to 23 people and we have had a number of complaints about the quality of the guide and game drive experience offered in general. Perhaps a private safari company with a good reputation is the way to go. There a number of these companies and many of them offer a fully inclusive service with transfers from Johannesburg, accommodation, meals and guided game drives each day. It pays to go with a quality tour operator who can offer you the services of an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide, as this greatly improves your chances of seeing more wildlife and understanding what you see.
What time of year is best? Each season has its advantages. In summer months, from October to April, it can be very hot during the day, but the evenings are pleasant and the bush is beautiful - lush and green. In late November, the baby impalas are born and throughout summer the birdlife is prolific. In winter, from May to September, it is not has hot and it can even be cold in the early morning and in the evening (especially on an open game drive vehicle). The bush becomes dry and the animals tend to congregate around the waterholes. Game viewing is easier because the bush is not so dense.
How long should you go for? Our most popular safaris are 3 days or 4 days long, but when I take my own family I always go for a week or longer. It depends on your level of interest in wildlife, birdlife, plantlife and everything else that makes Kruger such a special place.