Kruger National Park (S 24 59.574 E 031 35.536, 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.com/parks/kruger, daily conservation fee: adult R180, child R90) is for many visitors the country’s number one attraction, a place where a high concentration of lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes and zebra roam freely and where a casual afternoon drive through the park can mean spotting hundreds of animals.
Kruger covers nearly 19,000 square kilometers and is one of the top game reserves in the world, both in terms of sheer size and in variety of wildlife. Many visitors drive through Kruger in their own vehicles, taking in these wild lands at their own pace and staying at one of the main rest camps. But for those looking for a more rustic bush experience, there are smaller and less developed satellite and bushveld camps as well as guided multi-day hikes. For those without a vehicle, there are all-inclusive tours that include transport, all-day game drives in open safari vehicles, accommodation and meals (see Tours for more information).
All of the main rest camps have cell phone coverage, but there is no coverage along many of the roads and at the smaller camps. The Kruger Park 24-hour emergency call number is 013-735-4325. Kruger Park is in a malaria zone and visitors to the park should make sure to wear insect repellent and clothes that cover any exposed skin. Consult with your doctor about taking anti-malaria medication and go to a clinic to get tested if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Kruger National Park is filled with stunning archaeological sites, artifacts and cave rock paintings, as humans have inhabited this region for nearly 100,000 years. For the past few thousand years, the area has been home to both abundant wildlife and groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers. With the arrival of the Boers and English and the spread of firearms, hunting and killing of animals rapidly decreased the populations of some species – in many cases, populations dwindled to such alarmingly low numbers that residents sought to address these unsustainable practices by establishing a protected game reserve where hunting could be controlled.
In 1898, Paul Kruger, then president of the Transvaal Republic, proclaimed the establishment of the Sabie Game Reserve. Four years later in 1902, James Stevenson-Hamilton was designated as the park’s first warden. Hamilton worked hard at curbing the hunting of animals and establishing a reserve in which populations could grow. In 1926 the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves were combined and renamed Kruger National Park to commemorate Paul Kruger’s wildlife conservation efforts.
But the expansion of the reserve was not without controversy as people were forcibly removed from their land by the apartheid government in an effort to create a larger protected space for animals. And like many things in South Africa during apartheid, Kruger was for whites only. The rest of the country’s population was restricted to a smaller area of land that was fenced off from the better-stocked Kruger. But in recent years, the fences between Kruger and neighboring game reserves have been torn down to expand the swath of protected land available to the wildlife. In 2000 an agreement was reached between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to join Kruger with a number of neighboring national parks to form the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which is nearly double the size of Kruger.
Sleeping inside of the park is the best way to experience Kruger. Not only can you spend more time viewing wildlife during the day, but staying within the park allows guests to take advantage of the sunrise or sunset game drives that depart from the main rest camps. These drives reveal the park at a time when it's not open to the rest of the public. Staying at the camps within the park also provides a unique opportunity to view game in adjacent rivers or watering holes during the evening. Camps and accommodation options are administered by South African National Parks. The accommodation listing below starts from the south of the park and moves to the north.
The vast majority of overnight visitors to Kruger stay in one of the 12 well-established rest camps. Each rest camp has a unique design and variety of accommodation options, but all have electricity, a restaurant and cafeteria (except Orpen and Crocodile Bridge), a small shop, braai stands, a communal kitchen (except Mopani), as well as public telephones, laundromat, first-aid center, and a filling station with diesel and petrol.
Accommodation varies from camp to camp, but here is a general description of the sleeping options within the main rest camps.
Camping is for both caravans and tents and each site can have up to six people. All sites have a braai stand or pit and some, but not all, have electric plugs.
Huts are single-room round units with a thatched roof. The number of beds depends on the size of the hut but all have a mini refrigerator and either air conditioning or a fan, as well as a braai stand outside. Kitchen and bathrooms are communal.
Safari Tents are permanent canvas tents on elevated platforms with beds inside. Most use communal kitchens and bathrooms, but some of the luxury safari tents are en suite with a self-catering kitchen.
Bungalows are one-bedroom en suite thatched roof rondavels with two to four beds. Most have mini refrigerators, a sink and air conditioning and some have a hotplate inside for cooking, but all can make use of the communal kitchen.
Cottages/Guest Cottages are larger single or multi-room thatched roof units with a living room, kitchen and outdoor sitting area with a braai stand. The guest cottages are generally larger with an additional bathroom and better-equipped kitchen.
Berg-en-Dal is located in the southwest corner of the park, just 12 kilometers from the Malelane Gate. It is a medium-sized camp with brick chalets and cottages generously spread out between the trees. The camp is located on the banks of the Matjula River and the main camp lodge overlooks the Berg-en-Dal Dam where animals and birds congregate.
Crocodile Bridge is one of the smallest rest camps located in the southeastern corner of the park, just past the Crocodile Bridge Gate. The camp is on the banks of the Crocodile River, which forms the boundary of the park so it has less of a bush feel, but it is located in an area of the park that is heavily populated by big game, especially rhino.
Pretoriuskop, the first camp built in Kruger, was named after Voortrekker Willem Pretorius, who is buried beside the road near the camp. It is in the southwestern section of the park, 9 kilometers from the Numbi Gate and is higher in elevation than any of the other rest camps, making it the coolest place to stay during the hot summer.
Lower Sabie is located in the southeastern section of the park about 40 kilometers northeast of the Crocodile Bridge Gate. It is a large camp but tends to fill up before others because of its scenic location and large viewing deck that overlooks the Sabie River. Hippo, crocodile and birds venture in to drink from the rivers, dams and watering holes in this area, and the flat grassy terrain makes the animals particularly easy to spot.
Orpen is a small camp located just beyond the Orpen Gate on the western border of the park. However the camp does not feel as if it is near the border of the park, but rather in the middle of the wilderness as the park's unfenced border near the camp is surrounded by the private Timbavati Game Reserve. Orpen is one of the more basic rest camps with no restaurant, and not all accommodation options here have electricity, but the game viewing is good and its small size makes for a tranquil spot to spend the night.
Olifants is set atop a tall hill overlooking the Olifants River with some of the most spectacular views in the park. The hilltop vantage point in the central region of the park provides a good opportunity for taking in the sunset, surveying the surrounding veld and observing herds of animals that come to the river to rest. The Olifants camp offers a few unique activities including mountain biking safaris where you can ride along trails through the bush accompanied by an armed ranger.
Letaba is a medium-sized camp located on a big bend of the Letaba River in the center of the park just north of the Olifants camp. The restaurant and viewing deck overlook the wide, sandy riverbed where you can easily spot herds of animals as they approach. Bungalows and cottages are spread out in an arch along the river under the shade of large trees. There is an elephant museum and nightly showings of wildlife films. Beside the park is a day visitor's center with its own swimming pool, braai facilities and showers.
Mopani is the newest camp in the park, located 50 kilometers north from the Letaba camp beside the large Pioneer Dam. The camp takes its name from the surrounding expansive mopane veld. Wildlife isn't as prevalent in this area compared to other parts of the park but on the upside the camp sports modern accommodation, a decent restaurant and a cocktail lounge. Because of its location it tends to be less busy than many of the other camps.
Shingwedzi is a larger and older camp located along a section of the Shingwedzi River that becomes dry during the winter. Set in the more remote northern section of the park, the camp's bungalows and cottages are arranged in two large circles and shaded by tall trees. The surrounding mopane veld is cut by a number of small tributary rivers and is prime territory for elephants and a wide variety of birds.
Punda Maria is the northernmost camp in the park, situated 8 kilometers from the Punda Maria Gate on the slopes of a hill. Originally established in the early 1900s, it is one of the smaller, older and least visited camps within the park. The area around the park is mostly dry terrain but supports a variety of vegetation including large baobab trees. The concentration of wildlife is not as dense in this area as in other parts of the park, but Punda Maria has a lovely, much more rustic African bush atmosphere than other camps.
Limited to roughly 15 cottages, Bushveld camps are much smaller than the main rest camps and offer a more exclusive wilderness experience with far fewer people. The cottages are all fairly well equipped for self-catering but in keeping with the remote bush atmosphere the camps do away with the restaurants, shops and other general facilities of the larger rest camps. All of the camps are located beside a water source providing a near-private viewing experience of the wildlife because entrance into the camps is restricted to registered guests only.
Biyamiti is located near the southern border of the park along the banks of the Mbiyamiti River. The surrounding area is good for catching big game, especially the rhino. There are 15 self-catering thatched roof family cottages surrounded by thick bush and a game viewing hide overlooking the river.
Talamati is situated in a large open valley on the banks of the often-dry Nwaswitsontso River about 30 kilometers southeast of the Orpen Gate. The flat landscape makes it easy to spot the abundant wildlife in the area. The camp consists of 14 self-catering cottages and game viewing hides that overlook the watering hole beside the camp.
Shimuwini is the most modern of the bushveld camps, having been completely rebuilt after flooding in 2000. It is located about 50 kilometers from the Phalaborwa Gate in the northern section of the park on the Letaba River and is surrounded by baobab trees - in the Shangaan language the camps name means "place of the baobab." The lights and fans in the cottages are solar powered and there is a gas powered refrigerator but there are no electric plugs in the units.
Satellite Camps are much smaller and more basic camps that provide a quieter and more natural bush experience with only campsites or safari tents and huts. Other than communal cooking areas and bathroom facilities, they do not have any facilities such as shops, restaurants, or activities. However, they are all located close to one of the main rest camps where guests can purchase supplies, participate in activities and use the facilities. The satellite camps are administered by a nearby main rest camp with the exception of the Malelane Satellite Camp that is administered from the Malelane Gate.
Malelane is situated right on the border of the park on the banks of the Crocodile River across from which are sugarcane fields and the small town of Malelane, which sort of detracts from the bush camping experience. The camp is about 3 kilometers from the Malelane Gate and 9 kilometers from the Berg-en-Dal Camp. There are five fully equipped bungalows and 15 campsites with electricity.
Maroela is a caravan and camping-only site located in the central region of the park on the banks of the Timbavati River, about 2 kilometers north of the Orpen Camp. There are 20 caravan/camping sites with electricity as well as a watering hole and viewing deck over the river.
Tamboti is located about 3 kilometers north of the Orpen Camp and less than 1 kilometer from the Maroela Satellite Camp. It has elevated safari tents generously spaced out along the river as well as a bird hide and a central boma with a fire pit for groups to gather around at night.
Balule is the most rustic and wild of the satellite camps. Situated on the banks of the Olifants River in the central region of the park, it is located 10 kilometers south of the Olifants Camp, but is a satellite camp affiliated with the Satara Camp, which is located about 65 kilometers to the south. The camp is basic with no electricity, a communal kitchen, an ablution block and gas freezer, but it's perfect for those looking for a real bush camping experience.
Tsendze is the most recent addition to the parks accommodation lineup and has caravan and camping sites only. It is located in the northern section of the park on the banks of the Tsendze River about 7 kilome ters south of the Mopani Camp. The camp, while new, offers only basic facilities: no electricity in the 36 camp/caravan sites, but a communal kitchen and an ablution block.
Bush Lodges are exclusive upmarket camps in remote settings and are only available to be rented out by a single group at a time. Each has a handful of cottages or bungalows and a central lodge with a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, bar lounge and braai. The camps are solar powered and you must bring all supplies with you or purchase them from the nearest camp.
Boulders is a private camp located in the middle of the bush surrounded by trees just into the northern section of the park, about 25 kilometers south of the Mopani Camp. There is no fence around the lodge, but the five en suite solar powered cottages can accommodate up to 12 people and are elevated on concrete posts overlooking a watering hole. All of the cottages are connected to the fully equipped central lodge via a boardwalk.
Roodewal is located about 45 kilometers north of the Satara Camp on the banks of the Timbavati River. This private solar powered bush lodge has a large elevated viewing deck overlooking the river and a fully equipped central lodge. There are three bungalows and one family cottage that are all generously spread out from one another and can collectively accommodate up to 18 people.
Overnight Hides are elevated and enclosed structures with a panoramic opening overlooking watering holes, rivers and dams and are designed for camouflaged close up encounters with the animals that come to the water to cool off and drink. There are 11 independent game viewing hides throughout Kruger and two of them, which are available to sleep in overnight, make for incredible experiences in the evening and early morning. The setup for sleeping in the hides is fairly basic. Overnight guests can only occupy the hides a half hour before gate closing time and must leave the hide in the morning within a half hour of the gate opening time. Mattresses, linen and basic cooking supplies can be picked up at the Phalaborwa Gate for the Sable Hide and at the Mopani Camp for the Shipandani Hide. There are toilets at each hide, but guests are responsible for bringing everything else.
Sable is located 9 kilometers from the Phalaborwa Gate overlooking the Sable Dam and can sleep up to nine people. It can only be reserved through the Phalaborwa Gate.
Shipandani is located 3 kilometers from the Mopani Camp on the Tzendze River and can sleep up to six people. It can be reserved through the SANParks central reservations or directly through the Mopani Camp.