Kruger is South Africa’s premiere game park and one of the most famous game parks in the world. Despite this, it’s not a place I’d ever been terribly interested in visiting because it also has a reputation of being crowded and over-touristed. We didn’t visit during peak season, but it certainly was NOT crowded where we were when we visited.
I have been on one safari previously (in Botswana in 2005), an extended tour in a small group (6) with wonderful game viewing. I KNOW that lots of other game viewing will disappoint after that. On this trip we visited the southern end of Kruger, which is supposed to have the highest concentration of game. The area was largely brushy, which made game viewing particularly difficult (much of Botswana was open grasslands or sparsely wooded forests, where the game was easy to spot). I was disappointed in the amount of game we saw, but part of that may have been the style of our driver (and a number of the other drivers here) who liked to race from one reported sighting to the next instead of patiently waiting and watching. I realize that is driven in part by the desire to make sure short tours like ours (some in our group only went on two game drives in Kruger) actually see wildlife, but if people want to be guaranteed a wildlife sighting, they really ought to visit a zoo rather than a game park. Game parks should be about seeing how wildlife interacts with its environment than getting a close-up view of each of the signature species. Having said that, I have to admit that even a limited view of my first white rhino was a thrill and the sight of a group grazing on a hillside was amazing.
While I thought our experience here was pretty marginal, in looking around the park and doing some research, it appears it would be a good base for a self-drive safari. I think that someone staying in the park and spending some time here could really see a lot and could do it quite affordably – without having to camp. That isn’t possible in many places.
If you haven’t gone on a safari with a professional guide, hire one to learn about the behavior of the wildlife and get tips for spotting it – even a very large animal can be nearly invisible if you don’t know what you are looking for. Even if you are an accomplished game watcher, a guide is always helpful for identifying the habits and haunts of the local wildlife. It’s definitely worth the cost.
The most comprehensive directory of accommodations, tours, and other services in Kruger http://www.krugerpark.com/ can be found on the South African National parks website. However, that site doesn’t provide any general information on visiting (what the different areas of the park are like, seasonal differences, etc.). For that you’ll need to purchase a guide book or pursue the web sites of the many private tour companies, some of which provide a great deal of information about Kruger. Of those private companies, SA-Venues, has one of the more informative websites.
As noted previously, we stayed down the road from the park near Hazyview, but there is a wide range of accommodation available within the park. If you want to enjoy set or sunrise in the bush, you need to find lodgings in the park, as the gates close at sunset and don’t open again until sunrise. Given the choice, I would definitely stay in the park itself.
There are also a number of private game parks located around Kruger, some of which are highly rated and would likely provide an excellent experience.