Visiting the Kruger National Park is a dream for most travellers. For the majority of people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Africa’s bush landscape and encounter the big five in their national habitat. If you’re imagining a zoo-like facility where you can see lions and cheetahs any time you like, you’re going to be disappointed. The Kruger is roughly the size of Wales, covering 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi) and the animals are absolutely not tame. Don’t leave for your safari trip without reading my 25 must-know tips for visiting the Kruger Park.
25 Must-Know Tips for Visiting The Kruger Park
These tips are based on what to know if you’re going to be staying at a lodge. There are some incredible (seriously, incredible) safari lodges in the Kruger, which give you access to areas that are off-limits to self-drive visitors and the knowledge of professional guides.
1. Bring binoculars. Although your guide will have a pair, they need them to spot animals for you and having to share them with everyone else on the ride means you only have them for a few seconds. Guides recommend roof prism binoculars because they are smaller, more compact, hardier and they let in more light.
2. You don’t need specific outdoor wear. But wear neutral colours. Here’s my guide on what to pack for a Kruger Park Safari.
3. Don’t ever be tempted to feed the animals or try to get their attention/bring them close to your car. Especially when you’re driving yourself to/from your lodge. They are wild animals and feeding them is not only dangerous but detrimental to their survival in the wild. It’s also illegal, and you can be fined or even receive jail time for breaking the rules.
4. Respect your guide at all times. Guides know how to read animals for signs of fear or irritation, so respect their instructions. If they tell you to shut up, do it! It might be the difference between being stormed by a bull elephant or living to see the light of another bush sunrise.
5. Bring sunscreen even if you’re coming in winter. Hats for the sun and beanies for winter mornings. This might be Africa, but the winter months are cold, even if the days are sunny. You’re likely to get a sunburn even in the middle of winter.
6. Tips and gratuities are encouraged. If you’re staying at a lodge, you can budget on around R150 per person per day for your guide. You can tip at the end of your trip, either by adding it to your credit card bill or slipping it into the gratuities box on your way out – you don’t have to tip after every drive. Also make sure to leave something for the general staff, who split the tips offered by guests.
7. Bring travel adapters and a book. There will be down time and possibly limited access to wifi, so bring along that book you’ve been meaning to read for years.
8. If you’re into birding, definitely download an app like Roberts Birds, so you can tick off lots of new sightings. Most guides have a solid knowledge of birds, so even if you aren’t into birding, it’s interesting when they stop and point out unique birds or behaviours.
9. Be prepared for early mornings. And don’t be tempted to sleep in. You cannot beat a sunrise in the bush, and guaranteed, the morning you decide to hit the snooze button will be the morning the group comes across a baby cheetah. Also, don’t make your guide wait. If you’ve arranged to meet at 5:30 am, your guide has been up since 4:30 am, and keeping them waiting is just very rude.
10. Research the different areas of the Kruger and find out what they have to offer. While the south is densely populated with animals (and visitors), the north has incredible landscapes and more opportunity for authentic animal encounters (where you won’t encounter any other vehicles at a sighting, for instance). We stayed at Jock Safari Lodge in the South and saw lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, black rhino, white rhino and more. In the north, we stayed at the ultra-luxurious The Outpost Lodge, where we were blown away when we woke up in the night to elephants splashing around right outside our room. We also had the opportunity to see three cheetah – a sight even our guide hadn’t come across in over three years – with just two other people around.
11. Be realistic in your expectations and understand that it’s not a zoo. You might not see animals on every game drive, so use every opportunity to soak up the fresh air and enjoy being in the outdoors. Your guide always wants to make your stay as memorable as possible, so don’t blame them if you don’t come across any wildlife – they’ll be as disappointed as you are.
12. Always thank your guide. First of all, it’s just good manners. But also because they are the ones making your experience. They’re always on the lookout for something that might interest you, and always keeping you safe.
13. Be respectful of other people on the vehicle. Everyone is interested in different things, so give your fellow guests time to focus their binoculars on that rare (boring) bird. Your guide will know how to manage time, so don’t worry that you’re missing out on seeing more interesting stuff.
14. Be prepared to get a bit grubby and dirty. The wind blows and it’s dusty or it rains and it’s muddy. This is Africa, people.
15. Do a bit of the north and the south so that you can see both. I loved having the opportunity to see so many animals in the south, but then enjoy the tranquil pace and luxury of the north. If you’re driving yourself between lodges, make sure to factor in the speed limit (50km/h) and book accommodation along the way. Or leave the park and take the main roads. We drove from far south to far north in around 8 hours, leaving at 5:30 am and arriving in time for lunch.
16. Don’t be shocked if you have to drive on dirt roads to or from your lodge. It’s normal and you’re not lost. If you’ve never driven on a dirt road before, take it slow and remember not to hit the brakes hard if there’s something in the road. Just take your foot off the accelerator and gently tap the brakes.
17. It’s best to get a car that has off-road capabilities. Sports cars definitely won’t work. Rent something that can clear bumps in the road and has four-wheel drive.
18. Carry lip balm with you. Especially in winter, when the cold dry air will make them very irritated if you’re not constantly applying balm.
19. Wear layers. You can read more in my packing guide here.
20. If you’re flying in, check the weight limit and luggage specifications of your charter plane. Most of them only allow small, soft luggage under 20kgs.
21. Ask questions. Don’t be shy. This helps the guide to know what you are interested in and how much info to give you. Not every guest wants to know every single fact about every animal, but you might really not know anything about the bush, and your guide will be excited about sharing their knowledge with you.
22. Take a swimsuit. Even winter days can be surprisinly warm and almost all the lodges have amazing swimming pools.
23. The Kruger is a malaria area. There won’t be mosquitos in winter, but you’ll ask your doctor about medication, especially for the summer months.
24. Cell reception is zero. In most parts of the Kruger, anyway. And wifi can be patchy – some lodges only offer wifi access in public areas.
25. TIA. Have you heard that before? It means This Is Africa and sometimes things don’t go according to plan. But you didn’t come here thinking they would, did you?
I hope you’re found my 25 must-know tips for visiting the Kruger Park helpful! If you have any tips of your own, please leave them in the comments section below.