This article is based on the information shared by seasoned traveler and noted wildlife photographer, my friend John Pringle. John has been visiting South Africa since 2001, and has now made 19 trips to this fascinating country. He has agreed to share some of his amazing photos of animals in the Kruger National Park, as well as offer valuable information for those planning to visit this unique place. All of the photos in this article are courtesy of John Pringle.
This magnificent park is located in the Northeast Province of South Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 sq kilometers (7,523 sq miles) and it is home to the “Big Five”: African Elephant, African Lion, African Leopard, Rhinoceros, and Cape Buffalo, among over 140 species of other mammals, slightly over 500 species of birds, and almost 50 species of fish. You can also encounter many different species of amphibians and reptiles (you probably want to stay away from the nine deadly poisonous snakes that live in Kruger Park…especially Black Mamba, Puff Adder and Mozambique Spitting Cobra). Personally I am petrified of snakes, but I was assured by John that it is very rare to encounter them in the Park, since they are shy and try to avoid humans. Still, it is a good idea to be aware of them, especially if you are exploring woodland areas (some of them like to hang from the trees), or walking through the tall grass.
Camps in Kruger National Park
There are 21 camps in the park. All of the overnight camps are securely fenced.
Not all of the camps are the same, some of them are more like picnic areas (Pafuri Camp – you can observe Lions, Leopards, Elephants and Buffalo in the area of this camp), some camps are affordable rest camps, but some even offer luxurious accommodation. John’s favorite camp is Satara Rest Camp, due to its central location and facilities. This is the best camp if you are planning to see the Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards. Other good camps include: Olifants Rest Camp (elephants, baboons, fruit bats, lions, leopards, monkeys), Letaba Rest Camp (perfect for bird watching), Mopani Rest Camp (water birds), Shingwedzi Rest Camp (elephants), Lower Sabie Rest Camp (a variety of animals), Skukuza Rest Camp (the biggest camp in the Park, excellent opportunity to see the Big Five) and Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp (it is permitted to get out from the car to look at the crocodiles, but this is only allowed from the bridge….safety reasons). Most of the time, certain species of animals are in certain areas of the Kruger Park. Check with the Park Information Desk for the animals’ locations (sightings boards are located at each camp).
If you are planning to stay in the park for a few days, John suggests that you enter at Pafuri Gate and head to Punda Maria Rest Camp (large variety of wildlife and birds) where you start your tour of the Kruger National Park, then head south towards Johannesburg.
What to bring on your trip:
- plenty of cotton tee-shirts (men / women)
- long sleeve cotton shirts for men and women
- safari hats for adults and safari hats for children
- high protection factor sunscreen for adults and natural sunscreen for children (check out the links for those natural choices)
- Jungle Formula Insect Repellent (UK)
- light raincoat
- comfortable walking shoes and sneakers
- walking boots (if planning to go on the bush walk…see the link)
- binoculars (you can also rent them in the various places within the park)
- good photo camera
- video camera (open the link to see my pick)
- sun glasses
- good bug repellent
- cell phone
- solar IPhone/IPad/Laptop charger or solar cell phone charger
- solar backpack (check out the link for the this unique item)
Tips for staying in the Kruger National Park:
- Safari tours leave the camps between 5:30 to 6:00 am
- Guided tours are recommended
- When staying in the park overnight, be sure to book your accommodation ahead of time
- Early evening safari tours are also available
- Medical care is available in the park (Wilderness Emergency Program, Skukuza Rest Camp, medical helicopters)
- You are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in most areas, due to the presence of dangerous animals. In case of your vehicle breaking down, stay inside it and wait for help. The park is regularly patrolled by the staff. Always carry your charged cell phone with you! Solar powered cell phone chargers are a must in this situation (see the link for more information).
- If you are just visiting for a day, you have to leave the park by 6:00 pm (due to the animal danger). If you are staying for the night, you have to stay in the enclosed/gated area
- No language issue for English speaking visitors.
- Food and drinks in the main camps: generally European style. Dinner time: Standard restaurants and a-la-carte restaurants. Food is safe to eat.
- Enjoy organized tours from Kruger National Park to Victoria Falls (10 hours 40 min drive).
- When driving, avoid elephants poop on the roads …..they are the park’s “speed bumps”.
- If you are camping in the bush area, shake your shoes out before you put them on, there is a possibility of scorpions hiding in them.
- When walking through the bush area, be aware of snakes. If bitten by a snake, seek IMMEDIATE medical assistance.
- There are speed restrictions in the park. Adhere to these, because the staff are very strict when it comes to driving over the speed limit and it can be costly if you are ticketed.
- The park provides facilities for visitors with special needs.
- You can fly directly into Kruger National Park Skukuza airport. Otherwise, there is a shuttle service available to the park for those flying to Johannesburg from other countries (7 hour drive).
Tips for travelling to South Africa:
- The best time to visit is November. Note that temperatures can range from 14C at night to 45C during the day, so bring appropriate clothing with you.
- Southwestern areas of the country can be rainy – short flash storms. The further north you go (towards the Kruger Park) the warmer and dryer it gets.
- Stick to the bottled water which is the safest. You can buy very tasty flavored bottled water…Lychee is John’s favorite.
- There are numerous safari parks all over the country, some smaller ones, some bigger, with internationally renowned Kruger National Park.
- There is no risk of Yellow Fever in South Africa, but be aware of Malaria if planning your travel to KwaZulu-Natal and the Mpumalanga area of the country. The rest of the South Africa has a low risk of Malaria.
- If you decide to get Malaria tablets, buy them locally. They work immediately and don’t make you feel sick.
- Stay away from the main cities in particular Johannesburg, due to high crime. Small towns and villages in the western part of the country are safe for tourists, but it is preferable to travel with someone who knows the country.
- Johannesburg International Airport is safe and you won’t feel intimidated when arriving or departing.
- Watch for children walking on the side of the roads in the rural areas. As shocking as it is, a lot of children five and younger get run over by the passing cars. This happens due to the children’s restricted vision. Since the babies/toddlers are wrapped and carried on their mother’s back, their peripheral vision becomes impaired, and that affects them for the rest of their lives.
I really hope to follow in John’s footsteps one day and spend some time in this amazing country. Visiting the Kruger National Park and being able to observe wild animals in their natural habitat is one of my dreams which I hope will come true. Thank you John for sharing your pictures and stories.
I wish you all a safe and memorable visit.