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Africa,  South Africa

Kruger National Park – Everything You Need to Know

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A couple from the UK with a passion for exploring the world, and enjoying a drink or two while we’re at it!

We want to share our travel epxperiences to help you plan your next trip, and let you know the best places to enjoy a cold one when you get there!

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Kruger National Park is possibly the most well-known safari destination in Africa. It is one of the largest game reserves on the continent, covering an area of roughly the size of the Netherlands in the north of South Africa, on the border with Mozambique. It is home to over 150 mammal species, including ‘The Big 5’ (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard & water buffalo), over 500 different types of birds and 100 reptile species. The landscapes and scenery are pretty amazing too! An African safari is a once in a lifetime experience unlike anything else, and if it’s not already (we can’t imagine that it’s not) you should absolutely add it to your travel bucket list!

This is our first timer's guide on how to get the most out of your Kruger safari experience starting with the basics… so let’s dive in!  😊

How to Get There

Most International visitors will arrive into South Africa via Johannesburg airport. One thing to bear in mind is that Kruger National Park is actually pretty far from Johannesburg. We made the mistake of not checking and were surprised when we found out that the park is around a 6-hour straight drive from Jo'burg (a very long drive after 16 hours of travelling). 

You can take a short one-hour flight instead from Jo'berg to Kruger, yay. However, the flight is expensive and you will need expensive transfers from the airport to reach your accommodation (boo).

There are three main airports serving the park, Phalaborwa Airport for the Northern areas of the park, Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport for the central areas, and Kruger Mpumalange International Airport (KMI) for the south. Make sure you check which airport is closest to your accommodation before booking! We went with the easy option for our journey into the Park and flew into Hoedspruit

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Hoedspruit Airport terminal building

Hoedspruit is a very small airport (as you can see from Baggage reclaim→) located near the outskirts of the Greater Kruger National Park, it’s in a great location if you are staying centrally and provides the easiest way to access the park.

The one-way flight from Jo'berg to Hoedspruit set us back £113 each. The owners of our Safari resort advised us that the cost of these flights are always fairly steep. They also told us that the flights OUT of the park are even more expensive, and some people spend more on the return flight from Hoedspruit than their international flight! Our advice would be to try and track the flight price with Skyscanner, to hopefully save yourself some pennies. If you don’t know how to do this, drop us a message on here or on Instagram and we’ll gladly advise.

How you chose to travel to and from the park will be based on your preferences and budget.

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When you've finally made it to your airport of choice you will need to sort out transfers to your accommodation. We booked a lodge in Greater Kruger, which luckily for us was only a 45-minute drive from Hoedspruit. But remember, Kruger is 360 km (220 mi) from north to south and 65 km (40 mi) from east to west, so your transfer may be much longer!

Most lodges offer a pick up/drop off service for an additional charge (another thing to bear in mind for budgeting). This cost around £15 each (one way) but this will vary based on the location of your lodge and how long your transfer will be. Make sure you contact your accommodation beforehand to arrange this service, they were more than happy to help! 

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If you are comfortable driving, another option would be to hire a car and make your own way to the park. In hindsight we could have stayed the night at an airport hotel, rested, hired a car and drove to Kruger the next day. The roads were fine, and the service stations really put ours to shame! One we stopped at on the way back to Jo'burg had a Nandos for a start, and a terrace that looked out over the watering hole of a rhino reserve (which Joe found out from the huge panoramic window above the urinals in the men’s toilet!). Travelling between Jo'burg and Kruger this way would have saved us a lot of money so if budget is a concern for you, this is a good option.

If you’re unable to drive or would prefer not to, there are also mini-bus transfers available which are more economical than flying. Either way the drive will take between 5 and 7 hours depending on stops and pick up/drop off points.

For our return journey to Johannesburg we opted for a mini-bus transfer to save some money. We were able to book this through our accommodation before we arrived for £75 each, which although still not cheap, is an improvement over the cost of flying. Plus, the scenery along the route is too stunning to fly over!

Transport between Johannesburg and Kruger added another £400 to the cost of our trip, which we hadn't accounted for when initially booking up. Luckily, we found a fantastic deal at a 5-star luxury resort for a bargain price, which more than made up for it. Read our review of Raptor Retreat Game Lodge here *Coming Soon*.

What to Bring

Your safari packing list doesn’t need to be complicated, but you might need to bring a few extra items that you didn’t expect to need when taking a trip to Africa. The list below are our top picks for essential items, and some things that will make your trip that little bit more comfortable;

Malaria TabletsDO NOT FORGET THESE! Kruger has a general risk of Malaria, and although there are times of the year where mosquitos are not very active, do not think that you can get by without! Malaria tablets are the most essential item in your backpack when on safari. Make sure you seek advice from a pharmacist or medical professional before buying as there are lots of different types of tablet available. We used Malarone during our stay, we started taking tablets two days prior to arriving in Kruger then every day during our stay and then for one week after we left. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend the right course of tablet for you.

Warm Layers - We can't stress the importance of this enough, just because you are in Africa doesn't mean it won't be cold! On your morning and evening game drives you will need to layer up to keep warm. Long trousers, jeans and hoodies are your best bet here.

Swimwear - If your lodge has a pool that is (and we would definitely advise booking accommodation with one!). The heat during the day is blistering, so taking an afternoon dip is the perfect way to spend your relaxation time between game drives. Plus, you will definitely want to cool off with a cold one!

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Camera – this one should be a no brainer. A quality camera (or phone camera) with good zoom capability will let you capture the best shots from your trip. Just remember not to get too snap happy and actually enjoy the animals and landscape through your own eyes instead of a screen!

Binoculars – Remember, going on safari is not like visiting the zoo, there’s no guarantee of seeing any animals, and there’s also a good chance that they won’t be standing right next to your vehicle when you do! A decent pair of binoculars will definitely enhance your safari experience and in our opinion, made a huge impact on our trip.

Comfortable shoes – This is especially true if you want to go on a walking safari as the bush is thick, and it’s very easy to lose your footing. That being said, we managed just fine in comfortable trainers. If you’re thinking of doing some long-distance walking however, proper walking boots/shoes are the way to go.

Useful Hints & Tips

  • Don’t get too hung up on only taking clothes that are neutral colours or khaki. It’s advisable to avoid bright colours that would stand out against the Bush, but there’s no need to go and buy a whole new wardrobe, or dress like Nigel Thornberry!
  • Get on top of your vaccinations early! This goes for anywhere you may be travelling to, but for South Africa in particular, it’s usually recommended that you are up to date with Diphtheria and Hepatitis A, with Hepatitis B, Rabies, Tetanus, and Typhoid also adviseable. Always refer to https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations (for our fellow UK travellers) and consult a medical professional before travelling to make sure you’re protected.
  • Check what your package includes in terms of safari game drives before booking. We didn’t check this before we went, we were just very lucky that our stay included the game drives in the cost of the booking. Not all of them do! In fact, a lot of lodges and resorts require an additional charge for game drives, walking safaris etc. Remember to do your research and check before you book, otherwise you could get stuck with a very expensive bill at the end of your trip!
  • There are entrance fees payable when you arrive at the park. At the time of writing, these are around R370 (£19.00) per person per day. While this likely won’t be the biggest expense during your stay, it’s just something to bear in mind.

There you have it, that should hopefully give you an idea of the basic things you need to consider when planning your Kruger National Park safari and how to prepare yourselves to make sure you have the most amazing time! ♥

If you would like to learn more about what to expect during a day on a South African safari, check out our other post 'here'.

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