How To Self Drive Kruger National Park in South Africa

self drive kruger

As the flagship National Park in Southern Africa, the Kruger National Park is a wildlife safe-haven covering an area larger than Israel. It first came into existence in 1898 when the then-president Paul Kruger realized that over-hunting of wildlife was causing unprecedented damage to animal populations in the area. Here’s my quick guide on how to self drive Kruger National Park, which gives much more freedom than an organized tour!

Nowadays, tourists as well as wildlife flock to this special corner of the world. Here you will find the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant) alongside many other incredible animals such as wild dog, cheetah and hippos that makeup just a few of the 753 species in the park. As one of the top places to visit in South Africa, here are some top tips.

Self Drive Kruger National Park Safari Tips

For visitors that don’t want to stay at an expensive lodge, there are a number of rest camps that include smart but simple self-catered accommodation – from budget campsites to ensuite bungalows with a built-in kitchen.

There are mini-markets for those who wish to cook for themselves and excellent restaurants for those who want to splash out.

Then, at the crack of dawn, everyone climbs into their own vehicles and takes themselves on their very own game drive. This is safari-ing at it’s most stripped-back level and it’s not for everyone, especially first-time visitors to Africa. Luckily for the adventurous traveller wanting to self-drive, I’ve put a list of my top tips for visiting Kruger…

lions in kruger national park

1. Book early using the SanParks website 

The best accommodation in Kruger often fills up months in advance, especially during peak season. You don’t need to go through an agent to book, just hop over to the SanParks website and do it from there. If you want to self drive Kruger, then  I would recommend at least 3 nights if you want to get the most out of your stay. If you want to know the best time of year to go, check this post on best time to visit Kruger.

2. Plan which camps you stay at carefully

Planning is everything when it comes to a self drive in Kruger. For high game density, visit the southern camps, especially Skukuza. For a more peaceful experience away from the crowds, head north towards Shindzela. If you want to stay in more than one camp, don’t try to cover too much ground in one day. As an absolute maximum, you can cover about a third of the length of the park in a day (but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it as there’s less time to explore the dirt roads in between!)

3. Drive as early and late as possible

Many predators are most active in the crepuscular hours (ie sunrise and sunset). It’s not a coincidence that this is when all the lodges do their own game drives.

4. Bring your passport, binoculars, camera

Not all the sightings are going to be right next to the road so you will want to bring a decent pair of binoculars and a good camera if you’re serious about spotting game and taking some ace wildlife photographs. Don’t forget to keep your permit in your car as well. You will be given it at the gate and will need it to exit so don’t leave it lying around your room! It’s essntially for anyone doing a Kruger National Park self drive, as well as tours.

kruger national park self drive

5. Buy a map at the gate

Seriously. You can’t get around Kruger easily without a map. This place is the size of Israel – you are driving through a small country and you seriously don’t want to get lost and see no game – or have nowhere to stay!

6. Check the sightings boards 

Every rest camp has a sightings board where visitors can update what they have seen for the day and where. Just remember that animals move so there’s no guarantee, but it gives you an idea at least. Add your own sightings on there, too.

7. Don’t get too close to elephants

If it is your first time on safari, this is particularly important advice! Elephants are often very relaxed and wonderful to get up close to, but you need to know how to read them. They are the only animal that could be a threat to someone in a vehicle. So, if you get too close and annoy them, you might find yourself in a bad situation. Better to sit back and enjoy from a distance you find comfortable. As you gain experience you can begin moving a little closer if it is safe.

elephant car kruger national park

8. Turn your engine off at a sighting

There is NOTHING worse than being at an amazing sighting with the car engine next to you humming away and spewing out fumes straight into your open window. Not to mention, animals will become a lot more relaxed with your engine off so you’ll likely have a much better sighting.

9. Keep your doors and windows closed

Monkeys are clever, sneaky and always hungry. They will get into your car if you turn your back. Even for just a second. This is speaking from experience! If you take a break at a picnic stop during your self drive safari, close your windows!

10. Be polite and respectful 

It’s important to respect the wildlife and other drivers, especially in big five sightings where there is often a queue. Don’t block the road, queue jump or go off-road to get a better view. Get chatting to other drivers while your wait – they might know of something interesting just around the corner!

11. Look in the right places

In the early morning, many cats like the tar roads as they warm up quickly (typical cats). In the heat of the day, most animals move to the shade. Look under big trees, or even in them if you want to find a leopard. Always check the waterholes and along the river – animals need to drink!

12. Be patient 

I’ve had some of my most favourite moments in the bush whilst I was patiently sitting at a sighting, or even just a peaceful waterhole. Don’t ‘click and run’. Savour the moment and you never know, you might be about to witness something incredible.

13. Grab a bite at Tshokwane picnic spot

The kudu wors rolls there are my favourite but they also do an amazing buffalo pie. When in Africa….

14. Take warm clothes and sunscreen

The days can get hot here, even in winter. Nobody wants to end up with a truckers tan down one arm! Plus, those early mornings with the windows down can prove rather chilly until the sun is up so best to bring a jacket whatever time of year.

15. Check your petrol 

You are going to be driving long distances and there isn’t a petrol station around every corner. Make sure you fill up before you get critical.

16. Don’t miss the gate

You will get a very nasty fine. Plan carefully and be mindful so that you can arrive back at camp in plenty of time!

17. Check out the app Latest Kruger Sightings 

After ten years of visiting Kruger, I finally armed myself with this and managed to bag my very first wild dog sighting! Even better, it’s totally free (although signal in the park is sketchy at times).

Lastly, if you’re anything like me and get the Kruger bug, invest in a Wild Card. Mine has saved me thousands of rands on conservation fees already. You can buy them at the rest camps or at the gate when you enter, but it’s cheaper to do it online in advance. Just save the email and show it on arrival.

So, that’s it! Although going on a DIY safari can seem rather scary, it’s actually a lot easier than you would think. Just remember my top tips and, most importantly, have fun! You’re in the greatest place in the entire world. Soak it in.

Wondering how long you need to do a safari? This 7day itinerary post might help.

Editors Note:

This was a guest post written by Emily from Safari Guide Diaries, a safari guide in Southern Africa. Be sure to follow her for more fun safari post tips and photos!

  • Martin
    August 14, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Nice post from Emily! We love Kruger. Did you check out our latest video from there?