WHERE TO STAY IN THE KRUGER
There are two broad accommodation classes in the Kruger.
Well-positioned, sometimes basic, Government restcamps are open to all and dotted throughout the Park. Some date back to the 1930s. They offer remarkable value and are generally clean and well-organised. There is one large camp in every 30km or so in the south; fewer in the north, so it is fairly obvious where you can stay. There is a good on-line central reservations facility provided by the National Parks Board. A Central Reservations call centre deals with e-mail requests for bookings for both accommodation and activities, which are best reserved well in advance. We are delighted to integrate bookings for SANParks restcamps and activities into a wider itinerary for you, and there is some further information in the table below to get you thinking.
Things get more interesting with the private areas. There are many and varied and it can be quite hard to research and choose between them. This is where we can really help you, and add value with access to special offers and deals. We spend our time planning and refining Safari itineraries that combine the best Lodges to give you a rich, contrasting and fulfilling experience.
The private Kruger Lodges focus on giving small groups of clients intense, intimate animal encounters and often emphasise the Big Five. They offer high levels of creature comfort and luxury in amazing accommodation. They are also the place for specialist interest Safaris, be it photography, birding or walking in the wilderness that ignites your desire.
There are two types of private area in the Kruger. Concessions are prime areas of the Kruger given over exclusively to their use. Most of the Private Reserves are adjacent to the Park boundary, unfenced and into which game roams freely to form the Greater Kruger. There are also self-contained reserves, often on huge tracts of land which also carry the major "must-see" Kruger species but are fenced out.
The major advantages of the private luxury Lodge experience are prize locations and great flexibility in what you can do. You will benefit from a rich interpretative experience courtesy of keen and knowledgeable Guides - the standard is uniformly high in Kruger's luxury venues as competition is tough for the rewarding pleasure of introducing new spirits to the wonders of the bush.
By choosing one of these venues, you can justifiably expect quite a bit of the vaunted Big Five. You could drive yourself around the Kruger for a whole day without seeing as much as an elephant, if you are unlucky. Here, Guides will not give up until you have been rewarded with some memorable sightings - a matter of professional pride. Given that the roads are more accessible and Guides drive off them anyway, chances are much better. You are not constrained by operating hours or gate closing times here.
As well as pursuing more elusive sightings by going off-road, Guides also stay in radio contact over wide tracts of land. You may find that your relaxed sundowner drive suddenly turns into a "Ferrari Safari" when some wild dogs on the rampage get reported from tens of kilometres away.
Night drives are also possible at many of these venues, and subsequent entertainment is provided in the form of long tales around the camp fire (indeed, you may be woken to go and witness a kill in the middle of the night, if you so choose).
The service and comfort levels are high in the private Lodges. Most provide for all of your needs at an inclusive price. An all-in daily rate typically includes two game drives, a bush walk option, and three (or more!) meals plus your accommodation. You are going to find en-suite facilities, and touches like outdoor showers and private game viewing decks at many places. Most Lodges have swimming pools, a library and a bar area; there is much more to do than in the public Kruger including entertainment into the evening. And you have somewhere pleasant to retire to during the heat of the day between activities. Some Lodges offer specific programmes for families with kids. A few entire allow a group or family to take over an entire camp.
Over 20 South African National Parks' restcamps provide accommodation within the Kruger ranging from mid-range sponsored Guest Cottages with outside showers, bar areas and DStv, to basic bush huts for 2 to 5 people with only a shared cold water basin for washing.
SANParks restcamps are remarkably good value. Most are well located on riverbanks, dams or areas of particular interest (savannah plains, birding spots). Increasing modernisation is introducing more amenities such as swimming pools in an area which can be very hot. The major camps such as Skukuza and Letaba boast an open-air cinema, and museum or wildlife library. Skukuza has the population of a small South African town but, happily, doesn't often feel like it.
Limits are imposed on both the numbers of day and overnight visitors. To guarantee a stay it is essential to book in advance. Consider this up to six months in advance. South African school holidays and religious festivals are extremely busy and can be booked out years in advance.
Staying in the Kruger at a restcamp is far better for early-morning self-drive exploration (when the animals are most active) than trying to rush in to the middle of the Park from outside when the gates open around dawn. You can also participate in activities organised by the camps.
Morning and evening game drives are available in open-sided vehicles. Professional guides provide insight into the flora and fauna around you. Organised Drives also circumnavigate the strict rules on when you must be in Camp (Drives leave before gates open, returning after close at night).
Certain camps organise guided morning or afternoon walks where you will join a group totalling up to eight people escorted through the bush by two trained rangers. Some also offer bush braais, or trips out to safe swimming spots are being trialled.
Rondavels (round African-style thatched huts) are the basic unit of accommodation and predominate at almost all Main Camps. They sleep 2-3 comfortably, normally in single beds; most have en-suite showers or baths and basic cooking facilities. A braai is provided outside.
The most recently renovated camps, mainly in the south of the Kruger, offer Safari Tents consisting of semi-permanent two- or four-bed structures. Despite being a cheaper alternative, they do offer a more authentic "in the bush" feel. You do have to share ablutions, a kitchen and a fridge.
Some camps offer Luxury Bungalows. These are often buildings that have been funded by corporate sponsors, whose names they make take. They offer a higher level of creature comfort, including DStv in some, but command a higher price accordingly. We have noted the camps where these are available in the individual camp listings.
Family Cottages and Guest Cottages are multiple-room units with well-equipped kitchens and usually more than one bathroom. Visitors should confirm bed numbers and facilities when booking.
Camping sites are available for either tents or caravans. There is a power point per site; guests are limited in nunber to six per site. The kitchen and ablutions facilities are shared.
All of the major Restcamps have electricity, a first-aid centre, braai and communal kitchen facilities, a laundromat/laundry tubs, a restaurant and/or self-service cafeteria, and a petrol station.
The restaurants can get busy, so expect to cook for yourselves from time-to-time using either the braai provided outside your rondavel, or the shared cooking facilities. There is a reasonably appetising selection of food on offer for this purpose in the shops, also provided at the major restcamps. These also stock soft drinks, alcohol, film for cameras, books, magazines and of course, curios. Be aware that you are left to your own devices of an evening.
Bush Camps offer accommodation in smaller, more remote locations. You must reserve rooms in advance, and access is restricted to those that have pre-booked accommodation so they are away from the beaten track and crowds.
The Bush Camps offer little in the way of shops (wood and ice and pre-paid Telkom phones are about the limit); certainly there are no restaurants or food for sale. Whilst these do not represent the luxury of the private reserves in and around the Kruger, they are all unique and special places in themselves. Expect to have to go to the nearest main Restcamp to stock up if you run out of food, booze or other supplies.
Electrical equipment cannot be used in the rooms except for at Bateleur, Biyamiti and Talamati. A basic solar powered system provides the opportunity to charge cellphones etc, but do not assume that you will have coverage in the middle of the bush.
Open verandahs serve as kitchens and dining rooms; all units have a refrigerator, a stove, cooking utensils and crockery, although it is worth checking whether an oven is available. All have private ablution facilities.