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10. The weather. The days are hot and sunny, the mornings and nights like dreams. We kept an eye on the outside temp during our drives and the hottest we personally saw was 100°F, but heard it got up to 105° that particular day. The mornings and evenings were 65°- 75°- seriously perfect. We never needed the blanket we borrowed from the hostel, and a few nights I just slept with a mosquito net over me, though G and I did sometimes wrestle over our silk sack.
9. It’s accessible! This is bush Africa for the masses, only there are no masses. At least at this time of year. We would drive for miles without seeing another vehicle and even at the densest lion jam there were maybe 15 cars. At a bear jam in Yellowstone National Park there could be 50. Kruger is about a seven hour drive from Johannesburg, the largest hub in South Africa, and there are three regional airports serving the park in Phalaborwa, Hoedspruit, and Nelspruit. We would recommend either flying into a regional airport and renting a car, or renting a car in Jo’Burg, driving up and staying outside the park the first night so you don’t have to worry about gates closing, and so you can get an early start your first morning in the park.
8. It’s affordable! The US dollar is strong against the rand right now, and everything super cheap to us Americans. A fancy burger in the park cost about $6, bottles of water less than $0.50, campsites about $16 a night, and game drives around $17 each. Gas, however, is about $4/gallon. Spend less accordingly.
7. Great roads. Aside from the occasional spotty shoulder, the roads were in great shape and well-marked. The park is extremely easy to navigate even without a map, though we do recommend getting one for the wildlife info they contain. Keep in mind South Africa drives on the left!
6. The bush camps. There are twelve main rest camps in the park with a few smaller and satellite camps as well. The camps are tidy and well-organized and have everything you might need (and nothing you don’t, like wifi). All the main camps have some kind of combination of a gift shop/grocery store, gas station, a restaurant or two, a pool, nightly outdoor wildlife movies, bungalows and a campground, and the entire compound is surrounded by a tall electric fence. The communal restrooms are remarkably clean and free of snakes, though the nightly onslaught of insects around the outside lights might make the squeamish a bit squeamier. The bathrooms all have hot showers, flushing western toilets, and hand soap- true luxuries in the bush! There are braais (barbecue grills) at every campsite, and communal kitchens with sinks, hot plates, and a water boiler which made our morning routine a dream. There are potable water taps scattered throughout the campgrounds, as well as rubbish and recycling bins. The campgrounds are alcohol-free premises- though we did see a few people enjoying a glass of wine or three- which makes for lovely, quiet nights, when the predominant sounds are hippo grunts drifting up from the river and hyenas calling out from beyond the fence. We have stayed in some amazing campgrounds around the world, but we agreed every camp we visited in Kruger might be our favorite on Earth- they’re just splendid.
5. Friendly neighbors! Every night we weren’t out on a game drive we had visitors come to our site to introduce themselves, have a chat, and/or offer some assistance. A man saw us eating cold pasta and came over to offer his braai. He didn’t have any extra meat, but the coals were ready to go if we needed them. Another man offered Greg his box of fire starters so we could use our own braai. I hung our towels to dry on a neighbor’s clothesline. We were given game and travel advice, wildlife videos, South African current events and history, and people’s own short stories. Most everyone we spoke to asked us our opinion on South Africa, and what we thought of that dollar/rand exchange rate. Seriously lovely people.
4. You can live like an animal (this might actually be #1). Early to bed, early to rise, midday go to water. What a perfect routine we adopted in Kruger- we woke up before sunrise every morning and took a light breakfast and our coffee or tea on the road with us. After driving a few hours (which went by like a few minutes) we’d stop at a designated picnic area and have second breakfast and enjoy the sunshine. Once it got too hot around mid-morning we’d go back to camp and hit the pool or rest in the shade for a few hours until it was time to go out and look for animals again in the evening. The campground gates close just before sunset (around 6:00p this time of year), so we were always home for an early dinner and early bed. Every night at camp was like the best night of our lives- sitting in our camp chairs with our braai blazing and the animals calling, reliving our favorite animal moments from the day and reminding ourselves over and over just how fortunate we are. Oh how I’m pining for that life again! Next time we’re staying two or three weeks.
3. Self-drives. There are public guided safari options at every camp (as well as private ones) but they are limited on time and open to the general public, which can either be great or super lame. Being with the general public I mean. We loved having our own vehicle with which to explore. We could go where we wanted, sit out at waterholes until the gates closed, hit up all the game hides, and watch animals as long as our wee hearts desired.
2. The Big Five– Elephant, Lion, Buffalo, Rhino, and Leopard- and of course the rest of Kruger’s other amazing wildlife. Big game hunters in the olden days coined the term ‘Big Five’ because of their difficulty to hunt and their ferocity when cornered. We had our own list of animals we hoped to see- ‘The Fantastic Four’: Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, and Wild Dog. Yeah, well, two out of four ain’t bad.
And the number one reason for visiting Kruger National Park:
1. Your husband may, in the middle of the night, mistakenly put your bikini bottoms on over his own underwear and walk to the bathroom without realizing it. The potential for this phenomenon may be the number one reason for doing anything in life. Or at least for always leaving your bikini bottom within nighttime grabbing distance. This has obviously brought me hours of endless pleasure and countless tears. What I wouldn’t give for a photo or video of his reaction!
Greg and I were both Ranger Rick readers growing up and Kruger is the kind of place we dreamed about visiting as children. If you love animals, or your children love animals, Kruger is the place to go. The hardest, most expensive part of course is getting there, but South African Airways partners with United Airlines and jetBlue, and flies direct to Johannesburg from D.C. and JFK, and Delta flies direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg. 80,000 United miles will get your from the States to Jo’Burg on Ethiopian Airlines, and 100,000 Delta miles will get you there direct.
When you travel it’s hard not to compare one place to others. We both agreed we’d stack Kruger against just about every place we’ve ever visited, and we’ve visited some pretty amazing places. It’s really that good. Go. Find out for yourself.
See our other days in Kruger: