For many, going on an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Getting a glimpse of some of the world’s most rare and often endangered species in the wild is indeed an unforgettable experience. The good news is that turning these desires into reality is easier now than ever, and one of the best ways to do it is by booking a trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa.

One of Africa’s largest game reserves, Kruger takes up 7,523 square miles of mountains, bush plains and forests in northeast South Africa. Originally established to help control hunting, the Park continues to protect diminished species with anti-poaching measures and also aims to conserve the area’s biodiversity. It’s also a favorite destination of TripAdvisor travelers from around the world.

Here’s what you need to know before heading out on safari at Kruger National Park:

What animals will I see?

If it’s animals you want to see, you are in the right place. Kruger National Park is home to a huge amount of flora and fauna.

You may have heard of the “Big Five” animals to look for on safari. Originally coined by hunters, the term now means something quite different – seeing five of Africa’s largest, most majestic and most photogenic creatures roaming free in their natural habitat. They are the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros, and you’ll find them all at Kruger National Park.

During your safari, you may also glimpse  antelope, cheetahs and other big cats, hyenas and other dogs, zebras, wildebeests, crocodiles, many bird species, primates, snakes and more.

“A herd of elephants crossing the road from the airport to our camp? Checked. Cape buffalos before first entering our camp? Checked. Rhinos, herds of elephants, kudus, baboons, impalas, nyalas, giraffes, wild dogs, hippos, zebras, leopards and more herds elephants on the first game drive? Checked. The “BIG FIVES” on my first safari? Checked…I could not have picked a better way to begin my first trip to Africa.” – TripAdvisor traveler MPORD

What’s the best way to see the park?

Kruger has nine entrance gates, all of which charge an entrance fee.

Guided safari tours are a popular way to see and learn about the Park’s astonishing animals. Aside from not having to worry about making an itinerary or booking lodging, you also get the chance to ride around in an open vehicle and get the added benefit of learning from educated guides if you do it this way.

“[A] popular way to visit Kruger, especially for first time visitors, is to book a guided safari with a tour operator that offers Kruger National Park safaris…Some operators use open safari vehicles, and some use only closed vehicles. I would recommend open safari vehicles. You can either join a scheduled tour with a small group, or book a private departure just for you. The main benefit of this option is of course the open vehicle game drives, as well as having an experienced guide who can help you spot the animals and interpret their behaviour, explain about the bush, etc.” ).” – TripAdvisor traveler wild-wings

Safari tours allow you choose how many days you’d like to do and set you up with entrance into the park, lodging at a camp, and food. You can choose between a private tour and a group.

“Dinner in the woods under the stars among the elephants and hyenas after the first evening game drive was the nicest touch. The food was delicious and plentiful. The cottage inside the park was very pretty and comfortable. We didn’t really have to fight the crowd or deal with them at all because the entire safari, meals, accommodations and transportation to and from Skukuza airport were very well coordinated and run like clockwork.” – TripAdvisor traveler MPORD

There are a wide array of safari tour options available, many of which can be booked on TripAdvisor.

To spur your safari planning, here’s one tour operator that receives excellent reviews from TripAdvisor travelers.

If you’d rather go it alone, it’s also possible to enter and drive yourself through Kruger National Park. TripAdvisor travelers advise getting a good map and paying close attention to the park rules, which include:

  • Visitors must remain inside their vehicle; no part of the body may protrude from a window or sunroof or any other part of the vehicle and vehicle doors should be closed at all times,
  • You are not allowed to drive “off-road” or on roads with a “no entry” sign
  • No feeding the animals
  • The use of cell phones is permitted only in camps, gates and in cases of emergency

Where should I stay?

Many TripAdvisor travelers actually recommend splitting the trip into two parts: a self-guided or safari tour of Kruger National Park followed by some time at a private lodge to enjoy close-up experiences with the animals as well as a taste of luxury. If you are self-touring the park or if your safari does not include accommodation, you’ll need to book this in advance.

For a luxury experience, you will probably lean toward a private lodge on one of Kruger’s game reserves; these will include meals and resort-like amenities. If you want to safari like royalty, this is where to go. Private lodges offer all-inclusive packages, restaurants, pools and beautiful white-canopy beds. You can read the freshest reviews of private lodges and find the lowest prices from up to 200 sites right on TripAdvisor.

For the budget-conscious, there are more affordable camps available within the park, or you can book a budget hotel near the entrance and drive in. Some travelers recommend getting a taste of both worlds:

“I usually suggest that first time visitors spend a day or two at Kruger NP self-driving. You could easily see 4 of the big 5 in one day there (my experience is that leopards can be hard to see in Kruger NP) and the drive can be a real adventure. You could stay at a rest camp in the park or outside at a hotel….”TripAdvisor traveler steveb108

You’ll also find some excellent hotels (and great values) in the nearby town of Nelspruit, an easy drive from the park:

Should I visit a private reserve?

Within Kruger there are a number of private game reserves. Lodging in and touring is more expensive in these private reserves than it is in the general areas, but many TripAdvisor travelers recommend paying the extra money for the experience, especially if your goal is to photograph the Big Five.

Sabi Sand is the most popular private game reserve at Kruger National Park. In fact, the park actually grew from Sabi, which was officially dubbed a wildlife park in 1898. Sabi was expanded to Kruger National Park in 1926 and is now considered a game reserve rather than a park in itself.  Sabi (as well as all the game reserves in Kruger) is not fenced off at all from the rest of the park.

“Sabi Sand is wonderful for photography, you often have the sighting to yourself, or at worse one or two others and you will get quite close to the animals. You will find many keen photographers with all the ‘gear’ here. Our most amazing sightings ever have been ‘offroad’ such as baby leopard cub, lion kill, cheetah with kill, cerval, hyenas and leopard with rhino carcass, mating lions, and several other lions with kills. Last trip we saw big cats on every drive and got amazing photos…Yes we saw lions and one leopard also in Kruger and that was wonderful, but there was usually other cars around. In particular a leopard in a tree caused a major jam up. Unfortunately usually the problem is human behavior, not moving on for others to get a look.” – TripAdvisor traveler thesandmans

“If your prime interest is photography I think you would do much better to spend 2 nights in KNP and 4 nights in Sabi Sand. You may get to have some decent sightings in KNP but the odds are much much better for photo ops in Sabi Sand. In KNP, unless you are first to a sighting you may find yourself in a small traffic jam as the animal(s) get surrounded. And in KNP you can’t go off-road.” – TripAdvisor traveler steveb108

Sabi is not the only reserve in the park, though. Click here to check out other game reserves at Kruger.

What time of year should I go?

It depends on your personal preference. Kruger-area resident and safari specialist LodgeTrackers explains the differences between each time of year:

Late May – September (winter)

This is the best time for game viewing according LodgeTrackers and many TripAdvisor travelers because it’s dry season, which makes it easier to spot animals in the brush. “Animals tend to congregate near water sources, which allows for good viewing of a wide variety of animals. Further to this, because rain is so sparse during this time, the bush dries out immensely, thus making it much easier to spot game through the bushes, trees, shrubs and grasses,” LodgeTrackers says.

“We tend to prefer visits to KNP in the winter (June-August) when it is dryer and the wildlife are more restricted in their movements, needing to stay nearer to water. Also with it being dry, game spotting can be easier as there is much less foliage to obscure your views. Lastly, this is low season meaning you have the added benefit of lower prices for visiting this time of year.” – TripAdvisor traveler BradJill

The temperature is also pleasant this time of year with high temps reaching the high 70s, low 80s Fahrenheit.

October – January (summer)

October is the beginning of the rainy season, which also means it will be hot; temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The upside to this time of year, though, is you’ll get to see cute baby animals. “Further to this, the color in the bush really pops at this time – everything flowers and really comes to life. It’s a beautiful time to be in our neck of the woods. Just make sure you can handle heat and humidity,” LodgeTrackers says.

“November and December for the babies is just delightful and even into January to see the baby impalas, wildebeest, and you may even see a birth. February can be very hot, and sorry to say, only worth going out early mornings and late afternoon or night drives. Even animals don’t like walking around in the heat!” – TripAdvisor traveler ThornteeTours

What should I pack?

This, of course, depends on what time of year you go. If your trip is during South Africa’s summer months, you will want to pack cool clothes as it gets very hot and humid. You might consider garments with sleeves in a light linen as you’ll want to protect yourself from mosquitoes. While malaria is not particular prevalent at Kruger, it’s always a risk. You’ll also want to bring or purchase bug spray.

Your wardrobe in the winter months, won’t be much different except you should keep in mind that mornings and nights can get chilly–dipping to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’re staying at a nice lodge, you’ll also need something nicer to wear at night.

“For the safari bit, it will be hot so you want cool clothes but it’s a good idea to have at least one pair of long pants and long sleeves for the mosquitoes and the sun… Light fleece for early morning drives. If you are likely to do a bush walk, you will definitely want long pants and neutral colors (not white). If you staying somewhere very smart you might want something a bit smarter for dinner – but think bush-chic not cocktail-wear.” – TripAdvisor traveler MakiGirl

The reason to wear neutral colors is that many say different colors attract bugs. White, some say, distracts animals and, of course, black absorbs heat. A very practical reason to wear beige, though, is that you’re going to get very dusty and dirty. But it’s worth it!