Here’s How to Improve Your Kruger Safari
You want to see wildlife… lots of wildlife up close. That’s why you’re thinking of visiting Kruger Park in South Africa, home to Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant. But the truth is: in a national park as busy as Kruger, there are crowds of others just like you… and limitations on how close you can get to that lion standing over its prey. You’ll most likely be viewing much of the wildlife through binoculars or your camera’s zoom lens.
Perhaps not the safari journey you imagined.
The strict rules in these parks don’t allow you to travel off-road where much of the safari action occurs. But there is a way to visit the Kruger eco-system, with its abundant wild game, and enjoy the freedom to carve out your own path.
A stunning collection of private game reserves bordering Kruger Park offers authentic uncrowded wildlife experiences. Even better – you can go off-roading in your 4 x 4 safari vehicle to explore the savannah and discover the big cats, rhinos, and elephants up close.
In these private game reserves, you’ll enjoy the vast wealth of wildlife because there are no fences – the animals freely roam between Kruger Park and the reserves. You’ll even be able to spot the wildlife from your safari lodge. How’s that for an authentic experience?
Care to go on a night safari to see who is prowling about in the moonlight? You can’t do this in a national park but in these private reserves, it’s no problem. Take a guided evening tour and listen in on the nighttime sounds of the natural world.
Even the names of these private reserves are exotic: Sabi Sands, Timbavati, Kapama, Klaserie, and Thornybush.
All offer a variety of lodges in many price ranges. Some like the Sabi Sands Game Reserve is all-inclusive with meals and game drives included in the package. A few of the pricier lodges even include drinks. If that’s not your ‘cup of tea’, you can opt for other options as well.
A Typical Safari Day
After a hearty breakfast at your lodge, you’ll head out for a morning game drive when the animals are just stirring. This is a beautiful time of day as the soft golden light plays upon the savannah. Your expert guide will be tracking for game over the hills and plains – his experience brings a richness to your adventure.
Three to four hours of exciting safari time will build an appetite, and you’ll return to your lodge for lunch and some rest.
Later in the afternoon, you’ll head out again as the day’s heat begins to wane, looking for more wildlife action. In the late afternoon, you may pause at a scenic spot for a ‘sundowner’ – an old safari tradition enjoying a drink amongst nature’s beauty and the setting sun. Often your afternoon game drive will continue into the evening for an exciting night safari.
Some of My Favorite Private Lodges
I’ve enjoyed my stays at these beautiful lodges adjacent to Kruger Park, surrounded by the natural wonders of this pristine expanse.
MalaMala Game Reserve is amongst the most extensive private Big Five game reserves in South Africa, sharing a 12-mile unfenced boundary with the world-renowned Kruger national park and lies strategically sandwiched between the Kruger and the Sabi Sand Reserve. They offer three different styles of accommodation to suit different budgets. Mala Mala Camp previously known as “Main Camp,” is the original camp on MalaMala Game Reserve. This iconic camp has been recently “re-imagined,” and while the distinctly African character of the camp has been maintained, it has been inspired with a more contemporary edge. Importantly the history and soul of the camp have been preserved. MalaMala Sable Camp is a smaller, more intimate version of MalaMala Camp and is ideal for those seeking a more private and secluded safari experience. MalaMala Sable Camp is situated at the southern end of MalaMala Camp in a prime elevated position overlooking the Sand River and surrounding bushveld. Tucked away in a forest of green, on the banks of the world-renowned Sand River, lies a special place. MalaMala Rattray’s Camp offers an intimate glimpse into an era long lost, when travelers from afar married the magic of the African bush with elegance and refinement.
At Mala Mala it’s all about the wildlife – Speak to any ranger that has worked at MalaMala Game Reserve, past or present, and ask what keeps them here and, in many cases, what brings them back. You will get one simple answer: “It’s all about the wildlife…” So, one has to ask, what makes the game viewing so special at MalaMala? There is no single reason but rather the culmination of several factors such as the great rangers, the terrain, and proximity to Kruger National Park, the safari vehicle.
Another favorite of mine is Dulini offering exclusive hospitality and intimacy at their boutique lodges. Perfect for those celebrating something special. Embraced in the riverine grandeur of ancient Ebony Trees, the peaceful sanctuary of Dulini exudes a sense of indulgence true to the romance of the safari tradition. The main lodge, resplendent with deep couches and contemporary African accents spills onto the cool veranda, offers views to the wilderness. Six exquisite thatched suites grace the banks of the riverbed. The spacious accommodation with private plunge pools and interiors epitomizes romance, with canopies of mosquito nets and beautiful bathrooms. Each suite offers an intimate view of the riverbed, seamlessly integrating the grandeur of nature and elegance of décor.
Tucked secretively in the confluence of the Sand and Mabrak Rivers, Dulini Leadwood offers intimate and serene solace in a lodge that is entirely at peace with its verdant setting. Four exclusive suites whisper of lavish luxury: an idyllic honeymoon setting as well as an appealing venue for soirees of friends and families who relish exclusivity. Dulini Leadwood is the ultimate safari choice for discerning travelers in search of luxurious exclusivity and solitude.
Stay at the Dulini River where you will enjoy inspiring views over the regal Sand River to the savannah and beyond. Embraced in the languid Sand River’s riverine grandeur, Dulini River offers inspirational views and awe-inspiring atmosphere. No matter which style of accommodation you choose with no boundary fences between the Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park, a great diversity of wildlife is found here, including the Big Five: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, and Rhino. Dulini speaks of a deeply personal wildlife adventure: the quintessential safari experience for the sophisticated traveler.
Another favorite of mine is the Arathusa Private Game reserve – as part of the Sabi Sands Reserve and the Greater Kruger National Park this lodge is located in one of the world’s most abundant natural wilderness areas. Arathusa prides itself on its leopard viewing. As these elusive cats are territorial, their regular appearance in the region enables them to plot their movements and to observe their behavior. Many of the animals become familiar and are easily recognized. Approximately 14 leopards are seen in the area in which Arathusa operates, six of which are seen on a regular basis. This region is also great for bird lovers, and may be able to find rarer birds such as the Horus Swift.
For guests who want to enjoy more days on safari, I recommend combining two Game Reserves, thereby increasing the chances of a more splendid diverse wildlife sighting. The Karongwe Private Game Reserve overlooks the majestic Drakensberg mountain range in the Limpopo province is undoubtedly a great option to combine with a game reserve in the Sabi Sands. There are several others, and it’s important to pick the right ones based on location, logistics of getting there, and one’s budget.
Some Final Thoughts
These lodges are just a sampling of the many excellent accommodations to choose from for an exclusive upmarket safari experience.
Pro Tip: Choose a lodge based on the city you will be flying from. For example – when traveling from Victoria Falls in Zambia to Kruger Park, I recommend a lodge that doesn’t require a long drive. Perhaps choose a lodge that is close to a convenient airstrip to accommodate a charter flight.
Of course, budgets determine the size and scope of one’s safari. For some, their adventure will be by minivan, and others will enjoy the perks of a private jet. Either way, you’ll arrive at the same beautiful region filled with exciting wildlife.