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The Art of Escaping the Crowds in Kruger

When you ask someone about their Kruger self drive safari experience you will probably get one of two answers:

1- Kruger is the best place in the world!

2- Kruger is horrible. It’s a zoo!

Kruger can seem awesome or awful depending on how you planned your visit.

People who complain about Kruger National Park do so because the roads were paved, the services seemed a little too commercial, they saw too many people, and the camps were crowded and noisy.  How can this be a “wild” National Park?

Avoid the crowds by avoiding Kruger National Park camps in the south during your Kruger self drive safari
The crowds in Kruger can be infuriating, especially around a “lion jam” where visitors may behave very badly.

While Kruger National Park does get an awful lot of visitors every year, you have to keep in mind that at just over 7,500 square miles it is also one of Africa’s largest game reserves. One thing Kruger does have is space. If you want to be alone, there is a place with your name on it. You just have to find it.

Here are our tips on how to beat the crowds while on a Kruger self drive safari.

Finding solitude on a Kruger self drive safari
You can still find solitude in Kruger. You just have to know where to look.

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1) Avoid the Southern End of Kruger During your Self Drive Safari

The south of Kruger is just a four-hour drive from the province of Gauteng. Even though Gauteng is the smallest province in South Africa, it has a population of more than 13 million people, primarily in the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg. In addition, O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the busiest airport in Africa.

With this area so accessible from Gauteng it is no surprise that South Kruger sometimes seems swamped with tourists. And as the Kruger haters say…it can sometimes feel like you are in a zoo.

Here is your solution. If you don’t want to suffer from safari road rage, start by avoiding the south of Kruger. I would personally draw the line at Satara camp. All the main camps from Satara and to the south are a no-go for me.

Leopard sighted on a Kruger self drive safari.
In North Kruger you can even have a leopard sighting all to yourself, like this one just north of Satara.

Which Kruger Gate to Use?

If you are starting from the Johannesburg area I would drive up to the Orpen Gate. It is only a five-and-a-half-hour drive, and the best part is that you can drive through the world famous Panorama Route (for a Panorama Route map click here). Along the way you can visit the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and the following attractions:

  • Bourke’s Luck Potholes
  • God’s Window: from here you can admire a view over the lowveld and on clear days you can even see Kruger in the distance.
  • Three Rondavels: the word “rondavel”  refers to a South African round hut-like dwelling with a thatched roof. These three rondavels are gigantic towering peaks of shale and quartzite. Their rock walls tower more than 2,000 feet above the landscape. Each rondavel was named after a wife of Chief Maripi Mashile (these three wives were also the three most troublesome ones). From left to right they are Magabolle, Mogoladikwe, and Maseroto.
Three Rondavels on the Panorama Route, near Graskop lodging, South Africa
The Three Rondavels in Blyde River Canyon

If you decide to go through this route we suggest you do the trip to Kruger in two days, so you can explore the Panorama Route. There are so many Panorama Route accommodation options (click here for a list of options) that you shouldn’t feel like you need to plan too much in advance. We stayed at the little town of Graskop which is a favorite with visitors as it is very close to God’s Window (apparently Graskop pancakes are famous too) and the many waterfalls in the area.

If you decide to visit Graskop, we recommend you stay at the cute and small guesthouse Rustique (click here for prices and availability). We loved it.

If you are on a budget try Sheri’s Lodge and Backpackers (click here for prices and availability).

2) Stay at the Satellite Camps, Bushveld Camps, or at a Private Lodge Instead of the Main Rest Camps

There is more to Kruger National Park camps than the main rest camps. There is an array of satellite camps, bushveld camps, and private safari lodges in Kruger National Park to choose from, and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. So whether you are looking for rustic camping, a walking safari, a tented camp, or a luxury lodge, you can find it all in Kruger.

What are the Satellite Camps?

Satellite camps are smaller camps that are close to a main restcamp and have small self-catering units like tents or cottages. There is also one “rustic camp” called Tsendze Rustic Camp Site that has beautiful private sites in a quiet little campground.

Tsendze Rustic Camp gate and Tsendze rustic campsites
Tsendze Rustic Camp is one of the quietest most beautiful little camps in Kruger

Unlike the main restcamps they have no shops, no restaurants, and no reception. These camps are normally much quieter and more intimate. They also tend to be the cheapest option compared to the Bushveld Camps and private lodges. If you are on a budget and want some peace and quiet you should stay at one of the satellite camps in Kruger. 

  • Malelane (in the south of the park)
  • Maroela (near Orpen Gate)
  • Tamboti Tented Camp (near Orpen Gate)
  • Balule (near Olifants)
  • Tsendze Rustic Camp (just south of Mopani restcamp)
Tamboti Tented Camp is one the satellite Kruger National Park camps.
Tamboti Tented Camp is a quiet alternative to the main Kruger National Park camps.

Tamboti tented camp is a lovely tented camp situated only a few miles from Orpen gate but still has the nature bush feeling. 

You can book a satellite camp through Sanparks.

Bushveld Camps

Bushveld camps are smaller camps than the main restcamps and they offer more spacious self-catering units. They are a little bit more expensive than the units at the main restcamps, but they are still a great value.

  • Bateleur
  • Biyamiti
  • Shimuwini
  • Sirheni
  • Talamati

You can book a bushveld camp through Sanparks.

Private Lodges at Kruger

If you feel like splurging, then a private lodge is the way to go. While the majority of private lodges in Kruger are just outside the boundaries of Kruger National Park and in their own private game reserves, there are a few private lodges within Kruger.

Escape the Kruger crowds at Return Africa
Staying at the incredible Return Africa is more affordable than you’d think

Some of the private lodges in Kruger National Park are:

The Outpost Lodge bathtub view is stunning!
The Outpost Lodge in the north of Kruger provides stunning accommodations without the crowds.

A note on the main restcamps: Not all the main restcamps are crazy cramped. Orpen, Letaba, Olifants, Mopani, Shingwedzi, and Pafuri are great. Our favorites are Mopani, Letaba, and Punda Maria.

The quiet Main Rest Camps at Kruger

The main rest camps located on the top part of Kruger are always quieter and we enjoy them. These rest camps are smaller and quieter than the camps in south Kruger.

Try Letaba rest camp and Punda Maria rest camp

Two chairs with a river in the background
The Letaba river view from Letaba rest camp

3) Get off the Main Kruger Roads

Kruger has just over 530 miles of tar roads. In contrast, the park has more than 1,000 miles of sand or gravel roads. Kruger National Park is a big place.

With so many miles of roads in Kruger, why does everyone stay on the paved roads? Why? Seriously, get off the pavement and you’ll find yourself immersed in a completely new world. The world of Kruger without the crowds. On a gravel back road it is actually possible to drive for hours without seeing another car. Don’t worry if you have a small car, the back roads in Kruger are surprisingly well maintained.

Giraffe in the road in Kruger National Park
Get lost on a gravel back road in Kruger and have intimate wildlife encounters.

4) Avoid traveling to Kruger During South African Public Holidays

I’m not sure how we manage to do this, but it seems like every time we are in South Africa there’s some kind of public holiday going on. And the campgrounds are bursting with visitors.

If you have the luxury of traveling whenever you want, make sure to avoid the South African public holidays.

Here’s the list of the South African public holidays for 2023:

  • 1 January: New Year’s Day
  • 2 January: Public holiday
  • 21 March: Human Rights Day
  • 7 April: Good Friday
  • 10 April: Family Day
  • 27 April: Freedom Day
  • 1 May: Workers Day
  • 16 June: Youth Day
  • 9 August: National Women’s Day
  • 24 September: Heritage Day
  • 25 September: Public holiday
  • 16 December: Day of Reconciliation
  • 25 December: Christmas Day
  • 26 December: Day of Goodwill

Once you know the basics, it is very easy to avoid the crowds on your Kruger self drive safari. We hope that these simple tips will help you plan a Kruger safari without the crowds.

Do you have other tips to avoid the crowds while on a Kruger self drive safari? Let us know in the comments below!

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Kruger National Park in South Africa can sometimes be a bit too much. Too many people. Too many cars. With our tips you'll have a Kruger self drive safari without the crowds!

Cristina Garcia

Zoologist and wildlife photographer. She has worked in the field with jackals, wolves, cheetahs, & leopards. She serves on the Board of Directors of SEE Turtles, a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization.

Read her posts at Travel For Wildlife and see more of her work at Truly Wild, & Our Wild Yard.

Günter Franz Müller

Sunday 9th of July 2023

Betr.: Restcamps im Süden des Krügerparks Gerne weise ich auf die Restcamps Pretoriuskop und Berg en Dal hin. Beide Camps haben wir wiederholt besucht. Wir haben sie als ruhig erlebt, sie sind landschaftlich schön gelegen mit zahlreichen spannenden Loops auf denen wir kaum anderen Fahrzeugen begegnet sind. Tiersichtungen mit Rhinos, Löwen und Wildhunden ! Beide haben zudem schöne Bäder, herausragend ist das Felsenbad in Pretoriuskop.

Godwin Irabor

Friday 17th of March 2023