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How to Plan a Self-Drive Safari in Kruger National Park

How to Plan a Self-Drive Safari in Kruger National Park

Going on a safari in Kruger National Park is easier said than done and to book a tour you’ll need to plan it far in advance and consider all of the possible options depending of your style. Even if you live in South Africa.

I’m also going to tell you that you shouldn’t book your safari with a tour operator and why it’s better to do it on your own. By following my advice on safari planning, hopefully you can avoid my mistakes.

Getting to Kruger was already interesting...

Getting to Kruger was already interesting…

Travel Agency vs Self-Drive Safari

Unless you can’t drive or don’t have anyone that can drive with you, simply rent a car and explore on your own. That way you can design your own route, stay and watch some animals as long as you want, and generally have more freedom. That’s how locals visit Kruger.

Renting a car in South Africa is very easy and affordable, so don’t worry about it.

I watched the arranged tour vehicles and I spoke to quite a lot of people who went on a group tour. Even though they were happy, I think I had a much better experience than they did.

I managed to see many more animals, and I got much closer to the cheetahs. The arranged tour vehicle left after 5 minutes and didn’t wait for the cats to come out of the bushes. Also, on a group safari you’ll spend an extensive amount of time on a campsite with no animals around and you can’t just decide to randomly go and see hippos at sunset.

Worth it, right?

Worth it, right?

Golden Rules for a Self-drive Safari in Kruger:

1. Plan your trip in advance.

Being spontaneous doesn’t really work at Kruger. Think about the dates you want to visit the park and book a car with a rental agency at least a few days before. My friend and I were stupid enough to think that we could just show up and they would have a car ready for us like in Europe.

Car rental agencies do get busy and we got extremely lucky that someone returned their car at the exact moment we walked into the office. One piece of advice for US citizens: you can’t rent a car in South Africa with an American driver’s license so get an international one before you head on holiday.

Our extremely packed Chevy ;)

Our extremely packed Chevy 😉

2. Prepare your credit cards.

You can’t rent a car in South Africa without a credit card. Not only that, the car rental company will block a huge amount on your credit card the minute you rent a car. The amount varies depending of the desired length of the rent and despite the office telling us that the charge for the car and fuel would be returned in 3 days, it didn’t happen for 2 weeks. Not surprisingly, we had a lot of trouble trying to rent a car 3 times.

My advice: if you don’t have a huge limit on your credit card, rent a car and keep it. It’s better to pay for an extra day or two than not being able to rent another car again.

3. Book your accommodation beforehand

Kruger National Park is huge, it’s actually as big as the Netherlands, so you need to plan accordingly. On their website you can see the different camps and which animals can you see around these camps.

For our 3 day safari we decided to stay in 2 different camps – Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie. The latter one being considered the best main camp in the whole park. Both camps offer villas, rooms and campsites.

We actually didn’t like Lower Sabie as much as the Crocodile Bridge where we were able to see tons of monkeys and hyenas, right next to the fence as the camp is small and animals come very close. Lower Sabie, on the other hand, is huge with a lot of luxurious facilities, which are definitely nice, but they don’t give you the chance to have a nocturnal encounter with hyenas.

Again, avoid my mistake of not booking accommodation at least a month in advance (!). Because we didn’t book in time, our only option was to camp outdoors. Before that experience, I had never camped before (not counting my road trip with a camper van in New Zealand) and we didn’t even have a tent.

Luckily we managed to get a tent from some friends and this along with the provided facilities made our camping experience quite nice. There was a super nice bathroom and a kitchen so we had no problem with anything.

The guy next to our tent would probably disagree, as a monkey stole his pasta and when he tried to hiss at her, she threw the rest of the package onto his head 🙂SDC12068

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

4. Consider the time

The camps close at 7pm for the night and you have to make it back before it gets dark. Estimate the distance you need to do between camps and take into consideration that a lot of roads are tiny side roads. You won’t be able to drive faster than 20 miles an hour on them.

Night visitors!

Night visitors!

5. Enjoy the Big 5!

I hope you’re going to be able to spot the Big 5! I only missed the lions (but I didn’t mind after my volunteering with lions experience) and we even saw a wild dog and there are only a few of them in the entire park!






Practical Tips for Visiting Kruger National Park:

Book a morning walk tour

While at Lower Sabie we booked a walking tour in the morning. It was an exciting activity, as we couldn’t get out of our vehicle normally while driving around the park. We spotted some interesting footprints, a few giraffes, and even a rhino running our direction.

Thankfully, the wind changed and rhino stopped running towards us! Rhinos don’t see very well, but they smell everything around. So when the wind changed the rhino couldn’t smell us anymore.

Ready for the walking tour!

Ready for the walking tour! White shoes = VERY bad idea 😉

Stay in one spot for a while if some animals have been spotted

Be patient and wait. We waited twice: once for cheetahs who ended up chilling next to our car and then for the rhino. We experienced a scene similar to Jurassic Park where everyone stopped and wondered where the T-Rex went, and suddenly showed up in front of the car. The rhino literally walked next to us!SDC11994

What to Pack for a Safari in South Africa?

As you can see in my photos Africa is not a fashion show. Even if you often see Instagram photos of perfectly dressed women, believe me – you’ll be dirty, sweaty and it won’t last long. You might want to swap your dresses to elephants pants, but don’t forget to bring some bikinis if you want to get some sun.

Don’t forget to bring a pillow. You’ll be sitting in the car for a very long time and you might want to put your head down and rest for a bit.

Car adapter might be useful, especially if you’re planning on taking lots of photos – either with your phone or camera. You might want to charge your electronics on the road.

Lifestraw bottle – in case you don’t want to buy bottles water.

Read more tips on what to wear on an African safari.

Arrange your travel insurance

Don’t forget to arrange a health insure before heading for a safari. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!

Kruger National Park Self-Drive Safari


Saturday 24th of June 2023

Hi Anna, Great post and very helpful tips. For my solo trip, I am in the process of searching and booking accommodations within the camp(I know am already little late). I am planning to self drive and stay inside the Kruger NP for about 9 to 10 days at hopefully different rest camps.

Q1 : I do see prices listed for different rest and bush camps on the official KNP site but what is best way of booking them ?

Q2 : I will be there during core winter, wondering if you know how cold it gets during nights coz if I don't get accommodation I might have to self tent at camp sites. Any suggestions will be helpful..

Thank you !


Friday 14th of July 2023

@Anna Karsten,

Thank you ! I was able to book accommodation at the rest camps so won’t need the sleeping bag (I hope) but sure will take an extra blanket.

Anna Karsten

Monday 26th of June 2023

My first trip there was in August so winter as well and it wasn't horrible. Bring a thick sweater and sleeping bag, but it's not crazy cold. Official site is the best way to book yes.


Monday 7th of October 2019

Hej Anna,

love your blog, helks a lot in our SA road trip planning :) We're going in March and are taking a trip to Kruger as well, a quick question - did you take some anti-mallaria pills or just use a strong repellent?

thanks in advance!

Anna Karsten

Monday 7th of October 2019

I've never taken any anti-malaria pills in SA, but mosquito repellent is a must :D


Saturday 3rd of August 2019

FYI - not sure when the regulations changed, but South Africa accepts US driver's licenses, so no need for US citizens to get an international license for car rentals there.


Tuesday 7th of November 2017

Do you think January is a good month for visiting safari?


Wednesday 8th of November 2017

Totally. January is South African summer, so it'll be warm and nice.


Sunday 28th of May 2017

Thanks for the post - very informative! We'll be staying in Lower Sabie this August. Two quick questions:

1) What's the car fuel situation within the park? Is it possible to purchase car fuel at the rest camp? We'll be there for 4 days, so assume a rental car's gas tank won't last us the entire time.

2) Which car agency in your experience requires international driver permits from those who have U.S. driver licenses? We read separately online that South Africa technically recognizes U.S. driver licenses, but that some car agencies may further impose their own conditions (i.e. international driver permit)


Sunday 28th of May 2017

Hi Jay, 1) Lower Sabie has a gas station. 2) From my experience all of them did. BUT things might have changed as I was there a few years ago. I'd just email some to be sure.

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