The Kruger National Park is to South Africa what the Masai Mara is to Kenya. It’s this countries most popular wildlife safari destination.
But, unless you are in a private concession within the Park Kruger is crowded, with paved roads that feel like you are on a highway rather than in the wild. And a safari in Kruger can feel more like you are on a tour rather than really connecting to the land and the animals.
To solve that problem, I have some advice.
Rather than staying directly in Kruger, consider staying in areas outside the Park, in what’s called the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP). This area consists of over 20 private reserves of 180,000 hectares of unfenced land on the West side of the Kruger National Park. The wildlife moves freely through this total area of 20,000,000 hectares (49,400,000 acres) and the reserves offer benefits you don’t find inside Kruger National Park.
Staying in one of the private reserves will cost you more money. But what you get in return is worth it.
You will have a more wild experience. You will have fewer vehicles at a sighting, and sometimes maybe yours will be the only truck at a sighting. You will have exclusivity – no self drivers are allowed in this area. And you will get the wisdom from some of South Africa’s top guides and trackers.
Probably the best known of the private reserves is Sabi Sands.
Sabi Sands is known as the area for honeymooners. Many of the lodges have special package deals for the newlyweds which include Cape Town, and a 3 or 4-night safari, before heading off to an exotic island. In fact, at every lodge I visited in this private reserve I met at least one couple on their honeymoon.
The area is also known for leopard sightings. The lodges in Sabi Sands have worked hard to habituate these big cats to trucks and tourists. Spending limited amounts of time with newborn cubs, then slowing increasing exposure until the cats are so comfortable, they will eventually walk nonchalantly within inches of the trucks full of tourists. Considering how shy and elusive these cats are in other areas of Africa, to be this close to leopards is a special privilege. So, if leopards are your thing, then Sabi Sands is your place.
Accommodation in the GKNP is more exclusive, with smaller camps, great service, and more luxurious amenities. I spent almost 2 weeks visiting 11 lodges in Sabi Sands recently and want to share my favorites with you.
Here are my top choices for your Greater Kruger National Park area lodges:
Boulders. The décor is inspired by the five elements – earth, wind, fire, air, and water -and the place has a sexy, modern, upbeat vibe. They have a workout gym, and spa, excellent management, staff, trackers, and guides. Monkeys are climbing on the rafters in the lounge, “it’s their place as much as it is ours,” is the attitude here. Boulders is one of my all-time favorite lodges I have ever stayed at. To see why, watch my video of Boulders Lodge, here.
Dulini River Lodge. The Dulini Collection has three lodges and also a connection to Savanna Lodge. I loved them all. But the beauty of the River Lodge is it’s light, sunny and airy aesthetic. It is simply exquisite. Take a video tour of their main lodge here to get a feel for what I’m talking about. Set among towering trees alongside a river, leopards are often seen around the camp. The staff has to put the cushions from the outdoor furniture away at night because the leopards have been known to chew them to bits.
Londolozi Varty Camp. A great choice if you are looking for a family safari or a safari/vaca combo. There is a state-of-the-art wellness center on-site with a Himalayan salt cave/freeze pool treatment that took away all the aches and pains I had from bouncing around in safari trucks for 2 months. They hold daily yoga classes before lunch and offer retreats in the bush with some re-known life coaches. They are known for having world-class trackers. And, the food is of superb quality with greens from their own garden.
There are other, less expensive lodges, but I say, if you are going on safari for your honeymoon, or only once in your life time, why not shoot for the best.
Let me help create a life-changing South Africa safari adventure for you that will be much better than going to the Kruger National Park.
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