The Greater Kruger National Park is an extended conservation area that includes Kruger itself, as well as a number of adjacent private game reserves, such as the world-famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Two of the most popular safari options for those who want to experience Kruger is to join a guided open vehicle safari in the Kruger National Park itself, or book an all-inclusive stay at one of the luxury safari lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. How do these options compare, and which one is better?
The Kruger National Park
Kruger is huge, and this is one of the first advantages of doing a safari in the Kruger Park itself. The park covers over 2 million hectares and has an extensive road network covering vast areas. On a guided open vehicle safari in Kruger, you can expect to cover far more ground and see a greater variety of landscapes and vegetation types than on a safari at a private game lodge, where the game drives are limited to a comparatively small traversing area. This naturally affects the number and diversity of animals you are likely to see on safari, as you drive through different habitats. Typically, in Kruger, you can expect to see bigger herds and greater numbers of animals, and a larger variety of general game, compared to the Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
Another advantage of Kruger is its affordability. The accommodation in Kruger is reasonably priced, and the conservation fees are lower than at most other popular national parks in Africa. This makes it very affordable as a self-drive destination, and even a guided open vehicle safari in Kruger will generally cost much less than a similar safari at a luxury safari lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
There are also some disadvantages to Kruger. One of these is that certain areas of the park can get quite crowded with self-drive visitors in their own cars. In particular, the areas around the biggest and most popular camps can get very busy during school holidays, and it is not uncommon to have 10 or even 20 vehicles jostling for position at a lion sighting. There are ways to avoid this, for example by choosing the secondary dirt roads for game drives instead of the main tar roads, or by selecting a more remote camp for your Kruger safari.
Another disadvantage is that the vehicles are not permitted to leave the road. Even safari operators are not allowed to go off-road to get closer to the animals, which could mean that visibility and camera angle is not always perfect if you have a sighting of an animal that is far away from the road. Binoculars and a decent zoom lens can come in handy in Kruger.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is adjacent to Kruger and shares an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park. It's a collection of privately owned game farms, and many of the lodges with a smaller piece of land have negotiated shared traversing rights with neighbouring lodges. Some of the more exclusive lodges have a large private traversing area that is not shared with other vehicles, and typically these are also the most expensive lodges, priced anywhere from $700 per person per night and above.
The biggest advantage of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is the ability of game drive vehicles to go off-road in order to track and follow certain animals, and get closer to prime sightings such as the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) or other predators (cheetah or wild dog for example). Most lodges use an experienced tracker who helps to spot animals and their tracks, allowing guests the most amazing close up sightings of Africa's big cats. The Sabi Sand has become famous as the best place in the world to see and photograph leopards in the wild.
At a private safari lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, all meals and game drives are included in the cost, and at the more exclusive lodges, drinks are also included. There are a few budget lodges, but most are expensive, luxury lodges offering an exclusive, upmarket safari experience. Most lodges have a fixed daily routine which includes a morning game drive and afternoon game drive of about 3-4 hours each, and usually, the afternoon game drive continues after dark as a night drive.
A short bush walk with an armed ranger is also usually included, and some lodges offer additional activities like a sleepout at a hide or platform in the bush, romantic bush dinners, star-gazing, spa treatments and more.
While a private safari lodge may not offer the same volume of sightings and diversity of species and landscapes as you will encounter in Kruger, it does usually offer the chance for quality, close-up sightings of Africa's biggest predators.
A Combo Safari
So which is better? The Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Game Reserve both have their advantages. For those on a tight budget who want to see as much wildlife as possible in a short time, a guided open vehicle safari in Kruger is probably the best option. For those who prefer to spend a bit more and enjoy close-up wildlife encounters and off-road game drives, using a luxury safari lodge as a base, the Sabi Sand is probably a better option. In particular, if you've always wanted to see and photograph that most elusive of predators, the leopard.
But there is a way to combine the best of both worlds! Why not combine a guided 3-day or 4-day Kruger National Park safari with a few nights at a private game lodge? We call this a Kruger Combo Safari, and it is one of the most popular options for first-time visitors to Kruger.
Have you been on a combo safari, or experienced either Kruger or the Sabi Sand Game Reserve? Which one was better? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is adjacent to the Kruger National Park. It is a collection of privately-owned game reserves which have dropped their fences by mutual agreement. There is also no fence between the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and the Kruger National Park, allowing the free movement of animals through the reserve. It is known as South Africa's top luxury safari destination and the best place in the world for viewing leopards in the wild.
The 3-day Kruger National Park safari is designed for those who want a quick and affordable way to see the Kruger National Park in the company of an expert guide, but are really short on time. We also call it the Kruger Quickie Safari and it departs on set dates from Johannesburg or Nelspruit. Custom departures can be arranged for groups of 4+ (additional cost). Book early to avoid disappointment!
A guided safari in the Kruger Park (using the national park camps) is quite different to a safari at a private game lodge. Both have their advantages. This trip idea combines two nights in Kruger, followed by two nights at a private game lodge for you to experience the best of both worlds. All game drives in open vehicles with expert and knowledgeable guides.
The 4-day Budget Kruger Park Safari is easy on your budget, big on game viewing. This small group, fully-guided safari in Kruger National Park overnights inside the park with scheduled departures from Johannesburg or Nelspruit. Custom departure dates may be arranged (additional cost applies). Book early to avoid disappointment!
Sabi Sabi Selati Camp is an award-winning safari lodge situated between the Sabie and Sand Rivers and lies within the game migration path from the Kruger National Park. Located on the banks of the Msuthlu riverbed, the lodge offers expansive bush views and rewarding game viewing all year round. Accommodation varies from luxury suites to the romantic honeymoon suite to an exclusive presidential suite.
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is a 5-star lodge situated in the heart of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, one of South Africa's prime private safari destinations and also part of the greater Kruger National Park. Bush Lodge overlooks a waterhole and promises a rewarding, luxurious safari experience all year round.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is a unique, luxury 5-star lodge that lies on the banks of the Sabie River within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Chosen by National Geographic as one of the "Unique Lodges of The World", Earth Lodge is in one of the oldest and largest proclaimed private reserves, part of the greater Kruger National Park, and known as South Africa's top safari destination, offering outstanding game viewing.
Recently renovated (Feb 2016), Sabi Sabi Little Bush Camp is situated on the banks of the Msuthlu River in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve which forms part of the greater Kruger National Park. This area is renowned as one of South Africa's top safari destinations with excellent game viewing. Little Bush Camp is an intimate 6-suite camp ideal for small groups, families and friends.
This trip idea combines the best of South Africa's top two destinations - Cape Town and the Kruger National Park. Spend 4 nights in Cape Town, often voted the most beautiful city in the world, followed by 4 nights on safari in the world-renowned Kruger National Park, home to a larger diversity of wildlife than anywhere else in Africa. The trip can be done on a self-drive or fully-guided basis, as you prefer.
The popular 5-Day Best of Kruger Safari is a 4-night/5-day safari in the Kruger National Park offering open vehicle game drives with an experienced safari guide. Includes a night drive and guided bush walk. Spend two nights at each of two different camps, in different areas of Kruger Park, giving you the best game viewing opportunities. Book early to avoid disappointment!
The Greater Kruger National Park is South Africa's premier safari destination: it's the largest wildlife conservancy in Africa, set in one of the most accessible yet unspoilt wilderness areas in South Africa. It encompasses the Kruger National Park and a number of adjoining private reserves which share unfenced boundaries with the park; including Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Klaserie and Balule Game Reserves, which are home to a wide variety of private game lodges, each with its own brand of style and luxury.
There's no doubt that Kruger National Park is South Africa's best-known national game reserve. And at over two million hectares in size, it's certainly the biggest. But here are some things about Kruger that you probably didn't know ...
About the author
Onne Vegter is the managing director of Wild Wings Safaris. He has a deep love for Africa's people, wildlife and natural heritage. Onne has travelled to most of Africa's top safari destinations and his writing is based on years of personal experience in the safari industry. Follow him on Twitter at @OnneVegter.