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South Africa Safari: Kruger Park vs Sabi Sands

South Africa Safari: Kruger Park vs Sabi Sands

The Kruger Park is one of Africa’s top safari destinations – and rightly so. The size of a small country, South Africa’s flagship reserve is home to large prides of lion, herds of buffalo, rivers swollen with hippo and bush that vibrates with the twittering of birds.

Whether watching a family of elephant at a waterhole or sipping fireside drinks under the stars, the Kruger Park is the kind of place that makes you feel alive! 

Jock Safari Lodge game drive
Game drive at Jock Safari Lodge, one of the first privately-owned camps in the Kruger Park.

When planning a South Africa safari, the first thing to realise is that the term “Kruger” generally refers to a much larger area than the national park. Neighbouring private reserve such as the Sabi Sands and Timbavati all form part of the Greater Kruger. Then there are the private concessions that lie within the national park.

So how does the safari experience differ in private reserves compared to the Kruger National Park? And which should you pick for your bucket list big game adventure? Here is everything you need to know to help you make that decision.

Kruger National Park 

The Kruger National Park is classic safari country. An extensive network of tarred and gravel roads roughly the size of Israel or Wales. Accommodation in the park is usually pretty basic and mostly self-catering, but offers a clean and comfortable stay. You can drive yourself around the park, and certain areas of the park can get quite crowded - in particular around the bigger camps and during school holidays.

Self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park
You can drive yourself around the Kruger National Park (photo: Dimitry B.)

In short:

  • Self-catering chalets and camping
  • Visitors can drive themselves
  • Vehicles are not permitted to leave the roads
  • High visitor numbers (especially during school holidays)

Kruger Private Reserves

Cheetah sighting on a Sabi Sabi game drive
Guide and tracker take their guests off-road to get closer to cheetah at Sabi Sabi Private Reserve.

Private reserves share an unfenced border with the national park. The best known of these is the Sabi Sands, which has a well deserved reputation as one of the best places to see Africa's Big 5 (lion,leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo). Staying in a private reserve, your guide is permitted to drive off-road getting you close to thrilling sightings without having to the obstruction of bushes. Also, since there are far fewer vehicles, there's no jostling for space around a sighting.

Bush dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge
Lantern-lit bush dinner on the bank of the Sabie River at Lion Sands River Lodge.

In short:

  • Exclusive game viewing with view other vehicles about
  • Luxurious lodges & tented camps
  • Game drives are led by expert guides
  • Off-road driving is allowed
  • Most lodges also offer guided walks, bush dinners and even sleep-outs 

Kruger Park Concessions

Luxury suites at Singita Sweni lodge
Stylish glass-walled suite at Singita Sweni, in a private concession of the Kruger Park. 

A private concession is similar to a private reserve, but lies within the borders of the national park. Private concessions include the Singita Lebombo concesstion and Jock Safari Lodge. 

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