How to plan a trip to the Kruger National Park, South Africa

As I have mentioned many times before, going to see the African wildlife in their natural habitat in the Kruger National Park of South Africa is not like going on a photo safari to, say, Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana.  In those places visitors join small groups led by trackers, rangers, and staff who provide the vehicles, know the roads and where to find wildlife, and move the group from camp to camp as the tour progresses.  All the logistics are included (except airfares to get in and out and not counting gratuities).  Typically, such an arrangement covers food, lodging, making and breaking camps, trucks and fuel, park fees, and all labor (trackers, drivers, cooks, rangers, etc.).  In Botswana those costs are about $500-600 per person per day.  Thus a 10 day camping safari (albeit a luxury camping safari since everything is done for you) for a family of four would run about $22,000, not including air to get to Botswana.  Call it $30,000 including air, or $7500 per person.  To my way of thinking, a vacation that costs $3000 per day for my family of four is high.

A self-drive safari to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, on the other hand, costs much less, but the costs and logistics are all unbundled, which means you have to make and coordinate all the arrangements yourself and then drive yourself through the Park.  That’s not a big deal; the South Africans perfected this economical way of experiencing wildlife over a hundred years ago, and people from all over the planet visit the Kruger regularly.  Comparing costs between the pricey guided safaris in East Africa and Botswana and the DIY option to the Kruger in South Africa, the difference is substantial.

Note that the price comparisons below INCLUDE air fares, which my previous post did not, and that accounts for why this analysis differs.  I also bumped up some of the Kruger costs in the below comparison to account for rising prices.

Let’s get started in looking at how to plan your own trip to the Kruger and what it will set you back:


Using my home airport of Raleigh-Durham (RDU) and connecting to Delta’s nonstop from ATL to Johannesburg (JNB), airfare in Economy has varied recently (depending upon time of year) from $1200 to $1800 round trip.  A separate ticket must be bought between JNB and one of two small airports near the Kruger.  You can fly to Nelspruit/Mpumalanga airport (MQP) or to the recently re-opened Skukuza airport (SZK) which is literally in the Kruger National Park near Skukuza Restcamp, which serves as the Park headquarters.  Either way the cost varies between $180 and $300 round trip.  Both the Delta and South African Airways flights can be easily booked online.  To get the cheapest fares, you have to plan and purchase your air tickets well in advance.  I usually plan more than six months ahead.  For a trip in February, 2014, I paid $1500 total RDU/MQP (which I purchased in July, 2013), but for a trip in December, 2014 over the busy Christmas holidays, the airfare was $2000 total RDU/SZK (which I bought in April).  I’ll use $1750 round trip per person for the comparison.


Because Delta’s nonstop arrives JNB in the late afternoon, it’s too late to get a connecting flight to one of the two airports near the Kruger that I mentioned above, thus requiring an overnight at an airport hotel.  There are a number of choices, but the best rates for safe, nearby properties including breakfast and tax and free shuttle service are around $120 for a double room,  Some hotels limit room occupancy to two, requiring the purchase of two rooms.  I stay at a very comfortable and safe hotel that allows four per room, but we receive only two breakfast coupons at that price.  Assuming two rooms, I will use $60 per person for the room rate.


Avis, Hertz, and other rental car agencies are available at the Mpumalanga airport (MQP).  Avis is available at Skukuza airport (SZK), but other rental car companies are planning to offer service there as well.  My best deals have been using Avis (at either airport) because I can get an all-in rate quoted in US dollars with unlimited kilometers.  For my family of four I opt to rent a large VW van because it has room to move around, lots of glass for viewing, plenty of storage space for luggage and a cooler, and sits up high off the ground for good visibility.  The vans are diesel-powered and use very little fuel (usually around 85 kms/gallon, the equivalent of about 55 miles per gallon).  The very low speed limits in the Kruger of 25-30 MPH contribute to the superior fuel economy.  On the other hand, the more you drive, the more animals you see.  I usually drive over 100 miles a day (160 kilometers), sometimes more.  Diesel fuel comes to about $15 per day.  Vans rent for more than regular sedans.  I usually pay about $100/day.  Thus 10 days in the Park cost $1150 ($1000 for the rental plus $150 in fuel).  That comes to $287.50 per person.


The Kruger used to charge a “daily conservation fee” on top of a daily entrance fee per person.  Now they combine both into something called a WILD CARD which is good for entry into all the South Africa National Parks (SANP).  Wild Card information can be found at  An International All Parks Cluster Wild Card (which is the one for non-South Africans) is currently R3120, which is about $312 at today’s US dollar/South African Rand exchange rate ($1 = R10.7).  That card will cover a family of up to seven, including two adults.  For a family of four, that averages to $78 per person and is good for one year from date of purchase.


There are 12 main “rest camps” in the Kruger National Park.  “Rest camp” is a quaint South African term meaning a self-contained village surrounded by electrified barbed wire to prevent wildlife from getting inside to eat the tourists!  Each rest camp includes lots of accommodation choices, camp grounds, one or two restaurants and snack bars, a grocery store and curio shop, a gas station, ranger offices and camp reception, and often swimming pools. There is also room to walk around the entire camp in each place, and parking for everyone’s vehicles next to their accommodation since the entire Kruger is premised on self-drive.  As I said, each rest camp is its own very comfortable village.  You can see a map of the camps here:  And here is where you can book your own accommodation choices online:  You must book and pay for your accommodation early to get what you want.  I do it at least six months in advance.  The Kruger is extremely popular with South Africans and overseas tourists alike, and the early bird gets the worm.  These days it’s costing about $200 per day for top-flight accommodation in the Kruger for our family of four.  That cost covers comfortable and spacious rooms in beautiful thatched-roof rondavels (round bungalows) with private toilet and shower, air-conditioning, fridge, hotplate and kitchen utensils (in case you want to cook your own food purchased from the camp grocery store), and a parking pad adjacent to the rondavel.  Thus 10 nights totals $2000, or $500 per person.


The Kruger’s 12 rest camps boast restaurants open all day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and for snacks in-between meals.  The food choices are varied and delicious (to me), and the prices are very reasonable, especially considering the Kruger is in the African wilderness where the logistics of getting food delivered is challenging.  Menus include a decent selection of South African beers and wines, too.  The camp grocery stores also stock a large curio collection for just about any taste, and of course you can buy and prepare your own food if you so desire.  We eat and drink well but rarely spend more than $50 per day for all four of us.  Let’s push that up a bit and call it $60 including curios.  That’s $600 for 10 days, or $150 per person.


That comes to $2825.50 per person for 10 days in the Kruger, or $11,302 for a family of four, compared to $30,000 for a family of four on a guided safari.  That makes the Kruger 62% less expensive when airfares are included (in my last post, I did a comparison without air). You can decide which is the best option for your family.

If you need more information on planning a trip to the Kruger, please contact me at



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