Kruger National Park: what animals you’ll see and when to go

Kruger National Park is an enormous game reserve that hugs the western border of South Africa, and it’s the perfect place to spot the Big Five.

By Saga team

Published 4 May 2024

Kruger National Park is one of South Africa's most famous national reserves and the perfect place for spotting the Big Five on a safari holiday.

If you have never experienced a guided game drive you can rest assured that this vast South African wilderness is a great place to start. A global hotspot, travellers often visit Kruger National Park for game viewing on foot, luxury safari lodge holidays and fascinating heritage tours.

It’s difficult to express the boundless appeal of Kruger’s vast open spaces and captivating biodiversity. Imagine a grand theatre where each day lucky visitors are treated to the performance of a lifetime.

Enter the Kruger National Park animal players.

The headline acts: the African lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros – otherwise known as ‘the Big Five’ – all thrive in this habitat. The bit-part actors vying for attention are hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish and amphibians.

The stage: thousands of square kilometres of lush grassland, tropical forestry and Kruger wetland. To travel to Kruger National Park is truly an incredible privilege and for many it is a once in a lifetime adventure.

It’s nice to know that you can travel to Kruger National Park all year round, with daytime temperatures remaining hot most of the year.

Game viewing is said to be at its best during the dry winter months (May to September) when animals actively search for watering holes. However, the wet summer months bring migrating birds and newborn wildlife, which is always a moving sight on safari.

Travelling to any national park in Africa opens up a world of exciting opportunities for travellers. Whether you want to relax or go wild, you can tailor your holiday to include your perfect Africa 3xperiences.

Led by experienced guides in sturdy 4×4 vehicles, Kruger Park game drives and bush walks offer travellers a classic safari experience. Search for the Big Five by day and fall asleep at night to the tranquil sounds of the African wilderness.

Ideal for solo travellers, couples or larger groups, your safari experience can be personalised to suit your holiday requirements. It’s even possible to organise a dramatic hot air balloon ride across this wild and untamed area for an unforgettable way to look out for Kruger National Park’s animals.

With many thousands of square kilometres to explore, it’s a good idea to think about exactly where you want to go in this subtropical landscape. Do you want to stay in the most secluded and sought after lodges or relax in a luxury hotel after a day’s safari?

It’s not a bad idea to do some research before your visit to Kruger, especially if you only plan on going for a short time.

There’s no guarantee you will see the Big Five on your Kruger safari; your best bet is to travel with an experienced ranger who knows the animals’ behaviour patterns.

Kruger lions are commonly seen in the grasslands of Tshokwane and usually in the daytime, offering a breath-taking sight.

Despite being the biggest of the Big Five, elephants tend to be surprisingly quiet and elusive creatures. Tshokwane is a good place to spot these magnificent animals.

Search for the elusive leopard by night – when they hunt – around Sabi Sands, which shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park.

Black and white rhinos are often seen in the south of Kruger. The latter are more social creatures and easier to spot.

Look out for immense herds of buffalo, one of Kruger’s most memorable scenes – many sightings take place around the Shingwedzi River near Skukuza.

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see absolutely everything; a whole range of wildlife awaits you in South Africa. Kruger National Park is an immersive experience and you’ll find that small things will capture your imagination along with the must-see Big Five.

If you have time to spare between exploring the landscape and looking out for the Big Five on safari, Kruger National Park is bursting with fascinating historical sites.

From reminders of humankind’s ancient origins at archaeological sites in the Limpopo/Luvuvhu floodplains, to dazzling prehistoric art in rock shelters towards the southwest of the park, it’s all waiting to be discovered.

Parts of Kruger National Park were occupied from 1250 to 1700 AD by African kings and queens. The area is also famed for its history of mineral mining and trade in gold, ivory, glass beads and bronze jewellery.

Learn about the modern history of Kruger National Park, which was considered a hunter’s paradise by colonial settlers for centuries. Hunting devastated animal populations in the region, until the pioneering leader Paul Kruger declared large sections of the land game reserves. These areas form the core of Kruger Park today.

By now your safari adventure will be building up your appetite. In the evenings, as you rejuvenate in your rest camp or lodge, combine history and gastronomy as you experience the distinctive flavours of South African cuisine.

Many guided tours stop in the evenings for meals cooked over an open fire.

Kruger National Park is the king of South African National Parks, and a visit here will leave you with some special memories.

An annual Wild Card membership grants special access to almost all of South Africa’s premier national conservation areas, including Kruger Park. These handy cards are a clever option for the safari fanatic!

Kruger National Park is in north-eastern South Africa, on the Mozambique border.

Kruger National Park is nearly 8,000 miles square (20,000 km²), which is about the size of Wales.

The animals you’re likely to see on a Kruger safari include elephants, buffalos, rhinos, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, hippos and warthogs. If you’re lucky you might also spot leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. It also has a very diverse bird population, including vultures, storks and eagles.

Yes, you can drive through Kruger National Park – all the roads are gravel or tarmac. However, considering its distance from popular tourist areas such as Cape Town, you might prefer to leave the car and fly to Kruger instead.

Yes, malaria is present in Kruger year-round, with the highest risk being between September and May. Check with your doctor for suitable tablets before your trip, and wear long sleeves – especially after nightfall.

Ready for your South African adventure? Discover our range of escorted and independent tours to South Africa.

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