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5 Common Misconceptions about the Kruger National Park

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The Kruger National Park is one of the most iconic holiday destinations in South Africa. The beautiful landscapes and astonishing game attract thousands of visitors each year. I have been lucky enough to go back to the Kruger seven times. But my boyfriend recently experienced it for the first time. We combined our learned experiences and this led to the 5 common misconceptions about the Kruger, so you know what to expect when you visit this remarkable nature reserve for the first time!
Don't forget to look out for graceful giraffes!
Don't forget to look out for graceful giraffes!

[1] The Big 5 is the only thing that makes a trip worth it

So false. So restricting. By thinking in this way, you are missing out on a myriad of other interesting and beautiful animals! For those of you who don’t know, the Big 5 is a list of African game animals.

The Big 5:

  • African Lion
  • African Elephant
  • Rhinoceros
  • Cape Buffalo
  • African Leopard

The list was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. So, contrary to popular belief, it’s got nothing to do with their aesthetics or how “African” the animals are. As you can see, there are so many other awesome game that did not make it to this list, such as the giraffe, crocodile and the hippopotamus!

Other lists of animals you can keep an eye out for when visiting the Kruger is the Ugly 5, the Little 5 and the Shy 5.

Ugly 5:

  • Hyena
  • Wildebeest
  • Vulture
  • Warthog
  • Marabou stork

Little 5:

  • Elephant Shrew
  • Buffalo Weaver
  • Leopard Tortoise
  • Ant Lion
  • Rhino Beetle

Shy 5:

  • Meerkat
  • Aardvark
  • Porcupine
  • Aardwolf
  • Bat-eared fox
We were lucky enough to see one of the Little 5, the leopard tortoise!
We were lucky enough to see one of the Little 5, the leopard tortoise!

[2] The Kruger’s size

The Kruger is huge. Duh! Thousands of wild animals call it home. But people often underestimate the size of the Kruger. Let me put it into perspective; according to the Kruger Park’s website, it is home to about 13 050 elephants. Yup, that’s just the elephants! Thus, the park can’t be huge, it must be ginormous!

This post states that The Kruger Park “is approximately 360 kilometers long, has an average width of 65 kilometers and, at its widest point, it is 90 kilometers from east to west. There is a network of some 1800 kilometers of well maintained roads and the Reserve has 21 rest camps, 2 private lodge concessions, and 15 private safari lodges.” With a total area of 19,485 square kilometers, the Kruger is almost as big as Israel!

So take note and don’t underestimate the scope of the Park. Remember that it takes you much longer to get anywhere, thanks to the 50km/h speed limit on tar roads and 40km/h on gravel roads. So keep an eye on your tank and fill up if you can. (There are filling stations in the Park’s bigger rest camps).

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[3] The times people visit

This misconception refers to the season people visit, as well as the gate times.

If you thought visiting the Kruger in the summer was a good idea, you might want to reevaluate. The Kruger National Park is located in the Lowveld where summer days are humid and hot with temperatures often soaring to above 38°C! You’re going to be driving around in temperatures that may reach 40°C and the mosquitoes are literally going to suck you dry at night.

The dry winter months are a much better time to visit the Kruger, as days are milder and your chances of contracting malaria much fewer. The vegetation also isn’t that lush, which makes it way easier to spot the animals! Take note that the rainy season is at the end of October to April, so be careful on the muddy roads during this time.

Another misconception is that you can enter the Park at any time. Although the Park is very big, there are still restrictions to how many vehicles (day visitors) can enter per day. Make sure to reach the gates super early during peak season to avoid disappointment!

See a list of gate times, prices and the telephone numbers for each gate here (make sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Impala ram. You'll see hundreds. But sometimes these guys can put up quite the show!
Impala ram. You'll see hundreds. But sometimes these guys can put up quite the show!

[4] You can get out of your car (and vice versa)

You are not allowed to get out of your car or dangle out of your car’s window. May seem obvious to some, but I’ve seen it happen far too many times! The Park is full of wild animals. This is not a zoo. These animals don’t spend their days in cages waiting for food. (And thank goodness for that!) They are wild, free and high on survival instincts; they WILL storm or attack you if prompted.

The not so obvious misconception: there are actually times that you are allowed to get out of your car. Rest stops are one of these: you can get out of your car to stretch your legs and use the restroom. Some of these stops also have extra facilities so you can have a picnic. Families often bring gas burners and make brunch. People are generally safe in these allocated areas which you can find on a Kruger map.

You won’t be safe from the monkeys and baboons, though! Where there’s food, there’s monkeys. So keep an eye on your sarmie when these guys are around. A monkey once stole one of our sandwiches through the sun roof! They’re ruthless, I tell you.

Another instance where you can get out of your car, is when you do a guided walk. “Up to eight guests are taken to interesting places in the surrounding wilderness areas adjacent to most of the camps. The walk itself is relaxed and experienced and armed guides use their knowledge of the bush to explain natural wonders,” according to SANParks. With these guided walks you get to experience the Kruger on foot and will see smaller critters that you may not spot from your vehicle. You can book a guided walk by email here.

Baby elephant taking a breather
Baby elephant taking a breather

[5] You must stay in the Park to get the full experience

As you know by now, the Kruger allows day visitors into the Park to enjoy the beauty that is Africa. And with the Kruger spilling over into the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, there is even more to see!

In my personal opinion, you might get more bang for your buck if you stay just outside of the Kruger. Accommodation might be cheaper and there are dozens of other natural sites to see in the surrounding areas. Therefore, you can visit the Kruger a couple of days in the week and road trip through your province of choice on the others. Sights such as God’s Window, Sodwala caves and the Soutpansberg (just to name a few) still await you! Do yourself a solid and plan a road trip just outside the Kruger’s borders.

Impala lilies can be seen throughout the Kruger.
Impala lilies can be seen throughout the Kruger.

Lastly, we should quickly mention a couple of things you absolutely do not want to forget when visiting the Kruger.

  1. You are still exposed to the elements, even if you’re in a car! So remember to put on some sunblock, summer AND winter. The African sun is a harsh mistress.
  2. If you have binoculars, remember to pack them. Sometimes the animals are far away and they make it feel more like a safari!
  3. Buy a Kruger map at the gate. This map is so helpful and I wouldn’t recommend trying to navigate the Park without it. It also has a sighting tick-off list, which is pretty fun for kids and adults who like lists. (Like myself, as you can clearly see).
  4. Pop your water bottles into the freezer the night before. Trust.

// Hopefully this list shattered a few misconceptions you may have had about this one of a kind attraction. How many times have you been to the Kruger? We’d love to hear any funny stories or tips you may have!

Donkeys in pajamas. Just kidding, zebras are amazing animals and surprisingly difficult to spot!
Donkeys in pajamas. Just kidding, zebras are amazing animals and surprisingly difficult to spot!
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