NP Lodges and Camps
Encounters Travel is an adventure tour operator offering lively, good value South Africa Tours. e.g. The Garden Route & Lesotho including Addo Elephant Park, Lesotho pony trekking, Drakensberg hiking; Big 5 Encounters including Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon and more.
The bugcrew failed to book ahead on their visit to South Africa, flying into Johannesburg and finding no Kruger accommodation available. Eventually we arrived in the park via Mpumalanga and had to stay in a superb but silly-money private Kruger lodge, Lukimbi (below), for a few days (loved the place but the game viewing was useless), until a rondavel hut became available in Pretoriuskop (cramped and ratty but cheap) and later a guest house in Berg-en-Dal (comfortable and pleasant and only a little more costly).
Neither of our camps, nor guided drives from the camps provided much in the way of exciting animal sightings, though admittedly we didn't get to the park's west side which seems to be better provided with wild things. Self drive on tarred roads was, surprisingly, more successful for us. See Rhino and Elephant encounters, both less than 3 metres from an open car window and we were alone, no other vehicles in sight.
We preferred driving ourselves and running across (no, not running over...) wildlife than the various guided game drives that always started before a wintry sunrise in quite unprotected vehicles and never yielded satisfactory results (for us, we add again - luck of the game?). However, we now believe that riverside lodges are the key to Kruger animal sightings in the dry season so, for example, Skukuza, Lower Sabie and Olifants are much better located.
Skukuza Rest Camp entrance.
Skukuza is Kruger's largest and most popular camp, on the bank of the Sabie River and base for a variety of restaurants, shops, library, museum, two swimming pools, 9 hole golf course, outdoor cinema, filling station, laundry, bank and post office.
As with most rest camps in South Africa the visitor centre can organise guided bush walks and wildlife safaris in jeeps, though often animals pop up in the immediate vicinity, such as hippos in the river, elephants having a drink, and baboons yelling at each other through the trees. There's a very lively bird hide 2/3 kms away.
As usual Skukuza camp accommodation ranges from small bungalows to large guesthouses (see below), all with barbeque areas and insect netting.
Skukuza downsides: it's very big and impersonal, bungalows (rondavels) are cramped and the outside kitchens can suffer from monkey trouble, but they are good value; staff are sloppy, careless and disorganised while restaurant and cleaning services are generally sluggish. i.e. slow and leave a trail. More.
Waterkant Guest House, Skukuza.
Lower Sabie Camp in south Kruger. The Sabie River is the core of Kruger's most bountiful game sightings.
Lower Sabie, on the bank of the Sabie River, is arguably the best of all Kruger's camps. Not a pretty site (pun intended) but due to its brilliant Sabie-side location animal viewing from the terrace is frequent. Lower Sabie's accommodation is simple, including some large, platformed tents, or chalets with kitchens. As elsewhere, restaurant food quality and service is questionable and erratic. More.
Mopani Camp in north Kruger National Park.
Mopani is Kruger's newest rest camp, well built near a dam in a high-game density area, so viewing a large variety of animals from camp grounds and terraces is easy. Mopani is very well organised and comfortable, with an excellent restaurant and swimming pool.
A pleasant mid-market room in Shishangeni Private Lodge contrasted with...
...a more extravagant, upmarket bedroom in Lukimbi.
National Park offers a dozen private game lodges that are extremely luxurious,
beautifully designed, serve fantastic nouvelle cuisine, take you on
game drives in their private concession area of the park and naturally
cost both arms and a leg.
Sadly, more cost does not equal more wildlife views. Au contraire, because the animals don't often see much in the way of motors, they may avoid tracks where lodge vehicles roam.
Our advice is by all means enjoy the superb facilities and service at these camps if the wallet is willing, but have your own wheels there so you can take your own little on-road safari as well as being chauffeured around in a lodge 4WD.
Lukimbi private safari lodge, Kruger National Park (in June).
Luxury Kruger accommodation:
Lukimbi Safari Lodge, Tinga Private Game Lodge, Jock Safari Lodge, Singita Private Game Lodge, Imbali Safari Lodge, Rhino Walking Safaris, Shishangeni Lodge.
Best Rest Camps in Kruger for animal sightings, especially the Big Five:
Lower Sabie, Olifants (get a perimeter bungalow), Satara Bush Camp ( 2nd biggest camp in Kruger, not very good accommodation) and Skukuza. Letaba is in a lovely setting and specialises in elephant sightings.
Worst Rest Camps:
Pretoriuskop - poor facilities and worse food; Crocodile Bridge - conveniently close to Crocodile Gate and civilisation but small and nothing else to commend it; Orpen, similarly adjacent to a gate so convenient and with adjacent waterhole but otherwise small and lacking character.
Other Kruger Park accommodation possibilities
In addition to Rest Camps and Luxury Safari Lodges there are:
a) Satellite Camps operated by some rest camps. These will be a few kilometres away from their big brothers and much more basic - for example using tents and only self-catering - but closer to nature and cheaper. e.g. Satara Rest Camp (RC) runs Balule; Berg-en-Dal RC runs Malelane; Orpen RC runs both Maroela and Tamboti; Letaba RC runs Pionier.
b) Bush Camps, much smaller and more basic than rest camps. e.g. Bataleur; Biyamiti, Shimuwini, Sirheni, Talamati.