Is it just me or is the business of booking Kruger accommodation getting more and more competitive? You probably don’t know because maybe you’ve never booked it before (or maybe I’m being presumptuous because really I do not know who the hell you are)… but the point is – IT SO IS. Booking Kruger accommodation is often a frustrating endeavour and it’s important you know the tips if you have much hope getting a nice place in a good camp.
After recently getting married in South Africa I introduced a lot of my Australian friends and family to the amazingness that is Kruger National Park. That inevitably led to everyone desperate to return (because it’s so AWESOME) and thus we begun planning our ‘one year reunion’ tour! So far there are six of us confirmed, and the plan is to spend almost three weeks over in ZA, with about 7 nights in private game reserves and the rest in Kruger!
Now I felt pretty good because Kruger accommodation isn’t available for booking until 11 months in advance – so that means on 1 July they open bookings for June the following year. So we had all of our itinerary and proposed bungalows/guest houses lined up ready to book first thing on 1 July. Even better, due to the time zone difference, we only had to call at 5pm Sydney time to catch SANParks as they opened. It’s important to note that you can book Kruger accommodation online (and you get a 5% discount for doing so), but online bookings do not open until the 2nd day of each month, thereby providing preference to those who walk-in and/or call to book on the 1st (perhaps a way to prioritise locals vs international tourists).
SO we call up right on 5pm (9am) on the 1st July and WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT – Lower Sabie is apparently ‘booked out’ for ‘all of June’ and Skukuza has very limited availability for the days we are looking at staying there. It turns out it is a long weekend so I get that would be busy, but come on – how on earth do two camps get practically booked out within a few minutes? Unless of course there were hundreds of people lining up to book in in-person once the camps opened at about 7am… but it seems so unlikely? I’m calling a CONSPIRACY here!
Anyway we at least got all of our first choices up north at Shingwedzi, Pafuri and Satara, but had to change our plans for our time in the south. Now instead of staying at Lower Sabie for two nights we will be at the Rhino guest house in Berg en dal and instead of staying at a guest house in Skukuza for our last two nights, we’ll be in bungalows (and not even the bungalows we wanted!). I was really disappointed as I love the safari tents we book at Lower Sabie, but on the plus side I’ve never stayed at Berg en dal so it will be at least interesting to try something new. At the end of the day, you aren’t really staying in Kruger for the accommodation, but more so for the driving around in the day… but to be so well prepared and ready to book the second booking opened (over the phone), we were left pretty disappointed that the accommodation we wanted for four of our nine nights in Kruger was already booked out!
If there’s one thing I have learnt about booking Kruger accommodation though, it’s to keep checking because people do quite often cancel their bookings, particularly when it comes to the time their deposit is due. We have managed to secure a guest house in Skukuza this way before (for my wedding trip).
Anyway the moral to the story when it comes to Kruger is to be well prepared – here are some more tips:
- There are three main ways to book: online, in-person (at Kruger National Park, head office in Pretoria or satellite offices in South Africa) or over the phone
- Booking opens 11 months in advance – so the first of every month booking opens for the following month in the next year (eg. 1 July 2016 is when you can book for all of June 2017)
- Online booking opens on the second of every month – so if you are keen like us you need to call or visit in person to get in earlier, particularly if it is a busy period (South African school holidays, public holidays etc)
- If you book online you will get a 5% discount but you have to pay upfront (versus in person and on phone you have to pay a deposit within a month and then the rest 60 days or so out from your booking)
- The core competition is typically South African residents – particularly busy periods
- People do cancel their bookings, so make sure you keep an eye on availability if nothing is available during your first investigation
- Kruger offers relatively flexible cancellation so you can change your original booking usually with no penalties
- You can pay via credit card or bank transfer (or cash in person)
- Southern Kruger is the most competitive area, try to get your bookings in early for camps like Lower Sabie and Skukuza as these book up quickly (although Skukuza is the biggest camp so has more options) – Satara is often quite busy as well
- See more at the SANparks website about booking terms: https://www.sanparks.org/tourism/reservations/
Make sure you do your research and determine where you want to stay, what specific accommodation you are looking for (camping site, hut, safari tent, bungalow, guest house etc). The more expensive options are typically the first to go – things like guest houses, riverside bungalows, perimeter bungalows/tents etc. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to avoid South African holidays because this is when things get extremely busy.
The last thing to say is – no matter where you end up you will LOVE IT because Kruger National Park is truly something special. It is not about the bed you sleep in at night but the animals you find in the day!