So you are lucky enough to be booking a trip in South Africa’s amazing Kruger National Park but not sure where you should be staying? I CAN HELP YOU. I have stayed in almost all the main rest camps from the north to the south, and spent many hundreds of hours driving around. In fact, you can check out some of my other EXPERT ADVICE about Kruger by reading about the best Kruger roads, the Kruger safari packing list, 40 simple Kruger tips and more Kruger-related articles.
Once you determine where you want to stay, you should also check out my tips to booking Kruger accommodation, because it’s not always easy – especially given how busy the park is getting these days!
Before I launch into my opinions about the best Kruger places, let me say this: there is no wrong option. Kruger is amazing, no matter where you stay and where you drive. Every camp has its own charm and no matter where you are, you can see something that will absolutely blow your mind. So whatever you do, do NOT stress – even if the particular camp you were looking to book is not available on the dates you’re in the park. Perhaps it’s fate and you’ll see something truly amazing that you would not have otherwise seen!
Now for the ADVICE.
First of all, you need to ask yourself, what matters most to you?
As many sightings as possible!
If you are looking for quantity over quality and want the best chance of spotting the Big 5, I would recommend staying in the south. The most popular camps are Lower Sabie and Skukuza – both are great options, though Lower Sabie can be difficult to get accommodation in as it is smaller and extremely popular.
If you are looking for cats specifically then I would definitely recommend Satara, Tamboti and Orpen, – along with Lower Sabie (and probably Skukuza) these are probably the best camps for cat sightings in the park (in my opinion). Satara is amazing for lions, and very good for cheetah and leopards.
2. Restaurant options!
Some camps in Kruger have restaurants (the main rest camps) and others require you to self-cater. If you are not interested in cooking your own food, or if you at least want the option to eat at a restaurant, then you need to stay at a main rest camp – ie. one of the following:
- Lower Sabie (south of park): Mugg & Bean restaurant (for international visitors, this is a well-known and reputable brand in South Africa, extensive diverse menu, quality food and reasonable prices). You can eat on the deck overlooking the river, where you often see giraffes, hippos, elephants, buffaloes, various antelope and even sometimes cats.
- Skukuza (south of park): Cattle Baron – also a chain (but much smaller) – in my opinion this is the best restaurant in the park and it offers free wifi as well as an AMAZING steak! The deck here also overlooks the river, where elephants are not uncommon but the chances of seeing animals is probably higher at Lower Sabie.
- Berg-en-dal (very south of park): Tindlovu Restaurant – this restaurant is in a few camps around the park and not as ‘polished’ as Mugg & Bean and Cattle Baron. It is more a home-cooked feel but the food in my experience is still pretty good. Definitely not as popular though. The restaurant overlooks the dam, and I have seen buffalo and elephant in the vicinity.
- Pretoriuskop (south of park): Wendy’s – a burger chain in South Africa. My experience has been relatively poor at this restaurant, but if you stick with burgers you should be OK. Do not order seafood! Definitely not as good as Mugg & Bean and Cattle Baron.
- Satara (central): Satara had Mugg & Bean as well as Debonairs (a well-known pizza chain in South Africa), however due to some issues with management, these are both in the process of changing. Watch this space as to what comes next – I believe they are going to change the menu to be more South African inspired (things like pap, woers etc). If this is the case it may be a great option for international travellers to get a taste of local cuisine, but do not expect it to be as polished (or familiar) as the restaurants in Lower Sabie and Skukuza.
- Olifants (central): Also had a Mugg & Bean restaurant, but this is also changing for the same reason as Satara. The restaurant has dining options inside and outside overlooking the Olifants river (from a great height, so while the view is spectacular, you are less likely to get animal sightings).
- Letaba (north central): Was also a Mugg & Bean restaurant but will be changing (same as Olifants and Satara), overlooking the river – common to see elephants from the deck
- Mopani (north): Tindlovu restaurant overlooking dam – common to see animals
- Shingwedzi (north): Tindolovu restaurant overlooking the river, elephant sightings are common
- Punda Maria: Tindlovu restaurant (no view)
Crocodile Bridge and Orpen are both considered main rest camps but do not have a proper restaurant.
3. Peace and quiet!
If you are looking for less people and more peace and quiet in Kruger, then I would avoid the main rest camps. The North is the very best place to go for quieter camps and roads. Any camps north of Satara are generally a bit quieter – Olifants, Letaba, Mopani, Shingwedzi, Punda Maria and even quieter are the self-catering bush and satellite camps in the north: Pafuri, Sirheni, Shimuwini, Boulders, Bateleur, Balule, Tsendze and Roodewal. If you want to stay south but are looking for a quieter camp, try Pretoriuskop, Berg-en-dal, Malelane or Biyamiti (difficult to get accommodation as it is quite small). The busiest camps in the park are Lower Sabie, Skukuza and Satara, probably followed by Crocodile Bridge (the Crocodile Bridge gate is also extremely popular and typically busy).
4. Awesome views and/or game-viewing from your place.
If you want to spend lots of time at your accommodation looking out onto rivers, waterholes or riverbeds with the hope of spotting game, your best option is probably Lower Sabie if you manage to get the safari tents that overlook the river, Skukuza riverside bungalows (or guesthouses), Olifants river-view bungalows (these are from a great height so less game-viewing and more stunning scenery). Tamboti tents overlook the riverbed with game sightings not uncommon, you can get places at Berg-en-dal that overlook the dam, bungalows at Letaba that overlook the river and also the guesthouse at Shingwedzi that looks out over the river. I might be missing something, so if so let me know in the comments section!
The obvious thing to do is also decide what sort of accommodation you are looking for, and for how many people. Kruger offers a range of accommodation options, from camping to huts and safari tents (shared bathrooms and kitchens), bungalows, cottages and guesthouses. Some camps only offer camping (eg. Maroela Satellite camp and Tsendze Rustic Camp) and others only offer bungalows and/or cottages (eg. Biyamiti, Bateleur, Orpen, Olifants, Shimuwini, Sirheni and Talamati). After you determine all of the above and know which camps you want to book, check availability and see what is on offer. You may need to make allowances if some camps (like Lower Sabie) are already booked out. The good news is that no matter where you stay, you will love it!
My two favourite camps are Shingwedzi because it is so quiet and beautiful and Tamboti because I like the renovated safari tents, the camp layout, the bush feel and the awesome location. What is your favourite Kruger camp?