Kruger: Public rest camps vs. safari lodges?

Nov 12th, 2010, 11:40 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2010
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Kruger: Public rest camps vs. safari lodges?

We're planning our first trip to South Africa on Jan 1-19. Our tentative plans are to spend 4-5 days in Cape Town and 6-7 days on the Western Cape/Garden Route, ending in Port Elizabeth (or perhaps driving a big circle back to Cape Town?). Then fly to Jo'burg or Nelspruit, rent another car and spend 5-6 days at Blyde River Canyon and Kruger. Our return flight is the evening of January 19 from JNB.

We're wondering about the relative value of the all-inclusive safari lodges vs. just doing a self-drive through Kruger and staying at the public rest camps. Has anyone gone on the ranger tours offered at the public rest camps in Kruger? Are they worthwhile? I'd be interested in your comments and comparisons to the game drives offered by safari lodges.

This is probably our only trip to Kruger, so we'd like to do it right, but we got sticker shock when researching the safari lodges. Still, we're willing to splurge on a night or two at the end of our stay if it's a "can't-miss" experience. We prefer "authentic" (unfenced tented camps) to "luxury".

Three lodges that have good reviews and are at the low end of the price range are Elephant Plains (already full for Jan 17-18), Gomo Gomo (around $550 a night) and Shindzela ($450/night). If you recommend a stay in a safari lodge, are there others that are a good value in the south or central Kruger area?

Thanks in advance for any comments and suggestions about the best/most affordable way to explore Kruger and about any other parts of our trip. The planning is fun, but it really can be overwhelming!
kwalker99 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2010, 03:25 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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We've stayed many times in the Kruger public camps. The level of luxury varies from "not at all" to "quite nice". Especially in the older camps, the 2-person cottages are pretty basic. The accommodations that hold more than 2 people are usually very spacious, and to me and my husband, worth the extra money. These run around $100 a night for two, give or take.

The game drives with the rangers are great, but can sometimes be crowded. You want to get there early to get a seat near the ranger. At other times, there are only a few people; we've been on drives with only 6 or 8 people, and once, just the two of us and the ranger. Their level of expertise is unmatched, and we've never been disappointed in their knowledge and ability to share it. The price is good too, about $25 pp the last time we were there, in February 2010.

The other nice thing about staying in Kruger itself is that you can do self-drives in addition to the ranger drives, which means you can spend much more time looking at game.

A third advantage is that you'll likely meet some local South Africans in Kruger, which probably won't happen at the private camps.

If I had an unlimited budget, I would spend a few days on my next safari at one of the private lodges, but I would do it in addition to, not instead of,the public camps.

The sanparks web site has complete info on all the different kinds of huts, cottages, bungalows, safari tents, and whatever they call them, and what amenities they have.

Your trip sounds wonderful; South Africa won't disappoint you!
Celia is offline  
Nov 13th, 2010, 12:48 PM
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Been to Kruger three times over last four years. We've done Kruger ranger game drives twice but didn't last time there. Those ranger drives are ok, but you are up in a small truck vehicle and if crowded you can't move around to see the other side. We much prefer simply to drive/explore around ourselves. All roads are smooth even if gravel, well marked. Nothing like just being by yourself and coming across a big bull ele along side the road or a herd of maybe 100 eles on both sides of the road. Just you and them!!!

Having said how much we love Kruger, in 15 or so total days there we have seen leopard only once, lion about 5 times, and never rhino. At a private reserve camp near Kruger you will see those every day and likely twice a day. AND up close and personal!!! I think the best value camp in the area is Kings Camp in the Timbavati reserve. But with the Rand strong it may also be a bit pricey. If I had only 3-4 days in the area, that's where I'd go. Even if I had to get another credit card to put it on. You will talk about the rest of your life.

Here are the Kruger and Kings Camp web sites -

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Nov 14th, 2010, 02:20 AM
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Hey Kwalker99,

We've not stayed in any Kruger NP restcamps; we stayed just outside in "Protea hotel The Winkler" near Paul Kruger gate. But from there we did get the "day-trips" in the park, which I assume are very similar to the gamedrives starting at the restcamps.

And this year we visited 4 private reserves near kruger and always went for the non-luxury type of lodge (unfenced tented camps or similar). See my trip reports on this board (part 4 still to come).

IMHO if this is the only time ever that you think you're going to end up in Kruger, then I would certainly not go for a self-drive. You will certainly not see as much animals that way. Game drives organised from the restcamps will be better than self-drive, yes, but still: you cannot go off road, and you may end up in a "bush-jam". It happened to us; 12 vehicles to see a leopard tail, lol.

So I think you're much better off with a comfortable tented camp in a private reserve.

If EP is full, try Arathusa (not that much differtent in price, see: But note that both are the concrete-electic-fence type. You could also go for Umkumbe. New website: the old is a .com). Strange thing; it does not show on most Sabi Sands maps. It sits right in the corner of MalaMala and Notten's. So location is top. Their area is a very slim stretch that reaches all the way to the game reserve fence in the west, and they do not have traversing rights that I know of. I admit it is a small area but it does have a view on the Sand river, and if you stay for a couple of nights you'll certainly see a lot!

And if you like Shindzela, you might also like Simbavati ( in the same Timbavati GR.

And if you're looking at Gomo Gomo you might be interested in Africa On Foot ( or their new camp nThambo (

All camps that are in your price range, and the type of accomodation and atmosphere you're looking for. Idem with Pungwe in Manyeleti, albeit that is a bit more rustic (as is their site; lol)


pixelpower is offline  
Nov 14th, 2010, 09:43 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
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It really depends on the experience you are looking for. We chose to do the private reserves, but we aren't as "adventurous" as you seem to be. At a private reserve, they do everything for you. At the rest camps, you have to go to the restaurant or cook for yourself. We stayed at Arathusa last year (we loved it) and compared the price to the rest camps. By the time you add in food, game drives, a car and conservation fees it was not much more expensive, and the chance to have great wildlife sightings goes up a lot. But it's entirely different, too. Have you checked availability at Kruger? They sell out early. If you don't want to cook all of your meals, stay in a camp that has a restaurant. Check at

I am a safari girl, so I would shorten the CT/GR part by a couple of days and spend 3 nights at two different game lodges/rest camps. Having been to Arathusa, (request a room with a view) I recommend it, and pixelpower's reviews of Shindzela and AOF, I would not hesitate to go to them.

Have fun planning!
christabir is offline  
Nov 16th, 2010, 03:24 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 11
Many thanks for the great advice and detailed suggestions. It's sounding like a combination would be right for us -- two to three days of self-drive in Kruger, then the last two (possibly three) nights at a safari camp. We're also thinking about doing self-drive days in Addo before we fly to Kruger.

I've checked out all the web sites and pixelpower's detailed travelogues (great!). King's Camp looks wonderful, but is more luxury than we're looking for. Shindzela, Simbavati and Umkumbe all seem like good values. Ngala is appealing, too, but it looks bigger and more family-oriented (lots of kids?) than the others.

Thanks again!
kwalker99 is offline  
Nov 16th, 2010, 06:07 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
Ngala Lodge, been there for 8 nights, I can't recommend it. Ok lodge but game drives were so-so. More details if you wish in my trip report -
Do any of the others first.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Nov 16th, 2010, 07:11 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 7,391
I did the self-drive in Kruger a few years back staying at 5-6 different camps. Enjoyed all of them and the day drives. Took a SanParks night safari one night and it was miserable. 30 people in a vehicle, passing the spotlight to each person and stopping at every single impala because the person withe the spotlight said "Stop" and the driver did. Never again would I do one of those. Kruger was cool though, if you see a big crowd at a sighting keep going and sure as s*** something was around the next corner that we had to ourselves.
matnikstym is offline  
Nov 17th, 2010, 01:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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There's such a vast difference in price between the Sanparks accommodation and the private reserves, and most people have a budget of some sort that will determine where they stay. We love the Sanparks rest camps and have stayed in 5 different ones in both Kruger and Addo. All were wonderful in their own way and tremendous value for money. Sure it isn't luxury, but it's not really roughing it either compared to the overland backpacking expeditions I did in my 20's.

Going on an organised safari drive in the park isn't really necessary as your free to self-drive around in your own vehicle as much as you like (apart from after dark). Getting up early for a pre-breakfast drive is a wonderful experience and your sure to see a wide variety of animals at your own pace.

True, the private reserves (many of which are stocked with animals in the same way a zoo is) have every conceivable luxury and a higher proability of spotting the big five, but you pays your money and takes your choice.
Gordon_R is offline  

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