Getaway’s top-voted spots to stay in Kruger and beyond

Posted by Lauren Dold on 30 July 2021

When it comes to Kruger, we all have our favourite camps for different reasons. Some have river views, some are quiet and private, and some have the best ice cream selection in the shop! Whatever the attraction, we asked and you answered: these are Getaway readers’ top spots in Kruger and Greater Kruger, (and some of our own favourites, too).

Everyone’s Kruger experiences and memories are different. When I go to Kruger, I love the SanParks experience. I want green bathroom tiles emblazoned with Custos Naturae (guardian of nature), and bright pink hand soap. I want the smell of woodsmoke and citronella. I want the wooden owls to tell me what time I need to be back in camp. 

It’s difficult to choose favourites, but since I have to, mine are Talamati, Orpen, Tsendze, Sirheni and Tamboti. For our editor Anton Crone, top spots go to Punda Maria, Return Africa Pafuri, Tsendze and Letaba.

Our readers’ 10 best SanParks camps:

1. Letaba Rest Camp

A shady oasis in the thick mopane veld, with its tall trees and families of bushbuck, Letaba is a firm favourite amongst our readers and the Getaway team too, claiming the number one spot. 

Letaba’s swimming pool and Park’s Shop, (a temporary one has been built after a fire in 2020) fuel station, restaurant, amphitheatre and day visitor’s centre make Letaba one of the most convenient stops in the park. Its location on the banks of the Letaba River (river of sand) is what makes it one of Kruger’s most beautiful. Unique to Letaba is the elephant museum, where many of Kruger’s great tuskers have been honoured.

Letaba also has beds for every kind of traveller, with guest houses, bungalows, cottages, huts, furnished safari tents and campsites to choose from.

While deep in the mopane veld region of the park, Letaba is close to two major dams and usually provides great elephant and birdlife sightings.

2. Lower Sabie Rest Camp

Lower Sabie Rest Camp closed after 10 staffers contract COVID-19

Lower Sabie takes a close second place as a Kruger favourite, and is one of the best rest camps in the southern region of Kruger. On the banks of the perennial Sabie River, the plentiful water attracts large numbers of game all year round. Known for an impressive warthog population, the area around Lower Sabie boasts some of the highest game density in the park, including lion, cheetah, buffalo and hippo. 

You can’t help but feel soothed by the views of the river, which many of the bungalows and tents offer, with the Lebombo mountains as a backdrop. Like Letaba, Lower Sabie also has a range of accommodation from guesthouses to campsites, and more recently added semi-luxury two-bedded tents. Lower Sabie is also one of the most wheelchair-friendly camps in Kruger.

3. Tsendze Rustic Campsite 

Tsendze is renowned for being the best camping spot in Kruger. Without electricity or a generator, Tsendze is wild and peaceful. Rodgers Hobyane and Elina Mona take care of the camp, and their hospitality is without a doubt one of the reasons visitors book spots a year in advance. Rodgers is on first-name basis with all the owls that call Tsendze home, and happily shows campers their nesting spots and hangouts in the trees.

Read: The owl keeper of Tsendze

Tsendze has 34 campsites, and two ablution blocks and kitchen facilities with gas powered geysers and the best outdoor showers.

While in mopane territory, (just 8km south of Mopani rest camp) the game viewing is good, with all manner of animals strolling past the fence at night. Mooiplaas picnic spot is just next door for an excellent breakfast stop, and Mopani rest camp is close enough for any emergencies, like running out of ice. 

4. Olifants Rest Camp

Image by Melanie van Zyl

Olifants, situated high above the river which gives the camp its name, offers one of the best views in Kruger. From the lookout point and from many of the bungalows, panoramic views over the Olifants provide good opportunity to spot big game like elephants, buffalos and hippos, while fish eagles provide an almost continuous soundtrack in the background. Waterbuck are also a common sight on the islands in the river. 

Olifants is situated in a transitional zone, where two distinct kinds of vegetation meet. To the north, mopane veld provides shelter for game while in the south, expansive plains make spotting dots of buffalo, giraffe and kudu easy.

The best huts are the ones on the perimeter…we’ll take a basic bungalow with a view over a bigger, more equipped bungalow any day!

5. Tamboti Tented Camp 

The best thing about Tamboti is the natural vegetation that grows throughout the camp. A night at Tamboti feels like a “proper” night in the bush, without any of the distractions of the busier rest camps, and it is a lot more private. Tamboti is only 5km from Orpen gate, where there is a reception and shop.

The raised safari tents face onto the Timbavati river, or riverbed depending on the time of year. There are budget tents with a private deck, fridge and braai area, and ten semi-luxury safari tents with ensuite bathrooms, kitchenettes, decks and braai areas. Tamboti can be freezing in winter, especially in the more basic safari tents along the river (I once resorted to sleeping in my socks and shoes it was so cold,) but is very pleasant in spring and autumn. 

Other favourites worth mentioning were Satara, Balule satellite camp, Shingwedzi, Biyamiti and Orpen rest camp.

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/

Private camps and Greater Kruger

Within the park are a number of private concessions and commercial camps, and these rank highly among Kruger visitors. Then there are the camps and lodges in the surrounding reserves that make up greater Kruger, which are favoured for their offering of luxury and exclusivity.

When it comes to greater Kruger, the offerings are endless. While I like a bit of luxury, I favour private and exclusive safari experiences, and so my top picks must be Pungwe Safari camp in the Manyeleti, Nkelenga self catering camp in Thornybush and Klaserie Drift in Klaserie private nature reserve.

Read Manyeleti Magic at Pungwe Safari camp

Based on readers’ votes, these are the favourite private camps in Kruger and surrounding reserves.

1. Mdluli Safari Lodge

Mdluli opened its doors in early 2020 and is already a favourite, taking the number one spot. Closest to Numbi gate, Mdluli is an 850 ha piece of land within Kruger, which benefits the large Mdluli community living outside the park. This property, with 50 safari tents, is a luxurious but affordable option for Kruger visitors.

Unique to this part of the park are the granite rock formations within Mdluli. Guests can walk up to the granite viewpoint, with panoramic views over the Kruger landscape.

From R1 950 pp sharing, self-drive.

https://mdlulisafarilodge.co.za/

2. MalaMala Main Camp

MalaMala is one of the oldest lodges in the Sabi Sands in Greater Kruger, and has remained a favourite for years. As one of the first, it has an excellent location on the reserve on the banks of the Sand river.

MalaMala is luxurious, but understated with thatched villas, green lawn and a swimming pool overlooking the river. Unfenced, wildlife roams freely through the camp, and guests can spot game from their own private verandahs.

Have a drink at the iconic Buffalo Bar, with photos of the good old early days of MalaMala.

One of the advantages of visiting a reserve like the Sabi Sands is the expertly guided game drives, and the chance to go off-road for special sightings.

From R5 900 pp sharing (SA rates)

https://www.malamala.com/camps/malamala-camp

3. Thornybush Nkelenga 

A personal favourite of mine, Thornybush Nkelenga is also a top spot voted by readers. This self-catering camp in Thornybush nature reserve sleeps 10 comfortably, (12 if there are four kids who don’t mind sharing a loft) and is the ideal spot to connect with friends and family in the bush.

Three meru-style tents each sleep two, and a main house with a loft sleeps four to six people with a small kitchen, large dining room table (perfect for board games) and a comfortable lounge. Nkelenga means fever tree, and a few of these magnificent trees tower over the green lawn and swimming pool, with views over a private dam where ellies often come to drink. Thornybush staff come in every day to clean and light the evening fire, and a tracker and guide fetch guests every morning and afternoon for game drives, which tend to be very productive.

From R13 000 per night for the camp, sole use.

https://www.thornybush.com/lodge/nkelenga-bush-camp/

4. Londolozi 

Image from Londolozi Lodge

Another iconic stalwart of the Sabi Sands, Londolozi has been around for almost as long as the Kruger Park, since 1926. Also situated along the Sand River, Londolozi has five different camps for travellers of different tastes (and budgets) although even the starting rates are steep. Londolozi is in a league of its own, offering world-class wellness facilities, a boutique shop and a photographic studio for serious photographers.

The Sabi Sands is renowned for its impressive leopard population, and a visit to Londolozi just about guarantees a sighting of the spotted cat. Since 1979, Londolozi has had close relationships with the leopards of the reserve, watching and documenting generations of cubs reared to adulthood.

From R16 950 pp sharing

https://www.londolozi.com/

5. Lukimbi Safari Lodge

Lukimbi Safari Lodge, in the south of Kruger, (near Malelane) is one of seven private concessions in the park. The location of the lodge was chosen carefully, set among marulas, knobthorns, acacias and bushwillows on the banks of the Lwakahle river. The lodge blends into the bush, built of natural materials that match the surroundings. Loved by the readers of Getaway, it is quirky and comfortable, and welcomes families with children. A pool overlooks the river, with a children’s paddle pool close by.

From R8500 pp sharing

https://www.lukimbi.com/#

Popular votes also went to Kambuku River Lodge, Simbavati River Lodge, Thornybush Saseka and  Pel’s Post.

ALSO READ:

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