On safari in Kruger National Park

The African safari remains one of the most amazing experiences that any traveler could hope to enjoy. The boundless wildlife that is on display there is one of the greatest natural wonders in the world, and watching those hundreds of different species in their natural habitats is a source of never ending wonder.

There are two classic destinations to experience the African safari, the Serengeti, which spreads across Kenya and Tanzania, and Kruger National Park in South Africa. A few years back I had the opportunity to visit the Serengeti, and it remains one of my favorite destinations of all time. Recently I made the journey to Kruger as well, and while I found both places had wildlife in abundance, the safari experience was quite different between the two as well.

The first thing I noticed that was different, was the landscape. In Swahili, Serengeti means “the endless plain,” which is a fitting name indeed. It is a vast expanse of open grasslands, broken only by rolling hills and the occasional rock outcropping. Kruger, on the other hand, is marked by thick forests and lush green fields. While I was there in early February, summer rains had fueled the growth of the underbrush and caused the rivers to swell, which made for a warm, humid environment. A stark contrast to the more arid Serengeti.

That lush green growth made it a challenge to spot wildlife while on daily game drives. The thick brush gave the animals plenty of places to hide and concealed their movements. On the Serengeti, the wide open spaces always made it easy to spot game, sometimes from miles away.

Fortunately, I had some of the best guides on the continent showing me around, and we had no problems discovering where the wildlife hid. While traveling through Kruger, we came across hippos, buffalo, wildebeests, and zebras aplenty. There were monkeys and baboons, and antelope too numerous to count. There were also large herds of elephants, massive in size and more aggressive than their Serengeti counterparts. In short, Kruger didn’t disappoint in terms of spotting animals, you just had to look a bit more closely to find them.Perhaps the best of those wildlife encounters was with the smallest of creatures. In the early evening hours of my second day in the park we were traveling by safari vehicle down a deserted dirt road. It had rained that afternoon, but the sun broke through the clouds as it sunk in the west, providing some warmth as the day waned. Suddenly, our vehicle stopped short as we spotted a small, golden figure sitting in the road. It was a tiny lion cub, no more than two weeks old, and while its mother was away on the hunt, it had crawled out of its wet hiding spot seeking warmth in the sun. We watched the cub for nearly an hour as it stumbled about, occasionally calling out for mom. It was an amazing experience, made all the more special when our lead guide, an 18 year veteran of the profession, told us that he had never seen a lion so young.

Our chance discovery of the young cub wouldn’t be our only close encounter with the wildlife of Kruger. One afternoon, while driving back from a local village, we came across a very large bull elephant wandering the road. He was enormous, even by the standards of the species, and he was in a surly mood that day. For more than 20 minutes we played cat and mouse with the beast, looking for a way to get around him. More than once we put the van in reverse and backed off, as the bull strayed too close. Finally we made our escape when the creature momentarily wandered behind a tree, giving us just the opening we needed to speed past. It was a narrow escape however, and as we sped away, the elephant charged from around the tree, nearly clipping our vehicle as we roared down the road.

In all, I spent six days in Kruger, and was given the chance to explore it both on foot and by vehicle. In those days, I found that it lived up to its billing as one of the top safari destinations in all of Africa. Not only is the wildlife all that you would expect, and more, but the landscapes are breathtaking as well. In my travels within the park boundaries, I saw beautiful rivers, emerald forests, and stunning canyons. The gorgeous scenery was an element I wasn’t expecting, and it helped to further separate Kruger from the Serengeti.

Since my return, I’ve already been asked by friends which destination I’d recommend for someone heading to Africa on safari. That isn’t an easy question to answer, as both places will offer you a memorable travel experience that you will never forget. By response is that it is impossible to choose, and that it is best to see them both for yourself.

This trip was sponsored by South African Tourism and South African Airways, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.