South Africa Safari: Kruger Park vs Sabi Sands

The Kruger Park is one of Africa’s top safari destinations – and rightly so. The size of a small country, South Africa’s flagship reserve is home to large prides of lion, herds of buffalo, rivers fat with hippo and bush that vibrates with the twittering of birds.

Whether watching a family of elephant at a waterhole or sipping fireside drinks under the stars, the Kruger Park is the kind of place that makes you feel alive!

Jock Safari Lodge game drive
Game drive at Jock Safari Lodge, one of the first privately-owned camps in the Kruger Park.

When planning a South Africa safari, the first thing to realise is that the term “Kruger” generally refers to a much larger area than the national park. Neighbouring private reserve such as the Sabi Sands and Timbavati all form part of the Greater Kruger. Then there are the private concessions that lie within the national park.

So how does the safari experience differ in private reserves compared to the Kruger National Park? And which should you pick for your bucket list big game adventure? Here is everything you need to know to help you make that decision.

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is huge! You could easily spend a week exploring this famous reserve, spending each night at a different location. Accommodation is basic but comfortable, and includes safari tents, bungalows and family cottages. Kruger’s larger rest camps usually have a restaurant, shop, swimming pool and other conveniences.

Go on guided game drives or drive yourself around the park. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended but not essential, as the national park has tarred and good gravel roads – no dirt tacks. Also, do note that you’re in a national park so you have to stick to the roads (no off-road driving allowed!).

Self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park
You can drive yourself around the Kruger National Park (photo: Dimitry B.)

Southern Kruger is the most accessible and popular region of the park. For a wilder experience – head further north or stay in one of the smaller Kruger Bush Camps.

In short:

  • Self-catering chalets and camping
  • Visitors can drive themselves
  • Vehicles are not permitted to leave the roads
  • High visitor numbers (especially during school holidays)

Sabi Sands Private Reserve

Cheetah sighting on a Sabi Sabi game drive
Guide and tracker take their guests off-road to get closer to cheetah at Sabi Sabi Private Reserve.

To the west of the Kruger National Park lies the Sabi Sands Private Reserve. Here you’ll find some of the best-known names in luxury South Africa safaris: Singita, Londolozi, Sabi Sabi and Richard Branson’s Ulusaba. These privately-owned reserves offer an exclusive safari experience with luxurious accommodation, fantastic game viewing and five-star service.

The Sabi Sands is one of the best places to see Africa’s Big 5, including the normally elusive leopard! Many of the guides are in radio contact with each other, which increases your chances of thrilling sightings. What’s more, if you’re tracking a leopard or pride of lion, then your guide is permitted to drive off-road getting you right up close to the animals.

Bush dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge
Lantern-lit bush dinner on the bank of the Sabie River at Lion Sands River Lodge.

Visitor numbers are strictly controlled within the Sabi Sands. No day visitors are allowed, and you’ll never have more than two or three vehicles at a sighting.

In short:

  • Top choice of luxury lodges
  • Famously good leopard sightings
  • Game drives led by expert guides
  • Off-road driving is permitted
  • No day visitors allowed
  • No self-driving allowed
  • No self-catering accommodation

Kruger Park Private Concessions

Luxury suites at Singita Sweni lodge
Stylish glass-walled suite at Singita Sweni, in a private concession of the Kruger Park. 

The main difference between a Private Concession and a Private Kruger Reserve, is that concessions lie within the boundaries of the Kruger National Park. Staying here you have the option of game drives within the concession (an area reserved for guests only) or out into the national park itself.

Examples of lodges in private Kruger concessions include Singita Lebombo, Singita Sweni and Jock Safari Lodge.

In short:

  • Lie within the Kruger National Park
  • Luxurious private lodges
  • Off-road driving is permitted
  • Guided bush walks & night drives
  • Option to explore the national park

Want to find out more about a South Africa safari? Simply get in touch with one of our well-travelled experts.