Kruger National Park vs. Private Game Reserve: Which is Better?

Posted by - November 6, 2013 | Category: Africa, Escapes, South Africa

A few years ago, I did a self-drive trip to Kruger National Park. This past year, I stayed at a private game reserve just outside the park. Here are the differences:

Accommodations & Rates

Kruger National Park

Berg-en-Dal-South-AfricaI stayed at Berg-en-Dal Safari Camp which is similar to many of the camps within Kruger. It’s the more budget-oriented option. Kruger also offers several lodge camps which tend to be a bit pricier.

 

Berg-en-Dal-safari-camp-bungalowNon-camping accommodation options for two people at Berg-en-Dal range from ZAR 970 ($97 USD) per night for two people in a very basic bungalow with three single beds, to ZAR 1800 ($180 USD) per night for a 2-bedroom cottage. All accommodation is self-catering, so no food or drink is included, although there is a restaurant on site. Rate does not include the Kruger conservation fee of ZAR 204 ($20.40 USD) per person per day. All charges are also subject to a 1% Community Levy not included in any prices.

Private Game Reserve

Africa-on-Foot-SafariI stayed in two private game reserves, two nights at Africa on Foot, and one night at its sister camp — Nthambo Tree Camp. Africa on Foot specializes in walking safaris, with one walking safari in the morning and a traditional game drive in late afternoon/early evening, and Nthambo offering walking safaris upon request.

Both lodges provide luxury accommodations, with Africa on Foot having a slightly more rustic, traditional African environment while Nthambo Tree Camp definitely exudes a more romantic feel since you stay in tree houses with expansive views of the savannah. 

Nthambo Tree Camp South Africa 246

Accommodations at Africa on Foot are ZAR 1895 per night ($190 USD) per person, but the price includes all food, coffee, tea, lodging, game drives, and safari walks. Rate does not include the Klaserie conservation fee of ZAR 100 ($10) per person. Unlike Kruger, the conservation fee is charged per stay, not per day.

Accommodations at Nthambo Tree Camp are ZAR 2350 per night ($235 USD) per person, but includes all food, coffee, tea, lodging, game drives, and safari walks. Rate does not include the Klaserie conservation fee of ZAR 100 ($10 USD) per person. Again, unlike Kruger, the conservation fee is charged per stay, not per day.

Food

Kruger National Park

Food at Berg-en-Dal is limited to what you bring in (there is an equipped kitchen in each bungalow) or what is available at the restaurant and cafeteria. Although there tends to be more choice available than at a private game reserve, reviews of the food are quite mixed, especially judging by what’s on TripAdvisor here and here.

Meals are usually eaten at your own bungalow or with the dozens of others seated at plastic chairs in the cafeteria or restaurant.

Private Game Reserve

Meals at both Africa on Foot and Nthambo are pretty much gourmet affairs. The cooks at each camp can also cater to any special dietary requirements, and there’s no extra charge for second (or even third) helpings.

Animals

Nthambo-Tree-Camp-South-Africa-Honestly, the animals are pretty much the same at both places. Since both private game parks are part of the larger Klaserie Private Game Reserve that borders Kruger National Park, and the park is unfenced, animals are free to roam wherever they see fit. In fact, the entire area (Kruger National Park, Klaserie, and a few other private game reserves) are part of what’s called the Greater Kruger National Park.

Kruger National Park vs Private Game Reserve

Nthambo-Tree-Camp-South-Africa

Safari Drives

Kruger National Park

Berg-en-dal-safari-game-drive-vehicle.Kruger offers a couple of game drive options. You can join one of the morning or afternoon drives (additional cost of 220 ZAR — approx. $22 USD per person), or you can go on a self-guided drive. The downside is that it’s far more difficult to spot animals on a self-guided drive, although the park does provide map routes for you.

There are also walking safaris available at Berg-en-Dal with prices set at ZAR 420 ($42 USD) per person.

Safari drives are in larger vehicles that can seat 25 or more. From my experience, most folks tell the driver to stop once they spot an animal, and he’ll mumble a few words about the creature’s habits.

Roads are paved and vehicles are not allowed off road. Animal sighting spots can get crowded with a mix of self-drive and guided vehicles.

Private Game Reserve

Africa-on-Foot-Safari game drive vehicle land roverBoth Africa on Foot and Nthambo offer morning and afternoon games drives, with a stop for a snack about halfway along the drive. Walking safaris are available at both camps in the morning as well, and all are walks and game drives are included in the pricing.

Safari drives are in smaller vehicles that can generally seat 10 including the driver. Drivers are knowledgeable guides that are required to know each animal extensively.

Roads are unpaved, and vehicles are allowed off road to get closer to the animals. The Klaserie enforces a strict two vehicle limit at each animal sighting, so overcrowding is never an issue. 

The Verdict

So which one comes out on top in the Kruger National Park vs. Private Game Reserve debate? Depends on what you’re after of course.

If you’re on an unforgiving budget and still want the safari experience, then Berg-en-Dal in Kruger National Park may be the way to go. Just be careful with all  those extras — game drives, the daily conservation levies, food, fuel, rental car to get there, etc. all add up quickly.

If you have a bit more leeway with budget, and want a more intimate, all-inclusive experience, then there’s no question Africa on Foot or Nthambo Tree Camp will be the better option.

Note: I was a guest of Sun Safaris during my time in South Africa

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5 comments - add one
  1. Really informative and helpful article! The private reserve seems the way to go for me. I last did a safari in Zimbabwe when I was 11 but I want to go back to Africa over the next few years for sure!

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