A Big Five game drive through Kruger National Park tops the list of "must dos" for travelers visiting South Africa. Kruger covers more than 7,500 square miles of bush and savannah, making it one of the continent’s largest game reserves, with more Big Five mammals than any park in Africa.
While it’s possible for visitors to tour Kruger in their own hired cars, most lodges offer guided game drives multiple times a day. Early birds should consider morning departures, which typically leave lodges well before the sun rises and gates to Kruger officially open. The morning chill and early wakeup can be tough to bear, but the chance to witness wildlife waking up is well worth losing out on a few hours sleep.
Mid-morning game drives are an option for travelers who enjoy the nightlife but prefer a slightly later start time. Their shorter duration (about two hours) means less time to cover ground. Since many animals rest once the sun comes up, mid-morning drives are less ideal for catching serious action, but still perfect for birding and checking out smaller game.
Sunset and late-night drives are some of the most popular options for Kruger safaris. Because many of the Big Five hunt once the sun goes down, these rides offer the best chance of witnessing a kill. (Plus they don’t require the painful early-morning wake up.) Guides travel with muted spotlights so travelers can catch nocturnal wildlife in action.
The best time for big game is in the dry season, from May to September, when animals congregate at waterholes and vegetation thins out. These conditions make checking off the Big Five a near guarantee. And while October through April is considered less desirable to visit since animals are more difficult to spot, travelers can still enjoy lush, scenic foliage and newborn animals, too.