Best time to visit Kruger National Park, South Africa

Some say it’s best to visit the Kruger National Park during winter when the scarce and dry vegetation make game viewing easier.

Others love the national park during shoulder seasons, when it’s less busy.

Then there are those who swear on the summer months being the best to visit the Kruger National Park, when newborn animals, flowing rivers and green lush vegetation delight the wildlife enthusiasts.

Which is the best time to visit Kruger National Park? Is the best place on earth for self drive and guided safaris rightly praised as year around destination?

We visited the Kruger National Park in different seasons and can emphasize that there is no bad time to enjoy the so called ‘ best place on earth ‘ for wildlife enthusiasts in the east of South Africa. Depending on what is your main interest and preference you will find some facts on the seasons of the biggest national park of South Africa in this article to make your choice of travel time easier.

The Busy Summer Season

December / January

Mid summer means high season for the Kruger National Park as it’s the time of South African’s major holidays when large crowds of citizens hook up their trailers and caravans to enjoy the spectacular wildlife in their backyard.

If you can avoid this season don't visit the Kruger National Park during the months of December and January! 

Anyway, you will struggle to find accommodation as most is booked one year in advance.

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Chacma baboon baby cuddling with mother

If you have no other option than to go on holiday during high season, you may try your luck to find accommodation in the less popular far north of the national park or in the more pricey private reserves or concessions instead. As the temperatures rise over 30° C during the day camping is not the slightest enjoyable even for the roughest outdoor enthusiasts (in my opinion).

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Young elephants playing in the Shingwezi river

As for wildlife: the animals are generally spread out over wider areas because water is plentiful and the vegetation is dense. This means that the spotting of animals is most challenging in between the lush bushes and high grass.

For birders summer is the best time to visit Kruger, especially in the northern areas from Punda Maria to Pafuri which is famous for rare bird species.

Monkeys with a hangover

February / March

Still being summer you might experience some exciting rains and thunderstorms. Rivers which are dry most of the year awaken the thirsty vegetation to life and the dams water will rise to a reassuring level for the rest of the year. As soon as this happens – as by a invisible command by nature – animals give birth, be it the numerous impalas or the scarcely spread wild dogs, babies everywhere.

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Young impala near Pretoriuskop

The elephants most loved fruit of the Marula tree makes not only for some drunk monkeys as they consume the fermented fruit but also for elephants behaving crazily. We saw quite a few of them!

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Big lion pride at Transport dam near Skukuza

Animals in peak condition

April / May

If there were good rains in the summer time which is not a given as the Kruger National Park and other regions of South Africa suffer periodically from severe drought as has happened over the last two years. You will find lush green vegetation giving wildlife a good start going into the dry winter season.

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Male Kudu with beautiful horns near Pretoriuskop

Most animals are in peak condition and rutting season starts while migratory birds leave to head north into northern Africa or to Europe and eastern Asia. A good season to visit for budget conscious people as these are considered shoulder months with the exception being Easter and less travellers are to be expected.

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Zebras enjoying the still quite lush grass

Winter brings best safari conditions

June / July

The lack of rains transforms the green to yellow and water is getting scarce with the advantage that wildlife congregates by the waterholes and extraordinary sightings get more abundant. With trees loosing their leafs even leopard sightings are more likely.

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Leopard in Marula tree
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Wildebeest in the dry winter vegetation

In the night it can get pretty chilly, sometimes down to 4° C, meanwhile in daytime t-shirt weather is announced. Yes, you are in Africa which in your mind is supposed to be hot, isn’t it? But take me at my word and pack your hoody and scarf for the early morning game drives.

Thirsty, bone-dry landscape

August / September

In opposite to spring in the northern hemisphere, spring in the Kruger National Park is the height of the dry season. While hot and dusty winds blow over the brown, sparse landscape, wildlife has little to feed on. The scarce water attracts more game to few spots which make for excellent safari conditions.

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Easier spotting of wildlife in winter time: wild dog near Pretoriuskop

The birds are back

October / November

Temperature rises leaving the cooler winter months behind, approaching the soaring summer heat in cautious steps at the end of the year. Humidity invites all kind of bugs with which malaria risk increases. This being the unpleasant side, spring season is great for the first rains encouraging tender green leaves to sprout and flowers to lend color dots into the dusty landscape.

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Storks on the road near Letaba

Migratory birds return from their winter quarters in the northern hemisphere and add to an incredible abundance of species already to be found in this place. Dependent on the start of the summer rains young animals are born during this time, while predators will take their opportunity for easy prey.

Conclusion

The Kruger National Park is a year around destination and you will see plenty wildlife at anytime of the year. This said there is no doubt that the dry winter season is the best time to see game even on walking safaris, as animals are much easier to spot.

Pretoriuskop, Kruger National Park
Rhinos near Satara

If you are more into birding though, the opposite applies as you should opt for the summer months. You’ll have an incredible experience with the emphasis on traveling the northern half of the Kruger National Park.

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red and black billed king fishers

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Author: Marcelle Simone Heller

I'm searching for natural beauty and wilderness, while I'm travelling relentlessly to find delightful places and encounters with wildlife. I try to capture the thrill of the moments in photography and words, hoping to inspire others with the love for animals and nature.

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