South Africa is one of my absolute favourite countries to explore! While it may be my home country, making me slightly bias, still through all the years of travel I can truly say I love my country. One of the best places to see is the Kruger National Park, the home of the big five and the African safari.
For local and international visitors, Kruger National Park is always a good place for perfect relaxation, adventure and beauty. Don’t rule traveling to South Africa with a baby or toddler, you won’t have to miss out on the best it has to offer.
We just returned from one of our latest adventures in the Kruger National Park, South Africa and I strongly believe you can do it all, be great parents and live a life of adventure.
In this post, I share tips on visiting Kruger National Park with a toddler or baby and what you need to know about taking a baby on safari.
Kruger National Park with a Baby or Toddler – Table of Contents
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Best Things to do in Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is the largest preserved wildlife area in South Africa, where humans are only visitors. The main activity to do is driving through the park and admiring the wildlife around you.
The most famous is the big five – Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo. The park has many other beautiful animals to see like cheetahs, wild dogs, many different antelope, crocodiles, hippos and more.
Kruger offers many different activities suitable for all different ages from hiking with the wildlife, sunrise or sunset safari’s, half day and full day guided driving tours. The most popular thing to do in Kruger National Park is a self-guided drive through the park.
The wildlife viewing and safaris are only within the park, however there are so many more things that Mpumalanga Province has to offer. Other things to do nearby including caves, zip-lining, hot-air balloon safari tours, white water rafting, luxury spa experiences and much more. Though many of these are obviously more difficult when traveling to South Africa with a baby.
That being said, if you are going to travel to Africa with a baby or toddler, you aren’t going to miss out on seeing the wildlife and are probably most interested in a safari with a toddler or baby. You’re in luck given that the main thing to do in the park is a safari, spending time enjoying nature, wildlife and gorgeous African sunsets – either by a self-guided drive or game drive guided vehicle drive.
We chose to do a self-drive for our Kruger safari with a baby. We chose the self-drive safari option as it was more budget friendly and it was an easier way to do a safari with toddlers or babies. The game drive vehicles are open and it can get quite cold with the wind. In addition, some game drives are also age restricted depending on where you book (with the park or private lodges).
Planning Your Time at Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is very big. In fact, Kruger is bigger than some European countries. If you are planning an African safari with a toddler or baby in Kruger NP, it’s likely you won’t have enough time to see the whole park in one visit.
The maximum speed limit in the park is 50km per hour (30 miles per hour) and you’ll be doing plenty of stopping for wildlife viewing.
It’s key to choose your route beforehand. For this trip we chose to explore the South and Central parts of the park.
Itinerary for Kruger Safari with Baby or Toddler
Here are the details of our visit to Kruger with a baby. We hope that it will help you plan your South African safari with a toddler or baby!
Day 1 – Arrival in South Africa
Our trip started at O.R. Tambo International airport as we had family that flew in from the Netherlands. From there you have 2 choices – you can either drive to the park 400km -500km depending on where you plan to enter the park or you can fly from O.R. Tambo to Skukuza Airport (Right in the middle of the Kruger National Park).
We chose to drive down with our own vehicle as it is much more cost effective. Along the way there are many fuel stations with fast food restaurants where you can make a pit stop.
I would highly recommend either Alzu or Milly’s. They are located quite close to one another roughly half way between the airport and Kruger NP. They both have very unique restaurants you can enjoy and are beautifully incorporated with nature. Both perfect for the children to stretch their legs, see the animals on site (Alzu) or enjoy the lake (Milly’s).
We entered Kruger National Park park at the Malelane Gate and we headed North to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp where we stayed the first night.
One of our main reasons for staying at this specific rest camp is due to the fact that it is located in the middle of the park so you can spend the days exploring both North and South parts of the park.
On our way there we saw the whole big five, some giraffes, impalas and monkeys.
Day 2 – North Kruger National Park
At 6:00am when the park gates opened, still in our sleepwear, we headed out for a quick drive around the park. This time of the morning is when you will see the best animals, including predators that are usually shy during mid-day.
After our quick half an hour drive we headed back to camp to get ready for the day.
We headed up North from Pretoriuskop to one of my absolute favourite spots: Mathekenyane Koppie. At Mathekenyane Koppie you are allowed to step out of your car to take in all the views. It’s the perfect photo opportunity that looks over miles and miles of the park.
Next, we headed to Tshokwane picnic site for an amazing self-prepared breakfast on a rented gas stove for only R 30 ($ 2). You can either buy food from their shops at these stops or you can bring your own food in from outside the park. When taking children on safari, it’s easiest to have your own food and plenty of snacks.
After our picnic, we headed back to the Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. A safari with young children can be pretty exhausting when you start so early in the morning.
With the day well spent, we arrived at our camp just before the gates closed at 6. For dinner we had a classic South African Braai (BBQ) at our rest camp.
Throughout our journey, we saw many antelope, elephants, leopard, hyenas, a vulture and hippos.
Please note that the private bush lodges within the parks do not always have braai facilities, but usually have restaurants.
Day 3 – Heading South in Kruger NP
This morning we started the day bright and early, as we had a lot of ground to cover.
We left the camp as soon as the gates opened at 6:00 am and headed to Nkulu Picnic spot. We prepared a delightful breakfast on one of their rested gas stove plates.
Next, we headed down south-east to Lower Sabie rest camp. This is my favourite rest camp for multiple reasons, they have the sweetest affordable tented houses and wonderful view at the restaurant while enjoying the lunch.
Day 4 – Departure Day
This was our last day of our trip with very limited time to explore the park, as some family members had another flight to catch to Cape Town late afternoon.
We headed out of the park in the morning at the closest gate to Pretoriuskop Rest camp – Numbi Gate.
Unfortunately I would definitely not recommend using the Numbi Gate for entering or exiting the park as the road condition outside the park was very bad. So I would definitely recommend when you are entering the South side of the park to either use Malelane Gate or Crocodile Bridge.
As I mentioned earlier, Kruger National Park is very big and the types of scenery and animals is quite different depending on where you visit in the park.
Given how different the areas of the park are you, you could easily make an itinerary from a day to 2 weeks for your safari experience.
Where to Stay in Kruger National Park with Baby or Toddler
There are so many options to choose from for accommodations suitable for every budget.
There are three types of accommodation to choose from when planning to visit Kruger NP :
- Kruger National Park’s Accommodation Camps,
- Private Safari Lodges within the Park, and
- Lodges outside of the park on the border.
Within Kruger National Park you’ll find 12 main rest camps, 2 bush lodges, 5 bushveld camps and 4 satellite camps. These are mix of owned by the park and privately.
Kruger National Park’s Accommodation Camp $ – $$
This is one of the most affordable options and always one of my first choices. You can choose between camping (with your own tent and equipment), glamping tents or chalets.
My favourite rest camps includes – Crocodile Bridge (South Tip of the park), Lower Sabie, Lethaba and Skukuza.
Private Bush Lodges Within the Camp $$$
This is where you will find that luxurious bush experience.
Outside of the Park Accommodation $ – $$$
With this option you can find very affordable to very expensive luxury experiences.
For affordability I would recommend looking at self catering accommodation options in Marloth Park. Marloth park is a residential estate, with some wildlife (zebras, impala, kudu, giraffe, etc.) also residing in the park so it still gives you the full experience.
I usually type Marloth Park into Booking.com to find the best options available.
You can also make use of Booking.com to find luxury experience options outside of the park with full board meals and many of these lodges have private game drive vehicles that travel into the Kruger National Park daily.
Where to Eat During Your Kruger Safari with Young Children
Depending on your accommodation choice, you can have an all inclusive package from one of the private bush lodges.
If you would like another option, you can always stop at one of the main rest camps or designated picnic camps. Both have restaurants and picnic spots where you have the option of either renting a gas bottle and pan for R 30 ($2 USD) and prepare your own breakfast or using their “braai” (BBQ) facility (note: you have to then provide your own charcoal and firelighters).
We always plan our route so that we can prepare our own breakfast at one of the picnic spots and then be at another rest camp to enjoy lunch at one of their restaurants.
All the main rest camps have shops and restaurants with delicious food and the sweetest souvenirs to help you remember your safari holiday with a toddler or baby.
Tips for African Safari in Kruger with Toddlers or Babies
Since Lia was born she has been to Kruger National Park 3 times. During these adventures I have picked up a few tips for taking a baby on a safari and for planning a safari with toddlers.
Choose a Private Vehicle over Game Drive Vehicles
I would not recommend going on the Game Drive Vehicles. For starters very few companies will allow families to book a safari with a toddler on their vehicles, as many do have age restrictions. Secondly, it can get quite uncomfortable and cold for little ones in the open air game drive vehicles. Lia gets very bad ear pain when the cold wind hits her ears.
The best option is to rent a car and do a self drive safari. This will also be helpful for getting from the O.R. International Airport to the Kruger National Park.
Car Seats on South African Safari with Toddler or Baby
Some car rental services can provide you with a car seat (at an additional cost) or you can travel with your own car seat on the international flight as part of the baby’s personal items.
During your self drive safari in the Kruger, it is not compulsory that your child should be in their car seat at all times as the speed limit is a maximum of 50km (30 miles) per hour, this is off course absolutely your own choice. We let Lia sit on one of our laps when we saw any animals and kept the car seat in the car for nap times.
Keeping a Baby or Toddler Entertained on Safari
To help keep Lia interested in the animals that she will see and keep her entertained when you haven’t seen any wildlife for a while, I bought Lia a pack of small safari animals. This made her very excited, when she can match her toys to the animals that we saw in real life.
I highly recommend getting some travel toys for the car for your child, to help them from getting bored.
Get the Kruger National Park Guide Book
Another must do entertainment activity especially with older kids, is to buy the Kruger National Park Guide book. There is a normal guide with the maps and what animals you can see but there is also a child version for families on a safari with young children.
In the child version, there are pages for coloring, pages to mark what animals you saw and so many more activities. Even for the grown-ups I will highly recommend marking off what animals you see in your guide, as it makes everything so much more exciting keeping track.
Plan Your Route Ahead of Time
Plan your route for the day ahead of time, including where you will eat and where you will take your bathroom break, as you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle other than the designated areas.
Please remember this park is home of wild animals and they can be very dangerous.
Very important: Pay attention to your fuel levels as well, as every main rest camp does have fuel stations, but they are quite far apart from one another.
Don’t Spend the Entire Day Driving
Don’t plan to spend the whole day driving. Young children will get very frustrated if they are spending too much time in the car. We got to experience this first hand, as Lia got very frustrated after our whole day of driving on day two.
The best time of day to see animals are early morning hours 6:00 – 10:00 and late afternoon 15:00 – 18:00. Mid-day when the sun is at its highest the animals are usually very lazy and sleeping in the sun.
I would recommend going out early in the morning, returning to you camp during mid-day, where the kids can play and you can get your baby a nap. Then head out again into the park for late afternoons.
Don’t miss our Top Items to Help Baby Sleep on Vacation, to help your baby or toddler get in those naps anywhere!
Rule & Things to Know about Kruger Area
Best Time to Visit
You can visit the the park any time of the year. The best time to visit Kruger National Park is during the winter months (May-August). In the winter, the temperatures don’t get uncomfortably hot and with less leaves on the trees, you can easily spot more wild life.
This part of South Africa can get very hot especially between December and February.
Strict Rules on Driving Times
The park has very strict times that you are allowed to drive on the roads, this changes with the season as they don’t want people driving in the dark.
There are some night game drive options available that you can book with the park, but these are only allowed as guided trips (please note some do have age restrictions – so check this before you book).
Not obeying to the park rules can lead to heavy fines and even bans to park entry.
Prepare for the Heat
The African sun can get very hot, so don’t forget your sunscreen, hats and lots of water. Our family members that visited from the Netherlands did complain of headaches due to the hot sun and this was in winter time.
No Cell Service
There is little to no signal is most parts of the park excluding the rest camps. So keep this in mind when planning your African safari at Kruger National Park.
In the case of an emergency, there are usually a lot of other visitors on the road, you can wave someone down for some assistance. It is always a good idea to have a spare tire and first aid kit with you at all times.
On that note please remember that the park is very big with few rest camps (with fuel stations) so do keep an eye on your fuel tank, and plan ahead where you want to fill up.
Safety in Kruger NP
One of the biggest concerns of any traveler coming to South Africa is safety. In Kruger National Park itself, it is very safe regarding crime.
If you fly in to O.R. Tambo National Airport in Johannesburg, this capital city of South Africa has a higher crime rate.
Here are my best tips for safety during your South African family holiday:
- If you are planning to sleep in Johannesburg after landing book your transfer to the hotel beforehand.
- If you plan to make use of Uber, make sure that the driver that picks you up is the one shown on the app. If any other person approaches you that claims to be your Uber, kindly recline, and wait for your driver inside the airport building.
- If you plan on renting a car, you can do so at the airport. During the day it is relatively safe, but once the sun starts to set, it’s time to be much more alert.
- South African locals are very friendly but when asking for help or directions, ask the people working inside shops, the airport, fuel station, etc and not just any person on the street.
- Put all your valuables in a safe place and out of sight.
- Unfortunately, we do have some instances where criminals dress as police officers. If you are pulled over by the police, our law states that you are allowed to put on your hazards, drive no more than 40 km per hour to show them to follow you to your nearest police station. At your nearest police station, you can get out and show all your necessary documentation.
I feel it is very important to note that South Africa has wonderful, friendly and kindhearted people living here. Unfortunately, we do have crime in the country but not at every corner, just always keep alert and make smart decisions.
The Kruger National Park truly offers a very unique experience and is a perfect destination for the whole family. So if you are traveling to South Africa with a baby or toddler, this is a definite must see!