Bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the iconic Kruger National Park was founded in 1898 and is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. However, many first-time safari visitors find themselves unsure of the difference between national parks, game reserves and concessions.

Greater Kruger National Park vs the Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park (KNP) is owned by South African National Parks (SANParks) and comprises 20 000 000 hectares of unfenced, wild African bush where animals are free to roam across the vast slice of paradise. The land here is government-owned and -managed while the concessions within and adjacent to the park are made up of land that has been “loaned” by the government for privately-owned lodges. Here, carefully selected operators are able to provide an authentic African safari experience to their guests.

Private Game Reserves are, as the name suggests, all privately-owned and are situated on land that has been given over to wildlife conservation and where the owners can run their safari lodge. There are a little over 20 of these game reserves surrounding the KNP to the west, forming an area known as the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP).

This joint venture between the Kruger National Park and the concessions is known as the Associated Private Nature Reserves, that collectively works together to uphold the principles and values of sustainable conservation, including local community development and eco-tourism practices.

So, what does this mean for your safari holiday?

Luxury accommodation

Private game reserves offer a distinctly different safari experience for their guests than that of a national park. Think 5-star luxury safari lodges, dripping with old-world charm yet tastefully contemporary in their decor and service offerings. Guided game walks and safari game drives can be enjoyed without the crowds, creating a more memorable, private and exclusive experience.

While the National Park Camps within the Kruger National Park are well-run and perfect for a budget trip, private game reserves in the Greater Kruger National Park bring out all the stops to ensure their guests are treated like the stars that shine brightly in the African night sky above them.


Private game lodges in the Greater Kruger National Park offer a range of activities for their guests. Enjoy full body massages at the lodges’ spas, workout in the gym or catch an afternoon yoga session at the boma. Marvel at the incredible wildlife on guided game walks, night drives, helicopter tours and birding tours, or simply relax to the sounds of the African bush and delight in fine dining and bush dinners, all under the canopy of stars of the night sky.

Walking safari through the Kruger National Park
Walking safari from Rattray’s on MalaMala in the Sabi Sands

Fewer crowds and exclusivity

Unlike the Kruger National Park where travellers and rangers must abide to strict traversing paths and times, game viewing vehicles from lodges on private reserves can leave the road network within their concession boundaries to get closer to the wildlife. This promises guests staying at one of the private reserves the perfect game viewing and photographic opportunities without the crowds.

While camps based within the Kruger National Park have to still to rules for traversing within the park, camps based on private concessions are able to enter the park for additional viewing opportunities as an added bonuses, on top of exploring their private traversing grounds.  

Of course, private game reserves are significantly more expensive than national parks and this is often the main deciding factor for travellers booking their safari vacation.

Wildebeest and impala spotted during safari game drive in the Kruger National Park
Safari game drive at Jabulani

The Greater Kruger National Park

The Greater Kruger National Park is made up of over 20 game reserves, many of which are divided up into smaller ones, including Timbavati, Makuya, Letaba, Balule, Klaserie, Umbabat, Manyeleti and Sabi Sand Game Reserves. Here, visitors can choose from a number of luxury accommodation options.


Made up on 50 000 hectares of pristine savannah, Timbavati is a popular choice amongst safari travellers, particularly famed for its iconic white lions. With a range of accommodation options, visitors can book in and enjoy a 5-star luxury safari vacation at one of the following lodges:

  • Makanyi Private Game Lodge
  • Simbavati River Lodge
  • Tanda Tula Safari Camp
  • Avoca Private Bush Camp
  • Kambaku Lodge
  • Bateleur Safari Camp
  • Kings Camp
  • Masungulo Lodge
  • Rockfig Safari Lodge
  • Shindzela Tented Camp
  • Umlani Bushcamp
  • Walkers Bush Villa


This reserve is only 16 000 hectares and is far less touristy than some of the other reserves. Located in the Limpopo province of South Africa, the reserve is peppered with giant baobab trees and the Luvhuvhu River provides ample birding and other wildlife viewing opportunities. Accommodation options here include:

  • Makuya main camp
  • Mutale Falls Safari Camp


Comprising around 11 000 hectares of savannah, Thornybush Game Reserve borders the Kapama Game Reserve and is located close to Timbavati and the Kruger National Park. Luxury accommodation options include:

  • Thornybush Game Lodge
  • Royal Malewane
  • The River Lodge
  • Shumbalala Game Lodge
  • Waterside Lodge
  • Serondella Game Lodge
  • Jackalberry Lodge
  • Chapungu Tented Bush Camp
  • Monwana Game Lodge
  • NKaya Game Lodge
  • Waterbuck Game Lodge
  • Nkelenga Tented Camp


Comprising over 40 000 hectares of pristine landscape, Balule is a firm favourite when it comes to viewing Africa’s Big Five. Luxury accommodation options include :

  • Greenfire Game Lodge
  • Naledi Bushcamp
  • Toro Yaka Bush Lodge
  • Pondoro Game Lodge
  • Ezulwini Billys Lodge
  • Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge
  • Ezulwini River Lodge


Klaserie Private Nature Reserve is one of the largest privately-owned reserves in South Africa and, with more than 60 000 hectares of land along the Klaserie River, you can’t go wrong when you book a safari holiday at one of the following lodges:

  • Makumu Private Game Lodge
  • Klaserie Drift Safari Camps
  • Klaserie Sands
  • Senalala Luxury Safari Camp
  • Baobab Ridge Private Lodge


The Kapama River and the Klaserie River flow through this reserve, creating unique and unforgettable game viewing opportunities. Book accommodation at one of the following lodges:

Sabi Sands

One of the most well known and loved game reserves in the Greater Kruger National Park is Sabi Sands. Covering a whopping 65 000 hectares and luxury accommodation options include:

The Greater Kruger National Park and its game reserves make for an unforgettable safari vacation destination, with a range of activities and tours that include more than just safari game drives, ensuring an up-close-and-personal experience of the African bush.

Spot the Big Five and other wildlife, soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the African Bush, and delight in fine dining under a canopy of stars in the African night sky when you visit the Greater Kruger National Park.

Get in touch with African Travel Canvas to plan your South African safari vacation.

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