Americans visiting #Kruger National Park in #South Africa are often astounded at the sheer size of it. Kruger National Park is a popular destination, very often overlooked by those Americans who believe that the luxury safari lodges in private concessions on the fringes of the reserve are the only way to see the 'Big 5.' This is an incorrect perception, possibly because the word "Park" does not do the place justice. Kruger National Park is massive. It is about the size of Connecticut and contains a network of good roads, accommodation to suit every need, and best of all allows self-driving tours.

Here are five tips for Americans who might wish to opt for a Kruger Park self-drive tour.

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1. Driving on the correct side of the road

Plan to pick up your hire car directly from one of the car hire companies at the International Airport. The vehicles range from small budget city cars at a price of around US$30 per day, to 4x4 twin cabs. If you can afford the 4x4 twin cab - go for it. If you like camping, you can hire a fully equipped 4x4 camper Toyota for around $100 to $175 per day.

No matter what vehicle you hire, one of the trickiest things will be driving on the left-hand side of the road. Here's a mantra for you to start learning now - " Drive on the left hand said of the road and give way to a vehicle approaching from your right." Oh yeah - there's one other thing to remember - South Africa has a rule for four-way stop streets. The first person to arrive goes first, and the give way to the right does not apply.

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The nice thing about heading for Kruger Park directly from the Airport, or a nearby overnight hotel, is that the road to the southern part of the Kruger Park is mostly on tolled freeways. Tolled freeways mean that the bulk of your journey is on double lanes and you need not worry too much about straying to the wrong side of the road. There are safe and clean one-stop service stations and roadside assistance in case of breakdown.

Once you are inside the park, there are strict speeding rules, but as most people on the roads are there to look out for animals, they mostly #Travel slowly. Kruger Park is a great opportunity to practice driving at slow speeds on the correct side of the road.

2. Which part of the park should you visit first?

The Southern part of the Kruger Nationa Park is recommended for first-time self-tour Americans. The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, the entrance gates in the south are the closest to the main centers of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Second - the biggest diversity of animals are likely to be found in the south of the park.

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The lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge areas teem with animals mainly due to the perennial water flow in the area.

The Lower Sabi Camp is not far from Crocodile Bridge Camp, and Berg-En-Dal Camp is a nice day drive if you want to stock up on food supplies and see some animals at the same time. If wanderlust is your thing, you could start at Crocodile Bridge Camp in the south of Kruger Park, stay in different overnight camps, and emerge at the northern gate near Pafuri about 372 miles to the north, without ever leaving the National Park.

3. Which accommodation should you book?

Accommodation on offer includes camping, where you bring your own equipment, through to permanent tents which are equipped, to cottages, chalets and eight-bed houses. It all depends on budget and preference. One thing that you can be assured of is that the hospitality team work hard to maintain a clean and efficient service. Daily servicing is the norm and particular attention is paid to cleanliness of ablutions.

Most camps are fenced but placed where there is a view. The better the view, the higher the price. The bigger camps have good quality restaurants but even the smaller satellite camps usually have basic food and beverages for sale. Even though the camps are fenced to protect visitors, there are often small buck, little night predators like the charming genet cats and plenty of birds, no matter where you choose to stay.

4. Tips to see animals

Most people assume that if they drive around a lot, they will see more animals. Actually, animals are often seen when sitting quietly in a hide or visiting a picnic spot. Plan your day to leave camp as soon the gates open just after sunrise as you will have the opportunity to spot some predators in the cool of the morning, and the other animals are fresh and out and about. As the day heats up, they are likely to rest in the shade or start making their way to water.

Water means animals, so that's where you need to be to see a large cross section. Pack a cold box with water, sodas, and something to eat and you can spend the hotter hours picnicking at a picnic site where you can stretch your legs, use the ablutions and stay cool in the shade. As the day cools down, a slow drive to the camp along the river courses, or stopping at waterholes will be very rewarding.

Big tip - be quiet. These are all wild animals and sound carries in the bush. Turn off the sound effects on your cameras and put your smartphones onto vibrate or silent mode, as tech-sounds can chase the animals away and annoy anyone else sharing the hide with you.

If you can afford it, book a guided walk, a guided night drive, and a guided morning drive. You have the best chance of seeing the big cats on the night and morning drives. The guides very often know where to find the big cats like lions and leopards, and as the other visitors can only leave the camp after your guided drive, you will not have too many other vehicles crowding the view.

5. What to take to Kruger National Park

Whether you book through an agent or book through SANParks online, you will be able to get a list of things to take - or not take. These include medical tips, insect spray, sunscreen, clothing types etc. I am not going to repeat these. Kruger National Park is a place where anyone can become a photographer and make some brilliant videos for YouTube.

Here are my tips on what you need when it comes to tech stuff. If you want to spend your evenings writing up and even editing videos for YouTube and your favorite social media sites, you can take along a laptop, but make sure you also take extension leads. Most of the camps have good wifi so you can share online in-situ. If this can all wait until later, leave the laptop and just use your camera or smartphone to upload to the cloud. Other essentials include,

  • Spare SD cards for phone and camera
  • Spare batteries
  • Battery chargers
  • Adapter plugs
  • For cameras - big lenses or at least a two x converter
  • Bird identification book or app
  • The Kingdon field guide to African mammals book or app.

You can also download the Kruger National Park FieldApp from Google Play. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa and get those photos of the 'Big 5' to cherish for the rest of your life.