Two lionesses eating a giraffe while on a safari drive at Lion Sands River Lodge

Sabi Sands vs Kruger: Here’s How to Decide

Last updated Dec 30, 2022 | South Africa

If you are planning a South African safari, one of the first things you will need to make a decision on is which safari location is going to be best for you. Two of the most popular choices are Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, and they are right next to each other. How do you choose? Let’s walk through the 13 comparison points of the battle between Sabi Sands vs Kruger to help you make the best informed decision. 

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Ownership

KRUGER: Government-owned and managed

SABI SANDS: Privately-owned and managed

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Park Size

Kruger vs Sabi Sand Map

Kruger vs Sabi Sands map

KRUGER: The park is huge as seen from the map above. There is a greater variety of habitats and wildlife than Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve.

SABI SANDS: Sightings are more limited to a smaller transversing area compared to the neighboring national park.

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Safari Trackers

Lion Sands River Lodge tracker Alfred

Our amazing tracker Alfred at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands

KRUGER: No trackers. A tracker sits on a little seat at the front and looks for animal prints as clues to finding the animals.

SABI SANDS: You have a safari ranger AND a tracker- best of both worlds!

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Safari Guides

KRUGER: The safari guides cannot call in sightings on the radio in the national park.

SABI SANDS: The safari guides can radio to each other, which helps find the animals faster.

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Night Safari Drives

Leopard just finished consuming her kill up in a tree

Leopard seen on a night drive at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands

KRUGER: Driving after dark on your own is not allowed. You must be back at camp by sunset. Night drives with a safari ranger are possible at the main camps, although space is limited.

SABI SANDS: You often do a safari drive after dark. On our first night at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands, we saw a leopard consuming her kill up in a tree on a night drive.

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Number of Safari Vehicles

Safari jeeps watching a lion

Courtesy of Shutterstock: multiple safari Jeeps at a sighting 

KRUGER: No limit on the number of vehicles per sighting, so you may encounter more traffic and congestion.

SABI SANDS: The number of vehicles is limited at wildlife sightings. Usually 2-3 vehicles max.

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Type of Safari Vehicle

Riding in a 6 seater jeep at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa

Riding in a 6-seater jeep at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa 

KRUGER: Guided safari drives use open vehicles with a canopy and canvas sides.

SABI SANDS: Guided safari drives use open vehicles with no cover.

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Safari Drive Options

Getting close to 2 lionesses eating a giraffe at Sabi Sand Reserve

Off-roading in Sabi Sands to get close to 2 lionesses eating a giraffe

KRUGER: You have two safari drive options: a DIY self-drive OR a guided drive. No off-roading allowed. You must stick to the main road network.

SABI SANDS: You have only one option: a guided drive. Off-roading is allowed. This really allows you to have some close-up encounters, especially with leopards and lions! Sabi Sands has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.

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Safari Schedule

Lion Sands River Lodge Daily Program (1)

Lion Sands River Lodge daily schedule

KRUGER: Schedules are flexible. You can stay out as long as you want, but you have to be back by sunset.

SABI SANDS: Schedules are fixed. Most safari lodges offer an early morning and late afternoon safari drive.

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Safari Lodge Layout

Male nyala hanging out by the walkway at Lion Sands River Lodge

Male Nyala hanging out by the walkway at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands. There are no fences!

KRUGER: The majority of the camps are fenced in, so there are no animals roaming through the camp.

SABI SANDS: The majority of the lodges are not fenced, so you MUST be escorted to/from your room at night.

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Safari Lodge Choices

Lion Sands River Lodge Fire Pit

Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands

KRUGER: The accommodations in the national park are basic with not a lot of amenities. Some camps have a community pool.

SABI SANDS: The safari lodges are more luxurious with amenities including a pool (some rooms even have private pools!), a gym, and spa services.

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Food Options

Butternut risotto for dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge

Butternut risotto for dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands

KRUGER: You bring your own food, or there are also restaurants in the camps.

SABI SANDS: Meals are all-inclusive, and most lodges include all-inclusive drinks.

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Cost

KRUGER: Less expensive. For a price comparison, the Skukuza Rest Camp, one of the largest camps in Kruger National Park, will run you R 1,545 (~$85 USD) for a bungalow for 2 people. Food and safari drives are not included.  

SABI SANDS: More expensive. For example, the Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands starts at R 20 720 (~$1,200 USD) per person per night. This cost though includes all meals, drinks, amenities, game drives, and airport transfers.

Final Thoughts on Sabi Sands vs Kruger

Some people will combine both experiences and spend a few days in Kruger National Park and a few days at one of the private game reserves like Sabi Sand. 

Each to their own, but choosing a lodge for a 3-night stay in Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve was an easy choice for us for the following reasons:

  • High concentrations of wildlife without fighting with other vehicles to get a good view
  • Almost guaranteed to see all the Big 5 on a first-time experience
  • Highly skilled rangers and trackers
  • Close-up encounters
  • Amazing gourmet food, service, pool/spa treatments

Plus, this was our first safari experience ever (and definitely not our last!), and we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.

If you want to know more about the safari lodge we picked in Sabi Sands, please see my full review below.

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Questions about our stay in Sabi Sands?

Let me know in the comments below!

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