The Private Game Lodge Experience in Kruger National Park

Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park
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When it comes to traveling, a lot of people like to have adventures independently; they like to plan their own itinerary, avoid the typical tourist routes, and explore on their own without a guide.

And while I love independent travel, I do think that in some cases you miss out by “going it alone.”

For example, there are some instances when having a knowledgable local guide can really enhance a travel experience – and I definitely think this is true when going on safari in South Africa.

Giraffe in Kruger National Park

Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the largest game reserves in all of Africa, covering more than 7500 square miles (nearly 20,000 square kilometers). It's been a national park (South Africa's first, in fact) since 1926, and is one of the top destinations in Africa for a safari.

But when it comes to seeing the Big 5 in Kruger, there are two different options.

Baby elephants playing in Kruger

The first option is to self-drive, which is the most economical way to go on safari in Africa. This means you pay a park fee (about $28 per person per day for non-South African residents), drive your own vehicle on designated park roads, and most likely camp or stay in self-catering accommodation. The good news is that this makes for a pretty affordable safari. The bad news is that a self-drive safari has quite a few drawbacks.

Drawbacks of a self-drive safari in Kruger National Park include:

  • You have to stay on park roads, meaning you'll only see wildlife that is close to those roads.
  • You'll be sharing those roads will all the other self-driving tourists in the park.
  • You'll be viewing everything through a car window.
  • You have to rely on your own untrained eyes to spot animals.
  • The park gates close after dark, so you can't do any nighttime game drives.

When it comes to going on safari in Kruger, I really do think it's worth to spend the extra money to stay in a private game lodge.

Lions in Kruger National Park in South Africa

Private game lodges in Kruger National Park

In and around Kruger National Park you'll find private game reserves and private concessions, both of which are similar. Private game reserves are located either adjacent to or just outside Kruger National Park, often sharing a fenceless border with the park. Private concessions are found within the park itself; these lodges/operators have special licenses to exist within the borders of Kruger.

For all intents and purposes, private reserves and concessions operate pretty much the same way and offer similar benefits over a self-drive safari in Kruger. They are quite a bit more expensive, but this is definitely a case of “you get what you pay for.”

Sunrise in Kruger National Park

Kruger sunrise

Why stay in a private game lodge?

So what are the benefits of staying in a private game lodge in Kruger National Park? Well, here are just a few:

Privacy – Many of the lodges (and especially the private concessions within Kruger) are relatively small, meaning you get an intimate, private experience.

All-inclusive – If you're the type of person who doesn't like to worry about the details, then a private game lodge in Kruger is perfect for you. They're almost all all-inclusive, which not only includes lodging and food, but also things like twice-daily game drives, walking safaris, airport transfers, and more.

Walking safari in Kruger National Park

Looking at a leopard print on a walking safari in Kruger.

Freedom – The private lodges in and around Kruger have a lot more freedom when it comes to providing a safari experience to their guests. When you go on safari with a private company, they don't have to stick to just the main roads in Kruger National Park. They can go off-road on their own property, and sometimes off-road on property owned by neighboring reserves/concessions. This means you have a much better chance of seeing more wildlife.

Zebra in Kruger National Park

Night safaris – Because the rules are different for rangers employed by private game lodges, you can actually go on nighttime safaris. This is often the best time to spy some of Africa's large cats, which is a huge bonus.

Lion in Kruger National Park

Lion spotted on a game drive after dark

The best rangers – Speaking of those rangers, you'll find the best ones employed by Kruger's private lodges. These rangers REALLY know their stuff, and can help you find and spot animals you never would have noticed on your own. Rangers talk to each other while out on game drives, too, meaning they can be alerted if there's a really cool sighting opportunity going on somewhere else. This helped me see mating lions and a showdown between hyenas and wild dogs on my own trip to Kruger.

Wild dogs vs. hyenas in Kruger

Hyenas vs. wild dogs!

Better vehicles – Lastly, going on safari in an elevated, windowless vehicle driven by a trained ranger is just SO much better than driving around on your own in a regular car. You get a better vantage point and can usually get much closer to the action in these safari vehicles.

Safari in Kruger National Park

SO much cooler than driving your own car on the road.

And of course there's the wide range of unique, historic lodges to choose from in and around Kruger National Park.

RELATED: 8 Things to Know Before Your First African Safari

Jock Safari Lodge

Now, I've only been to South Africa once, so I can't compare different private game reserves and concessions. But I CAN tell you about my personal experience staying at a private concession within Kruger National Park.

I stayed at the Jock Safari Lodge, which was the very first private lodge to be granted a concession within Kruger National Park. I love the history that oozes from this lodge – it's romantic and rustic at the same time.

Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park

Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park

Dining area at Jock Safari Lodge – all their roofs are thatched!

The Jock Safari Lodge gets its name from a true story called “Jock of the Bushveld,” with Jock being the canine companion of author/traveler Sir James Percy FitzPatrick. Each of the 12 villa suites at Jock is named after a place of interest in the story, and each suite has a copy of the book in case you want to spend the afternoon reading on your private sala.

Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park

These private salas are everything!

Jock Safari Lodge is located in the southern part Kruger National Park, where the Mitomeni and Biyamiti rivers meet – meaning there are excellent wildlife viewing opportunities right from your room.

Elephant in Kruger National Park

We saw elephants from our sala every afternoon.

And the rooms? Beautiful and modern, but with an “old world” charm, too. My favorite parts were the private plunge pool, outdoor shower, and private sala, perfect for taking naps and watching for animals.

Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park


Getting there: To get to the Jock Safari Lodge, you can fly into the tiny Skukuza Airport; daily flights are available to/from Johannesburg. Jock then offers transport from the airport to the lodge.

How much: Rates start at around $650 per person per night (based on two people sharing) – but remember that this price includes lodging, food, AND game drives.

How many nights? We only stayed two nights. This still allowed for 4 game drives (an afternoon one on arrival day, two the next day, and a morning one before we left), plus time to enjoy the lodge. If you can afford 3 nights, I think that would be the perfect amount of time, though you can certainly see a ton with just two nights, too.

Booking: Read reviews on TripAdvisor here; Book a room at Jock Safari Lodge here

Who is it for? Even though I think the Jock Safari Lodge would make an excellent honeymoon location, they don't cater to just one type of traveler. I stayed at the lodge with my dad. And they welcome children (though no kids under 6 are allowed on game drives).

Can I go solo? Yes! Jock is pretty darn inclusive. There IS a slight single supplement, but you won't pay double if you're traveling on your own. (For example, I checked prices for a random day in May, and it was $875 per night for a solo traveler, and $1350 per night for 2 people – or $675 each.)

Safari in Kruger National Park

Up close with rhinos

A day at a private game lodge

Curious about what an average day at a private game lodge is like? Well, here's the general schedule at the Jock Safari Lodge (which varies slightly depending on season):

  • 5 a.m. wake-up
  • 5:30 a.m. coffee/snacks
  • 6-9 a.m. game drive (most animals are more active in the hours right around sunrise)
  • 9:30 a.m. breakfast
  • Relaxing time / maybe a walking safari or other activity offered
  • Lunch
  • More relaxing/pool time (or maybe visit the spa)
  • 4-7 p.m. evening game drive (usually with a stop for a sundowner drink somewhere out in the bush)
  • Dinner (every other night Jock offers a braai, or African barbecue)
  • Bedtime!

My experience at Jock Safari Lodge was even better than I could have imagined. The food was top-notch, the service is exactly what you'd expect from a luxury lodge, and we had plenty of downtime for relaxing (or napping).

And of course the game drives!! We were paired up with Jock's head ranger for our stay, who was not only overflowing with knowledge, but also truly cared about making sure we had the best safari experience possible. Thanks to him, we got up close with a mama and baby rhino, had sundowner drinks surrounded by a pride of curious lions, and had a prime viewing spot for that showdown between the hyenas and wild dogs. He even piled us back into a vehicle after an evening game drive had ended when he heard that there were leopards nearby.

Mama and baby white rhino in Kruger

Leopard in Kruger National Park

Thanks to our ranger, we saw the Big 5 all on our first game drive!

Staying at a private game lodge is about more than just sleeping and eating there. If you can afford the extra splurge, I really think this is the best way to experience Kruger National Park!

READ NEXT: How to See the Best of South Africa in 12 Days

Have you stayed at a private game lodge in South Africa? If not, is it something you'd like to do one day?


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  • Mindy says:

    So jealous of this trip every time you post something about it! This is most definitely on my (very long) wish list. Out of curiosity, given the cost per night (though I definitely understand, especially considering what you’re getting for it!), how long a stay would you recommend in a place like this? And is it something you can do solo (and is there a solo supplement?). How long did you stay?

    • Amanda says:

      Excellent question (I should add this to the post!) We only stayed two nights. This still allowed for 4 game drives (an afternoon one on arrival day, two the next day, and a morning one before we left), plus time to enjoy the lodge. If you can afford 3 nights, I think that would be the perfect amount of time, though you can certainly see a ton with just two nights, too. As for a single supplement, they DO have single rates for their rooms, which are only slightly higher than the rate for two people sharing. (For example, I checked prices for a random day in May, and it was $875 per night for a solo traveler, and $1350 per night for 2 people – or $675 each.)

      • Mindy says:

        Good to know! Thanks for the info. This place sounds awesome – I will definitely have to keep it in mind for my eventual trip (add it to the long list, made even longer thanks to your blog!). ; )

  • Elizabeth says:

    I added Jock to my Goodreads TBR list. First Africa read on my list! I’m glad I read this post!

  • budget jan says:

    Wow. What an experience. I can’t believe you can actually see wildlife right from your room. At first it seems expensive but when I considered what it includes and the incredible experience it provides I think it is worth it. Truly amazing photographs.

    • Amanda says:

      I think it was worth it, too, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again! I can’t even tell you how magical it was to spot an elephant from our room for the first time – it was pretty much the coolest thing ever!

  • Ijana Loss says:

    I totally agree; I’m pretty cheap but this seems like something you definitely 100% want to splurge for! Cause if you’re gonna go all the way to Africa, why would you not?? Jock sounds like a cool lodge too! I’ll save it for future reference 😀

    • Amanda says:

      I mean, I’ve heard of people self-driving and still seeing some awesome stuff, but personally I’m with you – I’m not going to travel all that way and not have the “full” experience! (Plus, I think there are other game parks in southern Africa that are more conducive to self-drive safaris than Kruger!)

  • Dominique says:

    I wasn’t a fan of self-driving during a safari. I felt like I passed by all the big animals without being able to spot them because my eyes had to be on the road the whole time looking for dung beetles 🙂 I would take a private lodge over self-driving any day of the week!

    • Amanda says:

      I didn’t even consider that, but yes you’d miss so much if you were the one actually driving! I also just don’t think Kruger is the best park for self-driving since it’s got taller trees/plants and lots more tourists than some of the other parks in Africa.

  • Laurence says:

    Awesome to see the Big 5 on your first drive out! What an epic experience 🙂 Just makes me want to head back out to South Africa as soon as possible 😀

  • Kristin says:

    That elephant photo gives me all the heart eyes! So cute. And I love that you did this trip with your dad. I did a similar one to Kruger with my mom in 2010 and am so happy we’ll always have those memories together.

    I saw everything but the rhino, and now I am so jealous of that baby!!!!

    • Amanda says:

      The baby rhino was the cutest, OMG. A bird kept landing on his back and he kept freaking out. It was adorable. And yes, it was great to share this with my dad (even though sharing such a “romantic” room with a parent was a little weird! Haha).

  • although i like the lodge, it’s too expensive for me 🙂 i do like the idea of night drives though.

  • Ah, I miss Africa and all its lovely creatures! Looks like you had a great time. I stayed in a few private lodges in Tanzania and loved them. Expensive, but nice to do if you have the budget. Will have to check this place out if we go to South African any time soon!

  • Emily Hines says:

    I love the nighttime cheetah shot! This is one of those once in a lifetime trips that I would love to experience one day. And I would definitely prefer to stay in a lodge similar to this one.

  • Philip says:

    Nice photos of the wild dogs Amanda. Rarely talked about but very loyal to the family and pack and will fight to the death to protect their puppies. On the negative side, very merciless and cruel when killing pray. White Rhinos became extinct here in Uganda and now only found in a conservation reserve. Thanks for sharing

  • Neena says:

    South Africa is at the top of my bucket list. You’ve inspired me to try and make it happen!

  • ‘Lovely post Amanda!

    I’ve been on safari in India and South Africa, but I’ve never done an overnight one. And the ones that I went on were very close up. Gulp!

    Kruger looks pretty epic!

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