In July and August, I visited what are probably the two most famous national parks in Africa: the Kruger Park in South Africa, and the Maasai Mara in Kenya. I don’t know how these two ended up being two of the last that I visited, but I guess I have been known to do things a little bit backward sometimes.
Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, covering around 7,500 square miles. It was established in 1926 and now receives somewhere in the neighborhood of one million visitors each year. To put that in perspective — I think that the next most-visited parks are Maasai Mara and Serengeti, which get about three hundred thousand and one hundred thousand per year, respectively. The busiest parks in Botswana get numbers in the tens of thousands. This discrepancy is partially due to Kruger’s popularity with tourists, but also to the fact that Kruger gets many more local visitors than other parks. That makes sense — South Africa has a relatively large population; a good number of South Africans can afford safaris; and most South Africans I’ve met have a special love for “The Kruger,” as they call it.
You can feel the differences between Kruger and other less-visited parks. Kruger is busier than other parks I had been to (with the exception of Mara, but I hadn’t been there yet when I went to Kruger) and much more developed (no exceptions). As always, development is both a pro and a con. The roads are paved and smooth, the bathrooms have toilet paper (a mark of luxury in my travels), and there are mini-villages in the park that have restaurants, doctors, and internet cafes, all of which I appreciate. But you do lose some of that middle-of-nowhere peace and wild-ness that I love about Serengeti or the Okavango Delta.
That said, Kruger is a beautiful park to visit, and it’s full of animals. The landscape changes depending on which part you’re in, but these are a few of my favorite views of the park (obviously including some sunrise/sunset action):
While Kruger is the most-visited park in Africa, the Mara has to be the most densely-visited (is that a term? hopefully you get what I mean). As I mentioned, it receives about a third as many visitors as Kruger, but it is not even one-tenth of the size. The Mara is part of the same piece of land as Serengeti, and the landscape is similarly breathtaking, at least in my opinion. The land is dry at this time of year, and some people find the dryness and the lack of vegetation unappealing. Personally, I love how you can see the vastness of the plains, and I love the contrast between the green trees and the yellow grass, which always makes me think of Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold. And yes, I love the sunrises and sunsets.
And now, onto the animals. If you’ve been following my blog faithfully, you must be sick of these by now, so I’m trying to keep the photos to a minimum — only new animals or really special photos.
A lazy family of lions lounging around at Kruger, and a youngish male searching for a female in heat at Mara:
Hippos leaving the water and baring their teeth at Kruger:
A crocodile sunbathing on the bank of the Mara river, which marks the border between Serengeti/Tanzania and Maasai Mara/Kenya. This is the river that the wildebeest have to cross, and where many of them die, during the migration.
More breeds of antelope! If you’ve been paying attention, there are almost 90 species native to Africa, so I’ve still only scratched the surface.
These are springboks, the national animals of South Africa, grazing in Kruger. They are only found in Southern Africa, although they look very similar to the Thomson’s or Grant’s Gazelles that you see in East Africa.
Waterboks — you can identify them by the white circle around the butt.
A male kudu (with horns) and a female (without), both at Kruger. I think the male Kudu is one of the most majestic-looking antelopes, although a front-view of the horns might persuade you better.
Topes in Maasai Mara — I had never seen or even heard of these before, and I think their coloring is so interesting and beautiful.
A herd of impala grazing in the Mara, with a saddle-billed stork watching. I know impalas have already gotten a lot of airtime, but I just love this photo.
A baby giraffe nursing in Kruger! And then two grown-ups having a staring contest with us at Mara. If you’re interested and look closely, you can see from the markings that the giraffes in Kruger are a different sub-species than the ones in the Mara.
An elephant trying to sniff us out in Kruger. Or, I prefer to think that he was waving goodbye 🙂
In other news, while googling to find out how many people visit each park in a year, I came across this (admittedly very unofficial) list of the top ten safari destinations in Africa, and realized that I’ve now made it to all ten of them without even knowing it! I hope you can excuse that kind-of-obnoxious “look-where-I’ve-been” moment. I really try to avoid being that person. I just got so excited about it; I had to share.