Etosha vs Kruger

2012-10-17 08:18

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2012-09-26 13:45

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Spend a few hours watching the arrivals gates at either Johannesburg or Windhoek's airport and it is quickly evident from the amount of khaki, floppy hats and hiking boots that many of the tourists coming
to South Africa and Namibia are drawn by the same thing: the call of the African bush and its incredible array of wildlife.

And they are in the right place.

It would certainly be hard to find many better spots than Namibia’s Etosha National Park or South Africa’s Kruger National Park to experience the wild side of Africa in all its expansive glory. But with so much to see in a region as vast, diverse and fascinating as Southern Africa, a very lucky few get to experience both parks in their lifetime, even amongst those of us who live here.

So for the rest of us, local or international, which to choose?

It’s time to pit the two prize fighters against each other and see if either comes out on top.


- Size: 22,000 km²
-Established: 1907
- Location: Namibia
- Access: Roughly 6hrs drive from Windhoek airport.
- Known for: Big Five, perhaps the world’s best black rhino sightings, Etosha Pan
- Best Time to Visit: July to October (winter, dry season)

When Etosha National Park was first established in 1907, the total area of the park came to a staggering 100,000km², making it comfortably the largest game reserve in the world. Subsequent political issues over land saw the park reduced to approximately a quarter of its original size at 22,000km². Nevertheless, Etosha remains amongst Africa’s favourite game reserves, and what it may have lost in size it more than makes up for in scenery.

In this regard, one of the park’s most distinctive features is the Etosha Pan, a great white salt pan that is over 1000 million years old and stretches to around 130km long and up to 50km wide. The word Etosha itself means “Great White Place” and the pan is even visible from space.


In terms of wildlife, Etosha certainly doesn’t disappoint either. Four of the Big Five can be found in the park, with buffalo being the only exemption. There are great opportunities to see the critically endangered and solitary black rhino, which is in fact the true claimant amongst the rhino family to inclusion in the prestigious Big Five. There are also countless elephants, giraffes, impala, zebra, eland, wildebeest, honey badgers, warthogs and more.

On the predators’ side of things, lion sightings are common, and the park is also home to hyenas, leopards and cheetahs. There are over 114 species of mammal in the park altogether. For bird lovers, during the wet season the salt pan fills with water attracting over 340 bird species, including great waves of flamingos.

But for the big game, the best sightings are to be had in the bone dry winter months, when the animals are all drawn to the numerous man-made and natural watering holes that punctuate the scorched landscape. Some of the camps in the park have floodlit watering holes, where many of the shyer and more elusive mammals prefer to come to drink under the cover of darkness. Close-up black rhino sightings are particularly common at these watering holes, making Etosha amongst the best places in the world to see this ancient herbivore.


There are five different camps in Etosha, including two picturesque new luxury lodges that have been opened recently in some of the more remote and secluded areas of the park. From the eco-friendly raised wooden platforms and rondavels of the newly-built Onkoshi Camp to the tall and striking white stone walls of an old German fort at Namotoni Camp, Etosha offers something for everyone, with a considerable range of facilities and amenities.

Kruger National Park

- Size: 19 633 km²
- Established: 1926
- Location: South Africa
- Access: 5hrs-drive from Johannesburg, flights via Nelspruit or Hoedspruit/Eastgate Airports
- Known for: Big Five, leopard sightings, highest number of mammal species
- Best Time to Visit: July to October (dry season)

The first thing that many people notice about Kruger National Park is the sheer enormity of the park. Though at a little over 19000km2 it is statistically smaller than Etosha, much of Etosha’s space is taken up by the un-traversable salt pan. Kruger on the other hand seems to be an almost endless sea of open bushveld which stretches over 2 million hectares, leading Kruger to be considered one of the largest parks in the whole of Africa.

Yet for all its size, hugging the borders of Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, Kruger is also very easily accessible either by road or plane from Johannesburg and is immensely and equally popular with both South African locals and tourists, regardless of whether they are seasoned safari experts or complete novices. The south of the park has a greater concentration of wildlife, but also more tracks and subsequently more vehicles and people, while to the North of the Olifants River visitors can find a quieter and more removed bush experience.


Whilst it may not be able boast the dramatic, baron, white vistas of Etosha, the sheer wealth of wildlife in Kruger doesn’t leave much time for this consideration.  In this instance, the statistics would appear to speak for themselves: Kruger has an incredible 148 mammalian species (more than any other park in Africa), over 500 bird species and 114 reptiles.

But for all these impressive numbers, the Big Five remain top of many people’s list and Kruger undoubtedly trumps its Namibian counterpart here with roughly five times as many lions in the park as in Etosha and more frequent leopard and cheetah viewings. On top of this there is a relative abundance of buffalo in Kruger, the one Big Five absentee in Etosha. Elephants are very common and both black rhinos and their bigger and more social white brothers can be found too, though the black rhinos are less numerous than in Etosha and often hard to spot in the dense bush that makes up most of the southern area of the park where they are generally found.

Apart from these famous heavyweights, the other usual suspects are all there too: zebra, wildebeest, a variety of antelope species, baboons, hyenas and many more. Kruger also counts the rare nocturnal civet cat amongst its population, not to mention a substantial number of Nile crocodiles who look deceptively passive as they bask in the sun on the river banks.


Kruger offers an amazing array of thirteen different lodges for its visitors, from the luxury tents at Hamilton’s Tented Camp to the exclusive Rhino Post Safari Lodge, with its own 12,000 hectare private concession of the park. Many of these comfortable and stylish lodges also have petrol stations, rest stops and shops, as well as swimming pools, high-quality restaurants and even wellness spas. 

The Final Scores?

As we come towards our conclusion, it would be hard to claim there were any losers in a competition where the calibre of both contestants is so high. Any decisive final result is further hindered by the fact that both parks very much offer their own distinctive experience, and at times their particularities would appear to cancel each other out. So it is that though Kruger may have more to offer in terms of wildlife, accessibility and affordable accommodation, Etosha’s moon-like landscape and the amazing viewing afforded by the floodlit watering holes are one-of-a-kind experiences and the accommodation, though a little pricey, is often quieter and closer to nature. Both parks are easy for novices and day-trippers as most of the park can be accessed by regular sedan-style cars.

With all this in mind, our final verdict is that for a short trip or for visitors going without a guide choose Kruger, especially if novices, as the animals, particularly the Big Five, are generally more numerous and easier to find. But for a longer trip, the magic of Etosha is particularly unforgettable.

On second thoughts, start saving and do both!

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