When picturing your next trip to Africa you immediately imagine the many sights and sounds which make this breath-taking continent a must-see destination for travellers around the world. The dense bush teeming with wildlife, the roar of the lion at night beneath the great star-spangled sky, the vivid sunrises breaking over the elegant thorn trees, the call of the fish eagle at the river’s edge.
The Kruger National Park is famous for these, and many other experiences which bring to life the magic of Africa. But just north of South Africa’s most famous national park, the fascinating and ancient country of Zimbabwe hosts a number of truly unforgettable safari destinations. One such place is the Matobo National Park, an immersive and intimate reserve that will add a whole new dimension to your next safari. In this ultimate comparison, we take a closer look at what sets Matobo apart from Kruger, so that you can make your next trip with MoAfrica as exciting and enriching as Africa is, they also offers exceptional Pilanesberg Tours.
What makes Matobo National Park different?
Matobo National Park is most notably differentiated from the Kruger National Park by its startling location. Situated in southwest Zimbabwe, less than an hour’s drive from the city of Bulawayo, the reserve is nestled at the centre of the Matobo Hills, a series of striking balancing granite boulders that were formed over 2 billion years ago.
This stark and arresting landscape makes for a completely different experience from the dense bush of the Lowveld region in which the Kruger is located. Where you enjoy the intense beauty of the Kruger’s bushy thickets, silhouetted by thorn trees and rich with wildlife, at Matobo you are surrounded by a dramatic, rugged landscape knuckled with poised rock formations and interspersed with clusters of vegetation.
Both Kruger and Matobo are the oldest national parks in their respective countries and were both established in 1926. Each park is situated in areas of significant cultural history and house a number of important and fascinating cultural sites. While Kruger hosts the Albasini ruins, Skukuza hut museum, and the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial library, Matobo National Park has the singular distinction of having one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa, and the Matobo Hills are still an important spiritual site.
The Matobo Hills have been home to people for millenniums who have left an extraordinary cultural fingerprint across its collection of caves and rock canvases. Due to this superb concentration of rock art and cave paintings, the Matobo National Park was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003, contributing to a unique cultural experience not found at Kruger.
On your Kruger National Park safari as well as your trip to Matobo National Park you will enjoy high botanic biodiversity, and each park offers distinctive wildlife sightings. At Kruger you will easily find all of the Big 5, as well as cape wild dogs, brown hyena, hippopotami, rhino, and a broad spectrum of antelope. Kruger is famous for its close-range sightings of lion prides and elephant herds, neither of which can be found at Matobo. That said, Matobo boasts Zimbabwe’s highest concentration of white and black rhino. While Kruger is also a renowned protectorate of the white and black rhino, the park’s thick vegetation can make for elusive rhino sightings, while Matobo’s sparse landscape allows you to track both of these species on foot, often coming within 40 metres of these highly endangered, precious animals.
Added to this, the Matobo National Park also has the highest concentration of leopard in Africa, as well as the highest concentration of black eagle in the world. In fact, the park has been designated as one of Zimbabwe’s four Intensive Protection Zones due to its high population of unique and endangered animals.
Matobo National Park is home to 88 mammal and 175 bird species, while the Kruger giant boasts 145 mammal species and 505 bird species. But Matobo’s concentration of singular and rare animals means that you are often met with more intimate and immersive sightings of rhino, leopard and birdlife than you would find at Kruger, as well as hyenas, hippopotami, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and ostriches.
All in all, the unique culmination of Matobo National Park’s striking wilderness landscape, its close-range experience of rare wildlife, and its well-preserved and fascinating cultural heritage, makes for an unforgettable and intimate safari in a location that is very different to Kruger National Park.
Best time to visit
Plan your safari to Matobo National Park and Kruger Park trip during the seasonal dry periods. At Kruger, this is usually from May to September, while at Matobo the dry season occurs from June to October. In both instances’ wildlife is more easily spotted since they gather around water sources, and the vegetation becomes less dense.
Kruger National Park covers the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga and is bordered on the North by Zimbabwe and on the East by Mozambique. You can board a connecting flight from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to the nearby Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport or Skukuza Airport and enter the park through one of its ten gates.
To reach Matobo National Park you can either fly into Victoria Falls Airport (VFA), located near the town of Victoria falls, and drive for 540 km to the reserve, which takes about six and a half hours. Alternative, you can fly into Harare International Airport (HRE). While Matobo has a longer access route from the country’s respective airports than that of Kruger, the trip consists of breath-taking scenery as the landscape steadily begins to transform into the ancient beauty the Matobo Hills.
MoAfrika Tours offers guided safaris to Hwangwe National Park, Kruger National Park as well as guided Cape Town safaris. Select from a variety of tailored packages which are inclusive of transfers.
Kruger National Park’s extensive terrain and ongoing demand has resulted in a wide selection of accommodation options, ranging from 5-star bush lodges to tented camps and self-catering stays. All of these come at different price points and offer a number of activities, such as guided bush-walks, and fantastic amenities, from swimming pools to spas.
Matobo National Park is a smaller reserve where you can find accommodation at several lodges surrounded by the region’s famous granite scenery, as well as at a number of romantic camps offering a truly remote African experience.