Any seasoned camper will be able to tell you a story of how they struggled to find available spots at the Kruger National Park or Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park during school holidays. These camps are notorious for being fully booked within an hour after reservations open. We’re no different as we had to secure camp sites at Mata Mata during the April school holidays but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve and I managed to book all the sites I wanted, for the planned dates. How did I do it?
First things first, you have to know your dates and when the bookings actually open at Sanparks. They usually open 11 months in advance so for April 2018 bookings, you’ll be able to book from the 1st of May 2017. Online bookings open the following day, which is often too late. Sanparks has seen some labor unrest so they delayed their bookings for June /July 2018 till 1st of August 2017. I saw some people saying that they couldn’t secure bookings and that camp sites were booked out within an hour. One of the ways you can make sure that you are first in line is to queue in front of a Sanparks office. I was on the phone to them by 07:30 last year on the 2nd of May and I only managed to get one camp site for one night. So I knew I had to do something creative to secure the bookings that I needed.
People change their minds all the time so they often have to cancel or change their bookings and the best thing is to actually check regularly if any of your dates have come up as available. A very little known fact is that the Sanparks online system re-sets itself at midnight every night. This is when cancelled bookings or changes will be loaded onto the system. The system goes back online by 02:00 in the morning. So if you are really desperate you can set your watch to wake up by this time to check the system for availability. What I did was to go online the moment I woke up, and I did this for a couple of days until I found available sites on the dates that I required them. Sounds extreme I know, but the struggle to secure bookings for your trip is real and one date could make or break your holiday.
Telephonic bookings or bookings at the Sanparks offices need a deposit payment within 30 days of making your booking. It happens that people decide not to visit anymore and they often don’t bother to cancel their booking so it’s useful to know that the Sanparks system will automatically cancel any bookings without deposit payments after 30 days. This means that if you’re diligent in checking on the system for availability, you might stand a good chance to find something 30 days after the initial bookings opened.
My last piece of advice is to go ahead and book anything that becomes available, in your preferred camp site on your dates. That way if you don’t manage to secure your first choice of accommodation, you’ve got some sort of booking in place, even if you have to change your plans around a bit. If your preferred accommodation eventually does come up as available, book the available accommodation BEFORE you cancel your existing booking. Sometimes the internet connection bombs out and you might end up loosing out on both your bookings so rather be safe than sorry. You can also have two or three proposed routes ready so that you’re flexible with dates and with how you’re planning on traveling. Maybe have a north-to south route as well as a south-to-north route ready when you make your reservations for Kruger, this way you can ask for different dates or camps in your conversation with the operator, without having to phone back again. Planning is crucial if you want to visit these game reserves in peak time, and rather be over prepared that the opposite.
Let me know if you have any other hints and tips you can share with us, I’m always keen on hearing what other people are doing differently to our methods….