South Africa is geared up for safari. And there is such a selection of safari lodges and game reserves that the issue is less about where, and all about how to choose the best safari experience possible.
The wide, expansive savanna offers a glimpse into a truly wild environment and a chance to see the Big 5. That is, lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – originally named because they were the most difficult to hunt on foot. Aside from wildlife spotting, you’ll witness some of the most renowned sunsets in the world.
Where To Locate Safaris In South Africa
KwaZulu-Natal – where the list of game parks and safari lodges keeps growing, and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve give you access to a feast of wildlife.
Eastern Cape – where there are many game lodges and safari camps including Addo Elephant National Park, which gives you access to the Big 7.
Northern Cape – the most sparsely populated, and thus beautiful and exciting, province that has a fair number of lodge choices, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park where black-maned lions are a real draw card.
BEST TIME TO GO ON A SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA
Winter (May to September).
- the grass is not as dense as in summer
- the mosquitoes and other flying insects are less likely to aggravate
- the scenery is beautiful
Note: mornings and evenings can get seriously chilly between June and August, even though days are pleasantly warm (the Northern Cape in particular).
WHERE TO LAND WHEN GOING ON SAFARI
It depends on how long you have in the country.
If you’re in South Africa primarily for game:
Fly into Johannesburg. You’ll be in bushveld country within four hours of landing.
Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces are both regarded as prime game viewing country. And they’re both easy to reach from Johannesburg.
If you have time on your hands:
Land in Cape Town and take in Table Mountain, beaches and winelands first.
From there you can either head up the Garden Route to Addo Elephant National Park, up the West Coast to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, or fly across the country to KwaZulu-Natal (iSimangaliso) or Johannesburg (Kruger).
SAFARI IN LUXURY
Here’s your number one tip for where to safari in South Africa: if you can afford it, go to one of the top safari lodges.
Why a luxury safari?
- You’ll benefit from their expert rangers and trackers, who can take their vehicles off road (what South Africans call ‘bundu bashing’) to follow the game.
- Some of the best of these safari lodges are linked directly to Kruger National Park and many of them benefit from unfenced relations with the park, with game free to flow between the park and the private reserve. You will see a lot more game this way.
- The dearth of tourists by comparison with major parks like Kruger, which become inundated during peak season.
SAFARI ON A BUDGET
The best part of doing a safari on a budget is the freedom you have to do your own thing – no breakfast and game drive time schedules to meet.
Most national game parks and reserves have a network of excellent tarred roads on which one can drive in an ordinary hired car. There is every chance you’ll spot a lot of game this way.
A high-clearance vehicle is better for seeing beyond the first clump of trees, but not essential.
A few tips for budget safaris:
- Stay just outside the game park you select (cheaper).
- Visit out of season (December and other school holidays increase tariffs).
- Stick to the country’s national parks – there are 20 of them across the country, and they are, on the whole, cheaper.
Top game reserves to go on a safari in South Africa:
What does game reserve mean?
A game reserve (also known as a wildlife preserve or a game park) is a large area of land where wild animals live safely or are hunted in a controlled way for sport. … Many game reserves are located in Africa. Most are open to the public, and tourists commonly take sightseeing safaris.
1. Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is the ultimate South Africa safari destination, loved for its extensive wildlife, from the Big Five to cheetah, painted wolves, hyena, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, hippo, and over 500 bird species. This abundance is, in part, due to how big the park is. The Kruger measures 19,485 sq km, reaching from the Mozambique border across the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
2. Sabi Sands Game Reserve
Sabi Sand Game Reserve is located adjacent to the Kruger National Park in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga, South Africa. Officially named Sabi Sand Wildtuin, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve consists of a group of private game reserves
3. Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park
Despite being a twentieth of the size of Kruger, Hluhluwe-iMofolozi Park is considered superior by some. While it can’t compete with the game populations, it does have a distinctly more wild feel. Only one of the rest camps is fenced off, allowing the animals to wander at leisure. All of the Big Five are here, and it’s one of the best places in not only South Africa, but the world, to see rhino, both black and white. It’s also well worth coming here for wilderness hiking trails, of which there are some of the best in the country.
How do I get there?
Durban is the best starting point for Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. It’s close enough to Durban that you can even go on a day tour, which makes this park a perfect beach-safari escape.
4. Kgalagadi Trans frontier Park
Africa’s first trans-frontier park spans South Africa and Botswana – so you can tick two countries off in one go on safari here. The open landscape gives an unobstructed view for spotting animals. Kgalagadi is most well known for its predators. If you have your heart set on seeing a leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena or the black-maned Kalahari lion, this South Africa safari will be your best bet. The park is also known for its seasonal movement of herbivores such as wildebeest, springbok and the gemsbok.
How do I get there?
As with Kruger and South Africa safari journeys, you’ll most likely start by flying into Johannesburg. You can then rent a car or take another flight closer to Upington, where you can have a tour pick you up.
5. Madikwe Game Reserve
Tucked near the Botswanan border, Madikwe Game Reserve has remarkably few visitors compared to other South Africa safari parks. Despite this, it boasts excellent lodges and wildlife-spotting opportunities, including lions (and the rest of the Big Five), elephants, cheetahs, antelopes, hyenas and over 350 bird species. One of the largest parks and malaria-free, Madikwe is an exclusive resort. There’s no self-drive option here and day visits aren’t allowed. Only guests of one of the 20-plus lodges here can enter the park and reap the benefits of this uncrowded and wildlife-rich area.
How do I get there?
You can drive from Johannesburg, which is 360km away, or take one of the few daily flights from Johannesburg airport to the park.
6. Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Pilanesberg is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa and covers an area of 55 000 hectares (572 square kilometers).
7. Addo Elephant National Park
As the name suggests, this park in the Eastern Cape is known for its excellent elephant spotting. No other park in the country has a bigger elephant population. In addition, Addo Elephant Park (and the private reserves around it) are malaria-free. This means no inconvenient or side-effect inducing medication is needed. It’s also the only national park in South Africa that has a section of coastline.
Elephants are of course the main draw, but lions and hyenas have been reintroduced here. Addo is also home to the Big Five. The bush is thicker here than other parks, which means it may sometimes be more difficult to see game, but when you do it’s usually very close-up.
How do I get there?
Port Elizabeth is the closest major city, so you’ll need to fly into there and then drive or get picked up by a lodge or tour.
8. Shamwari Game Reserve
Shamwari Game Reserve is located 75 km outside Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. It has been voted the World’s Leading Safari and Game Reserve and Conservation Company for many consecutive years.
Don’t go On Safaris without
- your child’s (under 18) full unabridged birth certificate!
- binoculars, zoom lens cameras
- a hat
- warm clothing
- sunscreen and insect repellent (not as necessary in winter)
- a good pair of boots or walking shoes