A South Africa Safari for Everyone
Diverse and flexible, South Africa offers a dazzle of safari experiences, from self-drive adventures in the country’s national parks to walking trails through untouched African wilderness and guided luxury trips in private game reserves.
A South Africa safari is imminently accessible and easy to combine with a business trip or sightseeing adventure in one of the country’s large cities. Offering a vast diversity of landscapes, as well as virtually all of Africa’s large mammals and a staggering range of birdlife, the country also boasts a well-established travel infrastructure and tourism industry that allows travellers the freedom to choose an adventure tailored specifically for them.
South Africa has a number of protected wildlife areas, the largest and most well-known of which is the Kruger National Park. In addition to large parks like the Kruger, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Hluhluwe iMfolozi, the country also boasts a large number of private game reserves and sanctuaries.
Safaris in South Africa range from self-drive adventures staying in a tent or caravan to fully-catered luxury tours in the company of a private guide. The variety of landscapes also lends itself to creating an individualised experience, from the dense bush of the north-east to the lush stretches of KwaZulu-Natal and the arid and rocky scenery of the Kalahari. South African safaris are ideal for family travel, with sophisticated facilities readily available and a number of wildlife reserves that are not situated in malaria areas.
What to expect
The first thing to take into consideration when planning your South African safari is whether to do your game viewing in a national park or a private game reserve. It is important to understand the differences and the effect that they will have on your game viewing experience.
South African national parks are justifiably famed for their variety of wildlife and many of them, such as the famous Kruger, regularly produce exceptional sightings of the Big Five, as well as a variety of other game. A safari in one of these parks also tends to be less expensive than in the private game reserves. However, certain restrictions will apply to this kind of game viewing. While numbers of visitors may be regulated during peak seasons, national parks are bound to have a greater amount of traffic than private reserves.
Unlike the private reserves, where only vehicles belonging to the lodge or camp are permitted, national reserves allow self-drive visitors. This is certainly a less expensive way of visiting the parks, but means that guests are largely on their own when it comes to locating wildlife and will not benefit from the knowledge and services of a guide. Many of the camps in the national parks do offer game drives led by the park’s rangers, however, the number of guests on the park vehicle will almost always be more than that at a private game reserve. Game drives are also conducted largely in parts of the park that are accessible to the general public, with no way of limiting the number of vehicles at sightings. Game drive vehicles are usually only semi-open and off-roading is not permitted. Most of the parks boast an extensive network of tar roads, as well as smaller gravel roads. Apart from organised game drives offered by the camps, game viewing is restricted to daylight hours. A few of the national reserves may offer walking trails, which are always accompanied by guides and may need to be booked far in advance.
In contrast, private game reserves do not allow guests to drive themselves within the reserve and generally offer fully-inclusive packages covering game drives led by experienced rangers or guides. Game drives take place in open vehicles and sensitive off-roading practices are generally allowed, particularly for sightings of the Big Five, offering a closer glimpse of the wildlife. Afternoon game drives frequently continue after dark, attempting to track down the nocturnal hunters and scavengers. Vehicle numbers at sightings may be limited and guests are guaranteed to see far fewer other tourists than in a national park. Walking safaris or bush walks may also be offered and may include the option of spending the night camping out in the African bush.
While private game reserves are the more expensive option, it is worth considering the far more intimate nature of the game viewing, as well as the superior experience provided by professional and knowledgeable guides.
Why choose South Africa
South Africa is home to some of Africa’s most renowned wildlife reserves, including the massive Kruger National Park. Its exceptional game parks are spread throughout the country, offering a range of landscapes and experiences that are easily accessible and all include outstanding game viewing. Thanks to excellent land and air access, guests can easily combine a number of these destinations into one trip or add on a South African safari to their holiday or business trip in one of the country’s large cities.
Whether you are visiting the capital of Johannesburg, exploring the sunny coastline of Durban or travelling through the Winelands of the Cape, one of South Africa’s many safari areas will inevitably be close enough to form part of your trip.
South African safaris cater for a variety of special interests, from birding expeditions to private journeys with a specialised guide that focus on wildlife photography, walking adventures, trips that teach guest how to track and many more.
While the country boasts a number of destinations that remain wild and inaccessible, offering an authentic African safari experience, it also has an excellent infrastructure that ensures that even the most nervous travellers quickly feel at home. With good roads, excellent banking services, world-class restaurants and hotels, combined with exceptional wildlife reserves, South Africa is the ideal destination for the first-time safari traveller. Boasting a number of attractions other than wildlife, it is also the perfect choice for visitors whose wish to combine their interest in wildlife with more cosmopolitan delights, a fascination with history, a relaxing beach holiday or any other adventure.
South Africa is an easy country to travel around, with its major cities easily accessible from around the globe and boasting excellent internal connections between its major wildlife regions and other areas of interest. It is also a great self-drive destination, featuring an extensive network of good quality roads.
Who is it for?
A safari in South Africa can be tailored to suit just about everyone, no matter what their interest or what level of wildlife experience they are looking for.
The country’s national parks are extremely popular and offer exceptional Big Five sightings at a reasonable price. This kind of safari is accessible to even the most cost-conscious and independent traveller, who is able to stay at affordable rest camps and self-drive to save on expenses. However, those looking for a higher level of luxury and more exclusive game sightings will find this at any of a number of exceptional private game reserves, where they can experience all the modern comforts, combined with a guided wildlife viewing experience.
Special wildlife interests, such as birding, photography and tracking are easily catered for and South African safaris are easy to combine with non-wildlife related activities such as golfing. Horse riding, quad biking or other action activities can also add a non-traditional twist to your safari.
Thanks to its excellent infrastructure and the relative accessibility of its wildlife areas, South Africa is also the ideal destination for a family safari, making it easy to travel with even the very young or very old family members. Most of the country’s safari lodges have a reliable electricity supply, as well as excellent facilities that ensure that all family members can be looked after in comfort. Short flights link most of the wildlife areas, cutting down on travelling time, while families looking to explore the country at a more leisurely pace will find it easy to rent a car and drive themselves, allowing them additional freedom. Exclusive-use safari villas are becoming an increasingly popular option, with families or groups of travellers offered all the comforts of home while looked after by a dedicated team of staff. Most safari lodges will have special children’s programmes designed to keep young guests occupied, while child minding services are also frequently offered, allowing parents peace of mind.
Where to go on safari in SA
Renowned the world over, the Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest national reserve and stretches 350 km (220 miles) from north to south and is 60 km (40 miles) in breadth. Boasting an exceptional diversity of game, it is home to more different species of wildlife than other natural sanctuary in Africa. Visitors can set out in search of the Big Five in their own cars or on guided game drives. Thanks to its large size the Kruger covers a variety of different landscapes, from the grassy plains of the south to the thick mopane thickets and baobab trees of the north. The park is home to a large population of elephant, as well as large herds of buffalo. Predators include lion, cheetah and hyena, as well as the elusive leopard, which are mainly nocturnal, and African wild dog, which are occasionally spotted in the park.
The park is intersected by a number of rivers, home to crocodile and hippo. The Kruger also boasts exceptional birdwatching, which is best enjoyed from one of the camp’s hides.
Together with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger forms the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. It also shares unfenced borders with a number of private game reserves on its western border.
As a national park, the Kruger is open to self-drive guests and day visitors, as well as those staying at its many rest camps and lodges.
Learn more about Kruger National Park & Surrounds.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve
The most prestigious game park in South Africa, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is renowned for some of the best Big Five game viewing in the country. Located on the south-western boundary of the Kruger National Park, there are no restricting fences between the Sabi Sand and the Kruger, enabling the animals to roam freely in a vast conservation area that covers almost five million hectares (over two million acres), an area equivalent to the state of New Jersey.
With no boundary fences between it and the Kruger Park, the Sabi Sand benefits from the great diversity of animals found in one of the richest wildlife areas on the African continent and is particularly well known for leopard sightings. Normally notoriously elusive, the Sabi Sand leopards have grown accustomed to safari vehicles, thereby permitting close-up sightings and extraordinary photographic opportunities.
Along with Africa’s famous Big Five, visitors are likely to observe territorial and individually recognisable leopard and lion, which are tracked on a daily basis, as well as several clans of hyena and various antelope species, from impala, waterbuck and grey duiker to kudu and bushbuck. Waterholes attract elephant, white rhino, giraffe and warthog, while hippo reside in the river.
Along with the reserve’s famous leopard, mongoose and civet cat are frequently encountered on night drives. The Sabi Sand consists primarily of bush savannah, which is made up of dense trees and shrubs, interspersed with grasslands. White rhino, as well as a variety of antelope species, giraffe and warthog can be found in the savannah. Both the Sabi and Sand Rivers intersect the reserve, although the flow of the Sand River varies according to season and it is often lined by wide, sandy banks. A forest of tall trees and thickets growing along the river’s course remains green throughout the year and attracts leopard, bushbuck, buffalo and other animals.
With a high density of wildlife, guests to the Sabi Sand are virtually guaranteed to encounter most, if not all, of the Big Five, as well as a variety of other species.
Game drives in the Sabi Sand are only conducted in the company of professional guides and traverse an area shared by a number of game lodges or camps. Sensitive off-roading practices are implemented, allowing close-up animal sightings, while afternoon game drives continue after dark, allowing a glimpse into the nocturnal life of the bush.
Learn more about Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
Africa’s oldest game reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is situated north of Durban in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Covering some magnificent scenery, including the rugged and rocky hillsides of the north and the open grasslands of the south, the park is known for its white rhino conservation and boasts a thriving population of these endangered animals, as well as excellent numbers of black rhino. The reserve is also home to the remaining members of the Big Five, as well as species such as cheetah, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, the elegant nyala and a number of other antelope species.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi has an excellent reputation for conservation and its Centenary Capture Centre documents its fascinating history of animal capture. The reserve is also known for its walking trails, which explore the remote southern reaches of the park, sleeping out in the African bush. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is open to self-drive guests and all the restrictions typical of South African national parks apply.
&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve
Offering a rich wildlife viewing experience and a spectacular setting near the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve boasts a variety of habitats and high density of game, including some rare and less easily spotted species. With seven distinct habitats, &Beyond Phinda is a magnificent tapestry of landscapes, from woodland to grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, river courses, marshes and pans. Home to a large portion of the world’s remaining rare sand forest, &Beyond Phinda sits in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and marine reefs of the Indian Ocean, with a combination of bush and beach adventures possible from the reserve.
&Beyond Phinda is home to a magnificent variety of wildlife, including the entire Big Five, but is best known for its large population of the elegant cheetah and the endangered black rhino, both of which are less easily spotted at other game reserves. The rare sand forest is home to the shy suni and the rare red duiker, two tiny antelope that are seldom encountered elsewhere. The reserve’s population of nyala is the biggest on private land and guests are guaranteed frequent encounters with this stately animal.
Learn more about Phinda Private Game Reserve.
Established in 1991 on reclaimed farmland, &Beyond Phinda has earned prestigious international conservation awards and recognition as one of the world’s premier benchmarks for responsible, sustainable travel. Some of the reserve’s most notable conservation firsts include:
- Site of the black rhino range expansion project
- Home to one of South Africa’s most important cheetah populations
- Leopard research project has led to changes in provincial legislation
- First private game reserve to donate rhino for translocation to another country
&Beyond Phinda consists of seven varied and diverse eco-systems, allowing for a rich variety of birds, animals and vegetation. One of the most remarkable of these habitats is the rare dry sand forest, with its massive trees, cacti, orchids, ferns, mosses and creepers. The reserve is also home to three different types of savannah, from coastal grassland to open woodland and mixed bushveld, with thick tangles of trees. Two rivers run through &Beyond Phinda, creating a fertile marshland studded with magnificent fever trees at their junction. The rocky foothills of the Lebombo Mountains run through the south of the reserve. Guests enjoy the unique opportunity to explore each of these habitats and meet their inhabitants, particularly when combining two or more lodges.
Apart from the magnificent landscapes of &Beyond Phinda itself, guests staying at the reserve can experience day trips to the nearby KwaZulu-Natal coastline, including the diving mecca of Sodwana Bay.
Guests at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve may view different wildlife depending on where they are based, making it a good idea to spend a few nights in both the north and south of the reserve. The sleek cheetah and massive rhino are often encountered, as are prides of lion. Phinda also has a sizeable population of leopard, although this elusive cat is less frequently sighted.
While the frequency of big game encounters may not be as high as at other reserves, Phinda is a private game reserve, which means that vehicle numbers at sightings are strictly monitored. Guests are thus ensured a far more exclusive game viewing experience, with fewer interruptions and more time spent with wildlife. Sensitive off-road driving practices result in close-up, quality wildlife experiences for our guests. Afternoon game drives are also able to continue after dark, allowing guests a glimpse into the nocturnal life of the bush. The reserve also offers river cruises, canoeing, walking safaris and black rhino tracking, providing guests with a comprehensive bush experience.
Addo Elephant National Park
Originally founded in 1932 to protect just a handful of elephants remaining in the Eastern Cape, Addo is now a famous sanctuary for these gentle giants of the African bush. Stretching over a variety of landscapes, the park now includes a marine reserve that protects a number of islands just off the Cape coastline, all of which are important breeding grounds for gannets and penguins. Visitors to this beautiful natural area can encounter Africa’s Big Seven, which includes the whale and great white shark, as well as the more conventional Big Five.
The reserve stretches from the semi-arid Karoo in the interior to the coastal area between the mouths of the Sundays River and the Bushman’s River, also covering the scenic and rugged Zuurberg Mountains.
Apart from being an elephant sanctuary, it is also home to buffalo, black rhino, zebra and various antelope species. Predators include lion, spotted hyena and leopard. It also boasts spectacular birdlife, particularly in the area around the park’s two rivers.
The activities available in the park are varied and include game drives as well as horse trails, hiking trails and 4x4 trails. Marine eco tours explore the waters off the park, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience the area’s magnificent marine life, including great white sharks and southern right whales.
Learn more about Addo Elephant National Park.
Private game reserves in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape also boasts a number of excellent private game reserves, which offer a similar landscape and variety of animals to Addo.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve near Grahamstown is home to thousands of animals, including lion, black and white rhino, buffalo, elephant and cheetah. Meaning “Place of the Blue Crane” in Xhosa, Kwandwe is a haven for a population of these rare, highly endangered birds, South Africa’s national bird. The reserve also provides sanctuary for other threatened species, such as the Knysna woodpecker, Cape grysbok, black wildebeest, crowned eagle and black-footed cat.
A biological melting pot of various vegetation types, the reserve boasts a spectacular display of winter flowering aloes from June to August. Kwandwe flanks both the north and south banks of the Great Fish River, which meanders for 30 km (19 miles) through this pristine, private wilderness. Shamwari Game Reserve is another conservation success story in the Eastern Cape. Celebrating the area’s pristine fauna, the reserve has painstakingly reintroduced and bred a wide range of wildlife, including lions and other large predators. Famous for its wildlife rehabilitation centre, the reserve offers magnificent game viewing among the picturesque scenery of the region.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Situated in the northwest corner of South Africa, this massive park extends into neighbouring Botswana. Vast and untouched, the park consists of endless open vistas of semi-desert and open savannah that stretch all the way to the billowing red sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert.
The park is one of the best places in South Africa to view the magnificent gemsbok, also known as the oryx. A number of other unusual species less commonly found elsewhere in the country also occur here and include springbok, aardwolf, brown hyena, bat-eared fox and African wild cat.
The Kalahari lions are famed for their size and their rugged dark manes. Game drives in the Kgalagadi remain fascinating long after dark, with many nocturnal species frequently spotted.
Birdwatching is also exceptional in the park, with the area particularly well known for birds of prey.
Learn more about Botswana.
Pilanesberg Nature Reserve
Situated near the popular Sun City resort, the Pilanesberg is a scenic nature reserve that sprawls over the crater of a long-extinct volcano. Boasting a scenic mountain setting, the reserve is home is both black and white rhino, as well as elephant, lion, cheetah, leopard and many other species.
Distinctive antelope found in the Pilanesberg include the majestic eland, red hartebeest and the magnificent sable, with its sweeping horns.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Stretching over vast, semi-arid plains just south of South Africa’s border with Botswana, Madikwe is dominated by rugged dark rock outcrops known as inselbergs, which add a dramatic flair to the starkly beautiful landscape. The reserve is particularly well known for African wild dog and is one of the best places in the country to spot these endangered and elusive animals
The reserve is also home to black and white rhino, while lion and cheetah hunt the plains and leopard find refuge in the craggy inselbergs. Madikwe also boasts a number of beautiful and colourful bird species typical of the Kalahari.
When should I go?
There really is no best time to go on safari in South Africa, with every time of the year offering a different but equally exceptional experience. The South African winter, from June to August is generally considered to offer the most prolific wildlife sightings, as the bush is dry and less dense, making it easier to spot wildlife. Game also tends to concentrate around waterholes or rivers, so their movements are more predictable.
The end of November and early December is when many species give birth to their young. The bush is filled with baby antelopes, making for picturesque game viewing. This is also a time of plenty for predators and scavengers. The summer season is beautiful and lush, with photographic opportunities at their best. While summer is South Africa’s rainy season, rainfall is mainly limited to late afternoon thundershowers and should not detract from game viewing too much.
What should I bring with me?
As a general guide, comfortable and casual clothing that you can wash and wear is recommended while on safari. Muted colours are best for game viewing. Game drives are generally conducted in the early morning and the late afternoon, which can be cold, especially in winter. The temperature often warms up during the day, so it is best to dress in layers.
The most practical items to pack for safari in South Africa are:
- Clothes in khaki, green, beige and neutral colours
- Long-sleeved shirts that offer protection from the sun and mosquitoes
- Shorts or a light skirt
- Jeans or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
- Jackets and sweaters for early morning and late afternoon game drives
- A lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain
- Swim and beachwear
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, insect repellent, moisturiser and lip salve
- Binoculars and camera equipment
Where to stay
You will find a wide range of accommodation in South Africa, from simple mobile camps to luxury lodges. &Beyond has six lodges in the Phinda Private Game Reserve, three lodges in the Sabi Sand and two lodges in the Ngala Private Game Reserve.
How much does it cost?
Depending on the length of your safari and the luxury level of the lodges or camps where you would like to stay, your South African safari can cost anywhere between USD 2 000 and USD 7 000.
Begin your Journey
&Beyond can put together tailormade South Africa safari tours that include internal flights, transport, accommodation and guided tours anywhere in the country. Enquire now for more information.