Where to Go on Safari in South Africa
South Africa is a land of contrasts. From pristine beaches to city metropolis, Africa’s southernmost country has it all. The main thing travellers go to South Africa for though is, of course, safari.
The Kruger and Sabi Sands offer opportunities to get up close to lions and leopards. Madikwe and Tswalu in the Kalahari are both malaria-free options, making them great for families. Adventurers can head to the Eastern Cape for ‘sporting’ safaris in Kwandwe Game Reserve.
With all these options, choosing where to go on safari in South Africa can be overwhelming. Our travel experts have put together this handy guide to make sure you get the most out of whichever safari destination you choose to visit.
Kruger National Park
Founded in 1898 by President Paul Kruger, this national park remains one of South Africa’s largest and most famous. One of the oldest wildlife reserves in the world, the Kruger has a groundbreaking conservation philosophy that has led the way for other wildlife sanctuaries across the globe. The variety in Kruger National Park makes for excellent safaris. The park is home to 517 species of bird and more varieties of mammals – including the Big Five – than any other reserve. The main national park is open to all; however, parts can become crowded. We recommend staying in lodges in private concessions and reserves bordering the park, so any Jacada safari to the Kruger feels like a truly exclusive experience.
Well-known Singita is a luxurious concession set within the Kruger National Park itself. As it is private, guests have exclusive off-road access throughout the site. The park’s landscapes are striking – dramatic ridges and wide open plains are punctuated with rivers and forests. Singita’s two luxurious lodges take full advantage of the concession’s varied terrain. Lebombo lies atop a cliff granting sweeping views over the park, while Sweni sits alongside a hippo-filled river. The Singita concession is famed for its ‘mountain pride’ of Lions, numbering more than twenty, which lucky guests may have the privilege of seeing. At both lodges, game drives with a guide and spotter and short game walks are possible.
Sabi Sands Game Reserve
The Sabi Sands are a collection of unfenced private concessions bordering Kruger National Park. Offering the perfect balance between luxury and wilderness, this reserve has unrivalled opportunities to see the ‘Big Five.’ It’s also particularly renowned for its abundance of leopard. The landscape here is Savanna Bushveld – a typical safari environment of scrub, small trees and grassland. Sabi Sands is the oldest private game reserve in South Africa, so the animals are accustomed to being close to vehicles. This allows for fantastic viewings of leopards or wild dogs as they hunt, which is a unique and thrilling experience.
Leopard Hills is a spectacular property in Sabi Sands, situated atop a rocky outcrop. Affording magnificent views over the bush and an active waterhole, it is the perfect base from which to explore authentic South Africa. Glass-fronted suites, sundecks and rock plunge pools (along with your own set of binoculars) all make for tranquil spots from which to watch game go by. Sabi Sabi’s own set of four luxurious lodges – Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp, Earth Lodge and Selati Camp – are also great choices for travellers. The concept for the design of each property arose from over a century of safari experiences, so each lodge pleasantly reflects a specific time or atmosphere in this area’s history.
Madikwe Game Reserve
The Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s more remote safari experiences, bordering the Kalahari Desert and Botswana. This reserve is also malaria free, making it a great option for families wondering where to go on safari in South Africa. At 75,000 acres, this is South Africa’s fifth-largest game reserve but is still relatively unknown. Madikwe is home to a variety of wildlife, including a large population of elephants, 300 types of bird and over sixty different mammal species. There are many activities on offer here – from rock climbing and abseiling to fishing and bird watching – so there is something for all members of the family.
Secluded Molori is the height of African luxury, with five vast suites enjoying their own private decking and infinity plunge pools. The lodges also have incredible views over the Dwarsberg Mountains and surrounding bush of the Madikwe. Everything from stargazing to culinary classes are on offer here, catering to all types of traveller. Finishing touches such as a world-class spa and a celebrated chef in residence make this property the height of South African indulgence.
Mateya Safari Lodge is the epitome of finesse and elegance. This property also has five luxurious suites, spaced out for increased privacy. 6-foot wide four-poster beds, massive marble bath tubs and plunge pools are the perfect place to relax after a day of game drives and bush walks. With a maximum of only ten guests, the attentiveness of the guides is second to none and the rangers are some of the best in the country.
At 350,000 metres, the Kalahari spreads itself over most of Botswana, the east of Namibia and the north of South Africa. This semi-arid savannah supports more flora and fauna than is typical for a desert, so safaris are excellent in this region. After the annual rains, blooming plains attract herds of herbivores alongside large predators. Far removed from the usual tourist route, the Kalahari is a unique destination suited to true nature enthusiasts. The ‘Green Kalahari’ is what makes up the vast Tswalu Private Game Reserve, just north of Upington in the Northern Cape.
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
The Tswalu Reserve is the Kalahari’s most popular reserve for families, as it’s malaria-free. Consisting of over 100,000 hectares of the ‘green’ Kalahari grasslands, Tswalu is home to eighty mammal species and 340 varieties of bird. There are only two choices of accommodation in this reserve – Motse Camp and Tarkuni House – so it’s firmly off the beaten path. Only a maximum of thirty guests are in the reserve at any one time, so it’ll just be you and the animals on a Tswalu safari. If you’re staying for three nights or more, you’ll get your own complimentary private vehicle, guide and tracker, affording you the ultimate private Kalahari safari.
Tswalu’s accommodation provides top of the range African luxury and exclusivity. Motse is the main camp in Tswalu and sits at the bottom of the Korannaberg mountains. Eight small houses in the camp all have indoor and outdoor showers, fireplaces and private sundecks decorated with rattan armchairs. Upon your arrival at the camp, you’ll have a private consultation so all of the activities on offer – from sleep outs to tracking cheetah – are yours to choose from. The same is true of nearby Tarkuni. Located around ten minutes from Motse, this camp is a private residence, rented out exclusively with your own chef, butler, personal field guide, vehicle and tracker. Tarkuni is a great choice for families – five elegant suites sleep up to ten people.
Once working farmland, South Africa’s Eastern Cape now wins many visitors over. The second largest province in the country boasts 800 kilometres of sun-soaked coastline, including the 174 kilometre ‘Wild Coast.’ A delightful lack of development has preserved the rocky headlands, coastal dunes and rivers ending in expansive estuaries. With its pristine coastline and malaria-free wildlife reserves, the Eastern Cape is great for families.
Shamwari Game Reserve has a choice of seven top-class safari lodges. The reserve’s three spas and two Born Free sanctuaries dedicated to rehabilitating Big Cats make it an ideal place for multigenerational travel. Eagles Crag Lodge has nine open-plan detached suites equipped with all the comforts. This lodge provides a more secluded feel, as each suite has its own plunge pool and private decking from which to birdwatch. At Shamwari Sarili Lodge, views out over Bushman’s River and the grasslands mean you are surrounded by nature. The lodge’s outdoor dining facilities offer an ideal setting from which to make the most of the Eastern Cape’s breathtaking sunsets.
For more active travellers looking at where to go on safari in South Africa, Kwandwe Game Reserve offers a more ‘sporting’ kind of safari. The reserve is only open to guests staying at its lodges, so you can really participate in the tracking process. Kwandwe is also home to some endangered species, including the knysna woodpecker, cape grysbok and crowned eagle. Superb nocturnal safaris are on offer here, with opportunities to spot the elusive aardwolf and aardvark. There are two safari lodges within the reserve – Great Fish River Lodge and Ecca Lodge. Three exclusive-use villas are also located here; Fort House, Uplands Homestead and Melton Manor.
In the Kariega Private Game Reserve, the fantastic Settlers Drift allows you to venture into largely untouched wilderness. The nine spacious suites here boast gorgeous views, and twice daily safari drives are the order of the day. River cruises and guided bush walks also encourage you to make the most of your surroundings. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time at this lodge, by dining outside on the traditional boma or getting your nose into one of the library’s good books. If you’re in need of some relaxation, you can also book a treatment at the serene Kariega Private Game Reserve Wellness Centre.