Africa is absolutely brimming with incredible places to see animals in their natural habitats. But when planning a safari, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options – not to mention the terminology. With dozens of national parks, conservancies, concessions and private game reserves across the continent, it can be tough to know where to start.
First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between national parks, conservancies and concessions. A national park is publicly owned land that’s managed by the government. Because national parks are open to the public, they tend to be more crowded than conservancies and concessions, which are privately operated.
There are many benefits to visiting a privately owned or managed area. They have less restrictions on things like nighttime game drives and walking safaris, and they’re able to limit the number of visitors in the area at once. That said, the best safari trips often include a combination of national parks, conservancies/concessions and private game reserves.
What Is a Private Game Reserve?
Private game reserves are privately owned and managed wildlife areas. They’re much less crowded than public parks, and only accessible to guests who are staying on the property.
Many private game reserves are located right next to national parks, allowing guests – and animals – to travel freely between private and public land. Others are enclosed areas that offer entirely exclusive experiences. Note that a private game reserve is not quite the same as a concession or conservancy, which are often privately managed but publicly owned.
The Best Game Reserves in Africa
To help you plan the perfect safari adventure, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite animal reserves in Africa. From private land to community projects, each of these destinations offers unique value to visitors, locals and animals alike.
1. Tswalu Kalahari – South Africa
South Africa is an ideal place to experience the magic of African wildlife up close, and Tswalu Kalahari represents the very best that the country has to offer. This is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, comprising more than 100,000 hectares in the southern Kalahari’s grasslands. The only accommodation is The Motse and Tarkuni House in the entire reserve, which hosts a maximum of 30 guests at once. This means that even at its most crowded, Tswalu has 3,000+ hectares per visitor.
Because Tswalu Kalahari is privately owned, it’s able to offer a wide range of unique activities for guests. For example, you can enjoy a South African safari after dark, on foot or on horseback. Sleepouts give you a unique chance to spend the night under the stars and among the wildlife. And speaking of wildlife, here you’ll be able to see up to 340 bird species and 80 mammal species: rhinos, lions, cheetahs, giraffes and zebras are just the beginning.
2. Sabi Sands – South Africa
Sabi Sands takes its name from the Sabi and Sand rivers, which run through its classic safari landscape of bushveld grasslands. This is one of the oldest private reserves in South Africa, comprising more than 60,000 hectares adjacent to Kruger National Park. It’s also undoubtedly one of the best African reserves, with abundant wildlife ranging from leopards and lions to wild dogs and giraffes.
Sabi Sands is known as an ideal location to see the Big Five, especially since the animals here are used to encountering human visitors. The best time of year for wildlife viewing is usually winter (June–September), but the rainy summer season is ideal for birdwatching.
Here you can track game on foot, go fishing, sleep out in the wilderness, and enjoy other unique experiences – all organised by some of Africa’s most luxurious lodges and camps.
3. Singita Grumeti – Tanzania
No trip to Tanzania is complete without a visit to Singita Grumeti: the country’s largest private reserve. Here you’ll have access to over 140,000 hectares of unspoiled beauty, with hardly another traveller in sight. This reserve is part of the Serengeti Mara ecosystem, an enormous area that’s one of our all-time favourite destinations for the ultimate African safari.
Singita Grumeti offers exclusive access to some of the region’s best spots for wildlife viewing, as well as unique activities like balloon safaris, mountain biking and stargazing excursions. If you time your visit carefully, you might even get to witness part of the Great Migration. This mind-boggling spectacle includes hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebras, antelopes and other species as they traverse the Serengeti each year.
4. Mwiba – Tanzania
Located along the southern edge of the Serengeti, Tanzania’s Mwiba Wildlife Reserve contains over 50,000 hectares of surprisingly varied landscapes. This privately managed reserve is a prime place to see a unique part of the Great Migration; it’s where the wildebeest stop their movement for a few months to calve, before starting the cycle all over again.
Mwiba is also bordered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Maswa Game Reserve, which gives you the unique privilege of access to all three areas. Although it’s relatively small, it only has one permanent camp – so you’re guaranteed to have the wilderness almost all to yourself in one of the top African game reserves.
Where to Stay in Africa's Best Reserves & Conservencies
Singita Boulders Lodge$$$$$Singita Boulders Lodge is set along the banks of the Sand River in Singita’s privately owned reserve within the Sabi Sand Reserve. Consistently one of the most popular lodges in the area, Boulders design concept effortlessly mixes modern contemporary touches such as floor to ceiling windows, clean white fabrics and neutral tones with a distinctly African feel accented by natural stone and wood, perfectly at home in its pristine setting. Whether through walls of glass or open-air areas, the surrounding landscape and animals can be seen and enjoyed from every angle, making for a truly immersive safari experience. The lodge sits in an elevated area, offering views from almost all angles and there are large communal areas to relax in, as well as twelve vast villa suites, each with a private heated pool. Daily game drives with professional guides and trackers provide the perfect opportunity to get up close to Africa’s incredible animals, while spot lit nighttime drives reveal the elusive magic of nocturnal Africa and guided walking safaris can uncover a more intimate side of the bush. During your stay you are likely to spot a great variety of wildlife including leopard, lion, rhino, large herds of buffalo, elephant, reedbuck, hyena, hippopotamus, nyala, cheetah, wild dogs and many species of birds. Stargazing is another special way to enjoy the wilderness.
Chitwa Chitwa$$$$$Originally a private retreat of the Brink family, Chitwa Chitwa was transformed by Charl into an oasis of conservation and harmony. With an extremely strong approach to conservation and land management, this beautiful lodge offers you a fabulous experience while visiting the Sabi Sands. The Chitwa Trust actively supports the local community through an educare centre as well as adult educational initiative. You’ll also find several environmental programmes in place at the lodge itself. As a family owned and run lodge, you will receive excellent service as well as comfort when staying here. With just eight luxury suites each stylishly decorated and spacious, this lodge is a nice and intimate experience for family and honeymooner alike. The Chitwa House is a private villa with just two beautifully appointed en-suite rooms with private decks and out-door showers. It has a massively spacious common room and benefits from private meals, driver, guides and chef. Magic.
Legendary Mwiba Lodge$$$$$Set among the unique landscape of the private Mwiba Wildlife Reserve (just outside the Serengeti’s southern borders) which is home to over thirty freshwater springs, Legendary Mwiba Lodge provides traditional yet luxury accommodation along with wildlife rich activities. All of the rooms are tastefully designed, combining rustic safari style and modern furnishings of flush toilets, showers and hot and cold running water. The comfortable and spacious accommodation also boasts private verandas where guests can relax and take in the wonderfully scenic views. Experience all that Mwiba has to offer as you swim in the numerous springs, visit the local village, dine in the bush and even spend a night on a tree platform or fly camping. This exclusive lodge offers safari walks plus daily and nightly game drives during which you can witness amazing elephants, giraffes and leopards. After a day of animal sightings and spring swimming, unwind at the lodge’s swimming pool and enjoy a hearty meal. What’s more, the staff here at Legendary Mwiba Lodge provide complete personal attention.
DumaTau$$$$$With uninterrupted views over Osprey Lagoon, and a fantastic vantage point from which to watch the areas mega-herds of elephants, DumaTau and nearby Little DumaTau are perfectly located for making the most of your stay in Linyanti Wildlife Reserve. Each spacious tented guest suite has been positioned to offer great views whether you’re relaxing on your deck, or cooling off in your plunge pool. You’ll also find the tents include spot-cooling meaning you can find respite from the hot afternoons indoors. Spend time investigating the ‘curiosity boxes’ you’ll find mounted on the walls in your room and the drawers filled with fascinating artefacts and information the main shared area. They are a great way to learn more about the area’s wildlife and rich history. Look out for unique elephant and wild dog art in the rooms and library made from reclaimed snare wire. The rebuild has also allowed Wilderness Safaris to vastly improve the comfort and facilities in the new camps. In addition to the in-tent cooling systems, you’ll discover that the central Osprey Retreat which sits between the two camps boasts and pool, drink and snack counter and a Safari Boutique area, offering you more space to mingle with your fellow guests if you choose to do so. The upgrade has also seen the decks extended, plunge pools added and awnings erected at each of Duma Tau’s eight tented suites as well as at the four at Little DumaTau. The DumaTau team continues to focus on the sustainability of wildlife corridors, as they have done since 1997. They believe that it is more vital than ever to protect large, connected, natural tracts of wilderness like those within the vast Linyanti Wildlife Reserve – especially for the African elephant and wild dog that cover extensive ground. Staying at DumaTau offers you easy access to the Linyanti floodplain as well as the Savuti Channel, in fact, it is the only concession from which you can access both. The region has all the habitat diversity to make it a haven for wildlife, and is well-known for its elephant concentrations as they congregate along the waterways and lagoons during the dry winter months. General wildlife viewing is excellent year round including impala, wildebeest, red lechwe, Burchell’s zebra, giraffe, Cape buffalo, chacma baboon, vervet monkey, and warthog. Predator sightings of lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog and spotted hyaena are good. As well as day and night game drives, you can explore on nature walks or take to the water on motorboats or the river barge (depending on water levels).
Lewa House$$$$$Located deep within the bio-diverse Lewa Conservancy, the hilltop Lewa House is perfectly placed to experience some of the best safaris in Kenya. The main house is the focal area of the lodge, where you’ll dine family style with your hosts Calum and Sophie on the long wooden table in the evenings and share stories of the day’s adventures. During the heat of the day take a dip in the large swimming pool overlooking a waterhole. Strung out along the hillside around the central lodge are seven separate cottages all with great views from the private verandas. Home to some of the best game viewing in East Africa, the Lewa Conservancy is a great choice for those looking for a comprehensive “Big Five” safari experience. Travel out from the house by foot, car, camel and vintage bi-plane to make the most of this richly rewarding area.
Angama Mara$$$$$Towering high on the Rift Valley’s Oloololo Escarpment with direct and private access to the Mara Triangle, this lodge’s name was inspired by the Swahili word for ‘suspended in mid-air’. It’s not only its location that makes it stand out, but also its commitment to education, health and conservation in the region. Each of the 30 luxury tented suites echo the traditional Maasai culture with splashes of red and tartan print throughout, coupled with minimalist design, so as not to disrupt the dramatic, 180° panoramic views. Soak up your surroundings with provided binoculars from the comfort of your own room, equipped with 10 metre wide, floor-to-ceiling glass windows or on the private wooden decks that hang above the Mara below. The Pavilion, which sits between the two campsites, is the perfect place to unwind after a day on safari. Catch the sun setting over the reserve with a drink at the cosy pit fire. Other luxury amenities include a fitness centre, swimming pool and art studio where you can meet local Maasai women, and watch their talented craft-making. New for 2020, Angama Mara will welcome the opening of Angama Safari Camp which will operate seasonally, between July and the end of September. This luxury tented camp accommodates eight guests in four stunning ensuite tents (doubles or twins). The exclusive, private camp will be positioned in a small forest, south west of the Mara Triangle and with views looking onto the plains and the heart of the mega herds of the Great Migration.
5. Mombo Concession – Botswana
The Mombo Concession is set in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, claiming 45,000 hectares of the Moremi Game Reserve. The concession’s three safari camps have a privileged position on Chief’s Island, where the delta’s most fascinating animals tend to congregate. Prepare yourself for exhilaratingly close encounters with some truly majestic species.
This area has been called ‘the predator capital of Africa’, so you can probably imagine what kind of animals you’ll encounter here. It’s one of the only places in the country where you can see all of the Big Five – thanks in large part to the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project. This innovative initiative has helped endangered rhinos to thrive in the Okavango Delta, with the help of Botswana’s government and Wilderness Safaris.
6. Linyanti – Botswana
This private concession may not be the most well-known destination in Botswana, but it’s absolutely worthy of a visit. Linyanti is an African wildlife reserve located between the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, with 125,000 hectares of forests, floodplains, lagoons and grasslands to explore on foot, in vehicles or even by canoe.
Here the focus is firmly on conservation, ensuring that this wildlife corridor is preserved for the animals that call it home – from cheetahs and hyena to buffalo and lions. We recommend a trip to Linyanti in the dry season (June–October), when the wildlife tends to be more concentrated in certain areas. Unique activities include bush walks, nighttime safaris, boat trips and spectacular sleepouts that allow you to truly immerse yourself in your surroundings.
7. Vumbura Concession – Botswana
The Vumbura Concession (locally known as the Kwedi Concession) is a 90,000-hectare area at the northern end of the Okavango Delta. It contains some of Botswana’s most beautiful landscapes, from wide-open plains to lush islands. There are only two camps here – Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura – ensuring an unprecedented level of exclusivity.
Here you can go on safari at any time of the day or night, wander on foot through mangosteen and ‘sausage’ trees or cruise through lagoons in a traditional mokoro. You’ll observe an unbelievable variety of birds, mammals and aquatic animals, all of which are protected by the concession. This land is overseen by the Okavango Community Trust and leased to Wilderness Safaris, which is also involved in various local projects.
8. Lewa – Kenya
Located in the heart of Kenya, Lewa is an inspiring example of what can happen when conservation takes centre stage. This relatively small area of 25,000 hectares was once a cattle ranch – today, it’s a haven for rare and endangered species. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a non-profit organisation that focuses on protecting wildlife, eliminating poaching, supporting the community and promoting responsible tourism.
Lewa offers all kinds of exciting experiences, whether you’re interested in tracking lions, riding camels, visiting archeological sites or meeting the locals and learning about the conservancy’s work. Of course, the main attraction is the wonderful wildlife, from the black rhino and Grevy’s zebra to the reticulated giraffe and every single one of the Big Five.
9. Mara Conservancies – Kenya
Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park is legendary for its wildlife and landscapes – but the privately operated Mara Conservancies may be even more enticing. These areas border the public park, and local species wander freely between them. This means you’ll get to see all the same animals that you would in Maasai Mara, but in a much more exclusive environment.
There are 14 different conservancies here, covering more than 140,000 hectares. The Maasai people own this land and lease it out to a few safari camp operators, which use the resulting income to empower local communities. This arrangement not only allows for unusual experiences like bush walks and nighttime safaris, but also gives you the chance to connect with local residents in a much more meaningful way.
10. Marienfluss Conservancy – Namibia
The 330,000-hectare Marienfluss Conservancy is set in the Kunene Region, an incredibly remote part of northern Namibia. Here, the Kunene River creates a vibrant ecosystem that’s a stark contrast to the barren desert around it. The conservancy is owned mostly by the local Himba people, who partner with camps like Serra Cafema to preserve the environment and empower the community.
A stay at Serra Cafema offers endless opportunities for adventure, from nature drives and quad biking to guided walks and stargazing. You can also visit a Himba village to meet some of the local residents. Keep in mind that the only way to reach this conservancy is by light aircraft – it’s quite literally off the beaten track.