Safaris in South Africa

Elephant at Phinda

Taking a safari in South Africa is very easy to do, and is for many visitors a highlight of their holiday. Reserves are very accessible, and also numerous. Small private reserves exist all over the country, and significant, Big 5, Private Reserves, as well as major National Reserves are present in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and North West Province. Wherever you find yourself in South Africa, you won't have to travel too far to get a worthwhile safari experience.

National Reserve or Private?

This decision very much depends on budget, and what you are seeking to experience. Visiting a National Park is generally inexpensive, but there are practical and experiential considerations; national parks’ camps are mostly quite basic, and also self-catering, although there are exceptions - a self-drive safari around a national park frequently means you are seated low-down, and you do not have the luxury of an interpretive guide, although a way around this is to stay in private accommodation outside the park, and take guided game drives into the park in an open-top Landrover. 

Staying in a private camp, on a Private Reserve or a Private Concession adjacent to, or within a National Park, offers many advantages, not least among which the camps tend to be nicer, and offer full catering - the better camps are small and intimate, and you get to meet other like-minded people easily.  Another key advantage is that interpretative guides look after you on game drives and walks, offering insights into local nature and ecology.  The more up-market camps do this extremely well and take care to establish your interests first, but some midrange camps are good at this too.  Trackers are also employed at some of the better camps to assist guides in finding elusive game.  Lastly, when going private you tend to see very few other vehicles on game drive, as the land you are crossing is restricted to lodge guests only, or guests from neighbouring lodges which have reciprocal traversing rights agreements.

Other considerations:

  • Malaria - not all of South Africa's game reserves are situated in a malaria area: Shamwari, Kwandwe and Addo in the Eastern Cape, and Madikwe in Northern Province, are all non-malarial.

  • Vehicle, walking or riding - for first timers and safari enthusiasts, seeing game by vehicle is a good way to go. For more adventurous safari goers, particularly those interested in smaller fauna and flora, a walking safari is highly recommended (see walking safaris). Encountering game on horseback, limited to a handful of small private reserves, can also be exhilarating.

  • Rustic or Boutique - safari camps range from small, rustic affairs without electricity, featuring natural screen walls separating your trembling mosquito net from the wild noises of the bush, to more sophisticated lodges resembling boutique hotels in the bush, where fine dining and designer creature comforts cushion (very pleasantly we might add…) your bush experience.

  • Large or small reserves - Many of the smaller private reserves, and some smaller national reserves do not contain the Big 5, which will limit the choice of those seeking to tick these animals off.  However, reserves that don't feature the Big 5 will have other virtues for which they are well worth visiting, for example, Ndumo Game Reserve near Kosi Bay is fantastic for birding, and the Isimangaliso Wetland Park for both birdlife and Marine life.