One of the most culturally and ecologically diverse nations on the planet, South Africa will surprise you at every turn. Just over double the size of Texas or France and featuring an incredible nine distinct biomes, it’s one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries. With lush beaches, world-class vineyards, and some of the premier wildlife tours in South Africa, this is an essential destination for any nature lover. As you stand in front of the lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalos that make up the much-loved big five, South Africa will steal your heart and never let go.
Looking to explore the incredible wonders of the continent and debating on the best way to see wildlife during your safari? For the best travel experience, it’s all about finding the prime places to spot lions, leopards, elephants, African buffalo, and rhinoceros. Here is everything you need to know to plan your tours in South Africa and find the best places to see the big five in South Africa.
1. Madikwe Private Game Reserve
Nestled between Botswana and the Kalahari Desert, Madikwe Private Game Reserve is one of the most remote and fascinating regions of South Africa. A former piece of farmland converted into a 750 km2 (290 sq mi) park, it’s a gorgeous habitat for local wildlife. When it comes to safaris in Africa, this is a highly accessible option. It’s a malaria-free region so it’s good for kids (or anyone who likes to avoid a jab!) and you can combine it with a trip to Sun City, Africa’s largest resort. Madikwe Private Game is an easy car trip from Johannesburg or Pretoria (though do plan an afternoon for it as it’s a 4.5-hour trip) and you can enter with your own car.
Upon arrival, you’ll find everything from cozy self-catering options to luxury lodges. The majority of these require a two-night stay and you might want to opt for a third night to have time to take it all in. The park doesn’t allow camping or day trips but if you’re looking to stay a couple of nights, you’ll find a good variety of options. When you get to your lodge, you’ll pay the entry fee to the park. It’s R 180.00 per adult and R 80 per child.
2. Kruger National Park
If you’ve been reading at all about tours in Africa, you’ve definitely heard about Kruger National Park. It is one of the biggest game reserves on the African continent and one of the most loved African excursions for locals and international travelers alike. This expansive park is about the size of Belgium and, of all the choices of nature tours around Africa, this is one of the places where you will find the greatest diversity of wildlife.
Another thing that makes Kruger National Park, one of the most popular parks in Africa is the level of flexibility that it offers. You can self-drive, go on a guided tour, or stay in a lodge and have it all organized for you. The entrance fee for Kruger National Park is R 304 and there’s no obligation to spend days there (though it’s certainly worthwhile).
If you just want to explore, stop for a picnic, then move on, it’s easy here. When you arrive, you can get a map of all the picnic sites, toilets, and barbecue facilities in the park from the Kruger entrance gates. Having at least one barbecue in the park is a quintessential part of the Kruger National Park experience. You can get a gas skottel (an African style BBQ) from the entrance area and there are attendants who will wash it for you afterwards to make the whole experience hassle-free.
Tip- If you’re interested in seeing a range of parks and doing as many tours in Africa as possible, it’s worth looking into the Wild Card Membership. It gives you a full year of unlimited entry into more than 80 different National Parks, Reserves, and Resorts across the southern part of Africa.
3. Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Connected with Kruger National Park, but offering an entirely different experience, there is the famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve. This luxurious option has some of the most impressive lodges in all of Africa. If you want to go for a five-star African excursion, this 65,000 hectare (160,618 acres) reserve is a dream come true. While you will pay a premium to stay here, there are lodges at a fairly wide range of prices.
You can self-drive into Sabi Sands, fly directly into Skukuza Sabi Sands Airport (which also services Kruger National Park, or take the Fedair shuttle that goes from Johannesburg to the local lodges. The entry fee is R 140 and an additional R 310 if you bring in a vehicle. Unlike other African tours that zip you around the park, this place is highly focused on ensuring that you see the big five during your time in South Africa.
4. Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Another one of the best malaria-free areas, Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of the prime places to see the big five in South Africa. It’s the fourth largest park in the country and one of the most loved destinations for tours in Africa.
Entry into the park is R 100 for adults and R 30 for kids. You can drive in by yourself then opt for anything from a rustic tent to a self-catering cabin to a luxe lodge. With a staggering 7,000 animals and 360 bird species, this is one of the best options for Africa tours of wildlife.
5. Lalibela Game Reserve
Spanning five unique ecosystems, Lalibela Game Reserve is home to some of the most diverse flora and fauna you will ever experience in your life. There are no public roads running through Lalibela Game Reserve. While this means that you can’t drive around or enter on your own, it creates the perfect environment for local wildlife. A likely place to find the big five in South Africa, these wide-open spaces give every lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant, and leopard the perfect home.
This malaria-free game reserve is just outside of Port Elizabeth. Less than an hour drive to the stunning shoreline of this famous Eastern Cape city, you can enjoy a day at the beach then a world-class safari.
Whether you are looking to disconnect from it all on a week-long safari or hop around between the cities, beaches, mountains, and countryside, South Africa is the place to be. As one of the most ecologically diverse nations on the globe, there is no better destination for nature lovers. Where will your South African adventure take you?