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Where to go on safari in South Africa
From the premier game viewing of the Kruger and malaria-free options in Madikwe and the Eastern Cape, to riding safaris in the Waterberg and getting off-the beaten-track in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve – there is truly something for everyone. Here we give our lowdown on all that South Africa has to offer safari-wise – now all you have to do is decide which one(s) will suit you best!
The Kruger National Park is among South Africa's finest assets and is renowned for its magnificent game viewing. Established in 1898 by the then president, Paul Kruger, as a protected area for wildlife, the Kruger was not opened to the public until 1927. Today the Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and is one of the main attractions of South Africa.
Covering an area of nearly 20,000km² and extending roughly 360km north to south and 40km east to west, it is divided into 14 different eco-zones, each one supporting different wildlife. This famous park boasts over 140 different mammal species and over 500 bird species, not to mention a wide variety of amphibians, reptiles and plants. It is of course one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard).
Over the years the Greater Kruger area has developed and grown to include a number of private game reserves including the Sabi Sands, Timbavati and Makalali – the former two sharing porous borders with the main National Park.
The Kruger works well in combination with elsewhere in South Africa, with daily direct flights to Cape Town as well as flights connecting it to beach destinations including Mozambique, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Zanzibar.
For a winning combination of safari in the Kruger and beach in Mozambique check out our Luxury Kruger and Mozambique itinerary.
Our top choice for a malaria-free safari in South Africa, the Madikwe Game Reserve in the north-west of the country (abutting the border with Botswana) offers premier big five game viewing. In fact, the guides here prefer to look for the ‘Top Ten’ which includes hippo, giraffe, cheetah, hyena and the elusive wild dog in addition to the big five! As well as being able to rival the Kruger for game viewing, Madikwe offers some of the most beautiful scenery that South Africa has to offer, with an incredibly varied landscape due to it lying on a transition line between Lowveld, bushveld and Kalahari thornveld, punctuated by volcanic inselberg (isolated rock hills).
Still something of a hidden gem, Madikwe is fast becoming one of South Africa’s most in-demand safari destinations, in large because of the quality of safari experience on offer combined with the fact that it is malaria-free – making it a particularly attractive choice for families.
Protecting a 750km² area and just over three hours drive from Johannesburg (or a twice-daily one hour charter flight), Madikwe is a convenient option both from Johannesburg but also to combine with going on elsewhere, including Mozambique, Mauritius and the Seychelles, as often you can go from the reserve to the beach whilst avoiding an overnight stay in Jo’berg.
For a malaria-free safari in the Madikwe which doesn’t scrimp on the game-viewing, check out our Madikwe Safari and Cape Town Family Holiday itinerary.
As well as there being a number of private game reserves offering a range of safari activities including bush walks and boat safaris, Addo Elephant National Park offers the opportunity for a self-drive safari experience.
Established in 1931 with only 16 elephants, South Africa’s third largest national park now plays host to over 550 elephants as well as a variety of other game. There is also the opportunity for horse and elephant rides here too.
Why not combine a malaria-free safari in the Eastern Cape with a self-drive Garden Route trip? Check out our Classic Self-Drive Garden Route itinerary.
For those looking for the ease of combining safari and beach, look no further than KwaZulu Natal, where you can track rhino on foot in the morning and swim with turtles in the afternoon should you wish.
Here you can combine a big five safari with an ocean safari whilst staying on the Elephant Coast.
The area around the St Lucia wetlands is home to the best diving and snorkelling that South Africa has to offer.
Have a look at our Mountains, Battlefields and Lions itinerary to see the diversity on offer in KwaZulu Natal.
The Waterberg, a three hour drive north of Johannesburg, not only offers an excellent malaria-free safari option but is also one of the best places to go on a riding safari in South Africa – with riding available either as an optional one-off activity or longer riding safaris on offer which are either mobile camping or lodge based . Straddling an area of approximately 15,000km² across the Limpopo province, the Waterberg is unmatched in its beauty, with a landscape comprising plains, dry bushveld woodland, rivers and mountains, as well as a wide range of flora and over 40 species of large mammals and well over 300 species of birdlife. Such variety led to the Waterberg becoming the first part of northern South Africa to be named as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Can’t wait to saddle up in the Waterberg? Check out our South Africa Malaria-Free Family Safari.
For seasoned safari-goers looking for something new or those wanting to get off the beaten track, the Kalahari in the far north-west of the country, towards the borders of Botswana and Namibia, is the perfect choice. Offering a safari experience like nothing else in South Africa, the unique environment pays host to some of the most rewarding and sought-after game viewing possible, with elusive sightings such as pangolin and aardvark being some of the most impressive. Whilst many expect the Kalahari to be an inhospitable and desolate desert, it is in fact far more diverse than that, with open savannahs and semi-arid grasslands. The remote location also means that you will have one of the most exclusive safari experiences possible too, sharing it with just a handful of other people.