South African Safari Holiday Guide

Safaris in South Africa are an all-time bucket list classic, unsurprisingly so. It boasts incredible opportunities to see wildlife and allows safari-goers the chance to immerse themselves in a diverse wilderness.

Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

When it comes to its pulling power, the Big Five often steals the limelight; it has reliable safari destinations in the world for seeing lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos.  As you might expect, safari holidays across South Africa are ideal for young families seeking a thrill, honeymooners, over fifties and everyone in between. It is the only sub-Saharan African country that has malaria-free safaris and all of them are easily accessible. With private game reserves travellers can explore with highly knowledgeable trackers and experienced guides. Safari days can also be combined with hikes, kayaking, fishing and horse riding trails across breath-taking plains. With photography lessons you can sharpen your skills, allowing you to perfectly capture your safari trips. The opportunities are endless.

When’s The Best Time to Go on Safari in South Africa? 

This is a very valid question. The best time of year for a safari holiday varies between regions and depends on whether you’d like to join multiple destinations into a single trip. South Africa’s summer months fall between November and March so we generally advice people to go during these months. However, the Christmas period is our favourite time to go. The exception to the rule is Greater Kruger which can be very hot and humid during the summer. It is also more likely to rain then causing the vegetation to be lush and the animals harder to spot. Instead, the best weather in Kruger is between May and October. This means that travelling with the family during Christmas and Easter school holidays are ideal times to visit.

How long should I go on Safari for? 

Although the game reserves are extremely accessible by car or airplane, we tend to recommend four days minimum to really make the most of your stay and give yourself enough time to relax. A popular itinerary includes four nights on safari, five nights in Cape Town and two nights in the Winelands. But, if you’d like to experience different safari landscapes, you might consider a six-to-eight-night tour, flying between locations and spending at least three nights in each reserve.  

Another consideration is what you’d like to do while on your South Africa safari. If game drives are the highlight for you then four days might feel long enough, but there are so many incredible experiences to be had that extending your stay for longer will bring with it a wealth of excitements.  

And lastly, if you’re on a travelling with children then consider how many days they’ll be happy sitting in a jeep spotting animals before they get fidgety. For families with younger children, a few days extra making the most of the incredible kids’ clubs could be just what you need.

The Best Safaris in South Africa 

Our African Destination Manager, Harriet Whitmarsh, has shared her 5 top South African safari holiday destinations so you can decide which experience will fulfil your wildest safari dreams.

Safari in Kruger


A safari drive encountering an elephant

Kruger is a big player in the safari world. Recognised for its world-famous conservancies with their abundance of wildlife, this is archetypal Big Five territory. It is especially known for the otherwise elusive leopard, which can’t help but show off here and you might be lucky enough to see multiple on one day. Along with the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, there are hundreds of other animal species to be seen, including cheetah and wild dogs.

Although Greater Kruger is a National Park, it is surrounded by smaller private game reserves, most of which have no fences between them and the rest of the park, allowing the animals to roam freely and giving guests spectacular game drive opportunities. Despite the size of the park, it still feels like you are really in the wilderness, the landscapes are beautiful and the lodges outstanding.

One of the most magical things you can do whilst on safari in South Africa is to sleep out under the stars. Several of Kruger’s luxury lodges offer this as an experience, usually in a treehouse with the sights and sounds of the plains around you. You’ll also be treated to night drives and bush walks – where you could get thrillingly close to the animals.

Safari in Eastern Cape


Two rhinos eating grass

A key selling point is the Eastern Cape because of is its proximity to Cape Town and the Garden Route, alongside its malaria-free game reserves. Because of this it is extremely popular with families and as such the lodges are tailored well to their needs. You’ll find amazing kids’ clubs and family accommodation options – particularly in Kwandwe Game Reserve. Here the landscape is defined by Karoo vegetation – lots of succulents and low scrub bushes. This makes it very different to other South Africa safari experiences. However, you are still in Big Five territory and the Eastern Cape is particularly known for rhino sightings. The flatter landscape also makes this region a fantastic spot for mountain biking and bush walks, as well as the traditional night and day game drives.

Safari in Madikwe and Northwest


Wild dogs in a pack

Madikwe’s red savannah backdrop is one of South Africa’s most remote safari destinations, giving it an air of exclusivity and private feel. Relish spying the Big Five among the clay-thorn bushveld, sandy landscapes and riverine forests, as well as catching sight of cheetah, wild dog, giraffe, zebra and the endangered cape vulture. Madikwe is another malaria-free safari option, making it popular with families too.

Also in the northwest of the country is the Waterberg region, where you’ll find Marataba Game Reserve in Marakele National Park – famous for dramatic mountain views and amazing hiking trails or quad biking that will lead you up close to animals on foot. Particularly passionate about sustainability, this game reserve has a luxury conservation camp where guests – young and old – can experience really hands on enterprises like rhino notching and game counting.

Safari in Kalahari


Meerkats peering into the distance

Unlike the traditional sandy colours that you find on the Botswana side of the Kalahari, the South African side is actually much greener. The region is best known for its black-maned lions, but its wildlife is plentiful and this is also where you are most likely to see the endangered pangolin and black rhino, as well as colonies of meerkats and typical desert species like hyenas, wolves and desert foxes.

Experiences in the Kalahari are just as unique, with helicopter rides, camping out under the stars, junior ranger programmes and wildlife conservation. Then there is the exceptional Klein Jan restaurant in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. Here you’ll find the Michelin-star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen at the helm. He describes the dining experience as storytelling, more than just a meal, as guests move between locations sampling a menu that celebrates his Afrikaans grandmother's Dutch-influenced farm cooking.



A cheetah on high alert

When it comes to locations it doesn’t get much more eclectic than KwaZulu-Natal. Set on the dramatic Elephant Coast, it sits between the turquoise Indian Ocean on one side and the majestic Drakensberg Mountains on the other.  As a result, the area has a rich biome. From impressive mountains to unique sand forests and a striking coastline, the KwaZulu-Natal brings together safari, sea and surf like no other. Amongst the animal kingdom you will be able to observe the Big Five, rare marine species and the suni antelope. These are rarely spotted elsewhere in Africa. Game drives, walking safaris and mountain hikes are all available, making it the ideal place for an active holiday. You can also visit local battlefields to uncover the military history that encapsulated the Zulu and Boer wars.

When it comes to places to stay you can’t beat the Phinda Game Reserve. Located in the north of the region, nestled in the Ubombo Mountains and flanked by golden beaches, conservation lies at the heart of this Reserve and it offers seasonal trips to see loggerhead and leatherhead turtles lay their eggs in Sodana Bay.

Meet our South Africa Travel Specialists

Matt Shock

Matt Shock

Scott Dunn Travel Consultant

Safari encapsulates everything that I love and yearn for in travel – wildlife, remote landscapes, wonderful people and special memories – and I am so lucky to have been able to form a career around these passions.

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