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Animal encounters

Top 5 game reserves in South Africa

Clive Wedderburn July 19, 2018

With a wealth of national parks and private reserves, South Africa safaris offer some of the best game viewing on Earth. From the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo – to antelope, zebra, hyena, hippo, giraffe, and a plethora of bird and marine species, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the abundance of wildlife here.

Most game spotting activities are led by expert rangers, and undertaken in 4x4 vehicles, but you may also have the chance to view wildlife on guided bush walks; from above – in hot air balloon and light aircraft safaris; and from the water, during boat excursions.

Whether seasoned safari enthusiasts, romantic honeymooners or a family of first-timers, you’re sure to be inspired by the options in our guide to South Africa’s finest game reserves.

1. Kruger National Park, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces

Kruger National Park is probably the most popular safari destination in South Africa. At nearly two million hectares, it offers a diverse range of terrain from mountains and rivers to savannah and tropical forests. Kruger’s vast expanses offer a strong likelihood of sighting the Big Five, antelope, hyena, wildebeest and hippo.

Best for: all wildlife enthusiasts – there’s no one who won’t enjoy Kruger.

Stay at: Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Reserve – a luxurious waterside lodge set amid the beautiful wilderness. After a day of exhilarating game viewing, retreat to the deck for a cooling sundowner and panoramic views. Chitwa Chitwa welcomes children of all ages.

2. Lion Sands Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Game Reserve/Greater Kruger National Park

With game drives, not confined to the main roads, you’ll get as close to nature as possible. Sabi Sands shares a border with Kruger National Park, where you’ll see a huge range of animals, including impala, hippo, hyena and warthog as well as the elusive leopard.

Best for: honeymooners and couples who want to see wildlife and relax in deluxe accommodation.

Stay at: the exclusive Lion Sands Ivory Lodge: the eight stylishly sumptuous villas have their own decks and plunge pools and you can enjoy in-room private dining and spa treatments here. Ramp up the romance and spend a night sleeping under the stars at the secluded Chalkley Treehouse.

3. Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province

Fourth largest reserve in South Africa, and covering around 55,000 hectares, Pilanesberg is set in a malaria-free region on the eroded remnants of a volcanic crater. The national park is in a transition zone, which explains why it is home to an exceptional diversity of flora and fauna not often found living in such close proximity.

Gaze on expansive sunrise views of the tranquil reserve as you glide effortlessly in a hot air balloon, before enjoying a Champagne breakfast in the unspoilt Bushveld. 

Best for: families with children of all ages. 

Stay at: Pilanesberg is bordered by the family-friendly Sun City resort, where you’ll enjoy an activity-rich stay including spa treatments, wellness centre, water parks and world-class golf.

4. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Western Cape

Grootbos offers 2,500 hectares of ruggedly beautiful terrain – covered in fynbos and densely swathed in indigenous milkwood trees – with far-reaching views from the hillside and across to the dramatic coastline of Walkers Bay.

The private reserve is in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, where you’ll marvel at plant diversity; head to the coast to spot the marine Big Five – whales, great white sharks, penguins, seals and dolphins; and immerse yourself in nature with activities which include horse riding, guided hikes, bird watching, botanical drives and quad biking. 

Best for: eco-warriors; outdoor activity fans; and marine wildlife enthusiasts. 

Stay at: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve – a deluxe, eco-friendly lodge designed to meld with its pristine natural setting.

5. Shamwari Game Reserve, Eastern Cape

Shamwari Game Reserve is another malaria-free big game area. The private reserve stretches along the Bushmans River to create an extension to the iconic Garden Route and boasts the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary and the Ian Player Rhino Centre. There’s a healthy population of lion, cheetah and leopard here, so keep an eye out for them during your visit.

Best for: those who are passionate about environmental conservation; and rhino and big cat enthusiasts.

Stay at: the luxurious Shamwari Lobengula Lodge, tucked away in the serene Bushveld and with views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Lobengula Lodge is an intimate hideaway, ideal for couples who seek a peaceful retreat.

Browse our South Africa pages for more inspiring options and ideas for your next wildlife trip.