There are wonderful experiences to be enjoyed from the wilds of South Africa’s game reserves. From the largest reserve in the country to the oldest, and everything in between, here’s our roundup of the best safari and game reserves in South Africa. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.
Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape)
Just an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, this malaria-free park offers a variety of game viewing and is the third largest in South Africa. Over 600 African elephants call the park home, as well as black rhino, antelope and Cape buffalo. Visitors can book a hop-on-guide at the reception office and enjoy the luxury of a trained guide telling you all about the park from the comfort of your vehicle.
Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park (Kwazulu Natal)
As the oldest game reserve in Africa, Hluhluwe Umfolozi should be on every traveller’s bucket list. It’s a Big Five park and visitors can view wildlife up close from the many hides overlooking watering holes. Hluhluwe Game Reserve is a self-drive park but full day, half day and shorter safaris can be booked ensuring spectacular sightings. Keep an eye out for the illusive leopard and African wild dog.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Northern Cape)
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in the Kalahari Desert, presents a massive ecosystem relatively free from human interference. The vast landscapes offer unique wildlife experiences that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. Expect herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest, the largest black-mane lions you’ll ever see and more. This is a self-drive park but morning and sunset safaris can be booked at a few of the camps.
The Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces)
Natural Feature, Park
The Kruger National Park is possibly the most popular safari spot in South Africa, as well one of the largest in the world. At nearly two million hectares, the park offers visitors a diverse collection of animal species, including the Big Five, as well as diverse vegetation throughout. The southern portion of the park is more lush and wooded than the drier central and northern regions, and has the largest concentrations of game. As far as safaris go, choose to self-drive (a 4×4 is recommended) or pre-book game drives via the rest camps.
Lion Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park
Lion Sands Game Reserve has four luxury lodges set within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and the Kruger National Park. It is part of an ecosystem which is home to the largest concentration of wild animals in the Southern Hemisphere and is essentially a safari mecca. Home to the Big Five, many other species will also be spotted, from antelope to hyena and more. Safaris take place twice a day, morning and evening, and they’re not confined to the main roads, meaning visitors will get as close to nature as possible.
Madikwe Game Reserve (North West Province)
Madikwe is a Big Five game reserve situated 90 kilometres north of Zeerust, against the Botswana border close to the Kalahari Desert. Covering approximately 60,000 hectares, it is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa. The rich diversity of vegetation ensures a wide range of game and the topography offers ideal viewing opportunities. Day visitors are not allowed into the park, so the number of vehicles in the park during game drive hours is limited to the lodges’ vehicles, which makes Madikwe a very exclusive safari destination.
Mapungubwe National Park (Limpopo)
Mapungubwe National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a rich history as it was once home to the first-ever South African kingdom to have truly thrived. Mapungubwe National Park is also home to a large variety of animals and there’s a lot of movement of game between the park and its bordering countries; Botswana and Zimbabwe. There are also some very large baobab trees in the park, with one having a circumference of 31-metres (1,220 ft).
Marataba Safari Lodge (Thabazimbi)
Located within the Marakele National Park, Marataba is just three and a half hour’s drive from Johannesburg. The malaria-free reserve is a 23,000 hectare private enterprise at the foothills of the Waterberg Mountains. Contrasting mountain ranges, grasslands, deep valleys and red mountain rock characterise the park and all of the large game species, including the big cats and a variety of birdlife, have settled here. Visitors can book morning and evening game drives in open safari vehicles as well as water safaris on the Matlabas River, bush walks, bird watching, boma dinners and more.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve (North West Province)
Pilanesberg National Park is the fourth largest within South Africa, covering approximately 55,000 hectares. This malaria-free park is set on the eroded remnants of an alkaline volcanic crater – one of only three in the world – and only three hour’s drive from Johannesburg. Pilanesberg National Park exists in a transition zone between dry Kalahari and wet Lowveld vegetation which attracts an unbelievable variety of animals, flora and fauna that are not often found living in such close proximity to each other.
Sabi Sands Game Reserve (Mpumalanga)
Sabi Sands Game Reserve is undoubtedly the most exclusive private game reserve in South Africa. The 65,000-hectare game reserve is located on the south-western corner of the Kruger National Park and there are no restricting fences between the two parks, meaning wildlife roam freely. Some of the most exclusive private game lodges in the country are situated in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the chances of seeing the Big Five while on safari is just about guaranteed. The reserve is in particular well-known for its amazing leopard sightings.
Shamwari Game Reserve (Eastern Cape)
The malaria-free Shamwari Game Reserve is the Southern-most, big game, private reserve in Africa and stretches along the Bushman’s river (halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown) and forms a natural extension to the famous Garden Route. In the last 25 years, 25, 000 hectares of land has been rehabilitated and remaining wild animal species increased in numbers while species extinct to the region were reintroduced. The park boasts a healthy population of lion, cheetah and leopard, so keep an eye out for them during your visit.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.