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The Seven Best Safari Experiences In South Africa

Embarking on a safari in South Africa is an unforgettable journey filled with iconic wildlife sightings across breathtaking landscapes.

From expansive savannahs to lush forests, the country has a variety of safari experiences that offers something for everyone.

In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the seven best safaris in South Africa to help you discover popular game reserves and hidden gems, each offering an unforgettable experience.

Your Safari Map

a map of the seven best safari experiences in south africa1. Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Location: Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Closest airport: Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (83 miles)

Recommended age to visit: Adults and children of all ages, depending on where you stay. For some activities, children must be aged six or older to join.

Malaria area: Yes.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Sabi Sands is a renowned luxury private game reserve located in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

It shares an open border with the Kruger National Park, allowing wildlife to move freely between the two areas.

This gives visitors a great opportunity to experience close encounters with a diverse range of animals.

Sabie Sands is a frontrunner for sustainable wildlife conservation and ecotourism.

They put a strong emphasis on their conservation effort meant to protect the habitat and biodiversity of the area without compromising on the 5-star visitor experience. 

Visitors can only enter the reserve if they are staying at one of the lodges, which helps control the number of cars and people on the roads. 

sabi sands accommodation safari experiences🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

The reserve is well-known for offering incredible opportunities to see leopards and lions, offering visitors a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spot these elusive animals. 

Elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo (the Big Five) are common sightings on game drives and may also be spotted on the riverbeds throughout the reserve.

You can expect to see giraffes, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, and various other wildlife when visiting Sabi Sands. Keen birdwatchers can also enjoy the diversity of the species found in the reserve.   

Leopard at Sabi Sands South Africa

💡 Spotlight activities 

Sabi Sands offers their guests a variety of different activities. Some of their top-rated options include:

  • Boma dinners next to the Sabi River.
  • Horse riding within the game reserve with a professional guide.
  • Tracking experience where you can look for leopards with a ranger and professional team. 
  • Hot air balloon safari, with sunrise and sunset options.
Sabi Sands

🛖 Accommodation options

There are a number of different lodges and private game reserves within Sabi Sands. All the accommodation options are luxury 5-star lodges, ensuring a comfortable travel experience.

Here are our top picks:

Lion Sands Game Reserve

Lion Sands is an upmarket private reserve in Sabi Sands that is all about nature, comfort, and luxury. It contains four lodges, each with its own unique charm and character.

Choose from large private villas, exclusive suites, or romantic treehouses for a memorable getaway.

Each lodge offers a range of modern amenities, including en-suite bathrooms, exclusive viewing decks, and private swimming pools. 

Price: From $220 per person per night.

Inyati Safari Lodge

Inyati is a classic African safari lodge located in the western region of Sabi Sands.

The chalets and luxury safari tents are designed to blend into the surrounding natural environment, offering a fully immersive experience.

Guests have access to amenities such as outdoor showers, private viewing decks overlooking the Sand River, and excellent hospitality.

Price: From $675 per person per night.

Other accommodation options at Sabi Sands

  • Chitwa Chitwa Lodge
  • Ulusaba Rock Lodge
  • Notten’s Bush Camp
  • Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
  • Singita Sabi Sand Lodges
  • Dulini Game Reserve
  • Elephant Plains Lodge
  • Arathusa Safari Lodge
  • Tengile River Lodge
  • Jaci’s Sabi House
  • Ulusaba Safari Lodge
  • Leopard Hills Lodge
  • &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp
  • Nkorho Bush Lodge
  • Londolozi Game Reserve
  • Savanna Game Lodge
  • Idube Game Lodge 
  • Silvan Safari Lodge
  • Cheetah Plains Lodge
  • Mala Mala Game Reserve
  • Simbambili Game Lodge

2. Madikwe Game Reserve

Location: North-West Province, South Africa.

Closest airport: Pilanesberg International Airport (86 miles).

Recommended age to visit:  Children and adults of all ages. For some activities, children must be aged six or older to participate.

Malaria area: No.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Madikwe is considered one of the country’s hidden gems.

It’s recognized for its extensive conservation efforts, being one of the only areas to successfully reintroduce endangered species like the African Wild Dog and Cheetah to their habits.

Visitors to Madikwe can expect an upmarket safari experience with comfortable accommodation, personalized services, and immersive activities.

Guests can expect luxurious lodging, attentive staff, unforgettable game drives, cultural experiences, and the opportunity to observe Africa’s iconic wildlife.

🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

In addition to hosting the Big Five, you can find other notable species, such as giraffes, hyenas, antelope, zebras, and hippos, in the grasslands of Madikwe. 

The reserve is a great place to do bird watching, too, with over 350 recorded species in the area. Birdlife includes raptors, waterbirds, and colorful resident and migrant species. 

💡 Spotlight activities

Madikwe offers a range of activities that will make your stay even more memorable. These include:  

  • Morning and afternoon game drives on open 4×4 vehicles.
  • Multi-day safaris that allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the reserve’s setting.
  • Cultural safari, where you visit one of the local tribes and spend the day together. 
  • Guided bush walks.
  • Birdwatching.
  • Stargazing.
  • Spa treatments. 
  • Breakfast or dinner in the bush.
  • Children’s activities like rock painting, wildlife and nature lessons, and movie nights under the stars.

🛖 Accommodation options

Madikwe Game Reserve is made up of 4- and 5-star luxury safari lodges and tented camps. The accommodation is a mix of eco-friendly camps, suites, and chalets.

Our favorites include:

The Bush House

This upmarket lodge was once the original farmhouse before Madikwe was turned into a game reserve.

The Bush House provides an intimate setting with a relaxed atmosphere that invites guests to make themselves at home.

Visitors can enjoy the large private outdoor areas, delicious meals, and warm hospitality for the duration of their stay.

Price: From $623 per night. 

Tuningi Safari Lodge

Designed in a historical African colonial style, Tuningi offers luxurious and comfortable accommodation in its six exclusive villas.

The suites are fitted with modern amenities like indoor and outdoor showers, kitchenettes, and private viewing decks. Guests in the family suites also have access to a private plunge pool.

Price: From $2,217 per night.

Other accommodation options at Madikwe
  • Eco Bush Camp 
  • Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge 
  • Impodimo Game Lodge
  • Jaci’s Lodges
  • Tau Game Lodge
  • Thaduku River Camp
  • Madikwe River Lodge
  • Rhulani Safari Lodge
  • Rock Fig Lodge
  • Motswiri Private Safari Lodge
  • Etali Safari Lodge
  • Jamala Madikwe
  • Morukuru Family Madikwe
  • Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge
  • Madikwe Safari Lodge
  • Mateya Safari Lodge
  • Molori Safari Lodge
madikwe game reserve

Source: Madikwe Game Reserve

3. Shamwari Game Reserve

Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa 

Closest airport: Port Elizabeth International Airport (48.9 miles) 

Recommended age to visit: All ages are welcome. For game drives and other activities, children must be at least four years old.

Malaria area: No.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Whether you’re seeking an unforgettable safari experience or a peaceful getaway in the bush, Shamwari is the perfect place to unwind.

The reserve focuses on low-impact tourism, which means they limit the number of visitors. Not only does this help to maintain a tranquil and exclusive environment, but it also allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the natural surroundings.

This private game reserve offers a mixture between open plains, dense bushveld, and riverside forests.

The combination of habitats makes Shamwari an ideal place for a safari if you’re looking for a private and memorable game-viewing experience.

​​🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

Shamwari has played a significant role in reintroducing the endangered black rhino into the wild. You can expect to find these animals roaming in the open plains of the reserve.

The game reserve is known for its rich biodiversity, abundant wildlife, and various bird species. 

It’s home to the Big Five, as well as other species like cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, and antelope.

Shamwari also hosts some of the best wildlife protection programs that have helped keep endangered species safe.

Their dedicated team of conservationists also rescues and rehabilitates injured, orphaned, or abandoned animals.

shamwari game reserve

Source: Shamwari Game Reserve

💡 Spotlight activities 

Enhance your safari experience with the many activities offered by Shamwari Game Reserve, such as:

  • Interactive game drives where you’ll learn about animal habitats and spoor tracking.
  • Wilderness bush camp experience.
  • Guided bush walks.
  • Birdwatching.
  • Conservation experience, where you can track and monitor endangered species on the reserve. 
  • Children and teen safari experiences.

🛖 Recommended lodges in the game reserve

Shamwari has a range of accommodation options that include luxury lodges and safari camps. 

Each lodge and camp offers something unique, from fine dining experiences and spa treatments to immersive wildlife activities.

These are our top recommendations:

Bayethe Tented Lodge

Bayethe is an exclusive and secluded safari retreat that offers an immersive experience with its tented accommodation that blends into its surroundings.

Each tent is fitted with all of the comforts of a 5-star chalet and includes extra amenities like private viewing decks, a hammock area, and a fireplace.

Guests will also have access to a private plunge pool and a communal area with a central lounge, dining facilities, and Wi-Fi.

Price: From $877 per person per night.

Eagles Crag Lodge

Eagles Crag is an ultra-luxurious and modern lodge that is perfect for visitors looking for a sophisticated safari experience.

Each private suite offers breathtaking views of the surrounding cliffs and valleys. They feature spacious bedrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, and private plunge pools.

Guests will be treated to an all-inclusive stay, including gourmet dinners and a range of safari activities hosted by Eagles Crag.

Price: From $1,530 per night.

Other accommodation options at Shamwari

  • Long Lee Manor
  • Riverdene
  • Explorer Camp
  • Sindile
  • Sarili

4. Amakhala Game Reserve

Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Closest airport: Port Elizabeth International Airport (62.7 miles).

Recommended age to visit: Adults of all ages and children aged six and older. 

Malaria area: No.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Amakhala Game Reserve is a private wildlife sanctuary that offers spectacular game viewing from its unique sloping terrain, which allows the natural environment to be home to a wider variety of animals.

The Reserve is home to the Bushman’s River, which is responsible for shaping five of South Africa’s seven distinct habitats—including dense forests, bushveld, and savannah.

This diversity of the landscape allows for a wide variety of remarkable wildlife sightings and memorable safari experiences for visitors.

At Amakhala, visitors also have a chance to participate in the reserve’s conservation efforts that have allowed various animal species to be reintroduced to their habitat.

Amakhala’s focus is on restoring the original flora and fauna of the area to allow wildlife to flourish.

🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

The reserve is one of the best places to spot the Big Five and offers excellent sighting opportunities through its various activities—like game drives and guided walks. 

You also have a chance to see more elusive and rare wildlife species at Amakhala, including the bat-eared fox and hyenas. 

💡 Spotlight activities

With Amakhala’s fully-immersive activities, visitors are sure to have an unforgettable safari experience. Enjoy the following activities while visiting:

  • Daily game drives, including refreshment breaks.
  • Horse riding activities.
  • Guided bush walks.
  • River cruises along the scenic Bushman’s River.
  • Guided excursions to the neighboring national parks like Addo Elephant National Park.
game drive at Amakhala

🛖 Accommodation options

Amakhala Game Reserve offers a collection of upmarket, privately-owned safari lodges and houses.

The accommodation ranges from 3 to 5-star lodgings and includes spectacular views of the reserve and rivers that surround it.

Our top choices include:

The Bush Lodge

The Bush Lodge is a 5-star accommodation option with a charming and intimate atmosphere. 

It’s situated at the top of an open valley in Amakhla, offering beautiful panoramic views of the reserve.

Each of the thatched or tented suites overlooks a watering point, ideal for spotting wildlife from the comfort of your suite. 

Guests also have access to a private pool, delicious meals, and complimentary Wi-Fi for the duration of their stay.

Price: From $334 per person per night.

Quatermain’s 1920s Safari Camp

For a unique and nostalgic safari experience, Quatermain’s is the perfect choice. It takes guests back in time to the 1920s, with classic design elements that reflect the era.

Stay in a comfortable and spacious canvas tent that features an en-suite bathroom, minibar, and large veranda.

The tents have all been furnished with pioneer-style decor that was the preferred choice of explorers in the 1900s, creating a cozy and warm atmosphere.

Price: From $190 per person per night.

Other accommodation options at Amakhala 

  • Carnarvon Dale Lodge
  • Hillsnek Safari Camp
  • Hlosi Game Lodge
  • Leeuwenbosch Country House
  • Safari Lodge
  • Woodbury Lodge
  • Woodbury Tented Camp

5. Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Closest airport: Port Elizabeth International Airport (99.4 miles).

Recommended age to visit: Although people of all ages are welcome, it’s recommended that children be at least five years of age.

Malaria area: No.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Kwandwe is one of the largest reserves in the country, with a rich and biodiverse landscape that is home to the Big Five and several endangered species.

The Great Fish River runs through the reserve, offering great game viewing opportunities and beautiful views from your accommodation.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve was established in 2012 by American investors who wanted to contribute to South Africa’s conservation efforts.

Since then, the reserve has become a popular destination for rehabilitating animals so that they can be safely released back into the wild.

🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

Kwandwe prides itself on being one of the top reserves to spot the Big Five on safari.

With the reserve’s unique game-viewing approach, visitors are almost always guaranteed to see lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffalos during their stay.

Other highlight sightings include cheetahs, black wildebeest, African wild dogs, Blue Cranes (the national bird of South Africa), and Ground Hornbills

💡 Spotlight activities

Kwandwe offers an unforgettable range of activities hosted by knowledgeable rangers and conservationists. They also have family packages available to ensure everyone can participate.

The following activities can be enjoyed during your stay:

  • Morning, afternoon, and evening game drives.
  • Guided bush walks.
  • Dinner in the bush.
  • Specialist safaris that include birding, photographic activities, and rhino conservation experiences.
  • Family fishing trips.
  • Volunteering opportunities through the Ubunye Foundation.
  • Spa treatments in the heart of the bush.

🛖 Accommodation options

Staying at Kwandwe is a tranquil and intimate experience, with less than 50 rooms spread across the reserve’s luxury accommodation options.

Here are our top picks:

Melton Manor

This exclusive stately colonial manor house offers a private and personalized safari experience, perfect for families or groups of up to eight people.

It features spacious suites with modern bathrooms, lounges, dining rooms, and a private veranda that overlooks the reserve.

For the duration of their stay, guests will have access to Melton Manor’s dedicated team of staff—including a private guide and chef—to ensure a tailored visit.

Price: From $3,818 per villa.

Great Fish River Lodge

This luxurious lodge offers breathtaking views of the Great Fish River and features spacious suites that are designed to blend into nature.

Each suite has its own plunge pool, viewing deck, en-suite bathroom, and other modern amenities. 

Guests can also relax in the elegant main lounge or dine under the stars in the outdoor boma. 

Price: From $727 per person per night.

Other accommodation options at Kwandwe
  • Ecca Lodge
  • Uplands Homestead
  • Fort House

6. Lalibela Game Reserve

Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Closest airport: Port Elizabeth International Airport (58.7 miles)

Recommended age to visit: Adults and children of all ages are welcome. Some activities may have age restrictions, but the game reserve offers children’s programs and babysitting.

Malaria area: No.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

This private game reserve is located in the Eastern Cape and is known for its extensive ongoing conservation efforts and luxury safari experiences.

Lalibela spans vast areas of the Savannah Grassland—the biome known for its ability to sustain a diverse number of animal and bird species.

Its natural biodiversity allows Lalibela to be a fully self-sustained reserve, where the animals can roam freely.

This gives visitors a unique opportunity to observe wildlife closely without any man-made distractions.

🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

Lalibela has some of the densest game populations in the country, which ensures that visitors will see an abundance of wildlife.

Common sightings include the Big Five, different species of antelope, and many other predators like cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and lynx.

The reserve is also home to over 300 recorded bird species, which makes it a great option for visitors who enjoy birdwatching.

In addition to offering great animal sighting opportunities, Lalibela is also a vital hub for cheetah conservation.

Their efforts have significantly improved the country’s cheetah population by giving the animals a sanctuary where they can flourish without threat.

💡 Spotlight activities

Embark on immersive wildlife experiences at Lalibela, with a number of exciting activities to choose from. These include:

  • Game drives hosted by knowledgeable guides.
  • Big Five walking safaris.
  • Guided walks in the bushveld.
  • Big 7 safari experience.
  • Community outreach opportunities.
  • Children’s activities like scavenger hunts, rock painting, and wildlife-inspired board games.

🛖 Accommodation options

Lalibela Game Reserve offers luxury 5-star accommodation options that seamlessly blend with its natural surroundings.

Choose from a variety of upmarket lodges that are sure to provide an intimate and unforgettable experience.

Our top choices are:

Inzolo Lodge

Inzolo Lodge is designed to offer the perfect combination of privacy and luxury, with upmarket decor that blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

Each of the four chalets overlooks the dense valley and provides spectacular views of the bush. Guests will also have access to a private observation balcony, minibar, and Wi-Fi.

Price: From $456 per suite.

Mark’s Camp

This family-friendly lodge has a relaxed atmosphere that ensures a comfortable holiday.

Its stone and thatch chalets are furnished with cozy decor, featuring amenities like en-suite bathrooms, air-conditioning, and viewing decks.

Guests can also unwind in any of the two swimming pools overlooking the reserve. These pools are a great place for keen birdwatchers to observe the wildlife in the surrounding trees.

Price: From $610 per person per night.

Other accommodation options at Lalibela 
  • Mills Manor
  • Kichaka Lodge
  • Lentaba Safari Lodge
  • Tree Tops Safari Lodge

7. Phinda Private Game Reserve

Location: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Closest airport: King Shaka International Airport (154 miles).

Recommended age to visit: Adults of all ages and children aged three and older.

Malaria area: Yes.

Can You See The Big Five? Yes.

Spanning across vast areas of protected wildlife land, Phinda Private Game Reserve offers some of the best diverse game viewing experiences.

The reserve has seven distinct habits—awarding it the nickname ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder’—that each hosts a diverse number of species. 

Its location means that Phinda is close to the unspoiled beaches and coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, which allows visitors to have a unique ‘land-and-sea’ experience.

Phinda is also committed to conservation and boasts some of the country’s largest populations of black rhinos and pangolins.

Visitors can also take part in a life-changing conservation experience during their stay, where they can assist rangers in tagging and de-horning rhinos. 

🐾 Common animal sightings in the reserve

Although Phinda is home to the Big Five, it’s best known for incredible cheetah and black rhino sightings.

The unique sand forest is home to rare antelope species like the Suni and Red Duiker. These antelope are seldom encountered in other areas.

Vehicles are also limited to a specific number, ensuring uninterrupted game viewing and up-close sightings at all times.

💡 Spotlight activities

  • Specialist safari games drives.
  • Bushveld sleep-out, where you can spend the night in the wild. 
  • Bush walking adventures.
  • Tracking experience.
  • Birding safari.
  • Photographic safari.
  • Impact experiences with rhinos, elephants, and pangolins.
  • Community outreach experiences.

🛖 Accommodation options

Phinda offers luxury accommodation spread across six different lodges in the reserve. Each lodge has its own unique charm and character, ensuring a memorable stay.

Mountain Lodge

Situated on the mountainside of the reserve, this elegant lodge offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.

The Mountain Lodge is designed to reflect the natural surroundings, with stylish furniture, spacious rooms, and secluded viewing decks.

Visitors will enjoy the lodge’s excellent service, fine dining experiences, and a variety of exclusive safari activities during their stay.

Price: From $757 per suite.

andBeyond Rock Lodge

The andBeyond Rock Lodge is located on a cliff that overlooks the dense bush and offers exciting wildlife viewing opportunities.

The stone cottages at this beautiful lodge each features its own pool, outdoor shower, and intimate balcony. Guests also have access to en-suite bathrooms and other comfortable furnishings.

In the communal guest area, visitors can unwind on the extended outdoor deck or have a romantic dinner under the stars on the rooftop terrace.

Price: From $1,000 per suite.

Other accommodation options at Phinda
  • Forest Lodge
  • Vlei Lodge
  • Zuka Lodge
  • Phinda Homestead

Make Your Ultimate Safari Experience Come True

Whether you want to spend your holiday birdwatching or dream of seeing the Big Five up close, there is a South African safari for you.

In this article, we’ve outlined some of the best safari lodges and experiences in the country to help you discover everything South Africa has to offer.

If you’re looking for more South African holiday inspiration, be sure to check out our other articles on The Seven Best blog.

With The Seven Best, you’re sure to discover hidden gems that will make your trip to South Africa even more remarkable. 

The Seven Best

The Seven Best was founded by David McCready to share his passion and experiences of South Africa after more than a decade of visiting the country.

The brand’s name is inspired by Table Mountain in Cape Town, recently named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. 

David and a small team of handpicked writers have come up with curated lists and tips of must-sees and dos when you are visiting South Africa, along with other topics we think you might be interested in to further introduce you to this incredibly diverse country.

Learn more about The Seven Best here.

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