Outdoors Information

South Africa Safari Top Five National Parks and Game Reserves


A South Africa safari is the ideal wildlife trip to go on because the infrastructure and accommodation is superb in all the wildlife parks there and it is still highly affordable in comparison to other African countries.

But given a choice some of the national parks and game reserves are better than others.

Here is a top five list ranking them according to travel reports received at the African Safari Journals website, my safari experience of twenty plus years, industry forums, magazines and the general consensus of the experts.

1. Kruger NP

The Kruger National Park has to rank as one of the best South Africa safari destinations, only slightly behind the Masai Mara and Serengeti when it comes to wildlife viewing because the vegetation in Kruger can be dense and sometimes mars the ability to see longer distances.

But the variety of animals, birds and ecosystems that you can experience here are unparalleled anywhere else in Africa and the accommodation, roads and facilities are top notch and all at a very affordable price.

It's not unusual to see lion, leopard, cheetah, a pack of wild dog, rhino, elephant, buffalo and a whole host of antelope, crocodile and hippo in the course of a single trip including a variety of insects and reptiles.

On the bird front you will be spoiled with a seemingly never-ending supply of eagles, hawks, water birds and a host of migratory and indigenous species to the tune of about 510 different varieties.

You can easily do a self drive safari here and still see a decent amount of wildlife especially if you stick to the central and southern portions of this massive park (larger than Ireland). The north has fewer animals due to dryer conditions but also less tourists which makes for a more isolated and intimate wildlife experience.

If variety is the spice of life then a South Africa safari in the Kruger National Park is a rich dish indeed.

2. Sabi Sands GR

Sharing a fenceless border on the western side of the Kruger National Park is the Sabi Sands game reserve which has a number of world famous private concessions like Mala Mala, Sabi Sabi and Londelozi.

The removal of the fence between the two parks allows the animals to move around freely and the game viewing experience is just as in the Kruger National with one important difference. Because this reserve is privately held, off road game tracking is allowed which improves your chances of finding the elusive big cats, elephant, rhino, buffalo and wild dog to a large degree. They also make use of two way radios in each safari vehicle so that if one finds something noteworthy the others can be alerted.

The sand and sabi rivers which bisect the reserve provide the focal point which attracts the wildlife to the area especially in the dry season.

So viewing the big cats on a South Africa safari here is virtually guaranteed and the accommodation is some of the best in the world as illustrated by the Singita lodge which was the first and only accommodation in the history of the Conde Nast Gold List Reader Poll to get a perfect 100 score, an honour it has held for three years. There are about thirty different top class lodges situated in the reserve.

But this all comes at a price and unless you have reasonably deep pockets this fantastic reserve will be out of reach which is why it doesn't get the Nr one ranking for South Africa safari national parks and reserves.

3. Hluhluwe Umfolozi NP

If you want to see the endangered black and white rhinos in the wild then this is the park to head for because this is where the inexorable tide to extinction for the white rhino in Southern Africa was stemmed.

It now boasts the largest population of white rhino in the world numbering over 1600 and also a slowly increasing population of black rhino at just over 400.

on a South Africa safari here you will also be able to see lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and cheetah in this park and more than 400 bird species have been recorded. Due to the large number of resident elephants you might have some close encounters with them on the roads as they cross in front of you.

You can go for a daily walk in the park in the company of an armed ranger or you can do a several day extended hike in the southern umfolozi portion.

4. Madikwe GR

This is a latter day Noah's ark story because most of the wildlife contained in this park was relocated here from other areas in 1991.

Twenty seven different species amounting to over 10 000 head of game were re-introduced into this area where they once thrived but had disappeared because of hunting and habitat destruction.

A huge advantage of taking a South Africa safari in this park is that it is not situated in a malaria area so you don't have to bother about taking malaria tablets as you do in most other reserves.

All of the big five are on view here as well as cheetah and the rare wild dog packs which are the stars of the show here being regularly sighted patrolling their huge territories. Your chances of seeing them seem to be better here than most other parks.

Rare antelope like the eland, gemsbok and sable put in an appearance here too and you will be able to enjoy your wildlife viewing in relative peace and isolation because not many tourists know about this excellent game reserve.

5. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The locals know that this is an excellent game park and it falls into that "best kept secret" category that each country seems to have where for some unknown reason a reserve doesn't get the notice from tourists and safari companies that it deserves.

Maybe it's because this reserve is set in the Kalahari desert and people don't normally associate deserts with lots of wildlife but there are always exceptions to the rule and this South Africa safari park qualifies.

You can see some pretty specialised and very interesting game here such as the gemsbok antelope which can go for months without water, springbok, blue wildebeest, eland and red hartebeest.

And wherever there is a good supply of antelope, the predators are never far away such as the black maned lions which this area has a disproportionate supply off, leopard and cheetah which can make full use of the wide open spaces to chase their prey at top speed.

The meerkat (suricate) is also regularly seen here and bat eared foxes contribute to the scavenging duties.

This South Africa park is famous for birds of prey such as the pygmy falcon and the sociable weaver which builds nests which are the bird equivalent of apartment blocks that are sometimes so big they break the branches they rest on.

There are hundreds of companies offering safari trips to South Africa. This Top Three safari in South Africa operators list helps you choose effectively between them.

South Africa safari trip reports give you a great idea of what to expect from a trip like this by learning from other peoples travel experiences.


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