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What to Expect on a South African Big 5 Safari

Our guide to the best destinations in South Africa

From breathtaking mountains to wild coastlines, from wine country to urban-chic foodie heaven, South Africa really does have it all. It’s the unbelievable diversity of the Big Five safari experiences which gets our hearts racing.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park is possibly the most famous national park in Africa and for good reason; stretching from Mozambique to Zimbabwe, 220 miles from north to south and 40 miles from east to west, it supports the greatest variety of wildlife species on the entire African continent.

big 5 safari

Best for the Big Five

Kruger National Park

Some of the best Big Five safari experiences are to be found in the private reserves bordering the main Kruger National Park to the south west. These reserves were formally fenced off private farms but have now been fully integrated to the greater National Park and the wildlife moves freely throughout. If your heart is set on close encounters with the Big Five then it really doesn’t get much better.

Dominated by the meandering Sabi River, one of the most biologically diverse water systems in South Africa, Sabi Sands boasts one of the highest concentrations of big cats in Africa. At Cheetah Plains, one of the top lodges in South Africa, leopard sightings are almost guaranteed. For an even wilder experience head to the Timbavati concession. This is the real deal. Umlani is a great bush camp with all the frills you could ever wish for and the focus is on giving you a real wilderness experience.

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big five safari south africa

Best for wild dog lovers


If you’re looking for the most elusive and efficient predator in Africa, the African wild dog or “painted wolf” then head for Madikwe. This superb reserve is a short flight north-west of Johannesburg on the Botswana border. Historically this area, 75,000 hectares and the fifth largest in South Africa, was farmland and is now home to all of the Big Five and some of the best game viewing in the country. It hosts a healthy mix of luxurious properties and visionary community lodges owned and run by local villages where profits are shared and used for community development. Being malaria free means it is also a winner for any safari itinerary.

One of our personal favourites is Jaci’s Tree Lodge with fantastic guiding and all the pampering you could ever dream of. Alternatively their sister lodge, Jaci’s Safari Lodge, is more geared to family fun.

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eastern cape safari big 5 safari

Best for first-time safaris

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape reserves are perfectly located for exploring all that the Garden Route has to offer. Perhaps not as famous or expansive as the Kruger reserves, they offer great game viewing and home to all the Big Five. Take a self-drive trip of a lifetime from Cape Town, through the staggering mountain fringed winelands and along the wild Garden Route before finishing with a safari experience to die for. It is also malaria free which is a big draw card for those with small children.

For ultimate luxury pop into Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo. For a family retreat, our pick would be Woodbury Lodge in the heart of the Amakhala Reserve. For a more rustic stay, Woodbury Tented Camp offers everything you need for a down to earth experience of the bush.

Eastern Cape
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