South Africa is not always thought of as a pure safari destination given its wealth of other attractions like the city of Cape Town and the historically rich Johannesburg. However South Africa offers some of the best safari experiences on the continent, through a mix of private game reserves and national parks boasting a wide variety of biodiversity. With so many options available, planning a safari in South Africa can seem slightly overwhelming.

South Africa caters for everyone when it comes to safari holidays. Options range from budget-friendly DIY safaris with basic, self-catering accommodation and self-drive routes, to luxury experiences on private game reserves where guests are waited on around the clock in exclusive 5-star lodges.

With such a variety of options on offer, it can be really hard to choose where to go, so we’ve done our bit to help you find the location for your dream safari.

Here are the best safari destinations in South Africa:

Kruger National Park

There is no better destination to kick off a ‘safari in South Africa’ guide than the famous Kruger National Park.

Kruger is a behemoth of a national park, spread out over two million hectares in the northeast of the country. Arguably the most famous destination for a safari in South Africa, the park is home to a wide range of animal species including the iconic ‘Big Five‘. Due to its vast size, regions within Kruger vary greatly in typography and landscape, from green forests to woodland and open savannah plains.

the top safari destinations in south africa
Hippo snort in Kruger National Park | The Top Safari Destinations In South Africa

Kruger is a popular destination for self-drive and budget safaris with a wide network of self-catering chalets and campsites, however there are also a few luxury lodges scattered throughout the park should you prefer not to go the DIY route.

Madikwe Private Game Reserve

Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s premier game reserves. This Big Five game reserve is situated about 300 kilometres from Johannesburg and shares many ecological attributes with the nearby Pilanesberg National Park. Madikwe is a remote safari destination, situated against the Botswana border, near the Kalahari Desert.

Sanctuary suite © Madikwe Game Reserve | The Top Safari Destinations In South Africa

Covering approximately 60,000 hectares, it is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa and a prime example of successful conservation. The reserve was forged from unproductive farmland in the early 90’s and was stocked with over 8000 individual animals which all would have occurred naturally in the region before it was taken over for agricultural use.

The malaria-free game reserve is considered as a luxury safari destination, catered exclusively to the high-end safari goer, with more than 20 luxury bush camps spread throughout the reserve. Most of these are five-star rated. Day visitors are forbidden which means there is a lot less traffic compared to the public national parks, and wildlife sightings are lot more intimate.

Sightings of lion, elephant and rhino are common and leopard and buffalo are also present in Madikwe but are a lot more scarce.

Addo Elephant National Park

As it’s name suggests, Addo Elephant National Park is famous for its elephants and here you’ll find large family herds and huge tuskers.

The malaria-free national park is located just 25 miles/40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth and is the third largest wildlife reserve South Africa.

Elephant mother and calf in Addo Elephant National Park | The Top Safari Destinations In South Africa

The park’s proximity to the city makes it perfect for day trips as well as longer stays and booking is not required for day visits. Accommodation ranges from basic camping facilities chalets to luxury lodges, and the combination of tarred and gravel roads are suitable for both 2×4 and 4×4 vehicles.

In the centre you’ll find an enclosed picnic site where you can indulge in a traditional South African braai (barbecue). Addo is mostly known for the over 600 elephants that call the park home, but is also home to the other four species that make up the Big Five along with an impressive variety of birdlife.

Mala Mala Game Reserve

Catered primarily to those with deep pockets Mala Mala Game Reserve is an award-winning safari destination in South Africa.

Established in 1927, the reserve is one of the most established private game reserves in the country and offers some of the best wildlife viewing experiences on the continent. The 13,000 hectare reserve is sandwiched in between the Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and boasts some of the most reliable leopard viewing in South Africa.

Buffalo herd © Mala Mala Game Reserve | The Top Safari Destinations In South Africa

Access to Mala Mala is exclusive to the private lodges within its borders and experienced guides take you off-road in 4×4 vehicles for intimate sightings, not possible in public parks like Kruger or Pilanesberg.

This means that not only are you more likely to see big game species, but you’ll also get to learn about animal behaviour and how different species interact within their environment.

The reserve has three luxury camps complete with pools, spas and tennis courts.

Pilanesberg National Park

Situated two hours from Johannesburg, Pilanesberg National Park is one of the most accessible safari destinations in South Africa. Set on the remnants of a volcanic crater, this ecologically rich transition zone between the Kalahari and the Lowveld offers a thrilling big game viewing experience in a malaria free environment.

Zebra in Pilanesberg National Park © Libor Pospisil | The Top Safari Destinations In South Africa

Relatively small in comparison to South Africa’s largest national parks, Pilanesberg’s vast network of tarred roads, greatly increase your chances of spotting one of the Big Five in their natural habitat. Sightings of elephant and white rhino are common but big-cat sightings tend to be reserved for a lucky few.

Adjoining the famous Sun City resort, a wide variety of accommodation is available within the park. These range from basic camping facilities all the way up to luxury lodges.

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