South Africa is the perfect starting point for your first safari to Africa.
First of all, it’s easy to include other places in South Africa, such as Cape Town and the Winelands. Furthermore, if you wish to combine South Africa with other countries it is easy to include Botswana for the Delta (May through September), Zambia or Zimbabwe for the Falls, Namibia for its unique landscape and desert-adapted animals, or Mozambique to chill out at one of the luxurious island resorts off the coast. In fact, you could combine South Africa with just about any other African country.
Second, many of Africa’s best-known and most luxurious safari camps – and many of its pioneers – are in South Africa.
However, the most important reason South Africa is perfect for your first safari is that it boasts impressive numbers of the “Big Five” – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino (white and black), and leopard – that are must-sees for the first time visitor to Africa.
While these may be the animals at the top of your list, game viewing extends well beyond the Big Five.
South Africa is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries and has, by far, the world’s biggest population of rhino (currently highly endangered). It also has over 20,000 species of plants (about 10% of the entire world’s).
Without a doubt, the area that offers the best game viewing is the area known as Greater Kruger.
It encompasses an enormous piece of land including Kruger National Park (the park itself is bigger than the nearby country of Swaziland), a series of privately managed concessions within the boundaries of the park (off-limits to the public), and a network of privately owned game reserves surrounding the park.
There are no fences within Greater Kruger (and adjoining protected areas in Botswana and Mozambique), so animals are free to roam back and forth over the entire territory.
While the public areas of Kruger National Park are largely a no-go zone for us due to restrictive rules we mention on Your Safari Experience, the privately owned or managed areas offer the best of all worlds: the density of game in Kruger and the flexible rules (night drives, game walks, off-roading, and maximum vehicles allowed at each sighting) designed to maximize your experience.
The most famous private reserve is Sabi Sand. Others are Timbavati and Manyeleti.
Families with young children traveling in rainy season who don’t want their kids on malaria pills often prefer malaria-free reserves such as Madikwe (northwest of Johannesburg, near Botswana) and a few smaller reserves in the Eastern Cape (near Port Elizabeth). Madikwe is famous for its wild dog.
One of the most interesting private reserves in South Africa is Phinda, in KwaZulu-Natal not far from the Indian Ocean coastline, which has, remarkably, seven distinct biomes (collections of ecosystems). It also has huge concentrations of both black and white rhino.
Tswalu offers a look at animal life in the Kalahari Desert, including the famous black-maned Kalahari lion.
We can arrange private vehicles for you, or even private safari villas, or if you feel like roughing it, perhaps a night in a tree house looking out over Greater Kruger. We can arrange for you to join an anti-poaching unit on a training mission. Please check out the Safari-Plus portion of our Idea Lab for more ideas.