A Safari to South Africa has it all, world class hotels, lodges and tented camps, some of the best big five safaris and some of the best restaurants in the world. Due to the variety of landscapes and experiences, South Africa is perfect for a family safari, honeymoon safari, first timers, helicopter safaris and those who are extremely well travelled. Safaris to South Africa offer one of the best opportunities to see the Big Five with the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Game Reserves being renowned for their leopard sightings.
Cape Town has been voted one of most scenic and beautiful cities in the world and it is not difficult to see why. With the backdrop of the world famous Table Mountain, fronted by the ocean and Robben Island. Cape Town and the surrounding Winelands are home to some of the best restaurants in the world, combined with some of the best wines of the world. This makes Cape Town and the Winelands an ideal location for foodies. With world class hotels and private villas, Cape Town appeals to all budgets and interests. With its easy access from around the world a vacation to Cape Town can be combined with safaris to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, The Congo and Sao Tome and Principe.
After your safari in South Africa you can easily fly to Mozambique for some rest and relaxation after the adventures from the last few days. In the very north of South Africa is one of South Africa most unique safaris. Tswalu Kalahari is located in the red dunes of the Kalahari Desert and offers guests on their safari to South Africa the opportunity to experience unique animals of the desert including pangolin, aardvark, oryx and more.
What makes a safari to South Africa incredible are the different private game reserves that are able to offer exclusive safaris to their guests. Whether you are looking at the malaria free reserves of the Eastern Cape, perfect for a family safari or the malaria free reserve of Madikwe in the north, Phinda along the north coast of South Africa, Timbavati bordering the Kruger National park or the Sabi Sands, also bordering the Kruger National park, there is something for everyone on their safari to South Africa. All of the private game reserves are all committed to conservation, working together for the good of the wildlife of South Africa.
Luxury Safaris to South Africa
A safari to South Africa has it all from the best Big 5 Safaris in the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Game Reserves, combined with a stay in the beautiful city of Cape Town. For those looking for something different why not consider a safari in Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve in the Kalahari Desert. A safari to South Africa is perfect for families, honeymooners, wildlife enthusiasts, first timers to Africa or experienced safari goers. Have a look at some of our safari ideas to South Africa and then get in touch and let’s start planning your dream safari to South Africa.
Where are the best areas to go on safari in South Africa?
The Best Safari Areas of South Africa
South Africa is a diverse country with so much to offer visitors. From Cape Town, one of the world’s most scenic cities, to the deserts of the Kalahari and Tswalu, along the scenic Garden Route and the best Big Five Safaris in Africa in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
A safari to South Africa is perfect for everyone. South Africa is perfect for the first-time visitor to Africa. Combining Cape Town, the Winelands and a safari to the Sabi Sands offers diversity and the best chance of seeing the Big Five and other iconic animals. A Honeymoon to South Africa offers luxury and privacy in some of the country’s best hotels and lodges and when combined with the stunning beaches of Mozambique, you have the complete Honeymoon package to Africa. For the avid safari goer, South Africa offers diversity that can be explored over several safaris. Whether you explore the Garden Route’s backroads or go on safari in the Waterberg or Tswalu in the Kalahari where the experience is completely different to that of the Sabi Sands. Even within the Kruger National Park, return guests can explore different regions and not get bored.
Cape Town is one of the most scenic cities in the world, surrounded by ocean and mountains, you can see why so many people fall in love with this city. There is so much to do whilst on holiday in Cape Town and we recommend no less than 4 nights to really get to appreciate this diverse city. Most people stay in the City Bowl or Waterfront area as this offers easiest access to world class restaurants and the main sights of Cape Town.
Moving around the coast from Cape Town you get Sea Point and Bantry Bay which offer some high-end boutique hotels, but still within easy reach of Cape Town city and its restaurants and bars. Further around the coast you start to see the glamor of Cape Town with Camps Bay and Clifton Beaches. White sandy beaches and turquoise waters surrounded by towering mountains. Camps Bay is a hive of activity with beachfront bars and restaurants where visitors can enjoy sun, sea and cocktails late into the night.
Further away from Cape Town you start heading towards Houtbay and the Southern suburbs which make for great day trips from the city. Unless you have been to Cape Town before, we would not recommend staying this far out, but we certainly recommend seeing these stunning coastal towns on a day trip when visiting the Cape Peninsular.
An iconic day trip from Cape Town is the drive down to the Cape Peninsular including Houtbay, Chapman’s Peak, The Cape of Good Hope, Simon’s Town and the penguin colony at Boulders Beach and finally Constantia’s wine farms. A holiday to Cape Town is not complete without a trip up the iconic Table Mountain. There is a cable car that takes guests to the top in style offering panorama views of Cape Town, Robben Island, Camps Bay and the mountains around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
In the evenings, Cape Town has quite an active nightlife with bars, clubs and restaurants offering music, drinks and food, late into the night. Cape Town is home to some of the world’s best restaurants, making Cape Town a culinary hotspot. World class chefs make their way to Cape Town, opening fine dining restaurants that cost a fraction of the price when compared to a similar standard in Europe or the US.
The Cape Winelands
An hour from Cape Town is the Cape Winelands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch where some of the world’s best wines are produced. You can do a day trip directly from Cape Town to the Cape Winelands, visiting 2 or 3 Vineyards for wine tasting. We however recommend staying in some of the Winelands beautiful boutique hotels and guesthouses, often on the wine estate. Aside from being in a stunning location, staying in the Winelands offers the chance to explore some of the smaller, boutique wine farms and you can explore at a more relaxed pace, taking in the atmosphere of being at the vineyard.
3 Hours north of Cape Town, along the coast is Hermanus which offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world. Between the months of June and November southern right whales migrate past South Africa’s coast, coming into Walker Bay near Hermanus to give birth and to also breed before moving into the colder waters of Antarctica. Often the whales come so close to the shore that visitors have clear views from the cliffs surrounding the bay. There is the option for boat-based whale watching with boats heading out into Walker Bay to get better, water-based views.
The Garden Route
Continuing along the East Coast from Hermanus north as far as Port Elizabeth is the Garden Route, taking in Plettenberg Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Tsitsikamma and private, malaria free game reserves. The Garden Route is a scenic route along the coast offering deserted sandy beaches, hiking, malaria free safaris, mountains, bungee jumping and plenty more to do. The Garden Route is best explored by self-drive.
Tswalu Kalahari is one of Africa’s largest privately owned game reserves and one of the most successful conservation stories. In 1998, the Oppenheimer family bought Tswalu after previous owners had attempted cattle farming in this delicate landscape. Cattle farming and hunting decimated the wildlife that occurred here and when the Oppenheimers bought the land, they set out to return Tswalu to its former glory. Removing the cattle and slowly re-introducing wildlife, Tswalu is an ongoing conservation program. Only naturally occurring animals have been re-introduced to Tswalu, so you will not see elephant or buffalo on a safari to Tswalu.
Tswalu is in the far north of South Africa is a located in the heart of the red sands of the Kalahari Desert. Rolling red sand dunes and grasslands make Tswalu a completely different safari to what you would get in the Sabi Sands, making this the perfect add-on to your Sabi Sands safari. What makes Tswalu so special is the opportunity to see desert adapted animals like gemsbok, springbok, Kalahari black-maned lions, red hartebeest, cheetah, aardvark, meerkats and pangolin. Pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world, but here they occur naturally. Researchers have been working on Tswalu’s Reserve following the success of the pangolin that live here. This gives guests a unique opportunity to hopefully see one of these rare animals in the wild. Sightings are never guaranteed as they are generally shy, nocturnal animals.
Stanley Safaris loves everything about Tswalu and what it stands for. The landscape, the wildlife, the guiding, the wide-open spaces…………just the whole Tswalu experience is incredible and for this, we always recommend Tswalu to our guests.
The Sabi Sands Game Reserve
The Sabi Sands is South Africa’s premier safari destination. Bordering the Kruger National Park and with no fences preventing the animals from moving freely between the reserves, the Sabi Sands offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa. The Sabi Sands is made up of several privately owned concessions, each with a safari lodge or 2 on it. Guests staying at specific lodges can only access specific areas within the Sabi Sands on their game drives, but this limits the numbers of vehicles at sightings.
In terms of game viewing, the Sabi Sands is renowned as the best place in Africa to see the big five, namely lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. The Sabi Sands is also renowned as one of the best places in Africa to see the elusive leopard. For some reason leopards within the Sabi Sands are completely relaxed in the presence of vehicles, allowing guests incredible opportunities to see and photograph leopards in the wild.
Some of our preferred lodges within the Sabi Sands include the Lion Sands Lodges, Londolozi, Chitwa Chitwa, Nottens Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi and Mala Mala.
Timbavati Game Reserve
Just north of the Sabi Sands is the Timbavati Game Reserve which is also a private reserve that shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park allowing the wildlife to move freely between the reserves. It too is one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five and is also one of the best places in Africa to see and photograph leopards. Our pick of lodges in the Timbavati include Tanda Tula and Kings Camp.
Durban and the north coast
Durban is South Africa’s third largest city and is located on the East Coast. We don’t recommend spending time in Durban, but it is a good access point to Phinda and the North Coast beaches. Phinda is a Big Five Private Reserve north of Durban, operated by &Beyond. With several biomes, Phinda offers a diverse safari with coastal forest to grasslands.
The north coast of South Africa offers great diving, deserted beaches and warm Indian Ocean water. Unlike the ocean around Mozambique, the seas of northern South Africa can be a little wavey with currents, so does not offer the idyllic, palm fringed tropical beaches with calm waters.
Johannesburg is growing in popularity with visitors, but unless you are staying here on an overnight transfer, we wouldn’t recommend spending time in Johannesburg.
The Sabi Sands
Best Big 5 Safaris in Africa
The Sabi Sands is a 65,000 hectare private game reserve that shares an unfenced border with the world famous Kruger National Park. Initiated as a conservation project by the landowners in the 1950s, the Sabi Sands was once cattle and crop farms. Over the years, the landowners have downed their fences, cleared the alien vegetation and the wildlife has returned in great numbers, offering guests the best big five game viewing in Africa.
The term Big Five comes from the hunting term for the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt. Nowadays, photographic safaris have used the term as the top 5 animals to see whilst on safari. Lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino make up the Big Five and all are fairly common in the Sabi Sands.
Over the years, the animals have become habituated to safari vehicles and this allows some of the best photographic opportunities for guests to capture that perfect shot. In particular, leopards have become very relaxed around vehicles, allowing some of the best leopard viewing in Africa. Guests will often see several different leopards on their safari, which is really uncommon in other parts of Africa. The habitat suits leopards perfectly, as they need varied scrub, riverine woodland and bushveld that allows them to stalk within meters of their prey.
Aside from the big five, the Sabi Sands is also home to general game like giraffe, zebra, impala, wildebeest, bushbuck, hippo and more. In terms of predators spotted hyena, wild dog and cheetah are occasionally seen on game drives.
Being private, guests staying at any of the Sabi Sands Lodges can enjoy morning and afternoon game drives, night drives as well as walking safaris. Night game drives allow guests a glimpse into the nocturnal habits of the animals. This is generally when the cats are more active as they can hunt under the cover of darkness. Walking safaris is an exciting way to experience the African bush as you get to see some of the smaller elements of the safari that you would miss whilst on a vehicle. The tracks and signs left behind by the animals, as well as the smaller insects, frogs, plants and spiders which you would miss while on a game drive.
There is a wide selection of safari lodges to choose from inside the Sabi Sands. Ranging from rustic bungalows to ultra-luxury villas, there is something for everyone. Because of this, the Sabi Sands is the perfect safari destination for first time safari goers, family safaris, honeymoon safaris and avid safari goers and wildlife photographers.
When is the best Season to go to on a safari to South Africa?
South Africa Seasons
South Africa is a large country and as such the weather patterns can differ slightly across regions. In principle, the majority of South Africa has summer rainfall, while Cape Town remains dry and hot in Summer, but has its main rainy season during the winter months. Being in the southern hemisphere, South Africa’s summer months start in November until about February/March, while winter starts in May/June and ends in August.
Summer in South Africa can be hot and humid, especially along the east coast and the Kruger Park and Sabi Sands. This is when these regions receive majority of its rainfall which can result in flooding as dry riverbeds start to flow again. During the months of December and January, cyclones move south through the Mozambique channel, bring torrential storms and heavy rains which push through to the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park, often causing flooding as dry rivers start to flow again. During summer months in the Sabi Sands, the maximum temperature averages around 31°C (90°F) with average minimums around 21°C (70°F). These lower end temperatures happen in the evenings or after some rain.
Cape Town on the other hand remains hot and dry during the summer months, from October through to the end of March. Average maximum temperatures in Cape Town during the summer months are 26°C (79°F) with lows dropping to 16°C (61°F). Cape Town can get windy during the summer months, mainly between October and December. The winds subside from January through to February with March being one of the best months to be in the Mother City.
The Kalahari Desert and northern areas remain drier compared to the rest of the country with the main rains falling during the hot summer months. This can be an amazing time of the year to be in the Kalahari (Tswalu) as you get to see the desert transform from a dry, desolate place to green carpet as plants take advantage of the rains.
Winer months in South Africa are mainly dry, except for Cape Town. Many tourists coming to South Africa get caught out during winter months, thinking Africa is hot all the time. In the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park, average low temperatures can drop down to 8°C (46°F) which can feel a lot colder when you are on the back of an open vehicle in the early mornings and or evenings whilst on a game drive. Average maximum temperatures at this time of the year are a pleasant 24°C (75°F). Being the dry season, this is the best time to visit the Sabi Sands on your South African safari.
Winter is when Cape Town receives it most rain and is when it can get very cold. It is not uncommon to get snow on top of Table Mountain during a freak storm. Cape Town receives majority of its rainfall during the months of May, June, July and August, when maximum average temperatures are 20°C (68°F). Average minimums during this period are 7°C (45°F).
During the winter months, the Kalahari is a great place to be with warm days and cold nights. Being the desert, the sand does not retain the heat and so nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing. Perfect for sitting around the campfire under a blanket of stars.
Best time to go on Safari to South Africa
The best time to go on a safari in South Africa is during the dry winter months. As the rains slow, the bush starts to thin out and the surface water from the rains starts to dry up. As the bush thins, it makes it easier to see the animals and as the surface water dries up, the animals are forced to go to the permanent waterholes and dams. Anytime from March/April up until November is generally a good time for a safari in the Sabi Sands and Tswalu Kalahari. During the rainy season, the bush thickens making it harder to see the animals as there are more hiding places for them. There is also more surface water around and so the animals can spread out more with less pressure on the permanent waterholes. The rainy season, however, is really good for birders when migrants come in from Europe and are in full breeding plumage. It is also when most of the antelope give birth bringing new life to the Sabi Sands.
This is also the best time to go on safari to Tswalu in the Kalahari for similar reasons. Dry warm days and clear cold nights means the animals remain active longer into the day. As mentioned above, the rainy summer months in the Kalahari can be extremely rewarding as the dry desert comes to life.
The Garden Route parks are a little trickier to predict as they can get rain at any time of the year.