The Ultimate Guide to Safaris in South Africa

The Ultimate Guide to Safaris in South Africa

Explore the untamed beauty of South Africa: Safari Adventures Await

Embark on an unforgettable journey through the untamed wilderness of South Africa. Affectionately known as the “Rainbow Nation” because of its diverse cultures and peoples, South Africa has so much to offer in terms ookie f wildlife, landscapes and heritage. This variety is what makes it one of the best safari destinations on earth. You can experience the bustle of a beautiful city in Cape Town, sip some of the world’s best wines in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, and have thrilling wildlife sightings in varied and beautiful wilderness spaces.

There is SO much to do in South Africa. Join us as we delve into the ultimate guide to getting the most out of your South African safari!

When most people think of South African wildlife, the first thing that comes to mind in the “Big Five”. These safari superstars include the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo. Originally listed together as being the most dangerous animals to hunt, the Big Five has now become synonymous with spectacular game viewing, and South Africa is one of the best places on the continent to see all five.

But there’s more to South Africa than just the Big 5. South Africa’s coastline is home to incredible marine diversity too. Hermanus for example, located 2 hours away from Cape Town, is a quaint seaside town known for its incredible whale sightings, as well as seals, dolphins and different types of sharks.

Speaking of diversity, did you know South Africa has a total of 9 different biomes across the country? This incredible variety offers means you can visit South Africa again and again while discovering entirely different flora and fauna.

South Africa is one of the most varied countries in Africa, if not the world. There is SO much to see that selecting your safari destinations can be overwhelming, which is why we’ve broken it down into our favourite regions and reserves across the country.

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

The Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, located in northern South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, is one of Africa’s largest privately owned game reserves. Here you will see desert adapted animals like gemsbok, springbok, Kalahari black-maned lions, red hartebeest, cheetah, aardvark, meerkats and maybe even the endangered pangolin.

We love Tswalu because it is one of South Africa’s 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.

A visit to Tswalu combines beautifully with a Sabi Sands or Timbavati safari because the landscapes and animals are completely different.

Sabi Sands Game Reserve

The Sabi Sands is South Africa’s premier safari destination. Bordering the famous 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. Guests staying at specific lodges in each concession can only access specific areas within the Sabi Sands on their game drives. This means that you will never need to worry about crowded sightings, and visitors get prime viewing of the incredible animals that live here.

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. In particular, the Sabi Sands has excellent leopard sightings – making it one of the best places on earth to see this elusive big cat in its natural habitat. For some unknown reason, leopards within the Sabi Sands are completely relaxed in the presence of vehicles, allowing guests incredible opportunities to see and photograph these beautiful animals.

Timbavati Game Reserve

Just north of the Sabi Sands is the Timbavati Game Reserve, another private reserve that shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. It is another one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five and also one of the best places in Africa to see and photograph leopards.

Cape Town

 Located near to Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Town is one of Africa’s most loved destinations. Affectionately known as “The Mother City”, it is one of the most scenic cities on earth, with mountains and oceans surrounding it.

We recommend a stay of at least four nights in Cape Town because there is so much to see and do here. We recommend staying in the City Bowl, Waterfront or Sea Point or Bantry Bay areas. These are the most central with easy access to Cape Town’s most iconic sights, as well as some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.

For a list of what to do in Cape Town, read our blog post on the subject.

Cape Winelands

 The Cape Winelands can be found about an hour outside of Cape Town, and consist of the Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl regions. This picturesque location is the perfect place to slow down and enjoy some of the first class food and wine South Africa has to offer.

Franschhoek in particular is known as the culinary capital of South Africa, and there are a number of fine dining options in this quaint town. Anyone with an appreciation for good food will enjoy a visit here, especially as fine dining is considerably cheaper here than in Europe or the United States.

It is possible to do a day trip to the Cape Winelands, visiting a few of the vineyards and enjoying lunch before heading back into town, but if possible, we really recommend staying at one of the beautiful boutique hotels or guesthouses within the area.

With so many accommodation options in so many amazing places, its challenging to choose a top 5, but below we’ve selected our favourite safari lodges in South Africa:

1. Tanda Tula, Timbavati Game Reserve

Located in the heart of the Timbavati Game Reserve (part of the Greater Kruger National Park), Tanda Tula offers an intimate and authentic safari experience. In a region where luxury camps are plentiful, Tanda Tula stands out for its incredible conservation and community efforts, and the exceptional individuals who make the camp feel like a home.

Guests can look forward to staying in newly renovated suites that blend beautifully into the surroundings, engaging in unforgettable safari experiences, and getting to know the people who make this modern oasis possible. We love the inviting feel of this camp. Luxury blends into comfort, creating a space where one can instantly relax and feel at ease.

2. Marataba Mountain Lodge, Marakele National Park

Nestled within the breathtaking Waterberg Mountains, Marataba Mountain Lodge is another incredible accommodation option for adventurers seeking an unforgettable safari experience in South Africa. The lodge is an architectural masterpiece that blends seamlessly into its surrounding, creating a perfect mix of modern comfort and immersion in nature.

Another reason we love Marataba Mountain Lodge is because of its commitment to sustainable tourism and conservation. Experienced guides leading thrilling safari excursions, gourmet dining experiences abound, and the tranquil ambiance of the Waterberg region makes this a top choose for an opulent, yet authentic South African safari experience.

3. Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

Found in one of South Africa’s most desolate landscapes, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve may not be the first place you think to include in your safari, but we could not recommend it more. This expansive private game reserve offers a rare and exclusive experience, allowing guests to explore the vast and untamed landscapes of the Kalahari Desert.

With three camps capable of accommodation just 40 guests, Tswalu has one of the lowest guest to wilderness spaces in South Africa, and is known for its commitment to conservation, with a focus on protecting the unique biodiversity of the region. Guests at Tswalu can embark on private guided safaris, encountering diverse wildlife such as black-maned lions, meerkats, and rare antelope species. The reserve also provides opportunities for cultural interactions with the local community, and outings with the researchers working in the area.

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is a must visit for anyone interested in an exclusive and environmentally conscious safari adventure in South Africa!

4. Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Sabi Sands

For anyone searching for ultimate luxury and exclusivity, Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is the ideal option. The lodge is located in the renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve, known for its high density of wildlife, including the iconic Big Five. The experienced guides at Lion Sands facilitate immersive game drives and guided walks, allowing guests to witness the incredible biodiversity of the region up close.

The lodge is beautifully designed to integrate into the surrounding wilderness, providing guests with a front-row seat to the untamed beauty of the African bush. Each private suite at Ivory Lodge boasts its own plunge pool and expansive viewing decks, ensuring an intimate connection with nature.

With these beautiful spaces, impeccable service and outstanding guides, Lion Sands promises a world class stay in one of the most sought after wilderness spaces in Africa.

5. Ecca Lodge, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

Most people don’t even consider South Africa’s Eastern Cape when planning a safari, but did you know it holds ones of the most diverse wilderness spaces in South Africa? Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is an expansive park that holds savanna, riverine woodlands and open plains. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Big Five, cheetahs, and a rich birdlife. And Ecca Lodge is the perfect place to take it all in!

Guests can enjoy expertly guided game drives, nature walks, and birding excursions to witness the region’s remarkable biodiversity. The lodge’s commitment to conservation and community engagement adds a meaningful dimension to the safari experience, and is one of the reasons why we love it!

At Stanley Safaris, we endeavour to create the most memorable and exclusive experiences possible for our guests, and safaris to South Africa offer the perfect opportunity for us to get creative! There are countless options, but below are some of our all-time favourite luxury safari activities to include in your itinerary.

Private game drives are one of the best ways to truly experience the wilderness without any distractions. A private game drive allows your guide to tailor the experience to your needs – making your outing longer or shorter, and spending as much time as you like at different sightings. While no sighting is ever guaranteed, telling your guide what especially interests you will allow them to do their best to make your sighting dreams a reality. We strongly believe that your guide is one of the most important elements to your safari experience, and our preferred lodges in South Africa employ some of the best in the business!

For an activity with a slightly different perspective, a helicopter safari is a must! Soaring above the sprawling savannahs, meandering rivers, and majestic mountains, a helicopter provides a bird’s-eye view of the untamed beauty below. It also allows you to get a better sense of the vast terrain.

One of our personal favourite experiences is a helicopter tour of Cape Town. If you’re spending any time in the city, we’ll do our best to add this bucket-list experience into your itinerary!

Another fascinating and rewarding activity we love to include in our South African safaris is a cultural interaction. South Africa has a rich tapestry of cultures and lifestyles, and learning about them is a meaningful and lasting experience. Depending on where you are staying, there may be opportunities to visit a local village or help out with a certain community program, but just spending time with the lodge staff, getting to know them and hearing their stories is also very special.

Although South Africa is a big country and the weather changes depending on where you are, it is generally considered that the best time to go to South Africa on safari is between May and October in the winter and spring months. Game viewing in the Kalahari, Greater Kruger and Eastern Cape is at its best during this time of the year.

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. In general, South Africa has hot and humid summers, with most rainfall happening at this time of year. In the Greater Kruger area especially, December and January brings heaving rains, sometimes causing flooding.

Cape Town, on the other hand, has hot, dry summers and the majority of its rain in the winter months. Cape Town summers can be windy, but the wind tends to subside between January and March. We think the best time to visit Cape Town is in March, when the weather is pleasant without being too hot, and there is not too much wind.

Many tourists visiting South Africa get caught out in winter, believing 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 on a game drive! The average maximum temperatures at this time of the year is a pleasant 24°C (75°F).

Winter in Cape Town can also get really cold. It is not uncommon to get snow on top of Table Mountain during a freak storm. Maximum average temperatures are 20°C (68°F) at this time of year, while minimums are 7°C (45°F).

The Stanley Safaris team is based in Cape Town, and so South Africa is our home and holds a special place in our hearts. If you’re interested in a luxury safari to South Africa, get in touch! We can’t wait to share our wonderful country with you!