The rainbow nation that is South Africa has much to offer, ranging from a deeply interesting political history to the exceptional and dense variety of wildlife.
It came to be the culturally diverse and unique country it is today following the momentous anti-apartheid struggle, fronted by leaders like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. The nine provinces that came as a result of the political strife of the 1900s play host to some of the world’s most fascinating animals including the largest living land mammal, the African Elephant, leopards, rhinos and so many more.
So, if you’re thinking about taking the trip of a lifetime to safari in South Africa, it’s no surprise. The adventure is definitely out there.
Best Time To Visit
Visiting most safaris in South Africa is best done in the months of May through to July. The dry season occurs during these months meaning there is little to no rain, low humidity and the daytime temperatures aren’t too hot.
For the wildlife, dry season means heading to the waterholes. For you, this means peeping at elephants and rhinos and antelope all at congregating at the same place, refreshing themselves only metres away from where you watch.
However, this doesn’t mean that if you’re unavailable during May to July, your time is wasted. Safaris are still worth going to during other months of the year but you are guaranteed less than you are in the summer. The bonus side is that the trails will be less crowded than during the summer holidays for children and also less dusty.
The months of October to April are great for seeing baby animals and gorgeous scenery too. The weather is hot and humid which, depending on your preferences, may be unwelcome when on safari. You are also not guaranteed to see as much wildlife during these months as in the summer, but you will definitely still see some. The months of November, December, January and February are the poorest in this time bracket, so it would be more advisable to head on safari in October, March and April if possible.
Best Safari Parks In South Africa
We’ve narrowed down our top five safaris in South Africa below. There is a wide scope of wildlife and experience to choose from in all of them and there will be something for everyone too.
Kruger National Park
If you’ve done even a tiny bit of elementary research into South African safaris, you’ll have heard of Kruger National Park.
There is a true diversity of wildlife at Kruger and it is famous the world over for its majestic animal habituates. Elephant, lion, cheetah, rhino, giraffe, hippo and 140 other mammals as well as over 500 species of birds coexist in the 19,488km² expanse.
You are most likely to come across elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest at Kruger. Lions are an occasional sight, particularly in the south of the park, whereas cheetahs and leopards are rare but not impossible.
Although white rhinos are under extreme threat and pressure from poachers, you have a decent chance of spotting one. The best time to spot not only white rhino but all wildlife at Kruger is in the months of June to September where vegetation is thin, allowing for the maximum viewing experience.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Located adjacent to Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve offers yet another fantastic wildlife viewing opportunity.
All of the Big Five (a term used by colonial hunters to group together leopards, buffalos, elephants, rhinos and lions) are regulars at the reserve and can usually all be seen in two to three days on safari.
Unlike at Kruger, white rhino are regularly seen and the off-road driving experience affords for a much more intimate and authentic opportunity to see some of the world’s most treasured animals. Moreover, Sabi Sands is particularly noted for the quality of its leopard sightings. They are simply breathtaking as male leopard behaviour of marking territory can be seen alongside females interacting with cubs.
The months of June to September are once again a prime time to visit Sabi Sands but August and September are also pleasant times to visit.
Phinda Game Reserve
At Phinda, the wildlife is pretty consistent throughout the year, although the best time to visit is in June to September. Animals are much easier to spot then as they congregate at permanent water sources and the bush thins due to the dry conditions.
Big cats at the reserve are common, so your chances of seeing a leopard, cheetah and a lion are high. Both black and white rhino are common (the black less so), meaning that there is a real opportunity for you to see some of the most endangered wildlife before it may be too late.
Perhaps one of the Phinda Game Reserve’s most exciting features is the boat trip on the Mzinene River. If you live for the thrill you’ll love it as there are close encounters with huge Nile crocodiles. It’s nothing too dangerous though – just enough to get your heart thumping...
Balule Nature Reserve
The Balule Nature Reserve has open borders with Kruger National Park and is a key part in the huge ecosystem home to not only the Big Five, but to hippos and giraffes too.
For those who enjoy something a little bit quirky and unusual in amongst the safari bucket list animals, Balule might be the place for you. Civets and honey badgers can be found in the reserve by lucky travellers, adding to the once in a lifetime South African safari experience.
The period of August through to September is particularly recommended when it comes to visiting Balule NR as its centrepiece, the Olifants River, is packed with wildlife.
Tembe Elephant Park
For lovers of elephants, the Tembe Elephant Park will fulfil all of your big-tusked dreams. It is one of the few places in Africa and the only place in South Africa where you can see some of the planet’s remaining giant elephants.
Elephants can be seen drinking and showering in the watering holes as well as walking with their herd on the planes. The other four of the Big Five can be seen at Tembe too, although don’t be disappointed if you leave without seeing them all – this park prides itself on being an elephant hub.
It is best to visit in May to September, although in October to April you are likely to witness new animals being born and, of course, the cutest elephant calves ever.
Wherever you head off on your South African safari, we’re sure you will have a brilliant time. Everything is possible when you’re out in the bush and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and get it.