Your trip to South Africa is not complete without a safari in a game park. But which should you choose? Here I have compiled an overview of the best safari parks in South Africa.  At the end of the post you can find a map to situate all these game parks.

The 11 best game parks for a safari in South Africa

1. Kruger National Park

Of course, when you hear the word safari, everyone immediately thinks of a safari in SA in the Kruger Park. This 2-million-hectare park was named after Paul Kruger, the 5th president of the South African Republic. The surrounding private game reserves are no longer isolated from the Kruger Park, which means that the animals have an even larger domain. There is a good chance to spot the Big Five here.

There are many asphalt roads in the Kruger Park, one of the best national parks in SA, making it easy to drive yourself around (but I also feel that there is a lack of "atmosphere"). Nevertheless, I would recommend doing your first safari with an experienced ranger. They will show you what you should look out for when you are spotting animals. With the tips & tricks of a ranger in mind, you will undoubtedly see more animals during the next safari in your own car.

Personally, I am in favour of doing all safaris with a ranger. During one of our safaris, the ranger pointed out a crocodile to me. I spent a good bit of time looking around with my binoculars, but he gestured that I didn't need them at all. After 10 minutes of “searching” I finally saw the crocodile, it was lying so close that I could have tripped over it.

Practial info Kruger Park

  • 4WD: you don't need a 4WD in Kruger Park.
  • Malaria: yes
  • Entry fee adults: 400 Rand (+/- 25 euro)
  • Entry fee children: 200 Rand (+/- 12.5 euro)

Staying in Kruger Park

There is a selection of places to stay in Kruger Park, and in all price categories. They range from very basic to fairly luxurious. There are campsites, huts, safari tents, lodges, guest houses and bungalows.

Jock Safari Lodge is a luxury lodge and seen as one of the best safari lodges in South Africa.  Avid golfers even get the chance to tee off during their safari.

Lukimbi Safari Lodge is located in the southern part of Kruger National Park and has beautifully furnished lodges.

Traveling from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park

There are different ways to travel from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park.

1. From Johannesburg to Kruger National Park by plane

This is by far the fastest way to reach Kruger National Park.   You can fly in 50 minutes from Johannesburg to Skukuza Airport.  From the airport it's only a 20 minute transfer to Kruger Gate - Skukuza Road.  Depending on the place where you are staying, it might take a bit longer.  

You can arrange a transfer from the airport to your lodge or you can hire a car at Skukuza airport.  

Total transfer time from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park: less then 2 hours

2. From Johannesburg to Kruger National Park by car

You can drive from Johannesburg to Kruger National park in about 6 hours.   If you want to split the trip, you can drive the first day to Sabie, Graskop or Hazyview in about 3 to 4 hours.  From here you van drive the Panoramaroute (about 1 day) and enter Kruger National Park at Orpen Gate.  From Sabie or Graskop it's a 1.5 hour drive to this gate.   

Total transfer time from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park: 6 to 7 hours

3. From Johannesburg tot Kruger National Park by bus

If you have lots of time and want to save some money, you can consider taking a bus.  There are no direct busses from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park.  Choose the right route depending on the part of the park that you want to visit:

Visit Northern park of Kruger: take the bus to Nelspruit

Visit Southern park of Kruger: take the bus to Malelane

From Nelspruit and Malelane you need a private transfer to your lodge.

Be aware: traveling in South Africa is nog always safe.  Make sure to travel during daylight.

Total transfer time from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park: up to 10 hours

Traveling from Cape Town to Kruger National Park

1.. From Cape Town to Kruger National Park by plane

As Kruger National Park is almost 2000 kilometers from Cape Town, taking a plan is by far the fastest way to reach Kruger National Park.   You can fly in about 2.5 hours from Cape Town to Skukuza Airport.  From the airport it's only a 20 minute transfer to Kruger Gate - Skukuza Road.  Depending on the place where you are staying, it might take a bit longer.  

You can arrange a transfer from the airport to your lodge or you can hire a car at Skukuza airport.  

Total transfer time from Cape Town to Kruger National Park: less then 4 hours

2. From Cape Town to Kruger National Park by car

It's possible to drive from Cape Town to Kruger National Park.   You need at least 2 days to get there. 

You can also consider making it a roadtrip and drive the Garden Route, than head over to Durban, Drankensbergenn, Saint Lucia, Swaziland,....    To enjoy this trip to the fullest, you need about 3 weeks.    You can also fly from Cape Town to Durban and start your roadtrip over there.

Total transfer time from Cape Town to Kruger National Park: at least 2 days.

Sabi Sands

2. Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Sabi Sands is probably the best-known private reserve near the Kruger Park and it's easily accessible if you want to make a safari near Johannesburg. There are no fences between Sabi Sands and Kruger so the Big Five and other animals move freely from one park to the next.

The original Sabie Reserve was founded in 1898 and became the Sabi Private Game Reserve in 1934. Cattle farmers inhabited the area originally, and they drilled water holes to provide their cattle with sufficient water. Because of these water holes, there is always enough water for the animals in Sabi Sands, which means that large herds like to linger here.

The land is still managed by the 6 families who are descendants from the original owners of the land.

You are not allowed to drive yourself here, the rangers of the lodge where you are staying will take you on safaris in one of the best game parks of SA. The roads are unpaved, and the rangers go to great lengths to provide their guests with an unforgettable experience while respecting the animals. It is strictly forbidden to leave the road in Kruger. In Sabi Sands, your ranger can follow the wildlife into the bush.

And Sabi Sands is an excellent place for seeing leopards, they are regularly spotted here. We encountered one a few times during our safari.

Sabi Sands also guarantees a luxurious experience. They offer some of the best safari lodges in South Africa and they strive to employ the best rangers.  The safari lodges are not cheap but do offer an all-inclusive package which means all meals and safaris are paid for. You head into the bush with the best drivers and renowned rangers. It is not open to day tourists.

Sabi Sands Luipaard

Practical info Sabi Sands

  • 4WD: your safari is included in your stay so you don't need your own car.  Safaris with your own car are also not permitted.
  • Malaria: yes
  • Entry fee: not applicable since no day touristm is allowed

Staying at Sabi Sands

There are many luxury lodges at Sabi Sands. We stayed at Notten’s Bush Camp, which is still run by one of the original families. This luxury lodge, without electricity and without a fence around it, is the perfect location for the spoiled traveller as it is one of the best safari lodges in South Africa.  The lodge is located in the northern part of Sabi Sands and is easily accessible via Skukuza Airport. The lodge provides transfers from the airport.

Ulusaba Game Reserve is owned by Richard Branson, Lion Sands is the only lodge on the Sabie River, and Leopard Hills is top of the bill.

Nottens Bush Camp 2

3. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

If you want to go on safari in Kwazulu Natal, close to eSwatini  (the former Kingdom of Swaziland) then Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is a good choice. The park is 50 km from Durban and not far from the border with Mozambique.   If you want to go on a safari near Johannesburg it is best to fly to Durban first.  Hluhluwe was the second game reserve in South Africa. You have a good chance of seeing the Big Five here.

The reserve was one of the major drivers of Operation White Rhino. The number of white rhinos rose from a few dozen wild specimens to around 1500. Currently they also strive to protect the black rhino.

Difference between the white and black rhino: they are both grey, but the white rhino is much larger. It has wide lips and weighs up to 3500 kg. The black rhino has a pointy lip and weighs up to 1500 kg.

Hluhluwe and Imfolozi used to be 2 separate reserves, but they have now been merged. With an area of 960 km², Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park is quite small, but it nevertheless has a very varied landscape. Thanks to the savannah and surrounding mountains, it is regarded as one of South Africa's most beautiful game reserves. And statistically you are more likely to spot the Big Five due to the limited surface area.

You can drive yourself in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, but you really need a 4WD. The roads are often unpaved and quite steep.

Practical info Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

  • 4WD: if you want to go on safari with your ow vehicule, you need a 4WD.
  • Malaria: low risk area.  Malaria risk during the wet months from September till May
  • Entry fee adults: 210 Rand (+/- 13 euro)
  • Entry fee children: 105 Rand (+/- 6.5 euro)

Staying in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

If you are looking for a luxury experience you should definitely choose Thanda Luxury Game Reserve, member of The Leading Hotels of the World and one of thee best safari lodges in South Africa.

Hluhluwe Imfolozi

4. iSimongaliso Wetland Park

Another one of the best game parks in South Africa, this park is located near St Lucia and 275 km from Durban and is especially worth a visit because of the varied landscapes over an area of more than 3000 km². Lakes and marshes are interspersed with dunes, mangroves and subtropical forests. And in addition, the underwater world is also worth a visit because of the coral reefs.

Be sure to take a boat trip on Lake St Lucia or spend a few hours on Cape Vidal beach.

The crocodiles were once almost extinct here, but thanks to the work of Crocodile Centre, among others, their number is rising again. A visit to Crocodile Centre is therefore highly recommended.

iSimangaliso was the first South African park to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can only enter the park with a 4WD.

Practical info Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

  • 4WD: you can only enter the park with a 4WD
  • Malaria: yes  (There are also many ticks and leeches)

The park consists of many different parts and therefore uses many different prices. Below you will find the prices for the parts that are suitable for game drives.

Eastern Shores and Cape Vidal
  • Entry Fee adults: 51 Rand (+/- 3 euro)
  • Entry Fee children under 12: 37 Rand (+/- 2.5 euro)
  • You pay between 61 and 213 Rand per car, depending on the number of people (between +/- 4 en 14 euro).   
  • Community tax; 5 Rand pp.
  • If you are staying in the park you only pay 8 Rand per day.ls je in het park logeert betaal je maar 8 Rand per dag.
Western Shores and Charters Creek
  • Entry Fee adults: 51 Rand (+/- 3 euro)
  • Entry Fee children under 12: 37 Rand (+/- 2.5 euro)
  • You pay between 61 and 213 Rand per car, depending on the number of people (between +/- 4 en 14 euro). 
  • Community tax; 5 Rand pp.

In this area you will find elephants, rhinos, leopards, giraffes and much more.

Logeren in iSimangaliso

Thonga Beach Lodge is located on the beach and is surrounded by dunes. This luxury lodge is the ideal place to enjoy the beach in South Africa and it is a paradise for divers and snorkelers.

Makakatana Bay Lodge is a luxury lodge that offers standardrooms, familyrooms and a romantic honeymoonsuite.

Krokodil

5. Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe lies on the border with Botswana and is also a good location for spotting the Big Five.  It's also a great option if you are looking for a safari near Johannesburg as it's only a 3 hours drive away.

There were few profitable livestock farms in this region before 1991. They looked at how the country could be better used and a study showed that the development of wildlife tourism would be beneficial for all parties. Operation Phoenix became the largest reintegration project in the world. More than 8,000 animals (28 animal species) were brought to Madikwe. Even the African wild dog was brought back to Africa for the first time. The project was so successful that Madikwe can now even sell game to other South African game parks to get a better distribution. Their breeding program to protect the African wild dog is also a great success.

Madikwe Game Reserve is malaria free so it's a great destination for a trip to South Africa with kids.

Praktical info Madikwe Game Reserve

  • 4WD: your safari is included in your stay so you do not need your own car here. Safaris with your own car are also not permitted.
  • Malaria risk area: no
  • Entry fee: not applicable since no day tourism is allowed

Staying in Madikwe Game Reserve

In Madikwe you absolutely must stay at Jaci’s Safari Lodge. This special lodge is mentioned in National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World and is one of the best safari lodges in South africa.

If you are traveling with a group or family, the River House of the Morokuru family is an interesting option. Your own house (all-inclusive) in the middle of the bush.

Jaci's Safari Lodge Madikwe

6. Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush is located in the Lowveld Savannah and borders the Kruger Park. You reach this private reserve with a flight to Eastgate Airport (daily flights available). If you are a big spender, you can also book a flight with a private jet to one of the landingstrips in the reserve.  It's perfect for a safari near Johannesburg as it  is only an hour drive up north.

As there are no fences between Kruger and Thornybush it's possible to spot the Big Five.

Praktical info Thornybush Game Reserve

  • 4WD: your safari is included in your stay so you do not need your own car here. Safaris with your own car are also not permitted.
  • Malaria risk area: yes
  • Entry fee: not applicable since no day tourism is allowed

Staying in Thornybush Game Reserve

Accommodation is available in all price categories. You can stay in an adventurous tented camp or a luxury lodge such as the award-winning Waterbuck Game Lodge, one of the best safari lodges in South Africa.

Thornybush

7. Timbavati Game reserve

This small-scale (533 km²) private game park in South Africa is close to Hoedspruit, north of Sabi Sands and west of Kruger Park.

The park was created in 1956 through a collaboration between 50 local farmers. Intensive farming meant that most native plants had disappeared and all game had been driven away. The landscape has been restored thanks to the efforts of the Timbavati Association. Since the park borders on Kruger Park, you can find the Big Five here.

Practical info Timbavati Game Reserve

  • 4WD: your safari is included in your stay so you do not need your own car here. Safaris with your own car are also not permitted.
  • Malaria risk area: yes
  • Entry fee: not applicable since no day tourism is allowed

Staying in Timbavati Game Reserve

Here, too, you will find lodges in all kinds of price ranges. The Waterbuck Private Camp is a villa with 4 bedrooms, ideal for families or friends. Your safari activities are adapted to your needs as you have a private vehicle and guide at your disposal.

Timbavati

8. Balule Private Game Reserve

Balule is 40,000 hectares in size and borders the Kruger Park so there is a good chance that you will encounter the Big Five here.

This game park in South Africa was created in the 1990s when a number of farmers decided to take down their fences to give the animals more space to roam and prevent overgrazing. By prohibiting hunting, the game became easier to approach, which is of course ideal for a safari. Because Olifants River runs through this park, there is almost always enough water, which means that there is a lot of wildlife in the vicinity. Of course you can also expect many hippos and crocodiles here.

The game park in South Africa also borders the Drakensberg, so you can enjoy beautiful views from the park.

Practical info Balule Private Game Reserve

  • 4WD: your safari is included with your stay so in principle you do not need a 4WD.
  • Malaria risk area: yes
  • Entry fee: yes

Staying in Balule Private Game Reserve

Pondoro Game Lodge is a romantic tented camp on the edge of the river. From your terrace you can view the area where the hippos take their daily bath. Pondoro was voted the best Boutique Hotel in Africa in 2013 and scored high in the Romantic Retreat category, among other things.  Definitely one of the best safari lodges in South Africa.

Nijlpaard

9. Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The creation of Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of the most ambitious projects in the world when it comes to the reintroduction of wildlife. Thanks to Operation Genesis in 1979, the reserve was fenced off, and long-lost animal species were brought back to the park. There are currently around 7,000 animals, including the Big Five.

Pilanesberg lies to the northwest of Johannesburg and is the fourth largest game park in South Africa with an area of 572 km². It lies between the dry Kalahari and the wet Lowveld, making it a transition zone with mixed vegetation.

 

Praktical info Pilanesberg Game reserve

  • 4WD: you can drive yourself around the park. There is a network of 200 km of roads. 4WD is not required.
  • Malaria risk area: no
  • Entry fee: 65 Rand per person and 20 Rand per car

Staying in Pilanesberg Game reserve

Here, too, there is a wide range of accommodation available, from basic to luxury. Tshukudu Bush Lodge on the slopes of the Pilanesberg has 6 beautifully decorated lodges. You will lack nothing in this luxury accommodation.

Pilanesberg

10. Kalahari

The Kalahari is semi-desert that spreads across large parts of Southern Africa. It lies on the border with Botswana and Namibia.

The area is not a real desert because too much rain falls here on average. However, it is still very dry here, with the exception of the areas along the river bed, the so-called Green Kalahari.

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Augrabies Falls National Park and the lesser-known Witsand Nature Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve are located in the Kalahari in South Africa. The city of Upington is the gateway to the Kalahari and some of the best game parks in SA.

If you have been to South Africa before, you can consider driving up here from Cape Town. During your journey you will encounter less well-known natural beauty and you can combine your journey with a safari.

 

Practical info Kalahari

  • 4WD: only the main roads are paved, so a 4WD is recommended.
  • Malaria risk area: no
  • Entry fee Augrabies: 224 Rand for adults and 112 Rand for children
  • Entry fee Kgalagadi: 384 Rand for adults and 192 Rand for children

Staying in the Kalahari

The Falls Guesthouse has charming rooms, a nice swimming pool and a playground for children. It is the ideal base for your safari in one of th best safari lodges in South Africa.

Kalahari

11. Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

If you are looking for a safari near Cape Town, this might be a possibility.  You can fly to Port Elisabeth from which it is less than an hour by car.

In this game park in South Africa  you can make game drives accompanied by a ranger.  You can also make bush walks.

Shamwari has one of the most advanced anti-poaching units of South Africa.  They also work with the Born Free Foundation to rescue big cats from impoverished situations.

Practical info Shamwari Private Game Reserve


4WD:  your safari is included in your stay and you are not allowed to drive on your own
Malaria risk area: no
Entry fee  is included in your stay.

Staying in Shamwari Private game reserve

Eagles crag is the best safari lodge in Shamwari in South Africa.   But you can also choose to stay in Bayethe, a luxury tented camp.  Kids 4 years or older are allowed to join you on your safari.  For families Shamwari Riverdene of Sarili are a good choice.

Shamwari Private Game

How many game parks are there in South Africa?

There are incountable game parks in South Africa.  Here you will find the most famous game parks by province:

Eastern Cape

You can find the big five in most of these game parks.  These game parks are the right choice for a safari near Cape Town

  • Addo Elephant Park: Perfect for first-timers.  Easy to navigate roads and malaria-free.
  • Mountain Zebra National Park
  • Camdeboo National Park
  • Shamwari Game Reserve
  • Amakhala Game Reserve

Free State

Here you will find wide open spaces and raw beauty.  You can stay i the capital city Bloemfontein and visit the parks from there or you can stay in one of many lodges.

  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park: You don't find the big five but you might see caracal, silver fox, or other wild African cats.
  • Gariep Dam Nature Reserve
  • Sterkfontein Dam Reserve
  • Maria Moroka Game Reserve: this game park is perfect for hikers as they have many hiking trails.

Garden Route

These game parks in South Africa can easily be combined with your roadtrip along the Garden Route.  Most of them ara malaria free and are great for a safari near Cape Town.

  • Gondwana Private Game Reserve: find the big fee and stay in luxury lodges
  • Garden Route Game Reserve
  • Robberg Nature Reserve : see great white sharks in the wild
  • Jukani
  • Monkeyland
  • Birds of Eden

Gauteng

These parks are great if you are looking for a safari near Johannesburg.

  • Lion and Rhino Park
  • De Wildt Cheetah Research Station
  • Hartbeespoort Dam
  • Tswaing Nature Reerve: go so the immense crater, caused by the impact of a meteor
  • Dinokeng Game Reserve

Kwazulu Natal

In Kwazulu Natal you will find some of the best game parks in South Africa.  As it a coastal region, you can combine your safari with snorkeling, diving and fishing.  

  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park has the largest population of white rhino's.

Limpopo

Discover the wild side of South Africa thanks to the amazing bushvelds and thrilling landscapes.  Only a four hour drive from Johannesburg so perfect for a safari near Johannesburg.

  • Mapungubwe National Park: go find the incredible sandstone formationss.
  • Kruger National Park
  • Marakele National Park
  • Entabeni Game Reserve

Mpumalanga

A series of private game reserves bording the westers side of Kruger National Park.  There are no fences between these game parks and Kruger Park.  These are the best places to spot the big five.

  • Sabi Sands game reserve
  • Mjejane Private gam reserve
  • Skukuza 
  • MalaMala game reserve

North West Province

Combine a safari with a visit to Sun City.  It's also possible to make an safari from Johannesberg or Pretoria as these cities are only 4.5 hours away.

  • Madikwe Game Reserve
  • Pilanesberg National Park
  • Magaliesberg biosphere Reserve
  • Barberspan bird Sanctuary
  • Mafikent Game Reserve

Northern Cape

Thanks to the unique climate you will find different flora and fauna over here.  Combine you safari with some diamond digging.

  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: situated in the Kalahari Desert
  • Augrabies Falls National Park.  Combine a safari with a roadtrip along South Africa's West Coast and discover picturesque fishing villages and enjoy the best restaurants in the world in Paternoster.
  • Mokala National Park: great to spot rhino's
  • Richtersveld National Park

Western Cape

You haven't been to South Africa without visiting Cape Town and the national parks surrounding this magnificant city.

  • Table Mountain National Park: this includes Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, The Boulders,...
  • West Coast National Park: small wildlife, waterbirds and scenic view over the ocean.  
  • Agulhas National Park
  • Karoo National Park
The best game parks in South Africa

What is a game park in South Africa?

A game park is also called a game reserve.  It's a large, mostly fenced area where you can spot wildlife.  The wildlife is protected so there is no hunting allowed.  Kruger National Park is the most famous Game Park or Game Reserve in South Africa.

What are the best game parks in South Africa?

All the game parks in South Africa are great.   Everything depends on your own preference.  Do you want to see leopards? Chances are big in Sabi Sands.  Do you want to see wild dogs? Go to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve.   Do you want to drive yourself? Kruger Park is a great choice.  Do you want to make a safari near Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban or any other place.   Just think what you like and choose the best game park.  You can always contact me for advice: wendy@se7en.be

The best game parks in South Africa

As you can see South Africa has to much more game parks to offer besides Krugerpark.  Choose the park that suites your wishes most and enjoy an amazing safari in South Africa.  

What's your favourite safari park in South Africa?

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10 Best Game Parks For A Safari In South Africa