The Ultimate Guide to a South Africa Safari

Few destinations rival South Africa when it comes to offering a wide range of attractions combined with easy and convenient regional travel. Home to the Big 5 and breath-taking natural beauty, South Africa is an ideal safari destination for families, honeymooners and adventure seekers of all ages. Game reserves are teeming with lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, rare cheetah, and all the plains game favourites like zebra, giraffe and gazelle. South Africa's Kruger area is widely considered the best place in Africa to see leopard, the most elusive of all big cats.

Accommodation options range from 5-star to star-lit, and include family lodges, honeymoon hideaways, and grand tented camps. Take advantage of our expert advice to tailor-make a private South Africa safari to your exact specifications.

Location & Landscape

1. Location and Landscape

 

South Africa is the southern-most country on the African continent, with a long coastline of about 1 500 miles or 2 500 kilometres that stretches along two oceans: the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It’s the 25th-largest country in the world – almost double the size of Texas and five times bigger than the United Kingdom.

Quick safari facts

  • Summer: about November to March
  • Winter: about June to August
  • Rainy season in Cape Town: about May to September
  • Rainy season in Kruger: about November to April
  • High season in Kruger: about July to October
  • Whale season: August to September

The interior of South Africa consists of a vast plateau that is surrounded by the Great Escarpment, with its eastern part being the Drakensberg or ‘Mountains of Dragons’. The southern part of the plateau is known as the Great Karoo, a semi-desert region mostly consisting of sparsely populated scrubland that eventually fades into the even drier and more arid Kalahari Desert in the very north-west of South Africa. The plateau’s eastern and highest part is known as the Highveld, which slopes downward to the north to become the Lowveld, in which the Kruger National Park is located.

The country’s western coastline stretches southward from Namibia to the Cape Peninsula, where the cold Atlantic meets the warm Indian Ocean past Cape Point. It then runs east through a lush, forested region known as the famous Garden Route, before stretching north to form the country’s subtropical Indian Ocean coastline that meets up with Mozambique.

"A tailored vacation experience"

Go2Africa’s package… incorporated all of the best things to do in South Africa, from great hotel stays (Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront, Simbavati Hilltop Lodge) to top attractions and experiences (great white sharks, safari, and Winelands tour). Mariam was always available for questions and suggestions…the transfer staff was extremely punctual and very polite… we were able to see the Big 5 and more, while the resort accommodations were amazing…It was one of our best vacations ever.
- Jose Alegria

Costs

2. What Does a South Africa Safari Cost?

 

It’s a little tricky to give exact costs for a South Africa safari. There are many budget-influencing factors like how luxurious you’d like your stay to be, whether you fly or drive between destinations, whether or not you go private and exclusive, the time of year you travel, and which extra activities you want to add to your itinerary, like spa treatments and cultural visits.

We can, however, provide approximate costs for a safari in South Africa. The following estimates are based on a price-per-person-per-night, including accommodation and transfers:

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury
Low High Low High Low High
$400 $450 $550 $600 - $900 $800 $900 - $1400

Please remember that the above costs are guidelines only. At Go2Africa we tailor-make safaris that match your budget and personal travel wishes. We do not offer one-size-fits-all packages and prefer to create bespoke journeys that make sense for your individual needs – thus no two South Africa safaris will ever be the same.

Connect with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help you plan a South Africa safari itinerary:

Where to Go

3. Where to Go: South Africa’s Best Safari Destinations

 

With so much on offer, where should you go? The Kruger is a must-see on any safari and if you're travelling with young children, we recommend one of South Africa's famous malaria-free private reserves. Another must-see with something wonderful for every age and appetite is Cape Town, home to internationally acclaimed wine country and gourmet dining, award-winning beaches, the iconic Table Mountain, open-air markets, mountain trails for hikers and cyclists, vibrant theatre and nightlife, and a range of ultra-luxe villas, hotels, boutiques, galleries and spas.

"They love their jobs"

Monique addressed all our needs, requests and then some for our first trip to South Africa. They listened to what we wanted and made amazing suggestions giving us what we wanted and adding in things that we couldn't have dreamed of. Their expertise was stellar. Lion Sands River Lodge and Lion Sands Narina Lodge were absolute heaven… Our stay was beyond our wildest dream come true.
- Kelly Chiesa

 

The Greater Kruger: A Big 5 Capital

The granddaddy of South Africa’s reserves, the century-old Kruger is synonymous with safaris. We recommend a stay at one of the private reserves that adjoin the main park, or one of the exclusive-use concessions located within it – these promise crowd-free environments where the game viewing ranks among the best in Africa. Indeed, such is the density of game in the Sabi Sands, Timbavati and Thornybush private reserves that it’s not unusual to see the Big 5 in a single day, with leopard sightings so good you’ll feel like you’re in a National Geographic documentary! Night drives, guided walks and off-road driving add to the adventure, while open-top tree houses, world-class spas, fine dining and private villas combine to deliver a superior vacation experience.

Leopard sighting with Kirkman’s Kamp.

 

There are plenty of family-friendly lodges with babysitters and children’s activity clubs as well as camps that emphasise the romantic side of safaris – sumptuous, tucked-away suites and candle-lit dinners for two. You can drive to the Kruger from Johannesburg or fly in from almost anywhere in South Africa. We suggest flying – it is more relaxing and gives you more time on safari. Remember, the more time you can spend in the bush, the greater your chances of seeing a kill or a rare animal like a honey badger, cheetah or pangolin.

The ease of getting around South Africa and its neighbouring safari destinations makes it simple and easy to combine the Kruger's big game viewing with the tropical paradise beaches of Mozambique’s Bazaruto or Quirimbas Archipelagos, or Africa's gastronomy and design capital, Cape Town, or the continent's self-proclaimed adventure capital, Victoria Falls.

Why go:

  • Up-close, reliable Big 5 sightings all year round
  • Classic 4x4 safaris with tracker-and-guide teams
  • No crowds at sightings (private reserves only)
  • Ideal for first-time travellers
  • Easily combined with island holidays and top destinations like Cape Town and Victoria Falls

When to go:

The best time to visit the Kruger in terms of climate and game viewing is during the dry season (from about late May to October). The rainy summer season is a time of newborn antelope, lush green views and sensational bird watching. Bear in mind that Kruger falls into a malaria zone: the risk is very slight – even in summer – but it’s best to consult your medical practitioner before you travel.

High / Peak Season Low / Green Season
When About July to October About November to April
Weather Cooler sunny days with no rain, cold nights and mornings Hot with afternoon thunder showers
Game-viewing highlights Big 5 (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, rhino) Big 5, birds and babies
Rates High Low

Where to stay:

Madikwe and Pilanesberg: Malaria-free, Family-friendly Safaris

Malaria-free, home to the Big 5 and located close to Sun City, Africa’s biggest and boldest holiday resort – what’s not to like about these two premier reserves?

Acacia trees shelter the rooms at Black Rhino in Pilanesberg.

 

Pilanesberg National Park is a beautifully scenic reserve cradled in an extinct volcanic crater and is the closest to Sun City – in fact, it's right next door. For those who want to mix waterslides and championship golf courses with game viewing by 4X4 or hot-air balloon, this is the ideal destination. Just over two hours' drive from Johannesburg and offering great game viewing year-round, Pilanesberg is a perfect introductory safari – families with young children will love it.

Why go:

  • Less than three hours’ drive from Johannesburg
  • A stone’s throw from the famous Sun City
  • Excellent sightings of elephant, lion, rhino, cheetah and brown hyena
  • Hot-air balloon safaris over beautiful wilderness

Where to stay:

Madikwe Game Reserve offers a more exclusive safari experience. Set on red sands at the edge of the Kalahari, this private reserve is home to a beguiling mix of desert and savannah species, and its accommodation varies from camps specialising in families to those offering the ultimate in romantic luxury. Under a 2-hour drive from Sun City, Madikwe offers an extra edge to your safari: you’ll join night drives and sit down to lavish lantern-lit suppers away from camp.

Why go:

  • Home to rare wild dog
  • Private reserve – off-roading and night game drives are permitted
  • Track unusual species like brown hyena and pangolin
  • Diverse landscape: from dense acacia thicket and classic bushveld to the Kalahari Desert’s transition zone

When to go:

Anytime between early May and the end of October: there is barely any rain and game viewing is good, as animals concentrate near water. Mid-winter (June to August) is very dry and cold; the November to April summer is hot with regular afternoon thunderstorms.

High / Peak Season Low / Green Season
When About July to October About November to June
Weather Cool with no rain Hot with afternoon thunder showers
Game-viewing highlights Madikwe and Pilanesburg: Big 5 | Madikwe: eland, oryx, pangolin, brown hyena, wild dog Birds and babies
Rates High Low

Where to stay:

Eastern Cape: The Family-friendly Choice

South Africa’s Eastern Cape is home to beautiful malaria-free game reserves set along rivers and the Great Escarpment, sitting under dazzling night skies and filled with the call of lion.

These are multi-faceted reserves, places where Big 5 game viewing vies for your attention with river cruises and cultural tours. Families can enjoy the option of private villa accommodation, and since many lodges offer family-oriented safari programmes, parents get to enjoy a massage at the spa while their children have a hands-on cooking lesson or learn how to track animals.

Giraffe gymnastics at Bayethe in Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

 

Add an Eastern Cape safari onto a Cape Town and Garden Route tour: the can-do nature of this popular holiday region means a self-drive safari is ideal – pick up your car in Cape Town and return it in Port Elizabeth before being collected for your safari. You can take in the Whale Coast and Cape Winelands on the way, leaving you plenty of time to discover why the Garden Route is so named before settling back for a few days of classic Big 5 game viewing.

Why go:

  • Malaria-free game reserves
  • Combines well with the beautiful Garden Route
  • See the Big 7 (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, leopard, southern right whale and great white shark) at Addo Elephant National Park
  • Crowd-free game viewing

When to go:

The Eastern Cape’s temperate climate enables a safari at any time of year, but if you want a Garden Route beach holiday too, then choose the warm and largely dry summer months from November to April.

Where to stay:

kwaZulu-Natal: A Bush and Beach Combo

Northern kwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most under-rated wildlife destinations. The region is home to a collection of game reserves known for excellent Big 5 sightings, especially rhino and big cats. Throw in superb bird watching and gorgeous scenery – from woodlands and wetlands to palm savannahs, lush coastal forests and long golden beaches – and you have a safari destination that offers more than just game drives in the bush.

Furthermore, kwaZulu-Natal’s game reserves lie close to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which means you can easily culminate a Big 5 safari at a retreat on a footprint-free beach and one of the best scuba-diving spots in South Africa.

Why go:

  • Excellent rhino and big cat sightings
  • Sensational birdwatching
  • Combines easily with a beach holiday
  • Best scuba diving location in South Africa

When to go:

Thanks to kwaZulu-Natal’s subtropical climate, it’s a fantastic destination to visit all year round – but keep in mind that the summer months (between December and March) can get very hot and humid. Game viewing is generally at its best between May and October when there’s little rain and animals concentrate around water sources.

Where to stay:

Whale Coast: The World’s Best Whale-watching Safaris

Between about June to October every year, hundreds of southern right whales start migrating from the icy Antarctic Ocean to South Africa’s mild coastal waters to calve and mate. The quaint town of Hermanus on the country’s Whale Coast has become the mecca for whale watching and considered the best place on Earth for land-based whale watching. When the migrating whales arrive in the town’s Walker Bay from about August, these majestic marine mammals can easily be spotted from the shore – sometimes as near as 20 metres or 65 feet away.

Go2African Angela spotting whales at Birkenhead House.

 

Why go:

  • Less than two hours from Cape Town
  • Best whale-watching destination in the world
  • Sensational Hermanus wine route
  • Combines excellently with the Garden Route

When to go:

As with all things Mother Nature, the whale migration is seasonal and hard to predict accurately. The whales generally arrive along the Whale Coast from about August onwards. August and September are usually the most popular months with the best sightings. TIP: charter a private boat if you want to get away from the crowds.

Where to stay:

Getting Around

4. Getting Around South Africa

 

Thanks to the country’s extensive range of accommodation and a sophisticated infrastructure network, getting around in South Africa is effortless. Well-maintained roads and highways make it a great destination for a self-drive vacation, especially through the Cape Winelands and along the beautiful Garden Route.

Daily commercial flights link all South Africa’s major cities, and chartered airplanes can get you to any safari lodge that has its own private airstrip. Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is a significant travel hub, and the gateway to the rest of Africa and the Indian Ocean’s idyllic islands.

Combines Well With

5. South Africa Combines Well With…

 

Your holiday in South Africa can easily be combined with:

Destination Highlights
Botswana Okavango Delta, Chobe and Kalahari
Victoria Falls A visit during high-water season (about March to July)
Namibia Etosha, Sossusvlei and Skeleton Coast
Kenya and Tanzania The Great Wildebeest Migration
Mozambique, Mauritius and the Seychelles Family-friendly beach resorts and private tropical island retreats
Best Suited For

6. Traveller Types: South Africa is Best For…

 

If you’re a first-time safari goer, there is no better destination than South Africa. It’s easy to get around thanks to its reliable infrastructure network, and the country is completely geared up for tourism. We’ve been tailor-making safari itineraries for thousands of honeymooners, families with children, and solo travellers to South Africa since 1998. No matter what's on your vacation wish list, a South Africa holiday will tick all the right boxes.

Recommendations Highlights
First-time safari goers
  • Kruger and Cape Town
  • Superb Big 5 sightings
  • Cape Winelands and gorgeous beaches
Photographers and birdwatchers
  • Low / Green Season (November to April)
  • Best light of the year
  • Colourful migratory birds
  • Calving season: plenty of predator action
Honeymooners
  • Exclusive safari lodges in private reserves
  • Tropical islands
  • Private candle-lit dinners in romantic settings
Families
  • Travelling with children, teenagers and grandparents
  • Malaria-free game reserves in Madikwe and the Eastern Cape
  • Family-friendly safari lodges
  • Kids’clubs with age-appropriate safari activities
  • Child-minding services
Solo
  • Private or overland tours
  • Self-drive holiday
Adventurous experience

Whether you’re travelling solo, with your family, or celebrating your marriage with a romantic honeymoon or anniversary vacation, we recommend chatting to one of our Africa Safari Experts.

Connect with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help you plan a South Africa safari itinerary:

Health & Safety

7. Health and Safety

 

South Africa is a safe destination to visit and we’ve been tailor-making safaris for our clients in this country since 1998. Here are our top tips when it comes to health and safety:

  • Consult your local travel clinic or GP about necessary vaccinations and malaria prophylactics well before your vacation.
  • Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and a good hat. The African sun can be unforgiving.
  • Your guides know best. Always heed their warnings and instructions, they are there to keep you safe in the wild.