How to Plan a Safari in South Africa: 5 Easy Steps

By Cindy | Updated Aug. 4, 2023

Are you dreaming of a South African safari adventure? It would be a journey into the untamed wilderness to behold majestic wildlife, creating unforgettable memories for couples and families alike. But with so many options and considerations, planning can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers.

That's where we come in. As seasoned experts, we have embarked on numerous safaris across various parks and reserves in South Africa. Our wealth of knowledge and firsthand experience enables us to provide tailored recommendations to suit your desires and preferences. Whichever path you choose — a romantic escapade or a family-bonding expedition — we have expert advice to enhance your safari experience.

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When Is the Best Time to Go on a Safari in South Africa?

south africa

The best time to visit South Africa for a safari is from May to September, known as the dry season. During this time, it's easier to spot wildlife as there is less vegetation, and so animals gather around rivers and waterholes. The wet season, which is between October and April, is great for bird-watching. However, wildlife viewing can be more challenging as the bush is thicker and animals are harder to see.

How to Choose the Right Safari Destination?

Marakele National Park

Choosing the best safari destination in South Africa can be an overwhelming task. There are so many factors to consider and so many options to choose from.

Here are a few pointers to consider to help you choose the right one.

1. What's your budget?

Generally speaking, the more exclusive and remote the safari destination, the more it will cost.

For example, staying at a private game reserve or a luxury lodge will cost more than staying at a national park or in a guesthouse. Similarly, flying to your safari destination will cost more than driving there.

2. How long do you have for your safari trip?

If you're short on time, you'll want to choose a safari destination that's close to a major city or airport, such as Johannesburg or Cape Town. This way, you can minimize your travel time and maximize your safari time.

If time isn't a concern, you could happily choose a safari destination that's further away or combine multiple safari destinations in one trip.

3. What kind of safari activities do you want to do? What wildlife do you want to see?

There's a wide range of safari activities, from classic game drives to more adventurous options, such as walking safaris, canoeing safaris, hot-air balloon safaris, and elephant safaris.

Depending on your preferences and fitness level, you can choose a safari destination that offers the activities that suit you best.

4. Who are you traveling with?

Whether you're visiting solo, as a couple, or with the entire family, your chosen travel companions will undoubtedly have an impact on where you decide to go on safari. Some destinations are malaria-free while some are not, and some are unique for family-friendly activities while some are particularly suited for a romantic vacation.

Our extensive knowledge of the diverse safari options available enables us to offer a professional perspective that is tailored to your unique preferences. Simply let us know your preferences and requirements, and we will assist you in selecting a destination that will make your safari adventure truly exceptional.

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The Top 5 National Parks and Private Reserves

1. The Greater Kruger National Park: Best for the Big Five Animals

In South Africa, the most famous safari destination for seeing the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) is Kruger National Park and its surrounding territory.

For an enhanced and hassle-free adventure, we recommend staying at one of the private reserves adjoining the park, which share an unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park and are considered part of the Greater Kruger area. They offer a tranquil atmosphere without crowds, complemented by exceptional game-viewing opportunities.

In private reserves, such as Sabi Sands and Timbavati, the wildlife density is so impressive that spotting the Big Five in a day is not uncommon. Night drives, guided walks, and off-road game drives further enhance the excitement. Moreover, you can enjoy exceptional amenities, such as open-top tree houses, luxurious spas, fine dining, and private villas for an unparalleled safari experience.

No matter whether you're traveling with your family or as a couple, there are options for everyone. From family-friendly lodges with activities for children to romantic camps offering intimate suites and candlelit dinners, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

Kruger National Park

2. Madikwe Game Reserve: Best for Families and Couples

If you are traveling with children and prefer a private reserve, Madikwe may be a safer option for your family as it is malaria-free, unlike Kruger's private reserves.

The reserve boasts a range of family-friendly lodges that cater to the unique needs of families, providing spacious accommodations, swimming pools, and specialized children's programs to keep the little ones engaged and entertained.

Moreover, Madikwe offers a more private and secluded atmosphere compared to some of the busier wildlife reserves. The number of lodges in the reserve is limited, ensuring a more exclusive and intimate experience. This allows couples to enjoy romantic moments amidst the breathtaking natural beauty and tranquility of the reserve.

south africa safari

3. Pilanesberg National Park: Easy Access, Malaria-Free, Family-Friendly Safaris

If you're short on time and looking for a quick wildlife viewing experience, Pilanesberg National Park is a great option. It's conveniently located near Johannesburg, just a little over 2 hours drive away.

Compared to Kruger, Pilanesberg is smaller, which makes it perfect for a one-day safari trip instead of committing to a few days there.

Another advantage is that Pilanesberg is in a malaria-free zone. This gives it an extra degree of safety, which families with young children particularly appreciate.

Moreover, Pilanesberg offers a mix of activities, including waterslides, championship golf courses, and thrilling game viewing in a 4x4 or even in a hot-air balloon.

south africa safari

4. Addo Elephant National Park: Budget-Friendly and Family-Friendly

The park is conveniently located near Port Elizabeth, making it easily accessible for day trips or short getaways.

Addo Elephant National Park is not only famous for its elephants but is also home to many other animals, such as Cape buffalo, zebras, antelopes, warthogs, and numerous bird species.

It's a great destination for families, as it's malaria-free and cheaper than other national parks, such as Kruger.

Additionally, being close to Port Elizabeth means that you can enjoy marine tours, deep-sea fishing, canoeing, cycling, and horseback riding on beautiful trails.

south africa safari

5. Shamwari Private Game Reserve: Family Vacations and Luxury Lodges

For a luxurious, family-friendly safari experience in South Africa, Shamwari Private Game Reserve is your premier choice. Among the largest and most renowned private reserves in the country, Shamwari showcases the legendary Big Five and magnificent cheetahs.

What sets Shamwari apart are the diverse activities it offers — from an educational rhino awareness center to a big cat sanctuary, along with field guide courses and conservation volunteer opportunities.

With dedicated child-centric activities and exclusive access for guests at their plush lodges and Edwardian manor house, Shamwari stands out as a top family safari destination in South Africa.

We can provide a range of safari packages to cater to every visitor's preferences. Whether you're seeking a romantic getaway, a family-friendly adventure, or a photographic-focused safari, you can find a package that suits your needs. Contact one of our specialists to tailor a safari for you.

How Long Should Your Safari Be?

south africa safari

If wildlife is your passion, a week-long safari is enough for a first-timer. Just pick your top two or three game-viewing spots in the country to make the most of your time. If you want to stay longer, you might like to mix in some beach time or a city visit.

Yet, if this is your lifelong bucket list dream and you probably won't do it again, think about staying longer. But, to keep things relaxed, we'd suggest a maximum of 10–12 nights.

What Is Your Budget for Your Safari?

Safaris are never an inexpensive vacation option. A safari tour is usually an all-inclusive experience, including accommodation, meals, and game activities.

The exact price of a South African safari can vary. Things 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 any extra stuff, such as spa days or cultural visits, can all change the price.

We can, however, give you a rough idea of the costs in high season for reference:

  • 3-star comfort: 500–600 USD per person per night
  • 4-star luxury: 600–800 USD per person per night
  • 5-star luxury: 1,000–2,000 USD per person per night

It is not impossible to lower the costs... National parks and their properties are usually much cheaper than those in private game reserves, and low season is cheaper than high season.

At Global Highlights, we are ready to tailor-make a safari that matches your budget and personal travel wishes.

south africa safari

How Will You Get to Your Safari Destination?

The primary national gateways to embarking on a South African safari are O.R. Tambo International Airport (near Johannesburg) and Cape Town International Airport.

From there, depending on your specific safari destination, you have the options to self-drive, book a private transfer, travel by airplane, catch a scheduled flight, or hop on a chartered flight to reach your chosen spot.

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