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What’s It Like To Go On Safari In South Africa?


by Rayna Yount



Embarking on a safari in South Africa is an experience unlike any other. From the vast plains teeming with wildlife to the dramatic landscapes that stretch endlessly into the horizon, the country offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the beauty and wonder of the African wilderness.


South Africa is renowned for its rich and diverse wildlife. The iconic Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos – call this land home, along with a multitude of other fascinating species. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking an adventurous escape, a safari in South Africa will leave you awe-struck.


With its numerous national parks and game reserves, South Africa offers a range of safari experiences to suit every traveler’s preference. From luxurious lodges to rustic tented camps, the accommodations provide a comfortable base from which to explore the wild. Guided game drives, bush walks, and even hot air balloon rides allow visitors to get up close and personal with the incredible wildlife.


But a safari isn’t just about the wildlife. South Africa is a land of cultural diversity and rich history. Interacting with the local communities and learning about their way of life is an integral part of the safari experience. Be it visiting a traditional village, enjoying a traditional dance performance, or trying out local cuisine, the cultural encounters add a memorable dimension to your safari adventure.


Conservation and sustainability are at the heart of South Africa’s safari industry. The country’s commitment to protecting its wildlife and habitats is evident in the conservation initiatives undertaken by private reserves and national parks. Many safari lodges actively contribute to conservation efforts and offer opportunities to learn about the importance of preserving these precious ecosystems.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the various aspects of going on a safari in South Africa. From the mesmerizing wildlife to the different types of safari experiences available, we will guide you through the essentials of planning an unforgettable adventure in this captivating country.


Wildlife of South Africa

The wildlife of South Africa is incredibly diverse, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. The country is home to an array of iconic species, including the renowned Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos. But it doesn’t stop there; South Africa boasts an impressive variety of other fascinating animals, from graceful giraffes to elusive cheetahs, playful zebras to majestic hippos.


One of the best places to spot wildlife in South Africa is Kruger National Park, which spans over 19,000 square kilometers and is considered one of the largest game reserves on the continent. The park is a haven for wildlife, with over 140 mammal species, 500 bird species, and numerous reptiles and amphibians.


Another popular wildlife destination is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. This park is known for its successful rhino conservation efforts and is one of the best places to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Additionally, visitors can spot a variety of other animals, including lions, elephants, zebras, and an abundance of birdlife.


The country also offers marine wildlife encounters along its pristine coastlines. The coastal town of Hermanus is renowned as one of the best places in the world for land-based whale watching. From June to November, southern right whales migrate to the area, providing spectacular displays of breaching and tail-slapping.


South Africa’s diverse ecosystems support a wide range of habitats, from the arid deserts of the Kalahari to the lush wetlands of the Okavango Delta. This diversity allows for an extensive variety of flora and fauna, ensuring that each safari experience is unique and full of surprises.


Exploring the wildlife of South Africa is not limited to the national parks and game reserves. Many private reserves offer exclusive safari experiences, providing opportunities to spot wildlife without the crowds. These reserves often have strict conservation practices in place, ensuring the protection and sustainability of the natural environment.


Whether you’re on a guided game drive or a walking safari, the chance to encounter South Africa’s incredible wildlife is an experience that will leave a lasting impression. The country’s commitment to conservation ensures that future generations will also have the privilege of witnessing the wonders of its wildlife.


National Parks and Game Reserves

South Africa is blessed with an impressive array of national parks and game reserves, offering visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the country’s natural wonders. These protected areas provide habitats for a diverse range of wildlife and serve as crucial conservation areas.


Kruger National Park is undoubtedly the crown jewel of South Africa’s national parks. Spanning over 19,000 square kilometers, it is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. Kruger is home to an astonishing variety of animals, including the Big Five, as well as over 500 bird species and numerous reptiles and mammals. Guided game drives and self-drive options allow visitors to explore the park’s vast wilderness at their own pace.


Another popular destination is the Addo Elephant National Park, located in the Eastern Cape. As its name suggests, it is known for its large elephant population, providing incredible opportunities to witness these gentle giants up close. In addition to elephants, the park is home to a variety of other animals, including rhinos, lions, buffalos, and several antelope species.


For those seeking a more exclusive and intimate safari experience, private game reserves are an excellent option. Reserves such as Sabi Sands, Timbavati, and Madikwe offer luxury accommodations and curated safari experiences that emphasize conservation and sustainability. These reserves often have less restrictive rules, allowing off-road access for closer wildlife encounters.


The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, located in the Kalahari Desert, straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana. It is renowned for its unique desert landscape and is home to a significant population of large predators, including lions, cheetahs, and leopards. The park offers a chance to experience the beauty of the arid wilderness and witness the adaptability of its wildlife.


Other notable national parks and game reserves in South Africa include the Pilanesberg National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Each of these areas showcases its own distinct ecosystem and wildlife, providing diverse and captivating safari experiences.


When planning a safari in South Africa, it is essential to research and choose the national park or game reserve that aligns with your interests and preferences. Whether you prefer the convenience and amenities of a national park or the exclusivity of a private reserve, each of these protected areas promises an unforgettable adventure amidst the captivating African wilderness.


Choosing a Safari Experience

When it comes to choosing a safari experience in South Africa, there are several factors to consider in order to ensure a memorable and fulfilling adventure. From the type of accommodation to the activities offered, each decision plays a role in shaping your safari experience.


One of the first considerations is the type of accommodation you prefer. South Africa offers a range of options, from luxury lodges to rustic tented camps. If you value comfort and amenities, a luxury lodge is the way to go. These lodges provide spacious accommodations, gourmet meals, and often feature private plunge pools and spa facilities. On the other hand, if you’re seeking a more authentic and immersive experience, a tented camp allows you to get closer to nature while still enjoying essential comforts.


Another factor to consider is the location of the safari experience. South Africa’s national parks, such as Kruger and Addo Elephant National Park, provide incredible opportunities to spot wildlife in their natural habitats. These parks offer a more traditional safari experience with guided game drives and the chance to see a wide variety of animals. Private reserves, such as Sabi Sands and Timbavati, offer a more exclusive and intimate safari experience, often with fewer vehicles and more flexibility in game viewing.


The duration of your safari should also be taken into account. Safaris can range from a few days to a week or more, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the wildlife and landscapes of South Africa. A longer safari provides more opportunities to explore different areas of the park or reserve, increasing the chances of encountering rare wildlife sightings and experiencing a variety of ecosystems.


If you have specific wildlife interests, such as bird watching or tracking a particular animal, it is important to choose a safari experience that caters to your interests. Some reserves specialize in birding safaris, with expert guides who can help you spot and identify a wide variety of bird species. Others may focus on tracking and observing specific animals, such as cheetahs or wild dogs.


Lastly, consider the activities offered during your safari. In addition to game drives, many lodges and reserves provide guided bush walks, where you can explore the wilderness on foot under the guidance of experienced rangers. There are also opportunities for night drives, allowing you to witness the nocturnal activities of the wildlife.


Ultimately, choosing a safari experience in South Africa is a personal decision based on your preferences, interests, and budget. Whether you prefer a luxury lodge or a tented camp, a national park or a private reserve, the most important thing is to ensure that your safari experience allows you to connect with nature, witness incredible wildlife, and create lifelong memories.


Accommodations on Safari

When embarking on a safari adventure in South Africa, where you rest your head at night is an integral part of the experience. The country offers a range of accommodation options, each providing a unique blend of comfort, luxury, and immersion in nature.


One of the most popular choices for safari accommodations is a luxury lodge. These lodges offer spacious and well-appointed rooms or suites with modern amenities. They often feature private decks or balconies where you can relax and soak in the sights and sounds of the surrounding wilderness. Many lodges also provide impressive dining experiences, offering a fusion of local and international cuisine.


Tented camps provide a more authentic and immersive safari experience. These camps are designed with canvas walls and roofs, giving you a closer connection to the natural environment. Comfortable beds, en-suite bathrooms, and cozy furnishings ensure a restful stay. Tented camps range from basic and rustic to luxurious and lavish, allowing you to choose the level of comfort that suits your preferences.


For those seeking a more exclusive and intimate experience, private villas or suites within a lodge are an excellent option. These accommodations often feature private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and personalized services. Staying in a private villa allows for true privacy and seclusion, creating a sense of being in your own private wilderness retreat.


Many safari accommodations in South Africa are designed with eco-conscious principles in mind. Sustainable practices, such as solar power, recycling programs, and the use of locally sourced materials, are prioritized. Some lodges even have their own vegetable gardens, providing fresh and organic produce for meals.


Regardless of the type of accommodation you choose, most safari experiences include all-inclusive packages. This means that your meals, game drives, and often additional activities are included in the overall cost. Some lodges even offer special extras, such as spa treatments, bush picnics, or sundowner drinks in scenic locations.


It is worth noting that safari accommodations tend to blend into their natural surroundings, offering stunning views and a peaceful ambiance. From lodge verandas overlooking watering holes to tented camps nestled amidst the trees, you can often witness wildlife right from your doorstep.


Choosing the right accommodation on your safari is crucial in ensuring a comfortable and memorable experience. Consider your preferences for luxury, authenticity, and privacy, as well as your budget, when making your selection. Whichever option you choose, rest assured that your accommodations will provide a cozy haven amidst the untamed beauty of the South African wilderness.


Typical Safari Itinerary

A typical safari itinerary in South Africa is designed to provide a well-rounded and immersive wildlife experience. While specific itineraries may vary depending on the destination and duration of the safari, there are several common elements that you can expect.


Day 1: Arrival and Orientation


Upon arrival at the designated airport, you will be greeted by your safari guide or lodge representative who will escort you to your accommodation. After settling in, you will receive a briefing on the safari schedule, safety guidelines, and any specific information about the area you will be exploring.


Day 2-3: Morning and Afternoon Game Drives


The core of a safari experience lies in the game drives. These drives take place in open-roofed vehicles and are led by experienced guides who are knowledgeable about the wildlife and the landscape. Morning game drives usually begin just before sunrise when the animals are most active. After a few hours, you will return to your lodge for breakfast and leisure time before embarking on an afternoon game drive, which typically ends with a stunning sunset.


Day 4: Bush Walk and Cultural Experience


Some safari itineraries include a guided bush walk, providing an opportunity to explore the wilderness on foot. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, you will learn about the smaller details of the ecosystem, such as plants, tracks, and birdlife. In the afternoon, you may have the chance to participate in a cultural experience, such as visiting a local village or witnessing a traditional dance performance.


Day 5-6: Full-day Game Drives and Optional Activities


For a more immersive experience, some itineraries include a full-day game drive where you set out early in the morning and explore different parts of the reserve or national park throughout the day. These drives often include a packed lunch enjoyed in a scenic spot, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the wilderness. Alternatively, you may have the option to participate in additional activities such as birdwatching, hot air balloon rides, or guided hikes, depending on the location and availability.


Day 7: Departure


On your final day, after one last game drive or activity, you will say goodbye to the incredible wildlife and depart from your lodge or camp. Depending on your departure time, you may have the opportunity to enjoy a final breakfast before being transferred to the airport or your next destination.


It’s important to note that this itinerary is a general guideline, and the actual schedule may vary depending on the specific lodge or reserve you choose, as well as the duration of your safari. The goal of a typical safari itinerary is to maximize your opportunities for wildlife sightings while also allowing time for relaxation and cultural experiences. The wildlife encounters during a South African safari are often unpredictable and can vary from day to day, making each safari experience truly unique and exciting.


Activities on Safari

Going on a safari in South Africa is not just about game drives and wildlife sightings. It offers a plethora of activities that allow you to immerse yourself in the unique beauty of the African wilderness. From exploring the landscape on foot to observing wildlife from a hot air balloon, there are numerous ways to enhance your safari experience.


Game Drives: The quintessential activity on a safari is the game drive. Led by experienced guides, these drives take you deep into the heart of national parks and game reserves, offering opportunities to spot a wide variety of wildlife. Whether it’s tracking the elusive leopard or witnessing a herd of elephants crossing a river, every game drive is an adventure filled with discovery.


Bush Walks: For a more intimate experience with nature, guided bush walks allow you to explore the hidden gems of the wilderness on foot. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, you’ll learn about animal tracks, spot interesting plants, and gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the ecosystem.


Hot Air Balloon Rides: Taking to the skies in a hot air balloon provides a unique perspective of the African landscape. Drifting silently over vast plains and sweeping vistas, you can witness the awakening of the wildlife below as the sun rises. It’s an exhilarating and peaceful experience that offers breathtaking panoramic views.


Birdwatching: South Africa is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with an abundance of species fluttering through its diverse habitats. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a novice enthusiast, many safari lodges and guides offer specialized birdwatching excursions to help you spot and identify a variety of avian species.


Cultural Encounters: South Africa is a country rich in cultural diversity, and many safari experiences include opportunities to engage with the local communities. You may have the chance to visit a traditional village, learn about their customs and traditions, witness traditional dances, or even participate in traditional cooking demonstrations.


Night Drives: Discover a different side of the African wilderness on a night drive. Equipped with spotlights, these guided excursions offer a glimpse into the nocturnal activities of the wildlife. You might come across elusive predators on the hunt or encounter smaller creatures that are rarely seen during the day.


Photography Workshops: For photography enthusiasts, some lodges and reserves offer specialized photography workshops led by professional wildlife photographers. These workshops provide valuable tips and techniques to capture stunning images of the wildlife and landscapes during your safari.


Sundowners and Bush Dinners: As the day draws to a close, many safari experiences include the tradition of sundowners – enjoying a refreshing drink and snacks while basking in the beauty of a scenic spot. Some lodges also offer the opportunity to dine under the stars in the bush, creating an unforgettable culinary experience.


Spa and Wellness: After exhilarating game drives, you can unwind and rejuvenate with spa treatments and wellness activities offered by many safari lodges. Relax with a massage, practice yoga in nature, or simply enjoy the tranquility of being surrounded by the sights and sounds of the African bush.


It’s important to note that not all activities are included in every safari package, and availability may vary depending on the specific lodge or reserve you choose. However, these activities provide a glimpse into the diverse range of experiences available during a safari in South Africa. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, cultural immersion, or the thrill of wildlife encounters, there’s something for everyone on a South African safari.


Wildlife Sightings

A safari in South Africa offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife sightings, allowing you to witness the incredible diversity of species in their natural habitats. From the iconic Big Five to a multitude of other fascinating creatures, each wildlife sighting is a moment of awe and wonder.


The Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos – are the most sought-after sightings on a safari. South Africa is home to large populations of these magnificent animals, particularly in renowned national parks such as Kruger and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. Seeing a lion prowling through the grass, observing a herd of elephants bathing in a watering hole, or witnessing a rhino peacefully grazing are experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.


In addition to the Big Five, South Africa is home to an array of other incredible wildlife. Cheetahs, known for their incredible speed, can be spotted in game reserves such as the Phinda Private Game Reserve. Giraffes, with their long necks and graceful movements, can be seen wandering through the savannah in various parks and reserves across the country.


The African wild dog, also known as the painted wolf, is a highly endangered species and spotting one in the wild is a rare and thrilling experience. Places like Madikwe Game Reserve and the Greater Kruger area offer some of the best chances to encounter these unique and social creatures.


The diverse birdlife of South Africa is another highlight of a safari. From the vibrant plumage of lilac-breasted rollers to the majestic African fish eagle, the country boasts a rich variety of avian species. Birdwatchers will be delighted by sightings of hornbills, kingfishers, and colorful sunbirds, among others.


South Africa’s marine wildlife is equally captivating. Along the coast, the chance to see Southern Right whales breaching and fluking is an awe-inspiring experience. Hermanus, known as the whale-watching capital of the country, offers land-based whale watching opportunities during the annual migration season.


It’s important to keep in mind that wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, as animals roam freely and their behaviors are influenced by various factors. However, the skills and knowledge of experienced guides make it more likely for visitors to witness the wonders of the South African wildlife. Patience, timing, and a bit of luck all play a part in enhancing the chances of encountering these magnificent animals in their natural habitats.


Remember, a successful safari isn’t just about ticking off a checklist of species. It’s about immersing yourself in the beauty of the African wilderness, appreciating all the intricate interactions and details of the ecosystem, and fostering a deeper connection with nature. Each wildlife sighting is a precious moment, a glimpse into the enchanting world that South Africa’s vast and diverse landscapes have to offer.


Cultural Experiences

A safari in South Africa is not only an opportunity to witness the incredible wildlife but also a chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and rich heritage of this diverse country. From interacting with local communities to partaking in traditional ceremonies, cultural experiences add a unique dimension to your safari adventure.


Visiting a traditional village allows you to gain insight into the everyday lives of local communities. Guided tours provide an opportunity to learn about their customs, traditions, and daily routines. You may have the chance to meet village elders, participate in traditional activities such as cooking or crafting, and learn about the challenges and successes of community life.


Attending a traditional dance performance is a lively and captivating cultural experience. These performances showcase the rhythm, movement, and vibrant costumes of various cultural groups, such as Zulu, Xhosa, or Ndebele. The dances often tell stories of heritage, history, and local legends, offering a glimpse into the rich traditions that have been passed down through generations.


South Africa’s cuisine is a reflection of its diverse cultural heritage. Trying out local dishes and flavors is an essential part of the cultural experience. Whether it’s indulging in a hearty South African braai (barbecue), sampling traditional Xhosa dishes like amasi (sour milk) or samp (maize), or enjoying a Cape Malay curry, the country’s culinary offerings provide a sensory journey through its history and people.


Art and craft markets offer an opportunity to support local artisans and bring home a piece of South African culture. From hand-carved wooden sculptures to vibrant beadwork and intricate basketry, these markets showcase the creativity and craftsmanship of local communities. Engaging with artisans and learning about the stories behind their creations adds depth and meaning to the souvenirs you take home.


Some lodges and reserves offer cultural interaction programs as part of their safari experiences. This may include guided visits to community projects or partnerships that aim to uplift local communities through education, healthcare, or sustainable development initiatives. These programs provide a chance to make a positive impact and contribute to the well-being of the communities you encounter during your safari.


Engaging in cultural experiences not only enriches your understanding of South Africa’s diverse heritage but also fosters a deeper connection with the people and places you encounter during your safari. It allows you to appreciate the challenges and triumphs of the local communities, celebrating the resilience and vibrancy that make up the fabric of South African society.


Remember to approach cultural experiences with respect and an open mind, embracing the opportunity to learn and connect with individuals who have different backgrounds and perspectives. By engaging with the people and traditions of South Africa, you’ll gain a richer understanding of the country and forge meaningful connections that will stay with you long after your safari adventure ends.


Conservation and Sustainability

Conservation and sustainability are at the forefront of South Africa’s safari industry. With a deep commitment to protecting its natural resources, the country has implemented various initiatives to ensure the preservation of its wildlife and habitats for future generations.


One of the key conservation efforts in South Africa is the establishment and management of national parks and game reserves. These protected areas provide safe havens for a wide range of wildlife, allowing them to thrive in their natural habitats. Strict regulations are in place to control human impact and maintain the delicate balance of these ecosystems.


Private reserves also contribute significantly to conservation efforts in South Africa. Many of these reserves work closely with local communities to create sustainable tourism models that prioritize both the needs of the environment and the well-being of local people. Revenue generated from tourism is invested in conservation projects, anti-poaching efforts, and community development initiatives.


Advocacy for the protection of endangered species is a crucial component of conservation in South Africa. Efforts are focused on combatting the illegal wildlife trade, particularly regarding rhinos and elephants threatened by poaching. Conservation organizations work tirelessly to raise awareness, increase security measures, and develop innovative conservation strategies to safeguard these vulnerable species.


Sustainable practices are integrated into many safari lodges and camps throughout the country. Energy conservation measures, such as solar power and energy-efficient lighting, are implemented to minimize the ecological footprint. Waste management systems and recycling programs are in place to ensure that the natural environment is not adversely affected by human activities.


The collaboration between conservation organizations, local communities, and the tourism industry has led to the development of responsible tourism practices. Safari operators prioritize ethical and low-impact tourism experiences that minimize disturbance to wildlife and habitats. They promote sustainable practices among visitors, such as minimizing plastic waste, supporting local economies, and respecting the natural environment and cultural sensitivities.


Education and awareness programs are vital in ensuring the long-term success of conservation efforts. Many lodges and reserves offer educational experiences, including guided nature walks, talks by local experts, and visits to conservation centers, providing visitors with a deeper understanding of the importance of conservation and the role they can play in preserving the natural heritage of South Africa.


By choosing to go on a safari in South Africa, you are supporting and contributing to these conservation and sustainability initiatives. Your visit helps generate revenue that is reinvested in protecting wildlife, supporting local communities, and preserving the country’s precious ecosystems. Together, we can continue to safeguard the incredible biodiversity and natural beauty that makes South Africa a premier destination for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers.



A safari in South Africa is an unforgettable experience that offers a perfect blend of adventure, wildlife, culture, and conservation. The country’s diverse landscapes, rich wildlife, and vibrant cultural heritage make it a premier destination for nature enthusiasts and travelers seeking an immersive and impactful journey.


From the iconic Big Five to the countless other fascinating species that call South Africa home, the wildlife sightings on a safari are nothing short of remarkable. Each game drive provides an opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world and gain a deeper understanding of the intricate ecosystems that support it.


But a safari in South Africa is not just about wildlife. Engaging with local communities, experiencing traditional dances, enjoying local cuisine, and supporting sustainable initiatives provide a cultural perspective and a deeper connection to the people and places you encounter during your journey.


Conservation and sustainability are core principles that underpin South Africa’s safari industry. The country’s commitment to protecting its natural resources, combatting poaching, and promoting responsible tourism ensures that generations to come can also experience the wonders of its biodiversity.


As you venture into the South African wilderness, you support and contribute to these conservation efforts. Your presence not only provides economic benefits to local communities but also raises awareness about the importance of preserving these incredible ecosystems.


Whether you choose to stay in a luxurious lodge overlooking a watering hole or explore the wilderness on foot during a guided bush walk, each aspect of a safari in South Africa is carefully designed to provide a memorable and enriching experience.


So embark on your South African safari, where adventure and discovery await around every corner. Witness the majesty of African wildlife, immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, and contribute to the conservation and sustainability of this remarkable land. Allow yourself to be captivated by the beauty of South Africa as it leaves an indelible mark on your heart and soul.