South Africa is the merging point of Mediterranean and subtropical climates, giving rise to diverse flora and fauna. So, it’s not a surprise that the country boasts thrilling wildlife with great diversity. Obviously, one thinks of Kruger National Park when it comes to safari, but there are many siblings of Kruger scattered around the country. You might prefer to visit them because they are more affordable, or because they are closer to Cape Town or other major cities. The decision is yours! Here are our top six game reserve recommendations to check out in South Africa.
ADDO ELEPHANT PARK
Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa
As the name explains clearly, this safari park is abundant in elephants more than anything else. This was done on purpose to bring back the elephant population that was lost during hunting and poaching in the past. Today, the park accommodates more than 500 African elephants (learn more about them here). Don’t worry; you will also get to see other members of the big five as well as zebra, meerkat and thousands of birds. You can do self-driving throughout the park or join guided safari tours. The park is only an hour away from Port Elizabeth, the major port city in the Eastern Cape.
PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
Nearest city: Sun City, South Africa
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the closest safari park to Johannesburg. A visitor of the park describes it as “A smaller and more affordable version of Kruger”. The diversity of wildlife is nothing short of Kruger since the vegetation both boasts features of dry Kalahari and subtropical lush forests. In fact, it can be easier to spot the big 5 with the right timing and a bit of luck. The place also has unique rock formations due to the remains of a dormant alkaline volcanic crater. Making it an excellent spot for capturing scenic photographs or landscape paintings.
MAPUNGUBWE NATIONAL PARK
Location: Limpopo, South Africa
Mapungubwe is not just your regular safari park, but it’s also one with significant historical value. Excavations and archaeological research suggested signs of hunter-gatherer San heritage dating back to 300 000 years ago. This UNESCO Heritage site has accommodated many clans of hunter-gatherer San people and Bantu tribes who were farmers so you can find a trace of both of them in the park. The wildlife is also not to be underestimated since the region receives mass migrations of animals from bordering countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe. Another highlight of the park is the population of baobab trees that are extremely rare to see in South Africa.
HLUHLUWE UMFOLOZI PARK
Location: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The black rhino is one of the most demanded and attractive animals among the tourists visiting South Africa; however, there are also white rhinos in the country. It is not easy to spot them unless you are in KZN. As the oldest established game park in South Africa and the only one in KZN that includes big 5, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is one of the biggest hidden gems of South Africa. The big 5 and various other animals aside, it constitutes the vast majority of white rhinos in South Africa that are facing the threat of extinction. The activities in the park are endless from boat tours to hiking trails, from walking tours to 4×4 safari tours. Last but not least, make sure to look out for cheetah, wild dog and nyala species.
KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK
Location: Kgalagadi District, Botswana
The Kgalagadi park is situated right at the northwestern tip of South Africa. Likewise, it extends across Namibia and Botswana with a total of 3.6 million hectares. It is an enormous stretch of wilderness worth exploring. The arid climate of Kalahari and the abundance of iconic red sand dunes make the area very suitable for antelopes, so you will probably see an unusual amount of them. The best part is – as long as your entry and exit are through the same gate – you don’t need your passport or an additional visa to enter the park. The wildlife consists of herbivores such as wildebeest, springbok and eland. You’ll likely encounter the bat-eared fox, meerkat, and several species of birds and raptors. The sand dunes will be your biggest guides as they help you with predator watching by providing panoramic views.
SABI SANDS GAME RESERVE
Location: Mpumalanga, South Africa
If you don’t feel like going on a quest to find the big 5 on your own, this is the place. Many people who visit Kruger Park are not aware of the existence of this exclusive safari park right under their nose. The game lodges in the park and the guided tours offer the best options for spotting animals instantly. There are no fences between Sabi Sands and Kruger, so you definitely won’t be missing out on the wonders of Kruger National Park. Sabi Sands is also known for its extremely high leopard population.