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Our Ultimate Safari Guide to South Africa

Author: Lauren Curd

The southernmost African country on the continent, South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation due to its melting pot of cultures, people, natural wonders and wildlife. Brought into international fame by Nelson Mandela during Apartheid, South Africa is more than its turbulent past, acting as more of a worldly destination centred in one country. With a varied terrain, natural beauty and ecosystems, wildlife of all types can be found among the semi desert, mountains, beaches, subtropical rainforests and reserves. The malaria free Eastern Cape is especially popular for families who wish to enjoy a safari, in particular first-time visitors, where you can see the Big 5 as well as many otherspecies that Africa is so famous for.

Hyena in a national park in South Africa

What Makes South Africa Unique?

A diverse country made up of deserts, luscious gardens and high mountains, South Africa has some spectacular records to its name, including the youngest language (Afrikaans is roughly 90 years old and already the second most spoken in the country), the deepest mines, the world’s largest hospital, and Africa’s largest port.  You can travel from lush rainforest, to a rocky coast and into semi-arid desert all in one day. Take some time to admire the spectacularscenery with a self drive holiday if you can tear yourself away from the national parks and game reserves.

Cheetah in a national park in South Africa

Best Time to Travel?

South Africa is a great year round destination with each season providing a different type of holiday. If it is wildlife that you are keen to see then you will not be disappointed any time of year, but game viewing is best done in the winter months of May to September as the bush is dryer and less dense and animals flock to the watering holes. When rainy spring comes in October, the ground becomes wetter and the animals scatter as there is more opportunity for food and water, and photo opportunities are superb. In the summer months of December to February, there’s a great chance to see newborns plus the predators and scavengers that they attract.  On the south coast, the famous Garden Route’sRoute’s spring blooms flourish between August and September while whales return to the coast between July and November (most sightings in September).

Common Warthog in South Africa

Key Areas for Game Viewing

A multitude of wildlife roam the country and not surprisingly, there are a great many opportunities for incredible animal sightings, especially on a safari. In northeast Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest national reserve, you’ll come across the famous Big Five game animals, with chances to see lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros in their family groups. Self drive safaris are a popular alternative to guided game drives here, although first-time visitors may prefer the knowledge of a safari guide to assist them in spotting animals. The Sabi Sands concession sits within the Kruger area and as there are no boundary fences, wildlife is able to roam between freely. The probabilityof a leopard sighting is unusually high in Sabi Sands as the beautiful cats have become accustomed to the safari vehicles travelling around.

Jeep on a game drive travelling along a dusty South African road

Located on the semi-arid plains of northern South Africa and close to the border with Botswana, the rugged Madikwe Game Reserve is home to black and white rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard and is also one of the best places in the country to spot the elusive African wild dog. Shamwari Private Game Reserve is one of the largest and most luxurious private reserves in South Africa, with a range of five star game lodges. Located in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari is just a 45 minute drive from Port Elizabeth and is an ideal extension to a self drive adventure along the Garden Route. The Eastern Cape is home to a number of other game reserves with easy access from the Garden Route, many of which offer off road adventures, walking safaris and night drives to view the Big 5 plus a wide variety of other wonderful species. Options include Kariega, Amakhala, Lalibela, Samara and Kwandwe.

Other Things to Do

South Africa is full of exciting adventures and attractions. Explore Robben Island outside Cape Town – the prison for many of South Africa’s leading politicians during Apartheid and where Nelson Mandela was held for a majority of his sentence. Cape Town itself boasts several key experiences, including a hike around Table Mountain, a stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope as well as zoos, aquariums, museums and parks. Drive through the wine valleys of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and sample the local produce, admire the spectacular scenery in the Drakensburg Mountains and uncover rich history with a visit to the Zulu Battlefields.

Group of Zebras in South Africa

Take one of the best road trips in the world with a journey along the famous Garden Route from Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth and discover its many treasures along the way. Check out the famous Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn, just off of Route 62. Visit Hermanus between June and November where you can spot the Southern Right Whales as they come in to Walker Bay to calve – this is one of the only places in the world that you can whale watch without leaving the dry land.


**This blog post was previously published on Medway Leisure Travel, now trading as Pettitts Travel**

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