A safari in South Africa takes you on an unparalleled journey through the most mysterious and dense jungles of the world. Whether you chase the Big Five in speedy jeeps, track wild animals through thick jungles on foot, ride alongside majestic elephants, or tame the skies with a hot air balloon ride over herds of fearless fauna, you’ll encounter such joy of watching the wild in their natural habitat as never before.
If you're looking for a Big Five safari experience in South Africa, you can go to almost any province, but the Kruger National Park, which stretches across the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, remains iconic and most impressive for the big five (lion, leopard, black or white rhino, African elephant and Cape buffalo. Skukuza Airport sits within Kruger National Park and is an hour’s flight away from Joburg. However, having said that numerous Game Reserves provide the safari experience aside from Kruger National Park. You can visit Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg and Entabeni all closer to Johannesburg, or one of the many reserves in the Eastern Cape or Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Steeped in legend and history, the iconic Kruger National Park in South Africa is waiting for you to explore its vast landscapes and spectacular African wildlife.
The Big Five abound and flourish in the park, and you can see them by self-drive, guided drives or guided walks through the bushveld so prepare to be awed.
Whether it is spotting a leopard dozing in the bough of a tree, a black rhino half-hidden in thick shrubs, finding a pride of lions in the shade after a kill, or watching a large herd of elephants or Cape buffalo move soundlessly across the road – these moments will leave a permanent imprint on your soul.
However, when on safari always remember that you're dealing with wild animals and that you're in their territory. There are rules of engagement relating to Big Five safaris in South Africa so ensure you heed the words of your ranger at all times.
Accommodation for Big Five safaris in Mpumalanga is either within the Kruger National Park or in the neighbouring private reserves such as Sabi Sand (which has the highest density of leopards in the world), Timbavati and Klaserie. Some lodges pride themselves on showing the Big Five to guests in record time, and you'll even walk away with a certificate.
WHEN TO GO
Winter (June to September) is ideal, as many trees and shrubs are leafless which aids wildlife spotting. Limited food and water means that animals are often out foraging, hunting or drinking at waterholes. South Africa's summer (December to February) sees the countryside at its most lush, but it can be hard to see animals in the dense shadows. This time of year also means a lot of European holiday makers, who come in herds for the hot temperatures.
DRIVE OR FLY?
You can fly close to Kruger National Park, connecting from Cape Town or Johannesburg, which is great if you are pressed for time. Most other parks and reserves are also well served by local flights and you can get your resort or lodge to handle your transfers. But if you can afford the time, driving in South Africa is extremely rewarding. Outside of the parks and reserves you will find spectacular natural beauty, wine regions and all manner of interesting small towns and cultural attractions.
BRING THE RIGHT GEAR
Dawn safaris during the winter can be surprisingly cold in and around Kruger; layers (even gloves and a warm hat) can be shed as the sun and temperature go up. Binoculars are an obvious choice – a compact pair will let you spot that big cat skulking in the distance.
You should be ready to simply let loose and relax. Take time to appreciate the beauty of a deserted waterhole reflecting the vast South African sky.
With an abundance of activities and full range of lodging styles from five-star and boutique hotels to luxury tented camps and world class spas, South Africa is an excellent choice for both the independent traveller as well as family
A fun fact: two-thirds of South Africa is surrounded by a coastline, so if you turn your gaze towards the ocean, you see the additions to our big 5 that make it the big 7: Southern Right whales and Great White sharks.
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