For true once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list experiences, look no further than the classic South Africa safari. The Rainbow Nation is home to the iconic Kruger National Park, which is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and contains the Big Five (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo), and many other spectacular safari destinations. If you’re planning wildlife exploration in South Africa for the first time, here’s our unmissable guide on how to prepare…
When to take a South Africa Safari?
Winter (June – August) is generally considered the best time for game viewing. Rainfall is low, and consequently animals gather around waterholes in large numbers, leading to frequent confrontations between predators and prey. But the weather can also be fairly chilly, especially after dark, and of course this is peak season too, so prices and crowds are both high.Summer (Dec – Feb) is a lot (A LOT) warmer, but also often wet. It’s a great season for birdwatching, but due to the rains some roads can be tricky to navigate. Many people choose to go during summer though, as you can get some excellent deals, and there are far fewer other people around.
We recommend October as the best time for wildlife exploration in South Africa. The weather is warming up nicely, but there’s not a great deal of rain yet, and there are plenty of baby animals wandering around too.
Across South Africa wildlife parks there is a wide variety of accommodations available. You might opt for a luxury 5-star lodge, if you can afford it, classic outdoor mobile camps, and more basic, self-catering properties too. But this is one holiday where it is well worth splurging. Start saving early to maximise your experience, whether by investing in a new camera, reserving a room with a hot tub on the balcony and views of the nearby salt lick, or taking a hot air balloon ride followed by an unforgettable bush breakfast. If you’re on honeymoon, you might make your safari a little more special by adding in a luxurious spa experience.
Manage your expectations
It’s important to remember that South Africa wildlife exploration is not all about romance. You’re not guaranteed to see the Big Five, although with a good guide, you may well (see below). Neither are you guaranteed to get the perfect shot, or to find complete isolation at viewpoints. But if you try to live in the moment at all times, you’re sure to have a fabulous time.
It involves some discomfort
A typical game drive will usually involve getting up before dawn, and driving for several hours across often bumpy, dusty terrain. If it’s a hot day, then you’ll need some capacity for endurance. Not a lot happens on a South African safari holiday at midday, due to the hot sun, so opting for an accommodation with a pool is a very good idea.
Don’t just go for the big names
Everyone knows Kruger is amazing, but there are many smaller and lesser-known game reserves in South Africa that offer a more intimate experience. You might need to compromise a little on the quality of the accommodation, the scenery and the type of animals you see, but the experienced safari goer knows that often it’s better to head in the opposite direction to the herd.
A good guide is everything
Check the credentials of the guides with the companies you’re considering very carefully. Experienced, knowledgeable guides can make or break your South Africa wildlife holiday. They can show you to the best viewpoints, educate you about the flora and fauna of the park, ensure you are safe at all times, and see to it that you have a fantastic time.
Key recommendations for what to wear on a safari holiday include clothing that can be layered, so taken off or put on as the weather demands; bringing a wide-brimmed hat, and wearing khaki or green colours that will blend into the environment and not be so noticeable to the animals.
Before departure, it’s vital to check what vaccinations you need for a safari. For instance, malaria is a problem in Kruger National Park. No-one likes getting ill on holiday, but when you’ve paid so much for a safari, and you’re in such an incredible place, it would be 100x worse to be laid up in bed instead of out on a game drive.
Lastly, think about how you can give back to South Africa in return for this amazing experience. You might contribute to a charity supporting the park you’re visiting, or a local community project. Little things go a long way, from raising awareness of conservation issues online, to carrying a refillable water bottle with you, rather than using lots of disposable bottles.