The Sanbona Reserve and the Shamwari Reserve are both excellent wildlife reserves in South Africa. Both Sanbona and Shamwari Reserve contain the Big 5 and both have very strong conservation and restoration goals. As both of these excellent wildlife reserves also offer a premium safari in a choice of different luxury lodges, do you choose the Sanbona or Shamwari Wildlife Reserve?
Here, we will mention the similarities and also the differences between these reserves to help you make the best choice for your safari.
First, let’s have an introduction to both reserves…
The Shamwari Wildlife Reserve
Founded in 1990, the main objective of the Shamwari Wildlife Reserve was to recover the wildlife diversity and environment that once existed on the Eastern Cape before the arrival of Europeans.
The Shamwari Reserve covers 25,000 hectares of savanna, thicket, and woodland habitat, and is accessed from the city of Port Elizabeth.
Home to the Big 5, enjoy spotting the lions, rhino, elephants, Cape buffalo, and leopards, but also many others. The wildlife here now represents the highest concentration of animals on the Eastern and Southern Cape.
Other animals you can spot on safari include kudu and other antelopes, hippo, cheetah, giraffes, and many birds. Some of the favorite birds to spot are the pale chanting goshawks, booted eagles, black shouldered kites, and secretary birds.
The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve was founded in 1998 and now stretches over 54,000 hectares of desert-like wilderness. Following the objectives of the Shamwari Reserve above, the Sanbona Reserve was established to help restore the animals and plants that lived here before the arrival of Europeans.
The Sanbona Reserve is located on the Western Cape and accessed from South Africa’s attractive city of Cape Town. The area of the reserve is known as the Little Karoo.
Within the Sanbona Reserve, you can find all members of the Big 5 and many more examples of African wildlife. Enjoy spotting elephants, lions, rhino, cheetah, buffalo, and different antelope on safari tours within the reserve.
In addition to the iconic African wildlife, the reserve is home to many other attractions. Enjoy many different mammals, but also the hundreds of birds, fascinating plants, and the beautiful scenery. In addition to the terrestrial features, this is one of the best places in South Africa to see the constellations. Head out on night tours or simply observe the stunning beauty of the Milky Way from the comfort of your suite.
Differences in Environment & Wildlife
Although both the Shamwari Reserve and Sanbona Reserve are located in South Africa, they both protect different environments. They are also different in size and landscape.
Let’s have a look at the differences in environment and wildlife for the Shamwari Reserve and Sanbona Reserve.
With 25,000 hectares of savanna, thicket, and woodland habitats, the Shamwari Reserve is more environmentally diverse than Sanbona. The reserve also contains more iconic habitat you may imagine when picturing an African safari.
Within the Shamwari Game Reserve, you can find the Bushman’s River. On visits near the river, you’re likely to spot elephants, different birds, and other animals coming to drink. The river can be seen from a number of the different lodges within the reserve and is a great place for birding.
The wildlife in Shamwari is at a higher concentration than the Sanbona Reserve. Shamwari is the best choice if your interest is seeing as many of the large iconic African animals as possible. The Shamwari Reserve contains one of the highest concentrations of large wildlife in the country. If you want to see all members of the Big 5 for example on a short stay, we recommend the Shamwari Reserve.
The Sanbona Reserves is twice the size of Shamwari at 54,000 hectares of desert-like wilderness. Although a less diverse habitat, this was the environment of the San people, a nomadic group of hunter gatherers.
Although having a lower concentration of large iconic wildlife, the landscape is a fantastic place to relax while spotting some of the different African icons wandering through the reserve. There are also some different animals and plants here than Shamwari. In addition to the beautiful landscape and wildlife, enjoy visiting sites of ancient rock art from the area’s historic inhabitants.
The Sanbona Reserve also includes the vast and impressive Bellair Dam, which makes it easier to spot some different wildlife. Enjoy finding some of the Big 5 and also the many hippos. The Bellair Dam is also a fantastic area for birding with over 40 species spotted in this one area.
With a different environment, you will also see different wildlife here than in Shamwari. A population of riverine rabbits that only live in the Little Karoo was discovered in 2006 and there are many other smaller animals to find.
Tours & Excursions
As the reserves are home to some different attractions, each one has a few different tours and activities.
From the Shamwari Reserve lodges, you can enjoy some different activities in the reserve. The main excursions are on game drives to scout the reserve for the different animals with particular focus on the the Big 5 and iconic wildlife. In addition to the game drives, enjoy birdwatching tours, choose family safaris, photo safaris, and visits to the different rehabilitations centers and sanctuaries within the reserve.
In addition to the game drives and various sanctuaries, you can add on a stay at the Shamwari Explorer Camp. The camp provides walking safaris and a very comfortable camping experience in the Shamwari Reserve.
The different accommodation options in the Sanbona Reserve offer some excellent tours to spot the reserve’s incredible wildlife, landscapes, and other attractions. A significant part of the experience are the game drives to explore the Sanbona environment for some of the iconic African animals. However, there are a few more exploration options offered in Sanbona than in the Shamwari Reserve.
In addition to the game drives through Sanbona Reserve, you can enjoy birding excursions, walking tours, and even cruises on the Bellair Dam to spot the hippos, water-living wildlife, and large mammals at the water’s edge. The walking tours are one of the favorite excursions, as you can feel the exhilaration of this landscape in the footsteps of the original explorers. You will also visit the areas home to ancient rock art from the San people who once inhabited this environment.
In addition to the walking tours offered from the various accommodation options, you can also add a camping and exploring experience at the Sanbona Explorer Camp.
Both of the Sanbona Reserve and Shamwari Reserve are excellent choices for an African safari for single visitors, couples, groups, and families. They also offer some great options for families with young children. Both the Sanbona and Shamwari Reserve have some lodges designed around families. Each reserve also offers some additional activities and facilities for kids.
Shamwari Reserve For Families
The Shamwari Reserve provides some specific family safaris to help teach adults and children alike the importance of conservation, while offering a luxury getaway. Although children under 4 are not permitted on game drives themselves, the Riverdene Family Lodge and Sarili Lodge offer an extra child minding service. Both of these lodges offer a swimming pool with shallow children’s area and some additional features.
The Riverdene Family Lodge
The Riverdene Family Lodge offers family accommodation in the Shamwari Game Reserve. The lodge offers luxury accommodation, delicious cuisine, spacious living areas, and fantastic views.
As family accommodation, the Riverdene Family Lodge provides 9 luxury inter-leading rooms. These can accommodate two adults sharing with one child. Suite features include air conditioning, en-suite bathroom with separate shower, private patio, and WiFi. Other facilities include a rim-flow swimming pool with children’s shallow area, a children’s supervised play room & jungle gym, a boma overlooking the Bushman’s River, a bar / lounge, and both indoor and alfresco dining areas.
From the lodge, you will then enjoy game drives to explore the Shamwari Reserve searching for the Big 5 and other iconic African animals. Spot lions, cheetah, elephants, rhino, birds of prey, kingfishers, and enjoy the beautiful reserve landscapes.
The Sarili Lodge
Another family lodge for the Shamwari Reserve, the Sarili Lodge is located on the Bushman’s River and provides some fantastic river views. The spacious deck area is especially a great area to enjoy breakfast or dinner while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Another luxury-class lodge, enjoy very comfortable suites accommodating two adults with balconies overlooking the river. All suites offer underfloor heating, air conditioning, and en-suite bathrooms with separate showers. Sarili Lodge facilities then include a heated swimming pool with shallow area for children, a lounge area with satellite TV, WiFi, and indoor and outdoor dining areas.
From the Sarili Lodge, enjoy game drives through the reserve scouting for the Big 5 and other wildlife. Tours offer fantastic wildlife, beautiful scenery, and also visits to the different sanctuaries inside Shamwari Reserve.
The Sanbona Reserve For Families
Sanbona Reserve also offers an excellent family safari in luxury accommodation. As with the Shamwari Reserve, children under 4 are not permitted on the game drives themselves. However, there are some interesting children’s activities in Sanbona Reserve at the Gondwana Family Lodge.
The Gondwana Family Lodge
The Gondwana Family Lodge offers a luxurious family lodge in the Sanbona Reserve. Styled as a traditional thatched Karoo homestead, the Gondwana Family Lodge provides large, comfortable suites with beautiful views over the Karoo plains and Anysberg Mountains.
The Gondwana Family Lodge suites can accommodate two people sharing with one child. Four pairs of suites are then interconnecting to accommodate families. They feature underfloor heating, air-conditioning, a private deck or balcony, and an en-suite bathroom with shower, twin basins, and freestanding bath. Facilities at the lodge include an outdoor pool with shallow area, children’s playroom with TV, an outdoor dining boma, a lounge with fireplace and satellite TV, a steam room, the Relaxation Retreat, a gift boutique, and WiFi. For children, the lodge also offers the special ‘Kids on Safari’ program.
Enjoy some fantastic tours from the lodge on game drives to find different iconic animals, walking tours to experience Africa on foot, and cruises on the Bellair Dam. See the different elephants, rhino, lions, cheetah, and smaller wildlife of the Sanbona Reserve.
Both the Sanbona and Shamwari Reserves offer premium luxury accommodation, delicious cuisine, and tours through the reserves to find fantastic African wildlife and beautiful scenery. Here, we will select two of the top top options. For the full selection, you can see our guide to either Shamwari Reserve Lodges or Sanbona Reserve Lodges.
The Eagles Crag Lodge
In the Shamwari Reserve, the premium accommodation is the Eagles Crag Lodge. However, there are many other Shamwari Reserve lodges to choose from.
The Eagles Crag Lodge is elegantly styled with glass and stone to merge with the surrounding rock faces. Enjoy your own niche of the woodland environment with the eagles flying over the rock faces. You can even see some fantastic birds from your suite, which is equipped with a special bird-spotting scope.
Suites feature en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning, indoor and outdoor shower facilities, bird-spotting scope, and a private deck with plunge pool.
The lodge facilities then include two therapy rooms with hydro baths, a steam room and sauna, business center, and a lounge with fireplace.
From the Eagles Crag lodge, enjoy some fantastic safaris in the Shamwari Reserve to find the iconic Big 5, beautiful scenery, and other fantastic wildlife, including cheetahs, giraffes, and a diversity of interesting birds.
The Dwyka Tented Lodge
As the premium accommodation in the Sanbona Reserve, the Dwyka Tented Lodge has been styled with influences from the Khoisan hunter-gatherers who lived a nomadic lifestyle in the region. However, there are other options for Sanbona Reserve lodges to choose from.
The lodge is of a tented camp design, while maintaining the comforts and facilities you would expect from luxury accommodation. The nine spacious tents can each accommodate two adults and offer air-conditioning, luxurious king beds, en-suite bathrooms, large private decks, and a spa bath.
The lodges itself then provides a Relaxation Retreat, an open-air dining boma, a lounge with fireplace and satellite tv, a wine cellar, and a gift boutique.
From the Dwyka Tented Lodge, you can enjoy fantastic safaris to find some iconic African animals. Spot some of the Big 5, fascinating birds and other wildlife, cruises to see water-living wildlife, birding tours, and even some fascinating walking safaris.
Sanbona or Shamwari Explorer Camp?
Both the Sanbona and Shamwari reserve offer some fantastic camping experiences from their reserve camps. But do you choose the Sanbona or Shamwari Explorer Camp?
Both the Sanbona and Shamwari Explorer Camps are operated as a two night walking safari on weekends over the summer months. The distances walked each day from both camps can be 4 hours.
So what are the differences?
In summary, the Shamwari Explorer Camp offers a bit more luxury, but is also lightly fenced. The Sanbona Explorer Camp is then unfenced and provides a little more excitement because of this. However, note that you are more likely to see a few more iconic big mammal sightings from the Shamwari Explorer Camp because of the higher concentration of big game animals in the reserve.