South Africa is one of the best areas for a safari and there are many excellent game reserves you can choose from. The majority of South Africa Game Reserves are home to the Big 5, with many other exciting and interesting animals and plants to find.
In total, there are just over 40 different game reserves in South Africa. And which one you choose depends on where you will be based, the type of safari you are interested in and the animals you would like a higher chance of finding.
To help in your search, we have created a guide of the top 10 Game Reserve in South Africa. So let’s get started.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve
If you have been researching game reserves to visit, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve will be familiar. This ranks as one of the top game reserves in South Africa and one of the continent’s best safari experiences.
The 65,000-hectare Sabi Sands shares an unfenced boundary with the famous Kruger National Park. However, it is accessible exclusively to guests of the few Sabi Sands safari lodges. It is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts seeking an unparalleled experience.
The higher amount of water throughout the year means it’s the favorite region for many animals, increasing the density of iconic and popular safari animals.
Wildlife you can see in the Sabi Sands includes all the Big 5 of elephants, Cape buffalo, lions, leopards, and rhinos among many others.
Differing from Kruger, guests are taken off road to enjoy fantastic wildlife spectacles making the most of iconic opportunities. And because of sensitive viewing practices and the high protection, this is one of the best reserves to find otherwise elusive leopards.
To make the most of the Sabi Sands, you can choose from the following safari lodges.
The Madwike Game Reserve
The Madikwe Reserve is an 80,000-hectare haven of African wildlife in the heart of South Africa. You can enjoy remarkable Madikwe safaris designed to show off this Big-5 wildlife-rich sanctuary.
In addition to the favorite Big 5 of lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhino, you can find many different animals in Madikwe.
- African wild dogs
- Brown and spotted hyenas
- Many different antelope species
- Over 350 bird species to find
As an extra note, you will notice that the rhinos in Madikwe still have their majestic horns, unlike other South African reserves. This is because of effective and non-invasive protection strategies.
The nearest cities to reach the reserve are Johannesburg, Pretoria, Zeerust and Rustenburg. And the reserve has a private airport for air transfers.
To make the most of the Madikwe Reserve, you can choose from the following safari lodges.
The mFulaWozi Game Reserve, South Africa
One of the newest game reserves in South Africa, the mFulaWozi Game Reserve had its foundation in 2010. This was after different Zulu chiefs of the Shaka dynasty agreed to open up 16,000 hectares of pristine African bushveld to visitors to share this incredible region.
This incredible reserve is home to about 1,200 plant species, 84 mammal species, and over 400 bird species. And it is one of the most important South African conservation areas. You can explore the mFulaWozi wilderness and its inhabitants for your next adventure.
There are two safari lodges within the region to enjoy the reserve. And both of offer you some incredible experiences.
On game drives and walking safaris from the lodges, you can find black and southern white rhinoceros, African elephants, cape buffalo, lions and leopards.
These Big 5 game drives are available twice each day. On these game drives, you can also absorb the beautiful scenery. And you can seize the chance to capture excellent photographs.
Among the captivating wildlife is a rich variety of bird species. This is an excellent reserve for birders, especially in summer when migratory species return. You can even spot rare species hard to find in other areas of South Africa.
The lodges are another gem that makes mFulaWozi attractive. They are nestled on the banks of the White Imfolozi River. A perfect luxury treat that harmonizes with the natural environment. With their serene ambiance, guests are guaranteed a cozy retreat after a day of exciting game drives and activities.
You can choose your stay at one of the two mFulaWozi lodges. Each is different but both promise comfort and immersion in nature.
The Shamwari Game Reserve
Shamwari Private Game Reserve offers a luxury African safari adventure. It is located in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Its exceptional efforts in conservation makes it one of the top game reserves in the country.
The reserve has greatly benefited from its still ongoing conservation program. The expansive reserve guarantees a high-quality environment for its wildlife to prosper. Home to various wildlife, birdlife, and plantlife, expect to embark on an enjoyable and wildlife-filled tour.
You will see the Big Five and other captivating mammals in comfortable open vehicles. A good thing about Shamwari is that only two vehicles are allowed at each sighting. This is to ensure that the animals do not feel threatened or stressed. And you too will be completely at ease as you watch the animals go about their business peacefully in their natural habitat.
You can also choose to head out on foot to see things easily missed in a vehicle, such as looking at insects, enjoying wild flowers, or following animal tracks. This is a great way to gain new and unforgettable experiences with nature under the guidance of a knowledgeable guide.
About 100 birds are recorded in Shamwari during the summer season. This is due to the increased presence of migrants contributing to the rise in bird numbers. Ranging from martial eagles, the largest in Africa, to speckled mousebirds, avid bird-watchers will be stunned by the vast array of birdlife.
The Phinda Game Reserve
Phinda Game Reserve spans an impressive 29,886 hectares of land in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Home to a rich diversity of habitats, it is often referred to as Seven Worlds of Wonder.
Experience an African safari experience with thrilling game drives at Phinda. The game drives are available twice each day. And you will explore the reserve during the day or night. Many of the predators are most active at night and it makes for a thrilling experience.
Their unique safaris range from private safaris to birding, photographic as well as family safaris. All are tailored to your preferences and interests.
Keep your eyes peeled for close-up sightings of the renowed Big 5. Within the reserve, you will also have the chance to observe iconic mammals like the cheetah and the rare black rhino. An exciting alternative to a traditional game drive, consider going on expertly guided bush walks.
Birding is also a favorite activity at Phinda. And the reserve hosts over 400 bird species. From November to April, migratory birds can also be spotted in the area.
As well as wildlife, there are also excellent community experiences. You can visit the rural settlements near Phinda, guided by the Africa Foundation. Take the chance to learn about their projects in education, healthcare, and conservation. You can also visit local schools, craft markets, and clinics while also supporting local businesses. All of which have had a great impact on the communities.
The Kwandwe Game Reserve
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is located in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The word Kwandwe stands for Place of the Blue Crane in Xhosa. And sure enough, the reserve is home to these captivating, yet rare and endangered birds.
The reserve extends on both sides of the Great Fish River that flows through the region. And this is an incredible safari destination with many noteworthy conservation victories. The reserve has reintroduced over 7,000 wild animals to the wild, such as the endangered black rhinos, elephants, brown hyenas and others. Their commitment to creating positive outcomes has helped the wildlife as well as the local communities.
There are different activities available, including the daytime and nighttime game drives, as well as walking safaris.
You can also go on a bushwalk accompanied by a skilled armed ranger and tracker team. With no engine noise to distract you or the animals, you can easily engage all your senses to connect with nature. And you will explore finer details that you might overlook in a game drive.
Another activity offered is catch-and-release fishing. You can either do it in still water or the rushing currents of the Great Fish River. This is a favorite activity with families.
Barbecuing is a rich tradition and an integral part of the South African culture. Join the campfire experience at Kwandwe where skillful chefs guide you through the culinary craft and emerge as a true master of the braai.
Kwandwe also offers specialist experiences. These includes rhino monitoring drives, rhino conservation as well as photographic, walking and birding safaris. These selections are tailored to specific wildlife interests to provide you with an enriching and more personalized safari experience.
The MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve is a great choice for a luxurious photographic safari. The name MalaMala comes from the Xitsonga word for Kudu reflecting the abundant wildlife found within the reserve.
Encompassing an expansive 13,300 hectares and nestled by the serene Sand River, the protected area is close to the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. It also shares a common border with the world-famous Kruger National Park. MalaMala has earned its reputation as one of the oldest and most well-established private reserves in the Kruger Park region.
Experience fantastic Big Five sighting at MalaMala at daytime or nighttime. The reserve is also a great place for leopard sightings, creating memorable wildlife sighting experiences.
Elusive nocturnal wildlife like genet cats, honey badgers, mongooses, and civet cats are typically seen on evening game drives. Additionally, guests are sometimes taken off-road to follow animals and tracks.
During bush walks, you will be accompanied by two guides, with one guiding on foot, and the other following along in a Land Rover. Explore the beauty of wilderness at a more relaxed pace. You will have the chance to see the intricate details of nature up close. You can enjoy interesting plants, birds, and other small yet fascinating animals.
The camps at MalaMala are strategically placed within the reserve, offering you unpretentious elegance and luxury. In addition, this safari destination offers an accessible suite for guests with disabilities. This also includes disability-friendly Land Rovers that cater to various needs.
The Timbavati Nature Reserve
Timbavati Private Game Reserve is located further north, in Mpumalanga Province. It also shares a common unfenced border with the famous Kruger National Park. Encompassing over 50,000 hectares, this region is home to over 40 different mammals.
The name Timbavati holds significant meaning, translating to the place where something sacred came down to Earth from the Heavens in Xitsonga. It refers to the rare white lions that live in the area.
Timbavati game drives typically take place when the temperature is cooler so you have a better chance of encountering a variety of animals, including the iconic Big Five.
Additionally, due to its drier terrain, it is a favorite destination for large herds of elephants as well as buffalo. If you wish to see incredible nocturnal wildlife, the reserve also offers night game drives.
Another great way to gain a richer safari experience is walking safaris. There is no greater feeling than being able to observe Africa’s incredible wildlife up close. Timbavati walking safaris will definitely deepen your appreciation of nature.
Armchair safaris are not something you want to miss at Timbavati. Instead of driving around, you can simply sit quietly at the lodge with a drink in hand as you watch animals come down to a waterhole for a refreshing drink and playful interactions.
For avid birders, keep a keen eye and a camera ready to catch sights of the Big Six: Saddle-billed stork, Pel’s fishing owl, Kori bustard, ground hornbill, lappet-faced vulture, and martial eagle. With over 350 bird species, you will be guaranteed to come across many incredible avian inhabitants.
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a fantastic destination for African safari tours. Boasting both accessibility and adventure, this reserve is just a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. Additionally, Pilanesberg offers a 1-day safari tour which is a great option if you have limited time or want to have a quick tour.
The 57,000-hectare Pilanesberg Game Reserve is teemed with a rich array of flora and fauna. Get your camera poised for action as you will definitely encounter the iconic Big Five as well as many other impressive large Southern African mammals.
Daily game drives are scheduled every morning and afternoon. Their open vehicles will guarantee you the most stunning panoramic views. Other than that, you have the option to choose from group, private, and exclusive game drives, tailoring your experience to your preferences.
For those seeking adventure, a variety of guided hiking trails await exploration at Pilanesberg. Embark on an adventure on foot while also learning about the surrounding environment. You will have the chance to discover and know more about diverse vegetation, plants, insects, and more.
There have been over 300 bird species recorded in the region. The extensive diversity of species makes this wildlife sanctuary a great destination for avid bird watchers. Besides that, you can also go on bird-watching adventures on foot as well as explore the walk-in aviary that has over 80 indigenous bird species.
Don’t miss the chance to experience hot air balloon safaris at Pilanesberg. The calming journeys are both thrilling and relaxing. You will be able to see the Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex and have a different perspective of the herds of some large mammals from the sky.
There are lodges within the reserve that offer a range of activities to enjoy. These include quad biking to enjoy a scenic route, archery to show off your shooting skills, mountain biking to get your heart pumped from the exercise as well as from some wildlife you may encounter along your journey.
Pilanesberg offers a range of accommodation selections to choose from to suit your preferences and budget.
The Manyeleti Game Reserve
Manyeleti Game Reserve is a spectacular, community-owned wildlife haven that is strategically located between Sabi Sands and Timbavati Nature Reserve. It also shares a common unfenced border with the distinguished Kruger National Park.
The name Manyeleti translates to place of the stars in Shagaan, referring to the beautiful and radiant stars in the night sky of Manyeleti. The 23,000-hectare unspoiled expanse of this green land is where you can find a rich diversity of wildlife, including all the big cats and the Big Five animals.
A typical day on a Manyeleti safari starts with game drives that begin as early as after sunrise until sunset. This reserve is an excellent place to witness the Big Five, including the elusive leopards. A definite plus is the huge traversing area between all the lodges, which means there is more ground for you to explore and more animals to discover.
With over 300 bird species recorded in the area, Manyeleti is a perfect place for avid bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers. Its diverse avian population adds an extra layer of beauty and enjoyment, so you will definitely capture some stunning photography.
Traversing on foot will give you a more intimate sight of the nature surrounding you. A guided game walk is perfect for this if you wish to make the most out of your safari experience at Manyeleti. Besides seeing the small details of nature, you may even have the chance to observe the larger animals from a safe distance.
Manyeleti hosts six safari lodges and camps which you can choose from. Whether you wish to have a luxurious getaway beneath Africa’s incredible dazzling night skies or have an immersive glimpse into the wilderness, you will find an accommodation that fits your preferences and budget.