South Africa has a well-deserved reputation for its many design-forward, eco-conscious safari lodges offering every conceivable luxury and almost guaranteed game viewing throughout the year. As a safari destination, South Africa is easy to get to and navigate once on the ground, making it an ideal last-minute romantic getaway for couples or a sunny winter safari for families. And while it remains an excellent choice for first-timers wanting to experience a classic, big five safari, this destination is just as popular with seasoned philanthropists taking annual impact trips supporting innovative, privately funded conservation initiatives to regenerate animal habitat, protect biodiversity and save critically endangered species.

couple in 4x4 on safari woman holding camera

The most sought-after lodges and safari camps are in private conservation areas, within private game reserves scattered across the country, or in the Greater Kruger area, which includes the Kruger National Park. Small and often owner-run, these luxury, light-footprint properties are in hand-picked, scenic locations and offer deeply layered, immersive safari experiences on and off the vehicle led by experienced guides and trackers with an intimate knowledge of the ecosystem in which they’re working. Many privately protected areas share unfenced boundaries with neighbouring tracts of protected land so that animals can roam and establish their territory over a larger space in tune with seasonal changes. Along with exclusive, up-close sightings and a limit on the number of vehicles permitted, other private concession perks include the freedom to drive off-road where permitted, take guided walks and night drives, enjoy remote bush dinners and star bed sleep-outs, and get involved with hands-on conservation. Sustainably managed properties that are fully invested in protecting the environment while maximising the positive economic spinoffs of nature-based tourism to local communities should always be a consideration before booking anything.

Drinking Elephants in the Kruger National Park South Africa.

When to go to South Africa for safari

Most of the go-to game reserves are in the northeast of South Africa and experience summer rain in thunderstorms followed by a dry winter with cool to chilly nights and warm, clear-skied sunny days (May to October). Winter is, therefore, the most popular time to go on safari, when the dry conditions lead to concentrations of animals around reliable water sources. This makes game viewing more predictable and animals easier to track and locate due to sparse vegetation and minimal ground cover. The mild, clear days are great for getting off the vehicle to track and explore the bush on foot. Summer rain radically transforms the bush, and everything explodes with life as the days heat up. Dense thickets and trees in leaf reduce visibility and make game viewing more challenging, but the lush, green vegetation attracts summer migrants and becomes a birder’s paradise. Predator activity increases, too, due to the abundance of baby animals at a time when food is plentiful for all. After the rain, the dust settles and light conditions are excellent for photography. Autumn and spring are good for witnessing the antelope rutting season. An early or late summer safari could be South Africa’s best-kept secret, especially with the add-on of a beach holiday outside of Cape Town’s busiest time (from mid-December to end-January). Elsewhere, the semi-arid Karoo and Kalahari are dry and clear-skied in winter and have low rainfall averages in summer but get very hot. In general, off-peak travel is underrated, with benefits including better availability, potential stay-longer, pay-less deals, and the possibility of securing a private vehicle.

Open dusty roads sat in a 4x4 jeep South Africa Kruger National Park
Limpopo Marakele National Park Group of giraffes standing in road

Where to go in South Africa for safari

The private conservation areas in and around the Greater Kruger area are synonymous with South Africa’s reputation for delivering epic, up-close predator action interpreted by knowledgeable guides. Kruger shares unfenced boundaries with several private reserves, including the Sabi Sand, where iconic, family-owned properties like Mala MalaLondolozi, and Singita first put the region on the map thanks to reliable big cat sightings, especially leopards. Further private properties within the Timbavati, Thornybush and Klaserie reserves add thousands of hectares to the Greater Kruger, encouraging natural species migration and collectively securing habitat for many rare and endangered animals. In the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park, Pafuri’s immense flood plains and dense forests are renowned for walking safaris. At the same time, Singita’s privately leased Lebombo concession on the park’s Mozambican border provides strategic protection for rhinos. Further afield, large, private malaria-free reserves like Madikwe, close to the Botswana border, Marataba in the Waterberg, Samara in the Great Karoo, Tswalu in the southern Kalahari, and Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape, provide shelter for an astounding diversity of big game and rare and elusive species, boast breathtaking scenery and offer a choice of intimately scaled lodges for immersive, romantic getaways, secluded, off-grid trails camps for adventurers, and fully staffed, exclusive-use bush villas for multigenerational families.