Safaris in South Africa offer a fantastically accessible way to see some great wildlife in a country that’s tourist-friendly and great value. South Africa is home to one of the most magnificent selection of wildlife on the planet, and offers all kinds of safari experiences. At over 1.2 million km sq, and five times the size of the UK, South Africa is bordered on three sides by ocean. Whilst much of the country is made up of the highveld – a 1500m plateau – South Africa has a very varied terrain, ranging from desert and dry shrub land to coastal swamps, woodland and savannah.
Animals in many national parks in South Africa are comfortable with vehicles driving nearby, making spotting wildlife here easy for even a novice, and a great self-drive safari destination. Most parks are easily accessible in a 2WD hire car, which can keep the cost down as you won’t have to pay for a guide. With the money you save you could take one or two walking safaris, which is gives a different perspective on the bush and wildlife. These are offered by many of the larger national parks and well worth the money The big five animals are present in a number of national parks in South Africa, and if you’re an old safari hand Africa’s little five can also be found here. On the endangered list, South Africa is also home to the black rhino, wild dog, wattled crane and riverine rabbit.
With over 550 national parks and nature reserves and a great infrastructure to get into and around them, South Africa has a very well developed tourist economy, with wildlife making up a large portion of it. The tourist dollar derived from South Africa’s reasonably priced national park network is one of the main sources of revenue that goes back into local wildlife conservation efforts.
And of course, South Africa offers so much more than just safaris. There are all manner of activities and destinations you can combine with a safari in South Africa – including more than 2,500 km of stunning coastline with some of the world’s most famous beaches, world-class wine estates, and mother-city, Cape Town.
South Africa Safari Highlights
- Drive yourself around the Kruger Park – one of Africa’s best national parks. Spot the big five – and far more – from the luxury of your own vehicle.
- Treat yourself to a stay at South Africa’s most exclusive private reserve, Sabi Sands. The reserve opens on to Kruger Park and is famed for it’s leopard population.
- Check out the Pilansberg National Park which is home to virtually every Southern African mammal – including the big five – and has over 200km of roads to explore on self-drive safaris.
Best Time To Go On Safari In South Africa
South Africa can comfortably be visited at any time of the year. June to September is the coolest, driest time of year, leading wildlife to congregate more around water sources. As vegetation is also less dense at this time of year it’s the best time to see the wildlife. If you’re visiting the highveld part of South Africa make sure you have a couple of layers – including a jacket or fleece – as the nights get nippy.
From November to March is summertime, and brings with it drizzle, mist and some very hot weather in the lowveld to the east of the country. There are occasional huge thunderstorms and heavy downpours, which tend to pass over the course of a few hours. Wildlife viewing is still possibly when it’s not raining.
One other thing to bear in mind when considering when to take a safari in South Africa is the school holiday schedule. Locals travel a lot around the Christmas and Easter periods, meaning accommodation can be full and national parks busy. Because the country is so tourist-friendly, these numbers are also bolstered by large numbers of arrivals from Europe and North America. If you can, try to avoid booking a safari in South Africa during school holiday season.
National Parks In South Africa
Click on a South African national park in the below list to read more about that specific park:
- Addo Elephant National Park
- Agulhas National Park
- Ai Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
- Bontebok National Park
- Camdeboo National Park
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park
- Karoo National Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Kruger National Park
- Mapungubwe National Park
- Marakele National Park
- Mountain Zebra National Park
- Namaqua National Park
- Table Mountain National Park
- Tankwa Karoo National Park
- West Coast National Park
- Wilderness National Park
Safari Lodges In South Africa
South Africa is probably the best country in the world for safari accommodation. Whether you’re after pitching your own tent, finding a shared room in a hostel or enjoying a luxury safari suite with views over a watering hole they’ve got the lot. And everything in between. Whilst prices have risen over the past 10 or so years, accommodation in South Africa still tends to be reasonably priced.
South Africa Safari Tours
As with the popular safari destinations in East Africa, there are plenty of companies offering safari tours of South Africa with all budgets catered for. Check out our reviews of safari tour companies in South Africa.
South Africa Safari Resources
- Cape Nature Conservation
- Eastern Cape Tourism Board
- Official South Africa Tourist Office
- KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife
- South Africa National Parks (SANParks)
- Weather in South Africa
Have you been on safari in South Africa? We’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions! Please get in touch.
South Africa has a wealth of national parks covering around 3% of the total area of the country – over 35,000km sq. Most national parks in South Africa are easily accessible with good infrastructure and facilities, and can be visited in 2WD cars as self drive. Parks and all facilities within them are managed by South Africa National Parks.
Use the above map to locate national parks in South African. Click the safari icons to see more info about each national park and zoom and scroll the map for more details. Read overviews of each South African national park below.
Top National Parks in South Africa
Addo Elephant National Park
75km north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, aside from the 450 resident elephants the park contains plenty of buck, along with buffalo and black rhino.
Agulhas National Park
The area also known as the Agulhas Plain is an internationally signicifanct national park, primarily due to its’ rich plant biodiversity.
Ai Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
An arid, rugged wilderness with dramatic desert landscapes in the Northern Cape, forming part of the border with Namibia.
Bontebok National Park
Situated around the Breede river in the Southern Cape, the park is home to over 300 bontebok, with a spectacular range of flora and forna.
Camdeboo National Park
Stunningly scenic park, the Cameboo National Park is pary of the unique Karoo landscape.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Set in the foothills of the Maluti mountains of the northern Free Sate Highlands, the park is an area brimming with game animals.
Karoo National Park
The Karoo biome includes a huge diversity of succulent plants and small reptiles, and an interesting variety of endemic wildlife – including black rhino & buffalo.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Regarded as one of Africa’s top parks, the rugged Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is made up of The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.
Kruger National Park
The centrepiece of South African national parks, Kruger has a worldwide reputation as offering one of the best wildlife experience…and a great chance to spot the big five.
Mapungubwe National Park
Aside from a decent amount of wildlife, the Mapungubwe National Park containts plenty of rich fossil deposits, Bushman rock art and gold and metal artefacts of ancient civilisations that once lived here.
Marakele National Park
The Waterberg mountain range provides mountain landscapes – punctuated with hills and valleys – along with an impressive variety of wildlife.
Mountain Zebra National Park
A sanctuary for the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, as well as over 200 bird species.
Namaqua National Park
Famed for the variety of bulb flora, during August and September the park blooms into an area carpeted with wildflowers.
Table Mountain National Park
South Africa’s number 1 tourist spot is also a national park. Don’t expect to see big game once you get to the top – Table Mountain is all about the incredible views.
Tankwa Karoo National Park
Another of South Africa’s national parks situated within the Succulent Karoo biome, Tankwa Karoo is rich in birdlife and home to many rare and endangered plant species.
West Coast National Park
A coastal park featuring miles of deserted golden beaches, fringing salt marches and the Langebaan Lagoon.
Wilderness National Park
Situated in the heart of the Garden Route, Western Cape, the Wilderness National Park is a combination of rivers, estuaries, lakes and beaches, with a backdrop or lush forests and mountains.
Self drive safaris are definitely an option in South Africa, with national parks all over the country allowing you to drive yourself around so long as you follow the basic rules of safari etiquette. Even still, you may want to review our list of safari tour companies in South Africa to get some inspiration on itineraries, or read our overview on taking a safari in South Africa.
Have you been to a national park in South Africa, or got some useful information you’d like to share on the topic? Please feel free to get involved in the comments section below.