Safari Guide for South Africa: How to Get the Best Safari Experience

Going on a safari will be a highlight of your holiday in South Africa. It’s a unique experience that will allow you to see lots of wild animals in their natural habitat. As there are quite a few wildlife reserves available in South Africa and there is more than one way to do a safari, these guidelines will help you out on how to get the best safari experience in South Africa.

Gazelles - safari South AfricaSpringboks in Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

How to do a safari in South Africa

There are four ways of how to do a safari. You can either walk in a (somewhat safe) wildlife reserve park, ride along with a safari jeep, go together with a guide and his/her car or you can rent your own car and do a safari on your own.

Either one of these ways might be your cup of tea. Or it might not be, and maybe another choice will be better for you. It all depends on how adventurous you are and on how much time you want to spend spotting wild animals.

You can either walk…

Only very few wildlife reserve parks allow you get out of a vehicle and walk. The wetlands park, behind the crocodile center, in St Lucia in South Africa is such an example. You won’t even be able to get into this section park with a vehicle it only allows visitors on foot. There are many tiny paths in this section of the wetlands that lead you to the one end of the park to the other. Don’t forget to take a good look around because there are many animals to be spotted. Examples of wild animals are warthogs, zebras, gazelles, hummingbirds and if you’re lucky you might spot one of the big 5.

The big 5: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and cape buffalos.

A zebra - safari South Africa

Another zebra in St. Lucia wetlands park in South Africa.

Go with a safari jeep (group)

This safari method is probably the most famous one as it’s most recommended by tour operators for larger groups. In most cases, you get on the safari jeep at the entrance of a wildlife reserve. In the front of the jeep, there will either be a guide driving or a guide will sit next to the jeep driver. The jeep will drive around through the safari park and you’ll be able to spot wild animals. In most cases, the jeep will chase locations of which the guide knows a wild animal was spotted a while ago. So you have a big chance to spot the big 5 as this is what most of these safari jeeps aim for. The downside is that you won’t see much of the rest of the park and animals, as time is always limited and you’ll be rushing through the wildlife reserve.

A zebra - safari South Africa

A zebra in St. Lucia wetlands park in South Africa.

Do a safari with a guide (1-3 persons)

You will have the chance to book one of these guided tours through a freelance safari guide. This guide will take you to one of the safari parks with their own car or jeep. The best thing about it is that you’ll get really interesting tips and advice from someone that has a lot of experience with these parks. And you’ll get to spend a lot of time in the park. You’ll probably also get to spot a lot more animals and you’ll see more of the environment of the park because you won’t be racing through the park like the safari jeeps. This way you’ll have more freedom considering where you want to go to the park, where you want to rest for a while and which animals you prefer to spot.

south africa safari guide

A river view in Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

Or do-it-yourself with a rental car

You can always opt in for the do-it-yourself option: rent a car in South Africa and just drive your way up to the entrance of a wildlife reserve park and do a safari on your own. Only some of the parks allow drivers to enter on their own risk. But it sure is worth the try because you’ll have all the freedom you want in the wildlife reserve. Best is to arrive very early in the morning (around 6 a.m.), so you’ll have until 5 or 6 p.m. to fully explore and drive around with joy. Be aware of the risks though. Always watch out for wild animals and don’t get out of your vehicle on your safari.

A gazelle - Safari South Africa

A springbok on the road in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

Wildlife reserve parks in South Africa

Other than the Kruger Park being the most famous wildlife reserve in South Africa, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is the oldest proclaimed wildlife reserve. There are quite a few other parks that are wonderful to visit as well, and you can find a lot of information about them online. There are both small wildlife reserve parks in South Africa as there are large ones. Each wildlife reserve park in South Africa has a selection of wild animals that roam around freely. Some of the parks feature more lions, some of them have more rhino’s. So it’s a good idea to do some research on the parks and what animals you can spot there.

Rhinos - safari South Africa

Wild black rhinos: one of the big five in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

Customizing your own safari experience

The rule of thumb is that the more you do by yourself, the more freedom you’ll have when doing a safari. If you pick a tour operators safari jeep, you’ll ride along without too much freedom of where you want to go in the park. Whenever you rent your own vehicle and you do the safari on your own, you’ll have a lot more freedom. You can drive up to any corner of the park and you can park your ride for a while and gaze over the landscape. If you go on a safari with a guide and his vehicle, you often also get options to customize your safari experience. The package of customizations can include more than 1 safari park you visit, a river cruize, a safari whilst you walk or even a multi-day safari where you sleep in a tent in the wildlife park. There are more options than you think when it comes to customizing your safari experience.

south africa safari guide

A female hyena in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

A few extra tips

  • Take the right gear with you. You’ll to bring your camera and maybe also binoculars to spot wild animals.
  • Only go to a wildlife reserve where wild animals wander around freely. Don’t go to a safari-themed park or a zoo!
  • Seeing all of the big 5 in one wildlife reserve is a very rare occasion. You’ll probably have to spend multiple days in multiple parks to see all of the big 5 game.
  • Don’t get too close to big animals like elephants or rhinos.
south africa safari guideA wild warthog in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi wildlife reserve in South Africa.

Conclusion: how to get the best safari experience in South Africa

As you’ll want your safari to be a highlight on your holiday in South Africa, you’ll have to make the right choices. Choose one or more of the four types of safari stated above in this article. And make sure you get the safari experience you want to have. Walking in a safari park is one of the most unique experiences, while a renting your own vehicle will give you the most of freedom. Just make sure you take the right gear with you (like a good camera) and spend a few days combining a few of these safari options. When you do, you’ll increase your chance of spotting the big 5.

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south africa safari guide
south africa safari guide

2 thoughts on “Safari Guide for South Africa: How to Get the Best Safari Experience

    • Hi, you’re welcome! There are loads of wildlife reserves where you can do a safari in SA. Hope you’ll have good safaris there.

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