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South Africa

The Mxabene Female leopard guards her kill in a tree at Londolozi, Sabi Sands, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
See the Big Five. Take afternoon tea. Dive with sharks. Attend cutting-edge urban theatre. Sip wine amongst the vines. With such a wide spectrum of options, it's no surprise that South Africa is known as the 'Rainbow Nation.' From majestic Table Mountain to the urban energy of Johannesburg and the wild bushveld of the private reserves surrounding Kruger National Park, this really is 'a world in one country.'

On Safari in South Africa Private game reserves are found across South Africa, ranging from the renowned Sabi Sands Game Reserve in the greater Kruger area to the malaria-free reserves of the Eastern Cape. These reserves offer some of the best and most accessible game-viewing on the planet. Due to a long history of effective conservation, the animals are the most relaxed in Africa, enabling you to enjoy much closer encounters than would be possible in more remote destinations. The opportunities for up-close observation of big cats are without equal.

A mother rhino and her calf enjoy a cool drink at Londolozi, Sabi Sands, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
Many South African game reserves are situated on former farmland which has been painstakingly restored to its natural state. South Africa pioneered the re-introduction of species to areas where they became locally extinct due to human interference, and the descendants of these reintroduced animals now make the reserves their home. Visitors to reserves such as Phinda (founded in 1990) will find it hard to believe they were ever anything other than pristine bush. Similar conservation work continues today, and can be observed firsthand at younger reserves such as Madikwe - an amazing conservation success story.

A pair of Cape buffalo go head to head at Londolozi, Sabi Sands, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
In addition, a small number of private concessions containing only one or two small camps have been created within the boundaries of South Africa's great national parks. The public-private partnership embodied by lodges such as Parfuri, in the far north of Kruger National Park, has revitalised wildlife populations in areas formerly depleted by poaching. These concessions are also home to some of the most architecturally innovative lodges in Africa, such as Singita Lebombo and The Outpost.

South Africa is the only safari destination offering the unique option of malaria-free game-reserves, an ideal choice for those with children or those who prefer not to take anti-malarial drugs. These reserves are located in many different areas of the country - the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape, and Madikwe - enabling you to experience a wide range of environments while avoiding the risk of malaria.

A curious leopard cub explores the bush at Londolozi, Sabi Sands, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
Game drives in South Africa are conducted in open 4x4 vehicles with both an expert game ranger and a dedicated tracker to bring the bush to life for you. Off-road driving and tracking are allowed throughout the private reserves, enabling you to follow animals wherever they may go - key to getting close to the big cats.

The private reserves also offer night game drives - unlike the national parks - enabling you to observe predators when they are at their most active and to see nocturnal animals rarely seen by the light of day.

Guests view a pride of lions from their Land Rover at Mala Mala, Sabi Sands, South Africa.
© South African Tourism larger image
In addition to game drives, most South African lodges offer midday bush walks. Many lodges work in partnership with neighbouring local communities, and there are often opportunities to explore local history and culture through community visits. Some of the more luxurious lodges also offer spa services, gyms, and wine-tasting to while away the time between game drives.

Most safari accommodation in South Africa is in lodges rather than permanent tented camps - though if you want to spend a few nights under canvas it is certainly possible (and highly recommended!). South Africa's safari lodges set the standard on the continent for luxury and design, and their décor is arguably the most diverse in Africa, spanning a wide architectural range from historic homestead to classic safari to cutting-edge modern design.

A pair of rare African wild dogs curl up together at Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
Due to the size of the country and the distance between its game reserves, most visitors fly between destinations. However, South Africa's smooth roads and excellent infrastructure mean that it is possible to drive if you have plenty of time and prefer a leisurely journey.

South Africa has six principal game-viewing regions, three of which are malaria-free:
  • The world-renowned Sabi Sands is home to the most exclusive game reserves in the country and is famed for its unmatched close-up leopard sightings.

  • North and north-west of the Sabi Sands, the lesser-visited Northern Private Reserves, such as Timbavati, Thornybush, and Manyeleti, offer excellent game-viewing in an area slightly off the beaten track.

  • A moray eel peers out from a rock crevice in the waters near Rocktail Bay Lodge, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa.
    © Dana Allen larger image
    An endangered baby loggerhead turtle makes its way towards the sea at Rocktail Bay Lodge, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa.
    © Dana Allen larger image
  • The private concessions dotting Kruger National Park offer a truly remote wilderness experience, far off the beaten track in some of the least explored corners of one of Africa's great national parks.

  • An unusually wide range of ecosystems is embraced by the reserves of KwaZuluNatal, where activities include rhino tracking, fishing, and observing endangered sea turtles.

  • Malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in the Northern Province - still in the process of being restored from derelict farmland - offers a first-hand look at conservation in action, as well as superb opportunities to see the highly endangered African wild dog.

  • The malaria-free reserves of the Eastern Cape - home to South Africa's historic battlefields - provide the opportunity to combine Big Five game-viewing with exploration of the country's culture and history.

  • The Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape is home to unique desert species, and offers a striking malaria-free contrast to South Africa's other game-viewing regions.

Waves crash against the coastline at Rocktail Bay Lodge, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa.
© Dana Allen larger image
Cultural Exploration in South Africa
Frequent and inexpensive scheduled flights make exploring South Africa before or after your safari easy to do. South Africa's excellent infrastructure also enables visitors to drive the country's scenic roads and visit areas not easily reached by plane.

The Rainbow Nation is a land of many cultures, each of which has contributed to the unique blend making up today's South Africa. For many visitors, exploring the country's history and culture plays as large a role in their trip to South Africa as their time on safari.

Dawn pains the surf purple as the sky turns pink over Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.
© South African Tourism larger image
The Old Parsonage in Paarl is a fine example of the historic Cape Dutch architecture often seen in the Cape Winelands.
© South African Tourism larger image
  • Cosmopolitan Cape Town - the Mother City - embraces pristine white beaches, historic monuments, and the scenic beauty of Table Mountain in addition to 'the fairest the whole circumference of the Earth.'

  • The rolling vine-covered hills of the Cape Winelands, dotted with historic Cape Dutch manor houses, are home to South Africa's renowned wineries as well as some of the best restaurants in the world - a must for those who enjoy food and wine!

  • Stretching from Hermanus (home to the world's best shore-based whale-watching) to Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route is known for its spectacular scenery - spiced up with opportunities for adrenaline sports - and is best enjoyed on a leisurely driving itinerary.

  • The Panorama Route winds through the mountains to the west of the Sabi Sands, Northern Private Reserves, and Kruger National Park, and is dotted with cosy country inns, craft shops, and viewpoints offering spectacular views.

  • Vibrant Johannesburg is South Africa's economic and political heart, home to both Soweto and the Stock Exchange - a place which embraces the future while never forgetting the past.

Fresh-baked pastry and fruit make a fine end to a meal at Klein Oliphantshoek in Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa.
© Julian Asher larger image
Safari Extensions Most international visitors reach South Africa via Johannesburg, the air transport hub of southern Africa, making extended safari itineraries combining South Africa with Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, or Zimbabwe easy to arrange. Each country offers its own unique wildlife experiences.

A visit to Botswana, Zambia, or Zimbabwe can easily incorporate a few days in Victoria Falls, where adrenaline activities such as bungee jumping and white-water rafting compliment the spectacle of the Falls themselves, one of the natural wonders of the world.