How to Get Close to the Animals in South Africa


Animal lovers big and small will be enchanted by these intimate experiences with wildlife.

There are hundreds of places in South Africa where you can see animals in their natural habitat. With so many potential destinations for creature contact, a guided holiday that takes in some of these attractions is your best bet for an easy, authentic, wildlife-filled trip.

Take a safari to see the big five

While it can’t be guaranteed you’ll come across all of the big five – that’s lions, elephants, buffalos, rhinos and leopards – if you plan your trip right, your chances will increase. Kruger National Park is home to all five and a guided holiday that includes it will ensure you’re taken to the best locations for spotting animals and give you access to knowledgeable local specialists. Satara Rest Camp is thought to be prime lion-spotting territory in the late afternoon as they gear up for their next hunt, while the rocky ridge at Olifants Rest Camp overlooks a river where elephants come to drink and bathe.

Don’t forget the little five

While the larger beasts get the lion’s share of attention, you can spot unique South African wildlife everywhere you go. The leopard tortoise, the elephant shrew, the rhino beetle, the red-billed buffalo weaver and the antlion might be smaller than their namesakes but they’re just as worthy. Travel directors on guided holidays are a wealth of information so check in with them for any tips to spotting these little creatures and encourage younger kids to keep their eyes peeled as they walk through national parks. They’ll love looking out for the impressive rhino beetles that are thought to be able to carry 850 times their bodyweight. On a guided holiday, you’ll even get the chance to talk a bush walk with a private ranger to uncover more hidden wildlife. 

Hang around with the monkeys

Monkeyland is an award-winning, Fair Trade-accredited primate sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s south coast. It’s the first free-roaming sanctuary of its kind and is home to a wide variety of species, including capuchin and vervet monkeys, lemurs and gibbons. Children of all ages will have fun watching their almost-human antics from a 128-metre long suspended canopy walk. Guided holidays that stop here also often stop at Birds of Eden, a sanctuary for over 3500 beautiful birds.

Admire African penguins on the beach

Boulders Beach near Cape Town is home to a colony of these inquisitive (and endangered) birds. Spend some time on the sand before taking a stroll along one of three boardwalks to Foxy Beach to get a great up-close view of the African penguins going about their business. But remind children not to touch – those beaks are sharper than they look!

Watch whales from an excellent vantage point

There are few better places in the world to watch these graceful creatures glide past than Hermanus in the south-west corner of South Africa. Southern right whales migrate past here between June and November each year. You might also spot a humpback or minke whale cruising past – and breaching, if you’re lucky. Be sure to pack binoculars and score a spot on the cliffs on a clear, wind-free day.

SEE MORE: 10 Astonishing Animal Encounters in Africa

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