Elephants, lions and giraffes are just some of the incredible animals you’ll see from your open jeep in the bush while on safari in South Africa. This country is home to many expansive safari parks and luxurious lodges designed to get you closer to the iconic wildlife but which African safari is best for you?
Whether it’s through wildlife conservation programs, land rehabilitation and community engagement or using solar power and recycled water, many lodges are committed to giving back. Immerse yourself in this important conservation work while spotting the Big Five with this round-up of the best eco-friendly safari adventures in South Africa.
Location: Kuzuko is in a private reserve bordering the greater Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, a two-hour drive from Port Elizabeth. Guests can fly to Port Elizabeth from Johannesburg or Cape Town.
Best for: Families
Highlights: Dedicated programs that keep the kids busy and a decadent spa for the adults.
Sitting high on a hill, all 24 of Kuzuko Lodge’s chalets have private decks with views of the reserve and the Great Karoo plains. There’s a playground and activities for under-fives and older kids can go on guided wilderness walks or take part in the Junior Ranger Programme, where they sit with the ranger on safaris and learn about plants, animals and how to work the jeep’s radio and spotlight.
The lodge has admirable conservation credentials: the Kuzuko Foundation is involved in community and school programs as well as land rehabilitation and wildlife conservation. In addition to safaris, watch guides tracking cheetahs before visiting 400-year-old Khoisan rock paintings. Adults can also enjoy the spa and activities such as photographic safaris. As well as a kids’ menu, the restaurant offers dishes including local Karoo lamb and potjiekos (a traditional stew cooked over a fire in a cast-iron pot).
nThambo Tree Camp
Location: The camp is in the private Klaserie Nature Reserve bordering the Kruger National Park. Guests can fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport, a 40-minute drive from the camp.
Best for: An exclusive bush experience
Highlights: Sleeping in your own ‘treehouse’
Get away from it all at nThambo Tree Camp, which has only five solar-powered treehouse-style chalets, each sleeping a maximum of two guests. The chalets are raised on wooden stilts with thatched roofs and canvas walls. Private decks look out to the vast wilderness and being eye-level with the trees means you’re perfectly positioned to spot the Big Five.
In addition to early morning and evening game-viewing drives, explore the grounds on guided bush walks or enjoy a tailored bush dinner during your stay. Stop by the communal open-air lounge, bar and dining area between activities and indulge in the traditional South African braai (barbecue). The waterhole in front of the camp attracts animals at all hours and if you’re lounging by the pool in summer, you may even see elephants trying to drink from it.
Sibuya Game Reserve
Location: Sibuya’s reception is in the holiday village of Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape, about 130 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. Guests can fly to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town or Johannesburg.
Best for: A coastal retreat
Highlights: Going on on safari by river
Not all safari parks are landlocked. A visit to Sibuya Game Reserve starts with a 45-minute boat transfer up the Kariega River Estuary, so, in addition to the Big Five you may spot river animals including otters. Yes, there are driving safaris but you can also take boat trips or go canoeing to immerse yourself in the wilderness.
The award-winning reserve has two camps that run almost exclusively on solar power: River Camp has four eco tents and Forest Camp has eight. Bush Lodge’s four luxurious suites are on the main electricity grid. All meals are buffet style and served in communal dining areas or under the stars. All three camps were built to have as little impact on their surroundings as possible. Sibuya also offers eco volunteering experiences where guests can help support anti-rhino poaching efforts, track wildlife and explore the coastal ecosystem.
Phinda Private Game Reserve
Location: This reserve is a 3.5-hour drive from Durban in KwaZulu Natal. Guests can fly to Durban from Johannesburg or Cape Town. Airlink also offers daily flights from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Phinda’s private airstrip.
Best for: An all-round experience
Highlights: Seven distinct habitats, including dry sand forest, and sightings of cheetah and rare black rhino.
Phinda Private Game Reserve, an &Beyond property, is an eco-pioneer with 30 years of conservation work under its belt. The reserve’s 28,555 hectares of reclaimed farmland includes rare dry sand forest and it also has several programs to protect cheetah, black rhino and pangolins. The reserve works with the Africa Foundation on community projects and has eliminated plastic bottles from all of its lodges.
Phinda’s six luxury lodges have something for everyone: Mountain Lodge has family suites and a WildChild program for the kids; Forest Lodge’s suites are in the sand forest, with floor-to-ceiling windows; and Rock Lodge is a honeymoon sanctuary with six suites set on a dramatic clifftop and their own plunge pools. For the ultimate experience, go all out and hire the Homestead, a private villa that comes with a dedicated chef, butler, ranger and tracker. All lodges have pools and viewing decks for spotting wildlife and specialist safaris are also on offer alongside unique experiences like pangolin tagging and Zulu village tours.
Garonga Safari Co.
Location: Garonga is in the Makalali Private Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park. Guests can fly to Hoedspruit from Johannesburg or Cape Town or take daily chartered flights to Garonga’s airstrip from Johannesburg airport.
Best for: Glamping
Highlights: A sleep-out deck, open-air bath and yoga deck.
Safari romance meets the bush at Garonga Safari Co. Choose from three accommodation options: Garonga Safari Camp has six luxury glamping tents with four-poster beds, raised wooden decks overlooking the dry riverbed and indoor and outdoor showers; Little Garonga is made up of three suites with private decks and staff to cater to your every whim; and MCH is a fully solar-powered, self-contained “tented camp” of four suites that includes a romantic sleep-out deck 20 minutes from the main camp.
Garonga aims to offer a “safari for the soul” so in addition to guided drives and walks, relax with a massage, stretch out on the yoga deck and soak in an open-air bathtub.