12 of the Best Safari Destinations in South Africa

Want to head to one of the most unexpected best places in the world for a safari? Go to South Africa! With its spectacular landscapes and varied wildlife, there are amazing animal experiences just waiting for you and your partner. We’ve got the 12 best safari destinations in South Africa for couples.

12 of the Best Safari Destinations in South Africa

This post is by Deb Hendricks, the blogger behind Introvert with Itchy Feet | Explore Africa. She enjoys authentic experiences and enjoys sharing her love of Africa to inspire others. This post contains affiliate links.

If you’ve been researching the best safari destinations in Africa, you’ve probably come across some South African safaris. From the iconic Kruger National Park to the lesser-known Thornybush Game Reserve, there are several options for you to consider. Whether you’re headed on an African honeymoon or crave a romantic trip, you’ll read about some of the famous safari in South Africa locations.

In each destination, you’ll find a variety of accommodations, guided game drives, and many other amenities. Most even give you the chance to see the iconic Big Five – lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffaloes. Whether you’re a seasoned safari-goer or planning your first trip, South Africa will always leave you with unforgettable memories.

12 Best Safari Destinations in South Africa

1. Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is a premier safari destination in South Africa for several reasons. Spanning nearly 2 million hectares, it is not only one of the largest game reserves in Africa but also one with the most variety. 

The park is home to the famous Big Five, a major draw for wildlife enthusiasts. But, the park’s allure extends beyond these famous inhabitants. It’s also home to an insane variety of other wildlife species, including over 500 bird species, making it a paradise for bird watchers and animal lovers alike.

The different landscapes within the park, ranging from dense forests to open savannahs, provide an incredible backdrop for your wildlife viewing. These assorted ecosystems support huge numbers of plants and animals.

Kruger National Park is also known for its accessibility and its accommodation options for honeymooners. These cater to a wide range of preferences and budgets. Plus, you can choose from luxury lodges that offer world-class amenities and guided safari tours. Or opt for self-catering campsites that allow for a more rugged, close-to-nature experience. There’s something for every type of traveler and couple.

The variety of accommodations makes it perfect for a self-drive safari. Additionally, there are paved roads and restaurants for a stress-free trip.

On top of all this, the park is committed to conserving and protecting wildlife. This fact adds an educational and inspirational aspect to the safari experience. You and your SO will enjoy the thrill of spotting wildlife and gain insight into the importance of preserving these natural habitats. 

This blend of adventure, education, and available luxury makes Kruger National Park an unparalleled safari destination in South Africa.

Zebra at Kruger National Park

Kruger Park is one of the best tourist destinations in South Africa for honeymooning couples.

2. Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Sabi Sand Game Reserve is on 65,000 hectares adjacent to Kruger National Park, and it stands out as one of South Africa’s leading safari destinations. Its status as a private game reserve allows it to offer a more exclusive and personalized safari experience. This sets it apart from larger, more public reserves like Kruger.

Sabi Sand’s rich biodiversity is another major highlight. As a result, it’s home to an extremely high density of wildlife. The reserve’s efforts in conservation and anti-poaching have ensured healthy populations of many species, meaning animal sightings are more frequent and rewarding.

The landscape of Sabi Sand also contributes to its draw. The reserve features savannah, woodland, and riverine forest. These all create an ideal backdrop for game viewing and photography. The Sabie and Sand Rivers ensure a rich wildlife presence throughout the year, as many animals are drawn to these water sources.

Accommodation in Sabi Sand Game Reserve ranges from ultra-luxurious lodges to intimate bush camps, each offering unique experiences. These lodgings are known for their exceptional service, exquisite dining, and attention to detail — all perfect for a memorable, romantic trip.

The private nature of the reserve also allows for activities not permitted in national parks. These include things like off-road driving for close-up wildlife encounters and night drives.

Plus, the limited number of vehicles allowed on the reserve at any one time ensures a more relaxed and less crowded experience. This exclusivity, combined with exceptional wildlife viewing and luxurious accommodations, makes Sabi Sand Game Reserve one of the top-tier safari destinations in South Africa.

Leopard at Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Sabi Sand Game Reserve just may be the best place to do a safari in Africa.

3. Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe Game Reserve, in northern South Africa, is a sprawling place. Its 75,000 hectare size makes it one of the larger game reserves in the country.

One of the key attractions of Madikwe is its varied wildlife population, including the famous Big Five. In addition to these iconic species, the reserve is home to many other animals, such as cheetahs, giraffes, warthog, spotted hyena, baboon, hippo, and several antelope species.

Madikwe also has a very successful African wild dog conservation program. You’ll have the exciting opportunity to observe these critically endangered animals in their natural habitat. These are a favorite of many.

The reserve lies on the edge of the Kalahari, where bushveld and desert meet, resulting in a unique ecological makeup. The location creates a unique environment that supports an unusual mix of species. 

This rare ecological blend not only contributes to the variety of wildlife found in the reserve but also to its scenic beauty. Therefore, the rugged landscapes, rich vegetation, and striking views are incredibly beautiful.

Accommodation in Madikwe Game Reserve offers a range of styles and price points. From luxurious, five-star lodges to more rustic tented camps, you can choose the style of stay that best suits your needs. However, you could simply splurge during your trip with your significant other, especially if it’s your African honeymoon trip.

Plus, Madikwe is considered a malaria-free zone and is committed to conservation and community involvement. This sustainable approach to tourism makes a visit to Madikwe not just a pleasure but also a contribution to a meaningful conservation effort.

Honeymoon Accommodations in Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe Game Reserve has some of the top safari resorts in South Africa.

4. Phinda Private Game Reserve

Phinda Private Game Reserve covers about 28,555 hectares in northeast South Africa, encompassing seven distinct ecosystems. These range from woodland to grassland, wetland, forest, mountain ranges, and river systems. This variety creates a rich mix of habitats that support a spectacular variety of animals and birdlife.

Phinda is especially renowned for its leopard sightings. It provides some of the best opportunities in South Africa to see these elusive big cats in the wild. The reserve also plays a crucial role in rhino conservation, with both black and white rhino populations thriving here. You’ll find the rest of the Big Five, too.

Plus, Phinda’s location near the coast means you can take advantage of experiences like scuba diving, observing turtles, along with the more typical spotting of its epic land mammals.

The accommodation options in Phinda cater to upscale tastes, with everything from luxurious lodges to intimate tented camps. These establishments offer luxury, exceptional service, and beautifully detailed properties. Many feature unique amenities like private pools, panoramic viewing decks, and outdoor showers that all blend seamlessly with the surrounding wilderness.

In addition to their game drives, Phinda offers a variety of activities, such as walking safaris and night drives. You and your partner can even take a river cruise to get a different perspective of the bush and its inhabitants. 

Phinda’s conservation work and community involvement add a meaningful dimension to your safari experience. The reserve works closely with local communities. This ensures that the benefits of tourism are shared and contribute to sustainable development.

Leopards at Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa

Phinda Private Game Reserve is one of the best safari places in South Africa.

5. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (HiP)

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, located about 55km (34 miles) southwest of Phinda, is the oldest game reserve in Africa. This historic park spans around 96,000 hectares and is known for its rich wildlife and conservation efforts, particularly in saving the white rhino from extinction.

Many celebrate Hluhluwe-Imfolozi for its successful conservation practices. It played a pivotal role in ‘Operation Rhino’ in the 1950s and 1960s, which was crucial in saving the white rhino from the brink of extinction. Today, the park hosts a large population of both white and black rhinos, making it one of the best places in the world to observe them.

As well as the Big Five and an excellent variety of other wildlife, HiP is home to over 300 bird species, making it a top destination for bird watchers. The varied landscapes, from the rolling hills of Hluhluwe to the rugged terrain of Imfolozi, provide an ideal habitat for a wide range of plants and animals.

The accommodation options within Hluhluwe-Imfolozi satisfy various preferences, with everything from luxury lodges with all the modern comforts to rustic campsites for those after a more immersive bush experience. This range ensures that all couples, regardless of their budget or style of travel, can enjoy a comfortable stay.

As well as guided game drives, the park offers unique walking safaris. These allow you to experience the African bush on foot, an opportunity that is not available in all game reserves.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park Monkey

One of the best places in South Africa for safari is Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park,

6. Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is the South African portion of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the largest conservation areas in the world. Kgalagadi straddles the borders of Botswana and South Africa in the expanse of the Kalahari Desert. About one-quarter of the immense 3.6 million hectares of the park lies in South Africa.

One of its most striking features is its dramatic landscape. Red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, and dry riverbeds characterize the semi-arid desert environment. It’s a stark and beautiful backdrop that’s markedly different from the bushveld, or sub-tropical woodland, common in other parts of South Africa. 

While the park is not home to the full Big Five, it is known for its populations of predators. This list includes the black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. It’s also one of the few places where you can see the elusive brown hyena.

Kalahari Gemsbok is also popular with bird lovers, with over 300 species recorded. These include the martial eagle and the sociable weaver with its large communal nests. Sparse vegetation and open landscapes make wildlife viewing relatively easy and provide you with exceptional opportunities for photography and wildlife spotting.

Choose from luxury lodges offering all-inclusive experiences with guided game drives and top-notch amenities. Or stay in basic campsites that allow for a more rugged, close-to-nature experience. These campsites often provide prime spots for stargazing, where you can marvel at the clear, unpolluted night skies of the Kalahari.

Being more remote and less frequented than some of South Africa’s other parks, it provides a more tranquil and intimate wildlife experience.

Kgalagadi’s unique approach to managing and protecting a vast transfrontier ecosystem also adds to its attraction. It’s a pioneering example of international cooperation in conservation and a model for sustainable tourism and wildlife management.

Oryx Gazella in Kalahari Gemsbok National Park South Africa Safari
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is one of the best national parks in South Africa for safari trips.

7. Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, like Sabi Sands, shares a border with Kruger National Park. It has emerged as one of the top safari destinations in the country. 

Its journey to this status is rooted in its unique blend of wildlife, conservation efforts, and exclusive safari experiences. With approximately 53,000 hectares to its name, Timbavati has rare white lions, which occur naturally in the region. These stunning cats are an important draw for animal lovers and wildlife photographers from around the world.

As a part of the Greater Kruger Area, wildlife roams freely between Timbavati and Kruger National Park. This is thanks to the absence of fences and adds to the number of animals that you have access to at the reserve. 

As a couple, you have your choice of everything from luxury safari lodges to comfortable tented camps in the reserve. Accommodations are geared towards all budgets, and some have spectacular views of the surrounding wilderness and wildlife.

As a private reserve, Timbavati offers night drives and walking safaris, providing a different perspective on the bush. You’re treated to nocturnal sightings of animals and smaller creatures that hide from regular drives.

Also, the reserve’s low vehicle density and limited tourist numbers mean that you can enjoy wildlife sightings without crowds, adding to the feeling of exclusivity and adventure. This emphasis on a high-quality, low-impact tourism model is key to Timbavati’s appeal. It’s easily one of the best safari destinations in South Africa for honeymooners.

South Africa Safari Lion at Timbavati Private Nature Rese

What is the best safari in South Africa? One of our 12 best will definitely fit the bill.

8. Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Pilanesberg Game Reserve, northwest of Johannesburg, is another one of the most excellent safari destinations in South Africa. Its 55,000 hectares is uniquely situated in the transition zone between the Kalahari and the Lowveld, or ‘lowlands’. 

The location contributes to one of Pilanesberg’s most striking features – its geological history. The park is centered around an ancient volcanic complex, which gives it a unique landscape of rugged hills, wooded valleys, and open grasslands. This varied topography is not only breathtaking to look at but also creates a great diversity of habitats for wildlife.

The reserve is accessible and has earned malaria-free status. These factors make Pilanesberg a popular choice for health-conscious travelers.

Like most safari destinations in South Africa, the range of accommodation options in Pilanesberg will provide you with whatever you are both looking for. From luxury lodges to self-catering campsites that offer a more immersive, close-to-nature experience, you should have no trouble finding your ideal stay.

Pilanesberg also offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The park’s size and the variety of habitats mean that it is home to over 7,000 animals, including a rich bird life with over 300 bird species. Along with guided game drives, you can participate in walking safaris as well as hot air balloon rides. 

Pilanesberg is also committed to conservation, and its role in ecological preservation is a part of its appeal. The park was the site of one of the most ambitious wildlife reintroduction projects in South Africa, Operation Genesis. It successfully reintroduced several species that had been absent from the region.

Pilanesberg Game Reserve South African Safari

Want a Johannesburg South Africa safari? Well, Pilanesberg Game Reserve is perfect!

9. Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park is on the southern end of the country. It’s a safari destination known for its remarkable wildlife and conservation success stories.

Covering more than 180,000 hectares, the park’s claim to fame is its thriving elephant population. In the last several years, it has grown to over 600 individuals, showcasing one of the most successful wildlife conservation efforts in the world.

The park’s commitment to conservation extends to protecting marine life as well. Addo is one of the only places in the world where you can see the Big Seven. They’re able to add the great white shark and southern right whale to the traditional Big Five, as it encompasses a marine reserve that protects these incredible ocean dwellers.

Accommodations in Addo Elephant National Park include the typical broad spectrum of preferences. You’ll find everything from luxury lodges that promise comfort and exclusivity to well-appointed tented camps and campsites that allow you to enjoy the experience of being closer to nature. The facilities often give you a stunning view of the surrounding wilderness and its wildlife.

Addo also offers a range of activities over and above guided game drives. You can enjoy horseback safaris as well as hiking trails. Plus, the park’s well-maintained roads and self-drive options make it accessible for honeymooners preferring a more independent safari adventure.

Elephants in South Africa Addo Park

It may not be the cheapest safari in South Africa, but Addo Elephant National Park is a memorable visit.

10. Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve sits about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Addo on over 22,000 hectares. Some of the perks are exclusive wildlife experiences and bougie accommodations, and it is in a malaria-free zone.

The reserve’s commitment to conservation can be seen in its wildlife management practices and community involvement. It adds an educational and sustainable aspect to your safari experience, as details are shared with you by your safari guides. 

Accommodation in Kwandwe is synonymous with luxury and exclusivity. The reserve features a collection of high-end lodges and villas, and each offers a unique experience. The Great Fish River Lodge, for example, is set along the banks of the river. It provides viewing decks and private plunge pools. 

Ecca Lodge, with its contemporary design, is family-friendly and has a more youthful atmosphere. If you’re looking for ultimate privacy, the Uplands Homestead and Melton Manor offer exclusive-use villas, complete with personal chefs and private safari vehicles. Perfect for honeymooners!

Each accommodation option at Kwandwe is designed to blend seamlessly with its surroundings. You’ll have panoramic views of the wilderness and a peaceful, immersive stay. Luxurious amenities, personalized service, and gourmet dining add to the overall experience.

Best Safari Destinations in South Africa for Couples

The best safari national parks in South Africa are perfect for honeymooners to explore.

11. Shamwari Game Reserve

Shamwari Game Reserve resides a bit south of both Addo and Kwandwe Parks. Like Kwandwe, Shamwari has upscale safari experiences. The 25,000-hectare Shamwari is a pioneer in wildlife conservation, and many recognize its efforts in rehabilitating and preserving the region’s natural heritage.

Shamwari’s dedication to conservation is also reflected in its educational experiences. Take advantage of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries, where you can learn about wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts.

Accommodations in Shamwari are designed to provide an elite and comfortable stay. Your options include the grand Eagles Crag Lodge, a secluded and luxurious spot in breathtaking natural surroundings. Or if you have family in tow, the Riverdene Family Lodge might suit you better, with its welcoming and casual environment. 

The historic Long Lee Manor is all about elegant, modern luxury, while the tented Bayethe Lodge offers a more immersive bush experience. Each lodge provides sublime amenities like private pools and elegant dining areas. Enjoying a romantic trip to South Africa is so easy in this area.

South African Safari

Game reserves are among the best safari destinations in South Africa.

12. Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve is a 14,000-hectare park adjacent to the Kruger National Park. What sets this private reserve apart from the others is its commitment to providing a personalized and unparalleled safari experience.  

These experiences provide not only close encounters with wildlife. They will also educate you on the intricate ecosystems in the area and the reserve’s conservation efforts. There is no fence between Thornybush and Kruger Park, and wildlife has free access to wander between the parks.

Accommodation in Thornybush Game Reserve is all about comfort and exclusivity. It boasts several lodges and camps, each with its own unique charm. If you’re looking for ultimate luxury, the Thornybush Luxury Game Lodge is for you. It offers exquisite suites with private pools and spectacular views. Saseka Tented Camp, on the other hand, blends contemporary design with nature, and provides a more immersive bush experience. 

For families or groups, the Waterbuck Lodge is in a more homey and private setting. Each lodge in Thornybush offers personalized service, gourmet dining, and blends seamlessly with the surrounding wilderness.

Bird on Buffalo on Safari

From birds to large mammals, you can see it all on a safari in South Africa.

See the best safari destinations in South Africa on a map.

Save the best safari destinations in South Africa.

South Africa is home to some of the best safari destinations in the world, offering a unique and unforgettable experience for wildlife enthusiasts. 

From the Big 5 to a wide variety of bird species, South Africa’s game reserves and national parks offer a chance to see some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet. The 12 safari destinations listed above are in areas of natural beauty. Additionally, they offer a range of accommodation options, from luxury lodges to more basic campsites. 

Are you and your partner looking for a more exclusive safari experience? Or perhaps a chance to get up close and personal with some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife? Then, South Africa has something for you. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime

Best Safari Destinations in South AfricaBest Safari Destinations in South Africa

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