Luxury safaris in South Africa

In December 2021, 30 white rhinos were introduced to Akagera National Park in Rwanda from South Africa’s Phinda Game Reserve, a 4,000km journey that, hopefully, will help this near-threatened species survive into the future.

Financing of ambitious, complex and expensive projects such as this are possible, in part, because of the high-end, exclusive safari experiences that private reserves and conservancies offer, that provide significant income for conservation projects. Guests enjoy superb levels of comfort and service amid magnificent (and often remote) wilderness areas, while their stay contributes substantially to ensuring that these places can be protected for future generations.

Safaris in South Africa are renowned for their accessibility (Kruger National Park, for instance, is just an hour’s flight away from Johannesburg); the ease with which you can see the Big Five, and the great value they offer. They’re ideal for first-timers on safari and families with younger children especially, and often combined with other destinations such as Mozambique, Mauritius or Victoria Falls. But such accessibility does mean that the most popular areas get crowded, with lodges serving 30, 40 or more guests at a time.

So pushing the button marked ‘luxury’ in South Africa often means staying just outside well-visited parks such as Kruger – say, in Sabi Sands, or the Makalali Conservancy, a private reserve 90km west. One memorable extravagance here is to soar above the landscape on a micro light aircraft to see its elephants, lions, white and black rhinos and hippos from above.

The path less-travelled

Luxury South Africa safaris can also involve heading to more remote and less-visited parts of the country, such as the KwaZulu-Natal province, ancestral lands of the Zulu people, which lies on the southeast Indian Ocean coast.

Safaris in KwaZulu-Natal are often recommended for second-timers, with stylish lodges dotting private reserves considered world-leaders in conservation practises. Here, rather than simply admiring the wildlife from a jeep, you can join in with actual research projects, helping to track and monitor endangered species and even help fit them with radio collars.

Another regular feature of South Africa luxury safaris is a week or so spent on the beach afterwards, where you can wash the dust off your skin, and soothe joints aching from days of game drives in the ocean. In KwaZulu-Natal, you can travel up the Elephant Coast from the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve for snorkelling and diving over pristine coral reefs.

Mozambique and Mauritius are a short flight away from South Africa too, with sumptuous hotels often promising chalets moments from the shore, private pools and a host of water sports.
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What do luxury safaris in South Africa involve?

Getting around

Luxury South Africa safaris typically involve short domestic flights between destinations. Kruger National Park is just two hours from Cape Town and one hour from Johannesburg. For those continuing onto the beach, it’s four hours to Mauritius from Johannesburg and two hours to Mozambique. Meanwhile, it’s a little over an hour by air from Johannesburg to Richard’s Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa’s road network is also excellent, which is one reason why self drive safaris are very popular. Another is the freedom to follow your own interests every day on a tailor made itinerary, either based in one luxury lodge throughout or traveling between several.

Luxury safari lodges in South Africa

“A butler doesn’t do it for me personally,” says Amanda Marks, from our partner Tribes Travel, “but privacy and space are worth paying for.”

Given its exalted position as one of Africa’s top safari destinations, it’s not surprising that South Africa boasts a superb range of luxury accommodations.

“There are some camps and lodges which are wonderful both in terms of service and hospitality and in regard to the level of wildlife guiding,” continues Amanda. “You also get a very personal service – usually hosted by a camp manager which gives a feel of a house ‘party’: high quality food; a variety in terms of where you dine (in a dining room, around a fire, by a river); a room which has everything you need, including niceties such as good-quality toiletries; very comfortable beds, often a small plunge pool.”

Luxury South Africa safaris veer more towards private reserves on the outskirts of popular parks. Here, game lodges are small and stylish, with free-roaming wildlife and the option of activities such as bush walks and night-time game drives that are restricted in other parks.

It’s important to remember that luxury doesn’t mean elite. Many of our partners seek out accommodations that work with their local communities in providing training and employment, as well as getting closely involved in conservation initiatives.

Combining South Africa with other countries

Many of our South Africa luxury safaris will spend time in two places – or more. There might be a few days exploring Cape Town, followed by four days on safari, and then another week on the coast in Mozambique or on an island locale such as Mauritius, where you can snorkel, sunbathe and snack on seafood to your heart’s content.

Luxury safaris are also regularly combined with wine tasting, touring South Africa’s magnificent Garden Route, or a few days in the adrenaline seeker’s paradise of Victoria Falls.

Wildlife lovers needn’t confine themselves to South Africa’s parks, reserves and private conservancies. There are whales, sharks and dolphins off the coast, endangered African penguins on Boulders Beach, and primate rehabilitation centers where you can get hands-on helping the little critters back into the wild. Our guide to responsible wildlife tourism in South Africa explains how to ensure your trip makes a positive contribution to sustainable conservation practises.

Luxury safaris in South Africa for families

Something I love telling parents about is what we call ‘poo safaris’.
– Rebecca Blakey, from our partner Wayfairer Travel
South Africa is generally considered one of the best countries for a family safari, especially when you have younger kids under the age of 10 or so. South Africa safaris are just so easy – family vacations here are long- and well-established. All the tourism infrastructure that you’ll need is there, there are no long, dusty transfers, and the activities for kids are as memorable for them as they are extensive.

As well as Kruger National Park, there are several parts of South Africa such as Waterberg that are malaria-free, so there’s no need for kids to take anti-malaria medication.

Family luxury safaris in South Africa appreciate that long game drives with early starts are not suitable for younger children, so there will be activities laid on for them while the rest of the family gets on with the game viewing. Kids will set off on their own bush craft adventures, learn how to make bows and arrows, take part on their own mini game drives where they can fill out their sightings sheets, and with the help of the experts, learn what animals might have left different types of droppings.

Family safaris don’t focus solely on the wildlife. Some days, children will spend at the accommodation, perhaps learning to make pizza or fishing in a river. They have their own menus and mealtimes too. And on a cultural side, they’ll meet local children and have an opportunity to talk about the various traditions in their home countries.

“It’s also important to remember that the managers of family-friendly lodges will often have their own families there,” says Rebecca. “So they know first-hand how to engage kids and help them enjoy themselves.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Maurice Gort] [Intro: Lucas Alexander] [Luxury safari lodges in South Africa: Despina Galani]