The southern tip of the African continent is abundantly rich in all things wild and wonderful with some of the best safari parks in South Africa on the bucket list of most safari-goers. From national parks and game reserves to those under private management, the choices are endless.
These wildlife havens offer plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the inhabitants of the natural world. The biggest attraction in almost all of these parks is undoubtedly the famed members of the Big Five—lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. And for the avid birder, there are more than 850 species that criss-cross the skies.
Wild Safari Guide has narrowed down the list to ten of the best safari parks in South Africa to make things a little easier.
1. Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park can most certainly claim the top spot on any list of the best safari parks in South Africa. Covering nearly two million hectares and bigger than some countries, this bushveld paradise is situated in the Lowveld and straddles the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.
The park’s richness in fauna and flora is evident in the nearly 150 mammals, 500 species of birds, and more than 1,900 plant species. Apart from the Big Five, visitors are sure to encounter creatures like giraffe, zebra, impala, cheetah, wild dog, warthog and jackal when setting foot in this park.
Including the popular self-drive or guided game drive experiences, there are many activities to participate in when visiting Kruger. Many rest camps offer wilderness trails while those looking for something shorter can embark on a guided morning walk. There is even a golf course at the Skukuza rest camp, should one wish to get sporty.
2. Addo Elephant National Park
The Big Seven call the Addo Elephant National Park—considered to be one of the best safari parks in South Africa—home. Added to the usual suspects of the Big Five, is the Great White Shark and the Southern Right Whale in this park situated in the Eastern Cape.
The park is a haven for elephants while lions, leopards, spotted hyenas as well as Cape mountain zebras and red hartebeest also roam freely. And don’t forget about the famous flightless dung beetle who has the right of way on any given day.
Visitors will not run out of things to do in this fantastic safari park in South Africa. There are two hides to view the game from, as well as an interpretive centre at the main rest camp to occupy the kids. Guided game drives, horse riding and 4WD trails are also on offer.
3. Table Mountain National Park
The Table Mountain National Park in the Western Cape deserves its status as one of the best safari parks in South Africa, especially as it is a World Heritage site and also one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
This mostly open-access park comprises of much more than just the famous mountain and the sea. It falls within the fynbos biome, which makes it extremely diverse—plant-wise. Various butterfly and bird species flutter about while it is also not too farfetched to catch a glimpse of the rare caracal.
For the more adventurous, the National Park offers a plethora of hiking options, and many of the park’s trails can be accessed without paying anything. Cable car trips to the top of Table Mountain will give visitors a bird’s eye view of the surroundings below.
4. West Coast National Park
The endless white beaches, salt marshes and carpets of flowers every year at spring, indeed make the West Coast National Park one of the best safari parks in South Africa. This park on the West Coast is a dream for visitors loving the fresh air and plenty of sunshine.
Birding enthusiasts can visit one of four bird hides to capture spectacular snaps of the birdlife. Approximately 10% of the country’s wader population occur in the park.
There is a variety of outdoor activities available in West Coast National Park. Visitors can either choose a short walk or more strenuous hike, while cyclists can explore one of the many routes. Langebaan Lagoon is fantastic for water sports such as kayaking, sailing and kite-boarding in selected sections.
5. Bontebok National Park
Even though it is the country’s smallest national park, Bontebok National Park in the Western Cape can still be regarded as one of the best in South Africa. It is home to the bontebok, red hartebeest and Cape mountain zebra.
In the absence of large predators, the park is one of the best safari parks in South Africa in which to explore the distinctive flora of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Macro photographers will rejoice in the number of small flowers and insects found in this fynbos paradise.
Several short hiking trails are available while there are also designated bicycle routes in the park. Swimming, canoeing and fishing can also be enjoyed.
6. Mokala National Park
Mokala National Park in the Northern Cape may be the youngest park in the SANParks stable, but as it is the place where endangered species roam, it should be labelled as one of the best safari parks in South Africa.
The animal numbers in the park have been increasing since wildlife translocation began in earnest in 2006. Today visitors to this safari park in South Africa can expect to encounter white and black rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and black wildebeest.
The best way for safari-goers to immerse themselves is to participate in a breakfast or bush braai at the beginning or end of the day. For those with an interest in cultural heritage, guided drives or walks to rock art engraving sites are available.
7. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The adage that once the red sand of the Kalahari sticks to a visitor’s sole, it will be hard brush off, most definitely gives the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park a place among the best safari parks in South Africa. The park, in the Northern Cape, also borders Botswana and Namibia.
Safari-goers to the park will be enthralled by the arid landscape and shutterbugs will for sure be kept busy. Sightings of lion, leopard and cheetah abound while the lucky will also be able to tick off bat-eared foxes, aardwolf and brown hyenas on their must-see lists.
Apart from wildlife enthusiasts navigating the red dunes in the appropriate vehicle, photographers and bird lovers will have a field day here and are encouraged to bring along their gear to capture incredible moments in nature.
8. Tankwa Karoo National Park
The silence and tranquillity of the Tankwa Karoo National Park in the Western Cape truly make it one of the best safari parks in South Africa. It is the ideal destination to escape the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.
A drive around the park can expose wildlife such as Cape mountain zebra, oryx, red hartebeest, springbok and eland. Many birds, endemic to the Karoo occur in this safari park in South Africa. These include the Karoo eremomela, Burchell’s courser and Karoo long-billed lark.
One of the most amazing features is the stars at night as the location is far from civilization and not too far from Sutherland, a region great for stargazing. There are also some 4WD trails in the park, and the use of a vehicle with high clearance is recommended.
9. Golden Gate Highlands National Park
For a mountainous experience, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State is a must-see as the best safari parks in South Africa list. It lies past the foothills of the Maluti Mountains with the sandstone cliffs a shining beacon in the sun.
The bearded vulture is a prominent feature in the sky of this safari park in South Africa. Golden Gate is the only national park dedicated to the protection of the grassland biome and also one of the most important water catchment areas in South Africa.
One of the most popular activities on offer in this park is hiking. There are numerous trails to explore, ranging from short hikes to overnight options. Guided horse riding excursions are also available while a visit to the Basotho Cultural Village can be arranged.
10. Garden Route National Park
The pristine beaches, mountains, forests, fynbos and lakes of the Garden Route National Park pencil it in as one of the best safari parks in South Africa. It is indeed a place where the soul can rest and everlasting memories are created.
Even though only one elephant remains in the Knysna forest, the park’s other residents, like a variety of antelope species, do not take away from it being among the top parks. The park is a birder’s paradise with more than 280 species fluttering about, including the colourful Narina Trogon and the Knysna Turaco.
The world-famous Otter hiking trail put the park firmly on the map. For those looking for less strenuous hikes, there are numerous shorter trails throughout the park. Lovers of water sport, as well as adrenalin seekers, can choose from a variety of activities.
Best Safari Parks South Africa
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