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Everything you need to know to plan a South Africa safari

An African safari is, without any exaggeration, one of the most unique experiences on Earth. The wide, expansive savanna offers a glimpse into a truly wild environment and a chance to see the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – originally named because they were the most difficult to hunt on foot), hear a cacophony of new sounds and witness some of the most renowned sunsets in the world. And when it comes to that flawless combination, a South Africa safari takes the crown.

But it’s a hard thing to plan. For something with so much to consider – like what type of accommodation to choose, where to stay, which parks and game reserves to head to, what time of year to visit – it’s hard to know where to start. So, we’ve rounded up our best tips to help you plan a safari in South Africa.

Which are the best parks for wildlife?

Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo)

Let’s start with the big one. Kruger National Park is the ultimate South Africa safari, loved for its extensive wildlife, from the Big Five to cheetah, painted wolves, hyena, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, hippo, and over 500 bird species. This abundance is, in part, due to how big this national park is – the Kruger measures 19,485 sq km, hugging the Mozambique border and crossing the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

There are plenty of ways to do Kruger National Park across all sorts of budgets. The park is run by the South African National Parks (SAN parks), while additional land on the western flank is divided into private farms and game reserves known as ‘Greater Kruger’. Staying at these private reserves, such as renowned ones like Sabi Sands and  Lion Sands, will give you an exclusive, luxury experience, while more affordable options are to self-drive or take an organised tour.

How do I get there?

The best way to get to Kruger National Park is flying into Johannesburg and either catching another flight to an airport serving the park, self-driving or joining an organised tour.

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Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park, Northern Cape

Africa’s first trans-frontier park spanning across both South Africa and Botswana, you could even tick two countries off in one go when going on safari here. Although the majority of the park is in Botswana, you’ll still find the visit worthwhile. The open landscape gives an unobstructed view for spotting animals, and Kgalagadi is most well known for its predators; if you have your heart set on seeing a leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena or the black-maned Kalahari lion, this South Africa safari will be your best bet. If meat-eaters aren’t your thing, the park is also known for its seasonal movement of herbivores such as wildebeest, springbok and the gemsbok.

How do I get there?

As many South Africa safari journeys begin, you’ll most likely start by flying into Johannesburg (or somewhere within the Gauteng province), and then either renting a car from there and making the drive to the park, or taking another flight closer to Upington, where you can also rent a car, or have a tour pick you up.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Kwazulu-Natal

Despite being a twentieth of the size of Kruger, Hluluwe-iMofolozi Park is sometimes considered to be far superior. While it can’t compete with the game populations, it does have a distinctly more wild feel due to the fact that no restcamps (bar one) are fenced off, allowing the animals to wander through at leisure, if they so wish. All of the Big Five are here, and it’s one of the best places in not only South Africa, but the world, to see rhino, both black and white. It’s also well worth coming here for wilderness hiking trails, of which there are some of the best in the country.

How do I get there?

There’s no public transport to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, so your best bet is renting a car or arranging a tour from Durban. In fact, it’s close enough to Durban that you can even go on a day tour, which makes this park a perfect beach-safari escape.

Addo Elephant Park, Eastern Cape

As the name suggests, this park in the Eastern Cape is known for its excellent elephant spotting – no other park in the country has as many. Another great advantage to Addo Elephant Park (and the private reserves around it if you fancy some pampering) is that it’s malaria-free, so no inconvenient or side-effect inducing medication is needed. It’s also the only national park in South Africa with a coastline (albeit in a separate section with its own entrance).

Elephants are of course the main draw, but lions and hyenas have been reintroduced here, and Addo is also home to the Big Five. Addo Elephant Park’s bush is more thick than other parks, which means it may sometimes be more difficult to see game, but when you do it’s usually very close-up.

How do I get there?

Port Elizabeth is the closest major city, so you’ll need to fly into there and then drive (either rent a car or get picked up by a lodge or tour) the 75km to the park.