How to plan a South Africa safari

For many travellers, a safari is a one time only experience. Consequently, it pays to plan and research a safari experience to ensure that you get the best possible trip. Doing so will mean you’ll have a better chance of seeing the wildlife you want to, potentially reduce costs and also open up new options and routes.

From which national park to visit to how much everything will cost and the type of safari to take — here’s how to plan your safari in South Africa.

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Where to go on safari

South Africa is safari heaven. From the world-famous Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands to the lesser-known Karoo and family-friendly experiences in the Western Cape, there’s a wildlife experience to match all needs. First-time visitors will probably want to hit the Big Five highlights of the major parks, but don’t dismiss the more accessible lodges in the North West Province and around Cape Town.

For those looking for a cheaper option, consider self-drive safari routes. A quintessential South African family experience is a self-drive route through Kruger National Park, staying at self-catering campsites, where accommodation can be anything from small huts to guesthouses.

When planning where to go on safari in South Africa, consider what you want to get out of the experience. For luxurious lodges, head to up-market parks like Sabi Sands. If you want to get out into the bush, consider lodges that offer walking safaris. For those less bothered by the big five, consider the birdlife of KwaZulu-Natal or the cheetahs of Karoo.

When to go on safari

The best time to visit South Africa for safaris is between May to September. This is South Africa’s dry season, but also low season as temperatures drop for winter. Wildlife is easier to spot in these months, as vegetation is lower and animals gather around waterholes.

It is possible to visit any of South Africa’s national parks during these months, but consider when to go if you plan on combining safari with other routes. For example, if combining safari with Cape Town, consider the summer months of November to March. For whale watching on the Western Cape, visit between June and November. For year-round sunshine and wildlife watching, KwaZulu-Natal is your best bet.

For more information, see our full When to visit South Africa guide.

How long should a safari be?

A safari can be as long or as short as you want it to be. There are options for 3-4 week safari experiences that take in most of what South Africa has to offer, as well as short 3-5 day trips to single lodges and everything in between. In reality, most safari tourists are likely to fall somewhere in between. A ten-day trip gives you the opportunity to experience 2-4 different safari camps.

It’s worth spending more time at two camps than less at four. The longer you stay at a camp, the better your chances of having memorable wildlife encounters. You’ll also understand more about the environment you’re staying in, and get to know your guides better — both enhance the overall safari experience, transforming it from a holiday to a more meaningful trip.

What will it be like on safari?

Most safaris start around dawn with a quick breakfast before heading out in the vehicles to begin animal spotting. Most animals choose to hunt in the early morning or dusk when temperatures are cooler. It’s also a good time to spot nocturnal animals returning from a night’s hunting, such as lions.

After a few hours in the field, you’ll break for lunch before heading out again until dusk. In general, expect to spend between 6-8 hours each day searching for animals. Remember that temperatures will regularly reach 30C and the tracks the vehicles drive on can be bumpy and dusty. Dress appropriately, wear lots of suncream and drink plenty of water. Evenings are spent swapping stories — and drinks — around the campfire.

It’s also worth remembering that you’re visiting national parks, not zoos. There is no guarantee that you’ll see any of the Big Five — or any animal at all. Conversely, be aware that you’ll spend eight hours a day searching for wildlife. It is possible for animal ‘fatigue’ to set in if you spend too long in one park or lodge. To counter this, visit different lodges or parks, and mix up your experience by including walking safaris, overnight camping or evening safaris.

How much does a safari cost?

Going on safari in South Africa isn’t a cheap holiday. There are several ways to save money, from self-drive trips to travelling out of season and staying in budget campsites. In general, expect to pay anywhere from $150 per person per day for a budget safari to in excess of $1,000 per person per day for luxurious lodges in Sabi Sands.

Read the full guide

Safari In South Africa

The Big Five and beyond