Planning your safari trip in South Africa

Whether you’re a South African or an international traveller, planning the perfect safari trip is just as exciting. The possibility of spotting The Big Five and all manner of other wild beasts, birds, and reptiles in their natural habitat, up close, is a thrilling one.

The kind of safari you plan depends on a number of things: your budget, whether you’re willing to rough it or you want all the comforts of home, and how many people you’re planning on including in your trip. South Africa has many, many options when it comes to safari destinations, itineraries, and accommodation, so here are some tips to help you plan your South African safari holiday…

Know when to go on safari

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For wildlife watching, it’s best to plan your safari trip for the winter season, which lasts from May to September. This is advisable as it’s when most trees and bushes are leafless, which makes game and bird spotting easier.

The fact that food and water is limited for animals during this period also means they’re more likely to be spotted while foraging for food, or getting a drink at the waterhole. Most parts of South Africa get their rain during the summer months (November to February), which will mean that dirt roads become muddy swamps, so it’s best to go another time unless you have a 4×4 and like a challenge!

Organised tour or self-drive safari?

Overland (also known as mobile) safaris are generally the most affordable type of organised tour safari. Here, you’ll be looking at camping accommodation and you’ll probably safari in a group with other travellers. These sorts of safaris are usually participatory and you’ll be expected to get involved in chores like cooking meals or setting up camp.

When it comes to self-drive however, choose your public game park destination, rent a 4×4, and tour the bush on your own time! Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you don’t have to worry too much about getting lost or being cheetah food. You do have to worry about elephants charging your car, but if you follow the park rules, you should be fine…

For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can then pay as you go for meals, tours, and accommodation as necessary. Just because you haven’t hired a guide, doesn’t mean you should miss anything exciting. Make sure you read guidebooks on spotting wildlife in your destination, bring along your field guidebook, or stop and ask other travellers what they’ve seen and where.

Safari options in South Africa

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A luxury safari offered by a tour operator could be expensive, but you can find all-inclusive prices covering tours, food, drinks, and excursions. Fully catered luxury packages offer travellers the comforts of home in the bush. Accommodations range from air-conditioned suites to stylish tents – it’s like camping…but with hot running water, soft linens, and first-rate service.

South Africa has over 600 game parks and reserves, both public and private. The public options are generally more affordable, while the private reserves are where you’re likely to get closer to animals and experience less (people) crowding. But, with over 600 parks to choose from, how do you decide?

Check out this list of SA’s top 10 game reserves. Or look at a map, and pick a location to visit. Or decide which wildlife you’d most like to see (are you keen on big cats? Rhinos? Bird watching?) and choose your safari location based on that.

Shame your safari sights

Sign up for a wildspots account and share your game spotting with the world. You’ll also be aiding conservationists to track and record the migration and distribution of animal, bird and insect species across South Africa. You can upload photos, field notes and pin them to maps.

Before you head off on a safari trip though, make sure you’ve read this list of 5 things not to do on safari and this list on how to make the most of your safari. Remember – it’s all about relaxing and communing with nature!

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