Why Your First Safari Should Be in South Africa
Plus, need-to-know tips for making it the best trip ever.
Safaris are a once-in-a-lifetime experience—a memory travelers should all have—and in Africa, there are countless places where you can experience one. Whatever your preference, be it staying on the coast or in the bush, spotting lion or wildebeest, enjoying wine country or urban life, you don’t have to compromise in South Africa. This vast, diverse “Rainbow Nation” has it all—dynamic cities, stunning vineyards, and, of course, some of the best wildlife-viewing opportunities on Earth. No wonder it’s a vacation hot spot for international celebrities: in just the last few months, Hilary Duff honeymooned on safari in Kruger National Park, Gerard Butler was spotted shopping along Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent their first official overseas tour with baby Archie in—you guessed it—South Africa.
Why South Africa?
Like the country itself, there’s a perfect South Africa safari for everyone. First-timers love the sheer variety of experiences to have here. Families feel welcome thanks to the country’s world-class lodges and parks, which make the experience for all ages seamless. Honeymooners are well taken care of, as well, with luxe suites, intimate group settings, and extra perks like dinners beneath the stars. If you’re interested in all of that—staying in award-winning lodges, being spoiled with top-notch cuisine and pampering spa treatments, checking off the Big Five (and then some) during twice-daily game drives at sunrise and sunset—a South Africa safari will deliver.
Ready to dive in? Read on for four need-to-know tips before your next visit, be it your first time or your fifth:
1. Pick the right season
Truthfully, there’s no bad time to head out on a South Africa safari. The season that’s right for you depends solely on the kind of experience you’re looking to have. Do you love baby animals and don’t mind hot weather? From December through February, Cape Town experiences its dry season while Kruger National Park experiences its lush, wet season—balmy but perfect conditions for spotting migratory birds and newborn wildlife. Winter (June through August) brings just the opposite. Cape Town sees its share of rain, while Kruger’s dry season spells prime game viewing because foliage is minimal and lack of rainfall draws animals to its rivers and water holes. Whatever month you choose to go, you’re sure to have the experience of a lifetime.
2. Book a private safari
Despite being on opposite sides of the country, affordable two-hour flight connections between Cape Town and Kruger National Park put your dream South Africa safari within easy reach. As one of Africa’s largest game reserves, there’s lots more to see here than just the Big Five, from cheetah and giraffe to hyena, various species of antelope, and packs of African wild dog—a bucket-list sighting for even experienced safari-goers. In an area as large as Kruger, a private safari is best way to go for access to private concessions within the greater national park. What that means: a less crowded, more authentic safari experience; off-road game driving so you can follow what you’re tracking (this is not permitted in national parks); and the ability to game-drive at night (whereas national parks have closing times).
3. Go with a guide
DIY safaris are doable, but if it’s your first rodeo, do yourself a favor and hire an expert like Explorer Safari—an invaluable resource for arranging the trip of your dreams. After more than 60 years in the field, Explorer Safari has built up a strong network of inside connections with top guides and camp and lodge operators, so you know you’re getting the best of the best. They’re also experts in responsible tourism, ensuring your safari dollars support conservation agencies, local communities, and ethical wildlife encounters.
4. Make the most of your stay
We get it—you’re here to see the animals—but there’s far more to this vast, varied country than just its game. Make it a point to check off these other places while you’re there:
United’s new direct flights between Newark and Cape Town, which launched in December, have changed the game for U.S. travelers. No more lengthy layover connections mean you’ll head straight to the Mother City en route to your safari. From the plateau-topped Table Mountain overlooking the sea to its picture-perfect beaches, centuries-old architecture, buzzing harbor, and dynamic urban center that’s chock-full of world-class art, food, and design, Cape Town is as beautiful as it is diverse. After checking out its chic hotels and design-forward restaurants, take a hike at Lion’s Head or Cape Point, spot penguins at Boulders Beach, or test your surfing chops in chichi Camps Bay in the shadow of the Twelve Apostles.
Cape Wine Country
You only need to head less than an hour outside Cape Town to find two of the world’s most beautiful wine valleys, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. These two hubs for award-winning food and wine feature a host of beautiful hotels occupying working wine farms where you can enjoy both. There’s no bad angle or meal to be had at the 19th-century manor house turned 17-room Leeu Estates or historic cottages at Babylonstoren, whose gardens grow ingredients for their multiple restaurants and tasting rooms.
Ready to head out on your adventure? Chat with an Explorer Safari specialist to find the right experience for you.
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