What First-Timers Should Know When Visiting SA’s Game Reserves

What First-Timers Should Know When Visiting SA's Game Reserves

For first-timers visiting South Africa’s game reserves, the experience is an undoubtedly exciting one that comes with all sorts of anticipation in the days leading up to your departure. With several world-renowned game reserves – each one offering something different to the next, as well as an endless list of safari activities and accommodation options – knowing where to start can be a little daunting. Specials4Africa is here to help you to plan your perfect safari – the key to a quintessential South African adventure.

From what to pack to how to go about choosing the right accommodation, here’s everything you should know when visiting SA’s game reserves for the first time…

Choosing your destination 

South Africa boasts an extensive number of safari destinations and game reserves to choose from, but some of our most popular include the Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province), Madikwe Game Reserve (North West Province), and the Pilanesberg Game Reserve (North West Province), to name a few.

The Kruger National Park is arguably South Africa’s most popular safari destination. With over two million hectares of unrivalled bushveld, home to diverse wildlife, vegetation and history, Kruger is South Africa’s flagship national park and the largest game reserve in the country.

Also read: Save up to 56% at Bongani Mountain Lodge, Greater Kruger Park 

Pilanesberg National Park has developed a reputation as South Africa’s most popular family-friendly game reserve. This is likely due to its close proximity to Johannesburg (an easy two-hour drive), the affordable range of accommodation options on offer (from camping and budget-friendly lodges to the ultra-luxe), as well as the wide variety of activities available for the whole family to enjoy (from guided bush walks to hot air ballooning and more). The nearby Sun City resort adds to the allure of Pilanesberg National Park, however, there is no doubt that the reserve’s abundant wildlife remains its main drawcard. The park is positively bursting with iconic African animal species, including the Big 5 and numerous other crowd favourites such as the hippo, wild dog, cheetah, hyena and giraffe.

Providing a more intimate and exclusive safari experience, Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets, with only pre-authorized guests allowed to enter its gates. Located in the North-West Province near to the Botswana border, this 680 km² wildlife haven is a little over a four-hour drive from Johannesburg, with a number of places of interest along the way – these include Hartebeespoort and the city of Rustenburg (with the famed Sun City resort nearby).

When to visit 

The best time to visit South Africa’s game reserves is during the dry winter season when the bushy terrains are less dense, allowing for clear wildlife viewing, while animals tend to gather around sporadic water sources following the summer rains. During this time of the year, you can expect cold mornings and evenings with shorter, warm days.

Winter (dry season): May – September

Summer (wet season): October – April

Choosing your accommodation 

Things can get tricky when you’re looking for accommodation to suit your needs in a game reserve that you haven’t yet visited. Once you’ve decided on the type of accommodation you’re after (camping vs. luxury lodge, self-catering vs. fully-inclusive etc.) it’s a good idea to contact an accredited tour operator specializing in safaris in order to find the best possible accommodation that fits your specific requirements.

Understanding Fully-Inclusive vs. Private-Use Lodges

Getting to the reserve


If you are self-driving to the game reserve you’ve chosen to visit, make sure you’ve noted the gates’ opening and closing times, as well as the reserve’s entry fees. For most of South Africa’s reserves, you can find these online. Also, be aware of your commuting times between Johannesburg and the reserve – getting to the Kruger National Park, for example, can easily take around 5 hours, so plan and prepare for this to avoid any unexpected delays.


If you’re not up for a self-drive journey, contact the agent who booked your accommodation and they will be able to assist you with your travel arrangements. Alternatively, Biggestleaf Travel offers reliable and safe transport services to take care of all your point-to-point travel needs.


If you’ve chosen a fly-in safari, it is important to take note of luggage restrictions, as well as scheduled flight times. There are strict baggage allowances in place with charter flights, such as the restriction of hard case luggage.

Getting your paperwork in order 

If you are not an RSA resident, you’ll need to ensure that all your paperwork is up-to-date and in your possession at the time of your travels. This includes, but is not limited to, items such as an updated passport and visa.

Why you should use a travel agent or tour operator

Unless you are a seasoned safari-goer who regularly travels and visits SA’s game lodges, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by making use of a travel agent when booking your trip. Travel agents use their connections and expertise to assist with your travel plans and bookings and can add much more value to a memorable safari experience.

Our consultants at Specials4Africa have years of experience in the travel industry and want others to get out and enjoy Africa as much as they do.

Our destinations and specials are hand-picked, offering the best available price, timeframes, as well as what is included and excluded in the price. Get in touch with one of our friendly consultants and start planning your trip today.

Experiencing Madikwe on budget

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