South Africa is a destination that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. This country showcases an astonishing array of landscapes, national parks, game reserves, wildlife, amazing beaches, the Kalahari desert, and breathtaking scenery. Add to that gorgeous weather, delicious food, great wines and endless amazing sights, which make this a destination you can’t miss! South Africa is a beautiful and diverse country, where you can truly experience wilderness, and get close to Africa’s wildlife here!
“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.” — John Hemingway
South Africa has filled us with a deep happiness that you find in very few places around the world. This was a destination that we always hoped to see, so visiting this country was truly a dream come true. Our first stop was Johannesburg where we spent a day, and our next destination was the Amakhosi game reserve, which is a 4 hour drive from Johannesburg. Here are the some amazing pictures of animals that you will encounter during your African Safari. It is unreal to see them in their natural habitat, enjoying their world, and you become part of their world!
Public vs Private Game Reserve?
One of the biggest decisions you’ll make before your Africa trip — To safari in a public reserve such as the Kruger National Park or to safari in a private game reserve. The answer to this question will drive the planning for your Africa trip to a great extent.
- Public National Park — Let’s start with the best safari in South Africa — Kruger National Park, which is the best national park in Africa. It’s a massive park (~7,520 sq miles, almost the size of Israel), that’s unparalleled to any other National Park in the world. Kruger National Park is one of the world’s greatest wildlife-watching destinations. Some of Africa’s most iconic species – elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and zebra – share the bushveld with more than 130 mammals and 500 bird species. The only downside is that Kruger is very crowded with safari groups. When a big five animal is spotted, you’ll see many safari groups pull up and you’ll be waiting for your turn, which is not fun at all.
- Private Game Reserve — South Africa’s private reserves offer luxurious bush-style accommodation to go with the incredible game-watching. Prices are generally on par with five-star hotels around $600-1200 USD per night, and the service you get is unlike anything you’ve experienced in any 5-star hotel anywhere in the world — truly outstanding service. The private reserves come with highly experienced rangers who accompany you on your safari expeditions. Without a ranger, it would be almost imposssible to spot the animals in the wild. The top 5 private game reserves in South Africa are listed below:
- Kapama Game Reserve, Limpopo Province
- Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger
- Mala Mala Game Reserve, Kruger
- Shamwari Game Reserve, The Eastern Cape
- Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, Zululand
- Public vs. Private Game Reserve Decision — One big reason to travel across the world to Africa is the wildlife and the Big-Five. There are two main reasons to choose a private reserve — better experience and better chance of African wildlife sightings. Private reserves offer longer and more intimate encounters with the Big-Five. Yes, they are more expensive but if you are traveling all the way to Africa, private reserves offer you an experience that cannot be measured in monetary terms. We also recommend doing a safari with experienced rangers. This is not something you would want to do on your own or in your car in a public national park.
- Freedom to go on a game drive before sunrise and after sunset — Private reserves offer two game drives per day. The sunrise game drive starts around 5 am, the sunset game drive around 4 pm, and each game drive lasts about 4 hours. It is during this time of the day, that most action between predators and prey takes place. The freedom to explore the wilderness during these twilight hours enhances your safari experience. These game drives offer you a front row seat to Africa’s wildlife. As the sun begins to sink towards the horizon, motivated by the approaching darkness and hunger, you’ll see a lot of wildlife movement. If you’re in a public park, you’ll need to get back to the gate before the park closes for the day. Private reserves are not bound by this, so you get to stay out until it’s pretty dark and catch all the action.
- Freedom to drive off-road and catch a sighting — One of the major advantages at a private reserve is that the rangers are permitted to drive off road if there is a sighting. This is very pivotal to your game viewing, because you’ll notice that your ranger is constantly tracking footprints, and they go off-road chasing elephants, lions, cheetah, leopards, and other animals
- Our Safari Decision — After doing a lot of research on both public and private reserves, we decided to go with Amakhosi Private Game Reserve, located on the banks of the Mkuze River, right in the heart of Zululand. This reserve includes mountains, wetlands and savannahs which is perfect for Africa’s Big-Five and many other animals such as giraffe, warthog, several antelope species, and hippopotamus. It’s truly a diverse ecosystem covering over 12,000 hectares, so relatively very small compared to Kruger, but the privacy and attention you get here is unbeatable. Certified Amakhosi rangers introduce the unique role each animal plays on the large stage within the African Kingdom. We were lucky to get the best rangers at Amakhosi on our daily safari. They have 8 suites at this reserve, so at any given time you know that there will not be more than 8 families wildlife sighting. We were at Amakhosi right at the start of the Covid crisis, so we were the only 2 visitors at the Private reserve, which made it truly private experience. This was also a little challenging as we were on our own when it came to wildlife sightings. If we were to do this again, we would probably choose Sabi Sands private reserve due to its proximity to Kruger and highest probability of seeing the Big-Five.
What to see?
- Johannesburg — The first stop on our South Africa trip was Johannesburg, so we started with an ode to South Africa’s turbulent history, by visiting the the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House and the Soweto Township! The Apartheid Museum illustrates the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppression, the struggle towards democracy, the history of Johannesburg, and the life and work of Nelson Mandela. It was truly a sobering experience! Nelson Mandela’s humble house in Soweto, where he lived between 1946 and 1962, has been converted to the Mandela Family Museum. Vilakazi Street is where Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived. Mandela House contains a collection of paintings and photographs of the family where you can dig further into the life of this iconic man! Soweto, short for South Western Townships, was created in the 1930s when the government started separating blacks from whites. Black people were pushed out of the city and into the Soweto townships. Most of the struggle against apartheid was fought in and from Soweto. It was the center of political campaigns that resulted in the end of apartheid!
“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.” — Nelson Mandela’s quote from his first public address at the Grand Parade in Cape Town, after his unconditional release from prison on February 11, 1990
- African Safari at Amakhosi Private Reserve in Zulu Land — Our accommodation at Amakhosi Safari Lodge included 2 game drives (one at sunrise and one at sunset), and all inclusive meals. On our very first game drive, we were completely surrounded by a herd of 22 elephants, and we got to see Cheetahs, Water Buffaloes, Hippopotamuses, Giraffes, Zebras and other animals. The Big-Five safari animals are the African Elephant, Rhinoceros, Lion, Leopard and the Cape Buffalo. We did a total of 10 game drives during our stay in South Africa, and we checked off 4 of the Big-Five animals! We went after the elusive Leopard on several game drives, but we couldn’t spot him. Due to the Covid crisis, we were the only 2 visitors at the game reserve, so it was just us on 12,000+ hectares of land. This was both a blessing, since we had the utmost privacy, and a curse because there were no other rangers or tourists to alert us if they spotted a Leopard. We enjoyed the coffee with Amarula in the morning, and the sun-downers during our sunset game drive with Wildebeest or Hippos in the background just a few feet away! We had the most amazing rangers, Jeremy and Sipho who took us along for the safari drives throughout our stay. My husband learned a few Zulu words which everyone at the lodge appreciated. We had some very close encounters with Lions, Elephants, and Rhinos that were about 4-5 feet away from our safari truck. It was both exciting and scary at the same time!
Where to Stay?
The Amakhosi Safari Lodge is situated in the Amakhosi Private Game Reserve, on the banks of the Mkuze River, right in the heart of Zululand. The lodge contains 6 river suites and two luxurious honeymoon suites, that are built in complete harmony with their surroundings. We booked the honeymoon suite, which was beautiful, and it was like paradise in the middle of a jungle. Umntwana, means “a child of Royalty” in Zulu, and we were truly treated like royalty – we made sure to treat everyone who served us the same way. The suite was a thatched chalet with high ceilings, huge windows, open-plan design with spacious deck, a private splash pool, hammock overlooking the river, and everything was like royal dwellings. The bedroom opens onto a viewing deck overlooking the river, some with a personal plunge pool. The pictures speak for itself. Everytime we came back from our safari, our accomodations were cleaned and decorated in creative ways, with little surpries here and there.
Artistic decor, African fusion cuisine and prompt attentive service, makes Amakhosi a bush lodge difficult to match elsewhere in Southern Africa. Amakhosi Safari Lodge gives a majestic new meaning to a royal bush experience and welcome. This is Big-Five territory and what you don’t view from your deck, expert guides invariably will deliver on dawn and dusk game drives. Personal attention rules, from the warm hand-towels, sherry and smiles that greet guests. Amakhosi is a special place, a place where mystery becomes reality.
What to eat?
Food at Amakhosi was some of the best food we’ve ever had. You are truly pampered with the most delicious food and service at this lodge. The dining is world-class, with dinner served under the stars in a traditional boma. The chefs at Amakhosi kitchen serve up 5* plated bush dinners that are a fusion of African food with European flair. We were served 3 meals each day that had the utmost attention to detail by the chefs. We never had Nyala or Springbok meat before we arrived here, and they were both delicious. All our meals were served outdoors with a beautiful view of the game reserve, and the Mkuze River.
- Brunch — Buffet style comprising a hot and cold items, fruits, fresh bread etc. prepared with only the freshest of ingredients. Each morning we had an option to pick items from the custom hot breakfast menu, and also the buffet.
- High Tea — Traditionally served on the veranda with platter after platter boasting vegetable wraps, chicken kebabs, mini pancakes with salmon, caviar, pâtés, quiches, cookies, and variety of desserts.
- Dinner — An elegant candle-lit, multi-course menu accompanied by a selection of South African wines. Every night we were presented with a custom menu specifically designed for us with our name on the menu. On our last day we had a traditional dinner cooked on open fire that was served open-air under the stars.
When is the best time to visit?
When going on an African safari it’s important to consider the seasons, as weather will play a big role in your safari experience. On a private reserve, you’ll typically do 2 game drives per day, so you’ll spend about 8 hours driving around the reserve, so it’s important to time it correctly. South Africa seasons can range vastly in terms of severity, depending on when you’re travelling. It’s typically a sunny country, with minimal rainfall year-round.
- Summer in South Africa — Summer falls between December and February in South Africa. It’s a great time to go on a safari as the days are warm. However, it is also South Africa’s peak season, so it can get exceptionally busy and expensive.
- Autumn in South Africa — Autumn in South Africa falls between March and May. It is still relatively warm in March, however the temperature drops in April and May. It’s a great season to visit South Africa as it isn’t too hot nor too cold. We visited in mid-March, and this was a great time for safari.
- Winter in South Africa — Winter months in South Africa are from June through to August. Winter consists of cooler, shorter days. However, South Africa generally experiences milder winters. It’s a great time to travel as it typically falls in low season in various areas. Game reserves are quieter and you can enjoy more exclusivity.
- Spring in South Africa — Spring falls between September and October. It is a wonderful time of year to visit South Africa as the temperature picks up and flowers start to bloom. The weather is extremely pleasant, and the safaris are more fun as many babies are born in spring, making it a special time of year to visit.
“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.” — William Burchell
It would be no exaggeration to say that an African Safari is a once in a lifetime experience. This is the kind of place you thought only exists in your mind’s eye, but they’re here and they’re real, and they’re waiting for you to explore. So why not make South Africa your next destination?
Always remember… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!