i-escape co-founder, Nikki Tinto, has been exploring South Africa since as far as she can remember. These are her favourite safari experiences
Best for the Big Five: Lion Sands River Lodge
Location: Southern Kruger National Park
Why go: Lion Sands River Lodge is one of the most awe-inspiring safaris in South Africa. You’re in the heart of one of the Kruger’s best areas for Big Five game viewing and you’ll see masses of animals, thanks to the expert rangers (you’ll learn plenty of bushcraft, too). A luxury experience like this doesn’t come cheap, but Lion Sands has the gasp factor: 18 achingly beautiful suites, two drop-rim pools, dazzling gourmet cuisine and possibly the world’s most romantic treehouses. Spend the night in one if you can.
Best time to go: The dry season (May-Oct) is best, as most animals congregate around waterholes.
Best for crowd-free drives: Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps
Location: Manyeleti Game Reserve
Why go: For those who prefer a more authentic bush experience with a reasonable price tag, Honeyguideis hard to beat. Sitting in prime Big Five country in large, uncrowded Manyeleti Game Reserve – with unfenced borders to Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands – this has some of the best game drives and close-up animal sightings in South Africa, without the crowds. Don’t be surprised to see elephants walking past your glamped-up tent.
Best time to go: May-Oct (dry season). In Nov-Dec (spring) you can also spot lots of newborns.
Best for families: Madikwe Safari Lodge
Location: Madikwe Game Reserve
Why go: Madikwe Safari Lodge is one of the best family-friendly safari lodges on our radar, with no age limit, great facilities, and near endless activities to keep youngsters busy. Located in one of the best non-malarial areas, and with convenient access to Jo’burg airport (4hrs), it offers a trio of beautiful lodges with a swimming pool overlooking a waterhole where zebra, giraffe and elephants come to sup. The star-gazing is heavenly.
Best time to go: May-Aug (dry season) is best for cooler temperatures and Big Five spotting.
Best for younger children: RiverBend Lodge
Location: Addo Elephant Park
Why go: Our 2017 Feel Good Award winner is the ideal option for young families on a Garden Route holiday. Malaria-free RiverBend Lodge is a charming homestead in Addo Elephant Park. It’s a fabulous place to introduce younger children to African wildlife. Staff are unfailingly lovely, the vibe is cossetting, the food is delicious, the activities are superb, and the guides are experts at tracking both large and small animals. Better still, it’s just an hour from Port Elizabeth (you can fly directly back to Cape Town or Jo’burg). All ages welcome.
Best time to go: May-Aug is the driest time, and best for game viewing. School holidays (Dec-Jan) are particularly busy so early bookings are essential.
Best for majestic wilderness: The Outpost
Location: Makuleke Contractual Park
Why go: The Outpost is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places you only see in wildlife documentaries. Stunningly located in the vast Makuleke Contractual Park in the northern corner of the Kruger, one of South Africa’s last true wilderness areas, this award-winning eco-lodge offers an extraordinary panorama of the Luvuvhu Valley. Its large spoiling suites have open-deck designs which bring the African bush to you, and you out to the bush. The terrain is unlike anywhere else in the Kruger – with gorges, fever tree forests and ancient baobabs. All this plus expert guides, delicious food and a view from the bath you won’t believe.
Best time to go: April-May (autumn) or Sep-Oct (spring) are amazing times, especially when the mighty Luvuvhu river is in spate.
Best for incredible views: Samara
Location: Great Karoo, Eastern Cape
Why go: Samarais one of South Africa’s largest private reserves with only a couple of lodges available. In other words, you’ll go out on bush walks and game drives without seeing another jeep. True, the wildlife isn’t the most abundant, but it’s a great place for spotting cheetahs and the elusive aardvark. Still, you’re here for the views – and what views! On our evening game drive, we drove up the side of a mountain and then marvelled at unfettered views stretching 280km.
Best time to go: Beautiful all year round, but October to April is their summer when temperatures can soar.
Best for wetlands: Kosi Forest Lodge
Location: Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, St Lucia Wetland Park
Why go: Located in a UNESCO heritage site on the wild Elephant Coast, Kosi Forest Lodge enjoys one of the world’s most pristine eco-systems. It’s probably the best place in South Africa to see leatherback and loggerhead turtles laying eggs ashore. The rustic eco-lodges are situated in a forest by a lake, allowing you to canoe past crocodiles, picnic on untouched beaches and explore the enormous 328,000-hectare iSimangaliso Wetland Park which boasts 640 bird species.
Best time to go: Nov-March, when the turtles come ashore.
Best for something different: Grootbos
Location: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Why go: A wonderful wilderness retreat between Cape Town and the Garden Route, Grootboshas pristine beaches, a diverse floral kingdom and is a prime location for spotting southern right whales (June-Dec). Its secluded cottages are secreted away on wooded hillsides – you won’t know it’s there until you arrive. Perfect for couples and families alike.
Best time to go: June-Dec for whale-watching, July-Oct for flowers and Dec-March for sunny weather.