By Nikki Tinto, Co-founder

i-escape co-founder, Nikki Tinto, has been exploring South Africa for as long 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 families: Marataba Safari Lodge

Location: Marakele National Park

Why go: Marataba Safari Lodge is one of our favourite family-friendly lodges. All ages are warmly welcomed and kept entertained by a fantastic kids’ club, where they can get hands on with a range of bush activities. Marakele is a non-malarial park in the foothills of the Waterburg Mountains and a convenient 3.5 hour drive from Johannesburg. Though it would be easy to lounge by the pool from dawn till dusk, don’t miss the water safaris at sunset where you’ll glide past giants like hippos, crocs and elephants. Unforgettable.

Best time to go: May-Aug (dry season) is best for cooler temperatures and Big Five spotting.

Best for affordability: Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps

Location: Manyeleti Game Reserve

Why go: For those who prefer a more authentic bush experience with a reasonable price tag, Honeyguide is 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 stopping by to drink from the pool!

Best time to go: May-Oct (dry season). In Nov-Dec (spring) you can also spot lots of newborns.

Best for younger children: RiverBend Lodge

Location: Addo Elephant Park

Why go: Malaria-free RiverBend Lodge is a charming homestead in Addo Elephant Park, and the ideal option for young families on a Garden Route holiday. 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 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: Samara is one of South Africa’s largest private reserves with only a couple of lodges and a small tented camp 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 vistas stretching 280km.

Best time to go: Beautiful all year round, but October to April is their summer when temperatures can soar.

Best for a sea safari: Thonga Beach Lodge

Location: iSimangaliso Nature and Wetland Park

Why go: World-class diving awaits those willing to take on the lengthy (but adventurous) journey from Durban to Thonga Beach Lodge. Every minute of it will feel worthwhile when you come face-to-face with bottlenose dolphins, lion fish, turtles and more. Non-divers won’t lose out though: join a PADI course, snorkel the pristine reefs teeming with life, or board a boat for a sea safari to spot whales, rays and dolphins breaching the surface. Back on land you’ll retreat to a luxe thatched suite on stilts, sleeping atop the trees, immersed in soothing forest sounds.

Best time to go: Sept-Nov provides the best of both worlds: great visibility for diving, warm, sunny days and plenty of wildlife. Turtles nest in November, too.

Best for an easy journey: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Location: In the heart of Little Karoo, Western Cape

Why go: A scenic 3-hour drive from Cape Town along Route 62 leads to Sanbona, the best safari destination within easy reach of the city. Between morning and evening drives tracking zebra and admiring fossil-filled hills, stay in luxurious lodges tailored to all: the Gondwana lodge is designed for families with spacious suites, a playground and other great facilities for kids; couples will revel in the romance of the discreet tented lodges, each with their own private deck and hot tub.

Best time to go: You can spot game year-round, but the weather in spring and autumn is the most pleasant.

Best for something different: Grootbos

Location: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Why go: A wonderful wilderness retreat between Cape Town and the Garden Route, Grootbos has pristine beaches, a unique floral kingdom and is a prime location for spotting southern right whales (June-Dec). The guided walks through the remarkable fynbos, on foot or horseback, are a truly unforgettable experience. 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.