Top 10 Best Private Game Reserves in South Africa
While South Africa has no shortage of beautiful destinations to explore, going on an authentic safari in the unspoiled African bushveld should undoubtedly be at the top of every traveler’s bucket-list.
From the unapologetic natural beauty of the African wilderness, diverse landscapes, nature reserves, National Parks, and protected ecosystems, to thrilling wildlife encounters and spectacular birdlife sightings, South Africa offers an unparalleled African safari and wildlife experience.
Here are the top 10 best private game reserves in South Africa to add to your African safari bucket-list.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve (650km²)
The famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve is one of the top safari destinations and premier private game reserve in South Africa. Boasting 65,000 hectares of vast untamed wilderness, the notorious Sabi Sand Game Reserve shares a 50km/30mi unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park (South Africa’s flagship national park). This not only allows wildlife to roam freely between the reserves but makes Sabi Sand Game Reserve part of a vast self-sustainable ecosystem.
Visitors and avid nature and wildlife lovers can look forward to an unforgettable and unmatched African safari and wildlife experience.
Boasting one of the richest game populations in the country, Sabi Sand Game Reserve is home to some of the most diverse and unique wildlife species in Africa. While Sabi Sands is famous for its spectacular leopard sightings – the most elusive member of the Big 5 – the entire African Big 5 – lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard, and elephant – can be spotted at the reserve.
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Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (534km²)
A piece of unspoiled Africa, the world-renowned Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park, is one of the top 10 best private game reserves in South Africa. Located in the heart of the Lowveld region of South Africa, the iconic Timbavati Nature Reserve is a combination of the Timbavati, Klaserie, and Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, essentially forming one large expanse of pristine wilderness.
Timbavati Nature Reserve shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park, allowing wildlife to migrate freely between the two reserves, thereby ensuring high-quality game viewing and remarkable wildlife sightings and encounters.
Timbavati Nature Reserve boasts a vast and prolific diversity of wildlife and birdlife. Home to the Timbavati ‘Magnificent 7’, which includes lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, African wild dog, buffalo, and cheetah, its no surprise that Timbavati is regarded as one of the most sought-after African wildlife and safari destinations among local and global wildlife enthusiasts alike.
One of Timbavati Nature Reserve’s top wildlife highlights and ‘claim to fame’ (so to speak), is its rare and remarkable white lions! White lions are indigenous to the Timbavati Nature Reserve, with the earliest record of white lion sightings in this region dating back to 1938. Getting to see these extraordinary white lions in their natural habitat is without a doubt a bucket-list experience you won’t soon forget.
**Click here for everything you need to know about Timbavati Nature Reserve.
Madikwe Private Game Reserve (750km²)
Situated along the Botswana border, approximately 40km south-east of Gaborone (the capital of Botswana) close to the Kalahari Desert, the magnificent Madikwe Game Reserve is the fifth largest game reserve in the country and one of Africa’s most sought-after wildlife destinations.
Regarded as somewhat of a hidden gem, Madikwe is one of South Africa’s lesser-known reserves as well as one of the best conservation areas in Africa. To further add to its incredible conservation initiatives, Madikwe Game Reserve is a massive champion of social investment and responsible tourism and plays a major role in economically uplifting the communities of the area.
Madikwe Game Reserve boasts an extensive wildlife population and is home to the highly sought after African Big 5 where encounters with these remarkable wildlife species are almost assured on any visit. In addition to the Big Five, wildlife enthusiasts will also have the opportunity of enjoying incredible sightings and encounters of Madikwe’s vast and diverse wildlife, including amazing sightings of the endangered yet remarkable African wild dog, the elusive Cheetah, Brown Hyena, Aardwolf, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Lions, and Zebras (to mention merely a few), all of which are a common sight within the reserve.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve (250km²)
Shamwari Private Game Reserve is a premier safari destination located in South Africa’s ecologically and culturally significant province of Eastern Cape. Regarded as the Eastern Cape’s most popular and highly sought-after private game reserve, people travel from all over to experience everything it has to offer.
The renowned Shamwari Private Game Reserve encompasses five of South Africa’s seven biomes; an amazing range of habitats that allows for an exceptional diversity of wildlife including all of the Big Five as well as more than 275 different bird species.
In addition to the iconic African Big 5 and abundance of birdlife, more than 26 species of game have been reintroduced at Shamwari, including elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, and zebra (to mention merely a few) – ensuring exceptional wildlife sightings and encounters. In fact, it is said that wildlife viewing at Shamwari Private Game Reserve is almost on a level of what you can expect in the Greater Kruger area.
One of Shamwari’s top wildlife highlights is seeing both white and black rhino in their natural habitat. White rhino is common in the grassy areas, whereas the more elusive black rhino typically resides in the remote north of the reserve.
Conservation is central to the Shamwari ethos, and visitors are able to visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre where sick, injured, and orphaned animals are treated by a professional veterinary team. The reserve is also home to the Born Free’s Big Cat Sanctuary as well as the Ian Player Rhino Centre. There is a healthy population of lion, cheetah, and leopard here, so keep an eye out for them during your visit.
To top it off, Shamwari Private Game Reserve has one of the most advanced anti-poaching units in South Africa.
Manyeleti Private Game Reserve (230km²)
Located deep in Mpumalanga’s safari heartland, Manyeleti Game Reserve offers visitors and avid wildlife enthusiasts an authentic off-the-beaten-track wilderness experience unlike any other. This makes it an excellent choice for those that prefer to take the path less traveled, all while enjoying incredible sightings of the African Big 5 and Manyeleti’s vast diversity of wildlife.
Manyeleti shares unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park, Timbavati Nature Reserve, and the renowned Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. This not only allows wildlife to roam freely between the reserves but makes Manyeleti Game Reserve part of a vast self-sustainable ecosystem. Visitors and ardent nature and wildlife lovers can look forward to an unforgettable and unmatched African safari and wildlife experience.
As Manyeleti Game Reserve is less well known than its iconic neighbors, it is far less crowded and sees substantially less visitors. With just three lodges spread out across 56,800 acres of pristine bush, you are virtually guaranteed to have the park all to yourselves – No noise, no large crowds, and no cramped and overcrowded spaces, just sensational wildlife sightings and encounters!
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not opt for an authentic Hemingway-style safari experience in one of the Honeyguide Tented Camps?!
Phinda Private Game Reserve (230km²)
Located in between Richards Bay and the Mozambique border in verdant KwaZulu-Natal, this protected wildlife area encompasses over 28 500 hectares (70 500 acres) and is widely regarded as one of the best private game reserves in South Africa.
In addition to its premier private game reserve status, Phinda Private Game Reserve is one of the most unique conservation areas in South Africa, boasting seven distinct ecosystems and habitats, including: grassland, wetland, woodland, forest, mountain ranges, rivers, and pans.
When it comes to wildlife, birdlife, and wildlife viewing, Phinda Private Game Reserve is truly unparalleled, and is said to be right on par with the more well-known Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Not only is Phinda Private Game Reserve home to the renowned African Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) and more than 436 different bird species (making it an excellent birding destination), it is particularly well known for its exceptional sightings of the rare black rhino and elusive cheetah – Phinda boasts an incredibly healthy cheetah population, giving wildlife enthusiasts the amazing opportunity to enjoy sensational close-up sightings and encounters with the world’s fastest land animal. Seeing this gracious big cat at full speed on a hunt is one of the most thrilling and phenomenal sights, and one every wildlife lover should witness and experience.
To further add to Phinda Private Game Reserve’s already impressive and pristine diversity of wildlife, its rare sand forest supports two incredibly special antelopes – the Suni and the Red Duiker.
Just before you think things couldn’t get any better, this top South African Private Game Reserve offers an exhilarating and memorable range of exclusive wildlife and wilderness experiences, including sleeping out under the stars, tracking black rhinos on foot, fantastic Big 5 game viewing and magnificent up-close wildlife sightings, exciting game drives and riveting safaris, amazing bush walks, and so much more. The nearby coast also allows visitors to enjoy wonderful scuba and ocean safaris, as well as turtle hatching tours in season – It truly is the very best of both worlds!
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve (220km²)
Kwandwe Game Reserve is not only one of the Eastern Cape’s top wildlife destinations, it is also one of South Africa’s most highly sought-after world-class private game reserves, attracting wildlife enthusiasts from across the globe.
Situated in the beautiful Eastern Cape province, its pristine 54 000-acre wilderness is sliced by the Great Fish River which meanders for about 30 kilometers (18 miles) through an incredibly scenic landscape.
One thing that sets Kwandwe Game Reserve apart is its distinct exclusivity – In fact, an African safari doesn’t get more exclusive than this! In addition, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve offers one of the highest land-to-guest ratios in South Africa.
All of the African Big 5 can be spotted at Kwandwe, however both white and black rhino sightings and encounters are particularly rewarding here. Especially sightings of the usually timid and beyond extraordinary black rhino!
Be sure not to miss out on Kwandwe Game Reserve’s exciting night safaris / game drives where you will have the amazing opportunity of spotting some truly elusive nocturnal wildlife species, such as aardvark, porcupine, aardwolf, bat-eared foxes and more.
In addition to exciting night safaris, other highlights at Kwandwe include tracking big game (elephant, buffalo, white and black rhino) on foot with a specialist and highly experienced ranger and tracker, catch-and-release fishing excursions along the Great Fish River, fantastic Big 5 game viewing and magnificent up-close wildlife sightings, incredible game drives, action-packed bush walks, and so much more.
Balule Private Game Reserve (350km²)
Balule Private Game Reserve is a large protected area with open borders to the iconic Kruger National Park. This not only allows wildlife to roam freely between the reserves but also makes Balule part of a vast self-sustainable ecosystem.
This top Private Game Reserve in South Africa was originally established in the 1990s when a number of farmers made the decision to take down their fences in order to give the animals / wildlife more space to roam freely as well as to prevent overgrazing.
Hunting in this pristine wilderness area and small surrounding properties remains strictly prohibited till this day. This had / and continues to have a hugely positive impact on the birdlife and wildlife in Balule Private Game Reserve as well as the wild unapologetic natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes, ecosystems, and habitats. As a MAJOR bonus, the vast diversity of wildlife that reside in Balule became much easier to approach, resulting in truly exceptional and up-close wildlife sightings and encounters. Not to mention ideal for an unforgettable and action-packed safari experience!
When it comes to the quality of wildlife viewing in Balule Private Game Reserve, it is just as good (and often better) as you would expect anywhere in the Greater Kruger with the legendary African Big 5 being a prime attraction.
One of the dominant features of Balule is the magnificent Olifants (Elephant) River that runs all the way through the reserve. As the Olifants River is the game reserve’s top water source and almost always has enough water, a lot of wildlife can be found / spotted in the vicinity of the river and surrounds. In fact, many have declared it as a lucky magnet for thirsty wildlife, especially big herds of buffalo and elephants (along with countless other wildlife species) in the Dry season. In addition, you can also expect to encounter several crocodiles and hippos here.
To top it off, the Balule Private Game Reserve also borders the renowned Drakensberg, which means you will be lucky enough to enjoy beautiful views from the reserve.