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How to Plan a Safari in South Africa: Frequently Asked Questions

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Father and cub at Kruger National Park, South Africa

Father and cub at Kruger National Park, South Africa

A safari in South Africa invites you to experience some of the continent’s best wildlife parks and reserves, and knowing how to plan your South African safari starts with the answers to frequently asked questions.

Big Five safaris, with tented and lodge accommodation options in remote and breathtaking settings, wait to be discovered, with many creative combinations on offer for romantic, adventurous, and slow-paced getaways.

Having answers to questions such as international flight options, safety concerns, and when to explore the spectacular country will arm you with all the information you require to plan the perfect safari at the perfect time.

  1. When is the best time for a South African safari?
  2. How many days should I spend on safari in South Africa?
  3. Where is South Africa?
  4. What is South Africa known for?
  5. What are the most popular places in South Africa?
  6. What are the safari regions of South Africa?
  7. How will I experience wildlife?
  8. How can I ensure I see my favorite animal?
  9. What is a day on safari like?
  10. What is the difference between a camp and a lodge in South Africa?
  11. How many days should I stay at each camp or lodge?
  12. How does the safari experience change during different seasons of the year?
  13. What are the best beaches in South Africa?
  14. What foods should I try in South Africa?
  15. What should I pack for a South African safari?
  16. Is South Africa suitable for families?
  17. Is South Africa suitable for senior travelers?
  18. Is South Africa suitable for couples or honeymooners?
  19. Is South Africa safe?
  20. What languages are spoken in South Africa?
  21. What vaccines do I need to visit South Africa?
  22. Which airports should I use to fly in and out of South Africa?
  23. How can I travel when I am in South Africa?
  24. Can I get around South Africa if I have a mobility issue?
  25. Do I need a visa to visit South Africa?
  26. What currency do they use in South Africa?
  27. Should I tip in South Africa?
  28. How can Zicasso help me plan my trip to South Africa?
  29. Where can I find recommended itineraries for my trip?

When is the best time for a South African safari?

The best time for a South African safari is during the drier winter months between June and September. They offer optimal game viewing throughout the country as the days are mild and vegetation is low, making this the ideal time to spot animals in the bush and avoid the rain.

Many visitors like to combine their safari with a visit to the Cape or one of the Indian Ocean islands, and a popular time to do this is during late April into May and again in September and October.

For bird lovers, consider embarking on your safari in January or February, the lush grass providing the ideal setting for these winged creatures. It is also birthing season in many safari regions of South Africa and although the grass will be long, expert guides will help guests navigate the circuit.

Learn more: Best Time to Visit South Africa

How many days should I spend on safari in South Africa?

The average US traveler spends 10 days in South Africa, with a focus on a safari at either one or two game parks, and a few nights in the popular Western Cape province.

A minimum of three nights at any safari lodge or tented camp will allow the safari-goer to experience two full days exploring the reserve or park, embracing the game-viewing experience and quality hospitality on offer.

Options to combine safari stays at one or more camps or lodges are the perfect way to experience South Africa’s diverse safari scene. Spend two or three nights in a few reserves or parks, enhancing your overall experience.

Learn more: 1 Week South Africa Safaris12 Day South Africa Safaris2 Week South Africa Safaris

Where is South Africa?

South Africa lies on the southern edge of the African continent, the Cape Peninsula wrapping around the western coastline, while the interior boasts lush forests, desert plains, and magnificent mountains.

Known as the Republic of South Africa, the country is surrounded by breathtaking landmarks, such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and comprises national safari parks and reserves in every one of the country’s nine provinces.

The coastline spans two oceans, the Atlantic to the west and southwest, and the Indian along the east coast, with excellent marine life to be found in both.

What is South Africa known for?

Known as the “Rainbow Nation”, South Africa is known for its vibrant culture, breathtaking scenery, and as an outstanding safari destination. Cape Town, with its majestic Table Mountain, stands out as a must-see city in the country.

With four prominent ethnicities, tradition shines through in a variety of ways. From cuisine to cultural dances and events, unique tribal experiences and commonality as a proud nation, South Africa is buzzing with highlights.

One is most definitely the myriad outstanding wildlife experiences available, including a chance to see the Big Five. Breathtaking landscapes and water adventures, such as dolphin tours and incredible surfing, add to the country’s allure.

What are the most popular places in South Africa?

The most popular places in South Africa include vibrant cities, outstanding safari reserves and national parks, and a captivating coastline. These include the following not-to-be-missed places:

  • Cape Town
  • Cape Winelands
  • Garden Route
  • Johannesburg
  • Zululand
  • Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga Province
  • Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga Province
  • Umhlanga

The best places to visit in South Africa demonstrate the grand variety of scenery, urban settings, culture, and wildlife for which the Rainbow Nation is known. Depending on your schedule and interests, you may not see them all, but you can find the right places to visit for your perfect trip.

What are the safari regions of South Africa?

South Africa’s safari regions can be found throughout the country, from the lush coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal to the vast savannas and forests of the Mpumalanga province and drier North West. Almost every South African province offers visitors a quality safari in a private reserve or concession environment, or in national parks where stricter safari rules apply. Here are the key safari reserves and parks:

  • Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga
  • Timbavati Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga
  • Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga
  • Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province
  • Pilanesberg National Park, Gauteng
  • Addo National Park, Eastern Cape

How will I experience wildlife?

There are a few ways one can experience wildlife when on a South African safari, the most popular being open 4x4-vehicle game drives conducted in the early mornings and late afternoons.

Some lodges offer the option to enjoy a walking safari, others the chance to float down a river, watching animals silhouetted by an incredible sunset. Back at your lodge or camp, you have the opportunity to sit back and gaze out at a nearby waterhole, letting the animals come to you, their proximity exhilarating.

The Kruger safari experience is fantastic for big cats, Sabi Sands the best place in Africa for leopards, while malaria-free Madikwe thrills with its wild dog sightings. Whether on foot or in a game-drive vehicle, your day on safari will be filled with adventure.

Learn more: Top Animals of South Africa and Where to See Them

How can I ensure I see my favorite animal?

The South African bush is wild and in some places remote, with vast open spaces and areas where fences are non-existent, giving you a great opportunity to see your favorite animal.

The bush beats to its own drum, with animals wandering open plains or lazing in dry river beds, perhaps sheltering from the sun under a large Acacia tree, going at their own pace and along their own routes. Qualified guides know the parks and reserves well, understand wildlife habits, and will always endeavor to deliver incredible sightings, including those animals on your must-see list.

The beauty of a South African safari is that the number of animals combined with the knowledge of exceptional guides and the sharp eyes and instincts of respected trackers all equate to an outstanding experience. Visiting in the key winter season, the months of June through August, will also ensure your safari is exceptional.

Learn more: The Big Five, the Little Five, and How to See ThemHow to Choose a Safari Destination for Your Trip

What is a day on safari like?

A day on safari is an adventure that needs to be experienced to truly grasp how incredible an opportunity it is. Most are conducted in an open 4x4 vehicle with limited seating, offering guests full views of the surrounding bush.

Your daily game-drive brief will be presented each evening, with a further explanation as you board your vehicle or head out on your drive. Mornings start before the sun comes up, when the bush comes alive, with a stop at a tranquil location before returning to the camp around 9am for breakfast and time to relax.

Some lodges and camps offer a brunch, while others serve a delicious light lunch followed by a little downtime before your afternoon game drive. Head out for your next safari adventure, a time of day when spotting wildlife is at its best, and enjoy a sundowner as you watch the sunset from a spectacular location in the park. Return to your camp or lodge for dinner and a welcome night’s rest.

Learn more: What to Expect From a Day on Safari

What is the difference between a camp and a lodge in South Africa?

The key difference between a camp and a lodge is that the accommodations in camps are canvas-walled, while lodges have solid walls and roofs. Tents and lodge rooms are typically standalone, with en-suite bathrooms and an outside deck. Some even boast outdoor showers and spacious living areas.

Camps tend to be smaller setups, often in unique locations, while lodges usually have larger public facilities, comprising a sitting area, indoor and, possibly, outdoor dining, as well as a pool. Both offer exceptional safari experiences and feature authentic African architecture and delicious local cuisine.

Camps and lodges work with local communities to ensure a sustainable life for people, wildlife, and the environment. Guides are exceptionally well trained and trackers have grown up in the surrounding area, so know the bush like the back of their hand.

Learn more: Reasons to Stay at a Luxury Tented CampReasons to Stay at a Mobile Tented CampReasons to Stay at a Safari Game Lodge

How many days should I stay at each camp or lodge?

The South African bush can present incredible wildlife treasures that vary from day to day, so spending at least three nights in one camp or lodge is recommended.

There really is no limit to the number of nights you choose to spend in one place and every itinerary differs, taking into consideration the choice to experience just one safari destination or accommodation style, or a combination of a few.

How does the safari experience change during different seasons of the year?

Most of South Africa experiences summer rainfall, with afternoon thundershowers in December and January cooling down the warm days and bringing nature to life. The game parks throughout the country present mild days and cool evenings during the prime safari season between June and September.

The dry season provides the best game-viewing conditions as the sparse vegetation makes animal spotting easier as they gather at waterholes. With fences down between the Kruger National Park and nearby private reserves, the animals are free to roam in search of water. The evenings can be cool, so bundle up on your game drive and take in one of the best times to witness a phenomenal African sunset.

As summer gets under way, short, sharp showers change the landscape and create the green season, with lush landscapes and fresh vegetation springing to life. Babies are born, trees thrive, and birdlife is phenomenal between January and March. Depending on what South African safari experience you are looking for, you are guaranteed an incredible time whenever you choose to visit.

What are the best beaches in South Africa?

The best beaches in South Africa offer a blissful escape, from the white-sand offerings of the Western Cape to the golden sands of the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. Diving, dolphin tours, and surfing events all make a South African beach stop a worthy addition to a safari itinerary. Here are the best beaches in South Africa:

  • Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town
  • Hout Bay, Western Cape
  • Blouberg Beach, Western Cape
  • Muizenberg Beach, Western Cape
  • St James Beach, Western Cape
  • Noordhoek Beach, Western Cape
  • Wilderness Beach, Eastern Cape
  • Plettenberg Bay, Eastern Cape
  • Scottburgh Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Pennington Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
  • North Beach, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Umhlanga Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal

What foods should I try in South Africa?

South Africa is known as the “Rainbow Nation”, with diverse flavors present throughout the country. Below are several must-taste foods.

  • Bobotie, South Africa’s national dish, a Malay-spiced, delicious ground-beef dish
  • Bunny chow, half a loaf of bread, hollowed out and filled with spicy curry
  • Shisa nyama or braai, the South African version of a barbeque
  • Biltong, cured and dried meat that can be wet and fatty, or dry and thinly cut, all delicious
  • Melktert, a dessert consisting of a pastry base filled with milk, eggs, and sugar, topped with cinnamon
  • Amagwinya or vetkoek, a deep-fried, doughy dumpling
  • Malva pudding, a sticky pudding filled with apricot jam and often served with custard
  • Dom pedro, a creamy drink often substituted for dessert, with Amarula or Kalua the most popular flavors
  • Koeksister, sweet and sticky, this braided donut dipped in syrup is a firm favorite

What should I pack for a South African safari?

When looking at what to pack for a South African safari, consider layer clothing. Early-morning and late-afternoon game drives in the prime wildlife viewing months of June, July, and August can be chilly, with the weather warming as the sun comes up and before it sets for the day.

Avoid bright colors and focus on khakis, light browns, and beiges. Comfortable sneakers will suffice and be sure to pack your bathing suit to enjoy the lodge pool or your private plunge pool if you have one.

Cameras, sunscreen, and bug spray are also a must, with a set of binoculars never going to waste when out in the bush. What you bring to South Africa can impact your trip and you can find advice on what can make it better with our what to bring on an African Safari.

Is South Africa suitable for families?

South Africa generally offers a fantastic family vacation because you can combine wildlife with beach time and other diverse experiences.

While not all lodges and camps accept children of all ages, there are a great number that offer children’s clubs and services, such as babysitting, bush bumbles (short game drives around the lodge), and the option for kids to try their hand at creating local treats in the kitchen.

South Africa also has a wide range of private homesteads and camps, where multi-generational families can explore the bush privately.

Learn more: South Africa Family Safaris

Is South Africa suitable for senior travelers?

The country offers a range of senior safari itineraries, from small to larger group explorations covering the country’s highlights.

Custom-designed programs ensure a safari is enjoyed at your pace, covering key wildlife destinations, while group travel offers senior travelers the opportunity to share their safari experience with others, reminiscing around a bonfire after a full day on safari, ready to do it again the next day.

Safety is always a priority and qualified guides and friendly lodge and excursion teams ensure senior safari-goers are always comfortable and enjoy every minute.

Learn more: South Africa Safaris for Seniors

Is South Africa suitable for couples or honeymooners?

South Africa is a fantastic destination for a romantic safari, with lodges, camps, and breathtaking landscapes all equipped to offer an unforgettable romantic getaway.

Private dinners, secluded sleep-outs, and luxury touches all add to the ambiance the South African bush delivers to couples and honeymooners.

Rounding off a safari with a beach escape, city discovery, or weekend in the Cape Winelands makes South Africa a romantic destination overall.

Learn more: South Africa Honeymoon SafarisSouth Africa Safaris for Couples

Is South Africa safe?

South Africa’s main tourist destinations are generally safe, with accommodations set in popular areas and guides and representatives available to assist with transfers and taking clients on excursions.

When on safari, only guests of local lodges and camps have access to the park or reserve, and always with qualified guides and, sometimes, trackers who have grown up in the area and know how to read the bush. Guests are always briefed on their daily game experiences, and their safety and comfort are always a priority.

With regards to health precautions, it is recommended that visitors take a malaria prophylactic for the low-risk safari regions of the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands, Timbavati, and surrounding reserves. Madikwe, the Eastern Cape reserves, and the KwaZulu-Natal safari circuit are noted as being malaria-free. South Africa does not have yellow fever, with such a certificate only required if you are traveling from countries where it is prevalent.

What languages are spoken in South Africa?

South Africa has 11 official languages, with English widely spoken in each province. Afrikaans is more centered in specific regions or cities, but it’s also heard throughout the country. The other nine languages are Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, and Venda.

What vaccines do I need to visit South Africa?

While no specific vaccines are required to enter South Africa at this time, taking a prophylactic for malaria is recommended. Your healthcare professionals will guide you on vaccine options or recommendations for your planned trip to South Africa.

Which airports should I use to fly in and out of South Africa?

There are three main international airports visitors can fly in and out of in South Africa, with OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg one of the busiest on the continent as it links with several destinations. The airports with links to the South African safari circuit are:

  • OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg (JNB)
  • Cape Town International Airport, Cape Town (CPT)
  • King Shaka International Airport, Durban (DUR)

Cape Town and Johannesburg’s airports offer direct access to key safari parks such as Sabi Sands and Madikwe. Lodge hops are also a popular way to connect to various lodges and parks in the country, with chartered air services and regional flights connecting South Africa to countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.

How can I travel when I am in South Africa?

Traveling around South Africa is usually conducted by car or bus, with freeway networks extremely efficient and major roads in good condition. Chauffeur-driven or private guided experiences in a luxury minibus or coach are the best ways for visitors to get between cities, beaches, and the safari circuit.

For guests who want to take it slow and watch the breathtaking scenery pass them by, traveling by rail is the ultimate in luxury and relaxation. Overnight journeys between Cape Town and Pretoria, through safari regions, landlocked Swaziland, and down to Zululand, allow visitors to travel in style.

Flights between cities and connections to the expansive South African safari circuit make combining a city escape and safari adventure easy. Flights are short, with a great network of lodge hops, making getting from one amazing experience to another achievable in no time.

Can I get around South Africa if I have a mobility issue?

Certain camps and lodges provide specific rooms and suites for clients with mobility issues. Some will have guests who need to be closer to facilities accommodated near the main area and guides will assist in getting guests into and out of safari vehicles.

Some tour companies offer adapted vehicles and a firm focus on safari experiences for those traveling with wheelchairs or similar. Your Zicasso safari expert will work with them to create a suitable safari experience.

Do I need a visa to visit South Africa?

American travelers do not require a visa to enter South Africa. Passports are stamped upon arrival for a 90-day stay.

What currency do they use in South Africa?

The only currency used in South Africa is the South African rand (ZAR).

Paper money comes in the form of five colorful notes each depicting one of the Big Five animals on one side and former president Nelson Mandela on the other. Major credit cards are accepted in retail stores, restaurants, safari lodges, and hotels.

Should I tip in South Africa?

Tipping is customary in South Africa, with an average of 10% being added to any dining bill in restaurants and cafes. Porters at airports and hotels appreciate a token of gratitude at a client’s discretion.

On safari, the tipping protocol is standard, based on per person per day for your safari guide and a separate amount per person per day for your tracker if you have one. Your safari travel specialist can give you more information on tipping practices during your stay.

How can Zicasso help me plan my trip to South Africa?

Our featured South Africa safaris offers a selection of travel ideas to assist in planning your South Africa itinerary. You can select a sample trip that aligns with your ideal vacation, be it a family trip, honeymoon, or adventure tour, a great place to start when looking to create your unique South African safari itinerary.

When you are ready, you can complete a trip request to begin planning your vacation. We ask for more information on where you would like to go, how long you would like to spend in South Africa, the size of your party, and traveler ages to help streamline your planning.

You can also provide additional ideas and set a travel budget, after which our Travel Care team will contact you to match you with a South African travel specialist who will use their expertise and understanding of your preferences to create your ideal South African safari.

Learn more: African Safari Tips for Planning Your TripThings That Affect the Cost of an African Safari

Where can I find recommended itineraries for my trip?

Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa offers a great adventure to safari-goers, with diverse landscapes and wildlife destinations within this incredible country. Understanding how to plan and prepare for your journey to the tip of Africa will ensure the experience leaves you relaxed, confident, and with unforgettable memories.

Be inspired by some of our South African safaris for your perfect experience or visit our South Africa travel guide for more ideas on how to plan the right South African safari for you.

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