Distinguished South Africa Safari: Game Reserves to Cape Town

A 13 day trip to South Africa 
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Leopards prowl, elephants roam, buffalo stare and lions roar through the night, and it is all so close to you. On a South Africa safari, you are not on the outside looking in as you are immersed in a wildlife world, and enveloped by the rhythm of life. Handcrafted to provide the complete safari experience, this 13-day vacation will include the country’s three finest safari destinations before ending in Cape Town. Expect sublime lodges, stunning wildlife encounters, and a complete escape into the wilderness.

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Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Photos
Herd of South African elephants resting in the shade of a big tree
African leopard fixated on something in the distance | Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa
South African crocodile laying low in the dirt
South African elephant showering itself with dust to protect its skin from the sun
Aerial shot of the Knysna Heads in Cape Town, South Africa
Leopard cub perched on a branch in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa
View from a street in Cape Town with the Tafelberg mountain in the background
Row of colorful beach huts on a white sandy beach in South Africa
South African giraffe eating leaves off a tall branch
A couple of elephants walking through knee-high water in Kruger National Park, South Africa
A couple of impalas embracing each other's company in Kruger National Park, South Africa
A mother walking through African safari bushes with her baby hitching a ride on her back
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Phinda Private Game Reserve,iSimangalisoWetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal, Mala Mala Game Reserve, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Sabi River, Sands River, Kruger National Park, Lebombo Mountains, Cape Town, Table Mountain, Camps Bay

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Phinda Private Game Reserve – A Luxurious Safari Welcome

An elephant wanders past, tusks and trunk curling skyward. Upon the horizon, you can likely see many giraffe while buffalo huff and grunt as they roam next to the lodge. You are probably tired from your time spent traveling, but the safari has started without you having to stand up. Just lay back outside of your suite and watch the animals walk past, and that is the beauty of Phinda. Compared to Kruger, it is a small and compact reserve, and you will not need to look for wildlife. Rather, it is all around you, and your safari starts from the moment you land.

Land in O.R. Tambo International Airport and transfer onto your safari flight to Phinda. Touch down and check into your elegant suite with a private pool and 360-degree views across the savannah. There is unbelievable luxury here in both traditional and contemporary forms, but the real luxury comes from experience. In Phinda, you are placed center stage in a wildlife world, so you can lay back, doze off, and be awoken by an elephant’s trumpet. An afternoon game drive should provide first impressions of over a dozen species, and when nighttime arrives, you will still be watching and listening to the animals.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, safari, dinner

Day 2: Phinda Private Game Reserve – An Easy and Relaxed Big-Game Safari Introduction

On every first-time safari, you might dream of seeing certain animals. Mostly these are the famous four-legged mammals, or possibly a small creature that you may have always had a soft spot for. But on safari, you can also explore the wilderness. A safari is not a drive through a zoo where you go from cage to cage ticking off animals, as rather different regions are home to different wildlife populations. Every reserve has its specialties, but Phinda is great as it offers a variety of habitats in a single reserve, which brings together an eclectic wildlife population. In Kruger, you will see more animals but will need more time. In Phinda, you can quickly encounter the famous big mammals in just a couple of hours.

Two game drives fill your itinerary today. Lionesses might approach the safari vehicle, and then lie down in the shade it has created. Rhinos walk past elegantly, a bashful note to their movements. Zebra canter in a black and white blur. You soon learn to identify a springbok from a kudu from a hartebeest. Later on in your vacation, you will really need to be up before dawn to enjoy the savannah in the early morning when animals are most active. That’s not as important in Phinda, giving you time to rest and recuperate after the flight. There will be opportunity for a game drive at night as well today, and you will be amazed at how different the savannah feels.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Phinda Private Game Reserve – Best of the Savannah and Wetlands

A third day in Phinda is yours, and the experience diversifies. Explore the savannah on a game drive as leopards lurk, buffalo charge, and animals cluster around your vehicle. Then extend the drive into iSimangaliso Wetland Park next door. In this swamp-like wilderness, you will come face to face with hippos with the cantankerous giants sometimes spotted next to the beach. It will be mysterious and intimate inside the reserve with overhanging trees blocking your visibility, but ultimately meaning you can get closer to many species. Contrasts make your safari complete, and you will start to appreciate how animal behavior is different on a dry savannah and a lush wetland.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: Mala Mala Game Reserve – Legendary Leopards and Nighttime Safari

Light aircraft connects Phinda with Sabi Sands, a collection of private concession in the northwest of Greater Kruger. Wildlife roams freely in this land without fences, but clusters around the Sabi and Sands rivers, permanent water on a landscape where water is everything. Each Sabi Sands concession has its own piece of the wilderness, where access is restricted to guests staying at one of their lodges, but note that some share traversing rights with neighbors. Mala Mala is the largest and has the best location. Why? It is on the water on a border with the national park, so essentially, it is deeper in the wilderness and in a natural wildlife corridor, rather than being on the outskirts of the conservation area.

Location is everything, and it makes Mala Mala the ultimate of all South Africa’s safari destinations. The lodge is traditional in style, without the same decadent extras as its neighbors, but with close to a century of providing high-end hospitality. Touch down and immerse yourself in this intimate world. Go out tracking leopards, as there is nowhere better in Africa to see the spotted cats, and then stay out after dark to follow the predatory cats as they eye up their prey. Back at the lodge, the safari continues, a floodlight illuminating the river and all those that come to drink.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 5 – 6: Mala Mala Game Reserve – Crafting Your Own Program in South Africa’s Finest Game Reserve

In the cold air of dawn, you can see three lionesses. They move stealthily, neck dipped with solemn precision as they blur into the grass. A safari vehicle provides an elevated perspective, and you can watch the lions move. Up ahead the zebra sense danger and they are skittish yet not completely aware of which way to move. Slowly, slowly, the lionesses approach, but they have been spotted. The zebra run straight into an ambush, and yelps ring out, along with the drumroll of hooves. You are in a private concession so your guide can take you off trail. Soon you will be just a few meters away and close enough to hear the resounding snap of a big male lion attacking the carcass.

Witnessing a hunt is just one of the experiences that makes a safari in Mala Mala so real. Not everyone is so lucky, but there are other incredible moments, such as wildlife giving birth, watching dramatic territorial battles, and the predatory aftermath of scavengers looking to steal a kill. These experiences are what make certain destinations really stand out. Rather than see animals in isolation, you are immersed in the ongoing interaction. It is not an elephant, it is a boisterous young male elephant getting told off by the patriarch. That is not just a leopard, it is a mother hiding two cubs in a treetop den.

Over these two days, you will create a personal adventure in Mala Mala, mostly on day and nighttime game drives, though short game walks are sometimes possible depending on how much big game is in the immediate vicinity. Big cats are an obvious highlight, along with the abundant rhino population. Often you can track animals over different days. So you might see the same lionesses or hyena, experiencing how they act differently based on when they last ate. Game drives are rugged and wild, but it is calm back at the lodge, as you sit around a campfire as buffalo take a drink in the river below. You will also remember the exclusivity. Such a large concession with so few guests makes Mala Mala a very personal safari experience.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7: Kruger National Park – Evocative Full-Day Adventure Through the Bush

From the intimacy to the scale, today’s game drive takes you bumping across Kruger National Park. Savannah stretches out, great dusty plains speckled with trees and giraffe necks. Sometimes you might drive for 20 minutes and see nothing, other than the endlessness of the wild. Turn a corner, cross a ridge, and there will be a kind of animal party at a waterhole with ungulates looking out for each other. Some roads have been tarred, and it can seem a little strange, a lion pride crossing the asphalt. Others are sandy and dusty, tracks that twist away from other safari vehicles.

Although you will spend the full day on a game drive, you may see less wildlife today than on other days. In the wilderness life clusters and gathers, moving with the rains and the seasons. Yet to cross Kruger is a magical experience, a real expression of how the African wilderness just rolls on and on and on. Your destination is in the far east of the conservation area, a lodge nestled into the Lebombo Mountains. Check into your suite with a private plunge pool and gaze across Kruger. Dine on some of Africa’s finest safari cuisine as the lodge’s wine cellar is legendary, and wait for the wild to sing you a nighttime lullaby.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 8 – 9: Kruger National Park – Intimate Encounters in Remote Eastern Kruger

Ride a mountain bike along rugged trails, or take a chance to walk in elephant country with slow footsteps in the land of giants. From ground level, everything looks even bigger. Of course, you are not walking with lions. Instead, biking and walking safaris focus on smaller game. You can move almost silently, and you are not seen as a threat when approaching on foot. Many animals are frightened by the noise and size of a safari vehicle, but these safari activities get you much closer to zebra, different antelope, and sometimes even a buffalo and can be incorporated into your daily itinerary as you craft a personal safari program.

After a week of safari, the program is likely to focus on animals and scenes that you have yet to witness. While this section of Kruger is not as abundant as Mala Mala, there is a stunning diversity of life with the mountains also a haven for the small and unusual. After each activity the lodge provides a dreamy view, your suite elevated above the plains and open to animal movements. Trackers also watch wildlife here, so with each activity, the guides know which way is best to turn. Some may think that nine days is a long time to be on safari, but after nine days, you will have forgotten what the urban world looks like. Your senses will be tuned into the wild, and this brings an unrivaled feeling of escapism.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Cape Town – City Colors After the Safari

After a final morning game drive, you will be dropped at the airport for a direct late-morning flight to Cape Town. Land in the Mother City and Table Mountain immediately takes over. It looms large over everything, a slab of nature sending its shadow out towards the Atlantic Ocean. Into the city you go, checking into your luxury hotel at the V & A Waterfront. This is an ideal location for a flexible stay in Cape Town. You can easily walk to restaurants along the harbor-front, and the hotel provides a free transfer service to anywhere within the city.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, safari, breakfast

Day 11 – 12: Cape Town – Customizable Day to Explore Cape Town and the Surroundings

These two days in Cape Town have been deliberately left free. There is so much to do here, and everyone has their own travel interests. Plus, an all-inclusive safari runs to the rhythm of the wilderness. You will be used to early starts, early game drives, lazing through the middle of the day before afternoon and evening activities. After a week on safari, you will also be used to being in bed by 9pm. Upon landing in Cape Town, some people end up switching their daily schedule completely, while others will enjoy waking up dawn, perhaps to hike up Lion’s Head or on Table Mountain.

So what to do? Or is it a case of what not to do? Travel to Camps Bay and Cape Town’s most famous beach, or choose the more private sands of Clifton. From the V & A Waterfront, you can board a boat to Robben Island, experiencing where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. It is best to ascend Table Mountain at the first clear opportunity, taking the revolving cable car then exploring various walking trails upon the summit. The Constantia vineyards carpet the mountain’s southern side, and are perfect for a leisurely afternoon. Woodstock is all quirky shops and cafes while the city center has half a dozen good markets.

What’s Included: accommodation, breakfast

Day 13: Cape Town – Departure

After a relaxed morning, you will be transferred privately to the airport for our outward departure home.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast

Price

Starting Price 

$5,195
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.