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BBig Five safaris in South Africa are a must for anyone fascinated by wildlife. The Big Five refers to buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino and the term comes from the animals considered most dangerous to hunt. Now the thrill comes from photographing them in their natural habitat.
If you're looking for a Big Five safari experience you can go to almost any province in South Africa, but the Kruger National Park stretching across the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces remains an iconic tourism drawcard.
The Big Five abound in the park, and you’ll see them by self-drive, guided drives or guided walks through the bushveld. You may well see all Big Five, you may well not, although your chances are high. Drive slowly, stop at waterholes, listen for the warning calls of birds, watch when other vehicles stop, and always keep your eyes open.
Prepare to be awed. To see a leopard dozing in the bough of a tree, spotting a black rhino half-hidden in thick shrubs, finding a pride of lions in the shade after a kill, or watching a large herd of elephants or Cape buffalo move soundlessly across the road - these are all priceless moments.
AAlways remember that you're dealing with wild animals, and that you're in their territory. There are rules of engagement relating to Big Five safaris in South Africa. Read your guidebook carefully and heed the words of your ranger at all times.
Accommodation for Big Five safaris in Mpumalanga are either within the Kruger National Park or on the neighbouring private reserves such as Sabi Sands (which has the highest density of leopards in the world), Timbavati and Klaserie. Some lodges pride themselves on showing the Big Five to guests in record time, and you'll even walk away with a certificate.
OOnce you've done Big Five activities in Mpumalanga, it's time to ‘sweat the small stuff' and learn about wondrous creatures native to South Africa, like the large-spotted genet.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel:+27 (0)12 428 9111
How to get there
If you're heading for one of the private reserves you can fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI) in Mpumalanga and be picked up there. Or your lodge can arrange a charter flight from Johannesburg. If you’re comfortable driving on South African roads hire a vehicle at KMI and drive yourself. It's best to hire a larger vehicle because you will have more leg room, and you'll sit up higher for spotting game. Reserve well in advance.
Best time to visit
There's something delightful about every season. But late winter or early spring (August to September) are particularly good. The grass is still low after winter, and water is concentrated in only a few places, making spotting easier. It’s also birthing season in the bush, which is just starting to flush green after the first rains.
Things to do
Game drives in your own vehicle are fun, but nothing can beat a ranger's practiced eye. Go on a drive or walk guided by a ranger. You will learn plenty, and see much more than you might have on your own. If you're keen on seeing all of the Big Five, give it at least three days. But remember, there are no guarantees in the wilderness
What to pack
Your camera, lightweight binoculars, hat and sunblock. Even in the height of summer, take a jacket along for night drives. Try to dress predominantly in dull bush colours like khaki and olive green.
Where to stay
If you’re travelling with children, stay at one of Kruger's bigger camps like Berg-en-Dal camp, which has a pool, a shop, a restaurant, and often nightly open-air video shows. Good tip: it's always better to make a telephone booking than online. Check with the private camps if they take kids - not all do.
What to eat
Most of the camps are self-catering with braai (barbeque) facilities and well-stocked grocery shops. Check the catering options for each camp before booking.
- South African National Parks
- Kruger Park Safaris
- Timbavati Private Game Reserve
- Klaserie Private Game Reserve
- Sabi Sands