Did you know?
Always remember that you're dealing with wild animals, and that you're in their territory. There are rules of engagement relating to Big 5 safaris in South Africa. Read your guidebook carefully and heed the words of your ranger at all times.
Big 5 safaris in South Africa are a must-do for anyone fascinated by wildlife. Big 5 refers to buffalo, elephant, ion, leopard and rhino – 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 5 safari experience in South Africa you can go to almost any province in South Africa, but the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces remains an iconic tourism drawcard.
The Big 5 - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo - abound in the park, and you see them by self-drive, guided drives or guided walks through the bushveld.
But remember, you are not in the middle of a National Geographic documentary. You may well see all Big 5, 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.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 11 447 7172
Kruger National Park
Inside SA 0861 KRUGER
International +27 21 468 7255
UK toll free 0800 014 8420
South African National Parks
Head Office:+27 (0)12 428 9111
How to get here
If you're heading for one of the private reserves you can fly to Kruger Park International Airport (KPIA) in Mpumalanga and be picked up there. Or your lodge can arrange a charter flight from Johannesburg. Or hire a vehicle at KPIA and drive yourself in Kruger.
Best time to visit
There's something delightful about every season. But late winter or early spring are particularly good. The grass is still low after winter, and water is concentrated in only a few places, making spotting easier. The other attraction is that it's birthing season in the bush, which is just starting to flush green after the first rains.
How to get around
It's best to hire a van or combi because you will have more leg room, and you'll sit up higher for spotting game. Reserve well in advance.
Drive yourself in Kruger National Park, the roads are excellent. Arm yourself with a good map you can buy on arrival. If you stay at a private lodge you will be driven in an open-air game vehicle by your ranger.
Length of stay
It takes a few hours before you develop your ‘bush eyes' and can spot wildlife.
If you're keen on seeing all of the Big 5, give it at least 3 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 of khaki and olive green.
Where to stay
Accommodation for Big 5 safaris in Mpumalanga are either within the Kruger National Park or on the neighbouring private reserves such as Sabi Sand (which has the highest density of leopards in the world), Timbavati and Klaserie. Some lodges pride themselves on showing the Big 5 to guests in record time, and you'll even walk away with a certificate.
If you have kids, stay at one of Kruger's bigger camps which have a pool, a shop , a restaurant, and often nightly open-air video shows. Check with the private camps if they take kids - not all 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.
Once you've done Big 5 activities in Mpumalanga, it's time to ‘sweat the small stuff' and learn about wondrous creatures like the dung beetle...