If you do just one safari in South Africa, do it at Phinda Game Reserve.
Located in in KwaZulu Natal and run by the luxury and responsible tour operator And Beyond, Phinda Game Reserve was created in 1991 on what previously used to be farmland, and it soon became an award winning safari destination thanks to its efforts in wildlife and environment conservation. It is the site of the black rhino range expansion project, and rhinos are also donated for translocation to other countries (they are regularly dehorned to prevent poaching).
Phinda is also hone to one of the biggest cheetah populations in South Africa. It’s no wonder this is one of the best destinations to see wildlife in the continent, especially if you love nature and you care to see wildlife in its natural environment and in a completely responsible way.
Phinda in Zulu means “return” – and that’s exactly what you will want to don once you visit. Care to learn more about Phinda Private Game Reserve? Continue reading!
Looking for more places to visit in South Africa? Check out this post.
What You Must Know About Phinda Game Reserve
The best time to visit
Any time is good to visit Phinda Game Reserve. My sister and I visited Phinda in mid November, at the beginning of the summer, and we enjoyed sunny, dry and warm days and chilly nights. Summer months are great for spotting young animals; whereas the winter months are great as with the lower temperatures more animals come out of the bush.
It’s very diverse
Phinda Private Game Reserve is incredibly diverse. Driving through the reserve and moving from one lodge to the other, you will notice how varied the landscape is, and how it changes entirely from one part of the reserve to the other.
Indeed, Phinda Game Reserve is huge – so much so that there are seven different ecosystems there. Landscapes vary from woodland to grassland, wetland to forest, and even mountain ranges within the reserve. The foothills of the Lebombo Mountains are located on the south of the reserve. There also are two rivers running through the Phinda Game Reserve, which create a fertile marshland.
Phinda is also home to the rare dry sand forest, a gorgeous forest of large trees, cacti, ferns and orchids; and to 3 different types of savannah (in case you ever thought that there’s only one kind!).
Finally, Phinda is close to the beautiful beaches and marine reefs of the Indian Ocean, so that you can mix and match bush and marine adventures.
The wildlife is incredible
The varied landscape of Phinda Game Reserve means the best possible thing when speaking of safaris: variety of wildlife! If you stay at different lodges (for example one in the south of the reserve, and one in the north) and move around the reserve you’ll have a different wildlife experience.
Phinda is one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five – including the black rhino.
There are lions, leopards, hyenas, various species of antelopes – such as the tiny red duiker, and the suni; as well as kudus, impalas and nyalas. There are elephants, zebras, giraffes and hippos. Phinda Game Reserve is also famous for its large population of cheetahs.
As Phinda is a private game reserve, the number of cars moving around is monitored and there are strict limitations to the number of jeeps that can be in the same spot at the same time. This means that animals are completely respected and that the game viewing experience is more exclusive than in other places.
Guests at Phinda Game Reserve are usually taken on two game drives per day, one in the early morning starting as soon as the sun rises, and the other in the afternoon, after 4:00 pm, and going on well after sunset for enhanced possibility of spotting nocturnal animals.
Finally, Phinda Private Game Reserve is an excellent place for birdwatching, with 436 species of birds living in the area. Make sure to bring your binoculars for an even better birdwatching experience!
You can get out to see a local village
Apart from the incredible wildlife of Phinda Game Reserve, you will also have a chance to visit a local community, making stops at a local school created thanks to the effort of an NGO called Africa Foundation.
You will meet the headmaster of the school, who will take you around and tell you the story of how the school came about, the challenges and the issues she had to overcome, and showing you all that she and the local community have managed to achieve.
Unlike many other tours of “local communities”, this feels like a completely spontaneous, un-staged experience. Children play around the school yard, running after each other. The headmaster tells them off each time she spots them dropping a piece of paper. Some kids will be eager to meet you, others appear more shy. It is a truly genuine experience, and a welcome back-to-reality moment.
As well as the primary school, the local community tour with Africa Foundation also includes a visit to the kindergarten, to the local crafts market and to the community health center, all of them running thanks to the help of the NGO.
And even go to the beach
One of the things that make Phinda special is that you can easily get to the beach to enjoy the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. If you want, you can even dive in Sodwana Bay!
It’s easy to reach
Phinda Game Reserve can be easily reached from other parts of South Africa. There are flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town that land in Phinda’s private airstrip, and the reserve is only a 3 hours drive from Durban. The drive is easy and actually quite pleasant – especially once you get to the reserve and find yourself immersed in nature, and can spot zebras and giraffes along the way to the lodge.
Check out my post 20 Fun Things To Do In Durban.
The lodges are fabulous
There are 6 lodges in Phinda, all of them gorgeous and all of them completely immersed in nature. Though they all reflect the style of And Beyond, which runs the reserve, each lodge is different from the other.
Since the lodges are located in different parts of the reserve, the wildlife experience you may get varies depending on which lodges you stay at. That’s why I recommend staying for 4 days or more, and at two different lodges!
Forest Lodge has fabulous room completely surrounded by the forest, with a gorgeous porch to relax, and the most luxurious bathroom. Baboons often visit the chalets so you may have to call security to escort you to the dining area.
Mountain Lodge offers incredible views. The massive rooms all have a private plunge pool, which inevitably attracts the animals that roam free around the property. You can expect to find nyalas drinking from the pool!
And so is the food
Meals at the lodges of Phinda Game Reserve are always delicious, with breakfast being scrumptious to say the least, and lunch and dinner absolutely fabulous.
Each meal is a great combination of South African food – you will also have a chance of tasting the bobotie, a Cape Malay dish; international cuisine – the barbecued pork ribs were mouthwatering; and a feast of vegetables, salads and fruits. At breakfast, guests have a choice of different varieties of coffee, all of them from Africa and ethically produced.
The atmosphere is chilled
Come to think of it, chilled probably isn’t the best way to describe the atmosphere at Phinda Game Reserve. I’d probably use the word “dreamy.”
You can completely in our rooms, in the dining areas, at the pool. You will breathe the clean air of the reserve. And you will enjoy al fresco dining, being served the most delicious meal in the middle of the forest, on candle lit tables. It is absolutely perfect!
The staff goes above & beyond
Everyone at Phinda Game Reserve is welcoming and professional. From the director of the reserve; to the excellent rangers that take guests on game drives and ensure that they have the best wildlife experience; from the chef who is ready to share his secret bobotie recipe; to the guest relations officer who is ready to sort out your flights back to Cape Town when the airline messes up your reservations, everyone is always incredibly kind and pleasant to talk to.
It’s run responsibly
Phinda Game Reserve is run in a completely responsible way, with an eye to the local wildlife and the environment, as well as the local communities.
Rangers always put the safety and wellbeing of the wildlife at the reserve first, no matter how much a guest may want to get close to an animal. A great effort is done to ensure that the delicate ecosystem of Phinda is preserved, both in terms of flora and fauna.
The lodges are eco-friendly, with little to no waste of water and food. Members of the local community are employed to work in the reserve, as staff at the lodges or as rangers and trackers.
Last, but not least, thanks to Africa Foundation, the area around Phinda Game Reserve receives international support and financial aid for responsible community projects.
Check out my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.
5 Tips To Make The Most Of Phinda Game Reserve
A safari in Phinda is an incredible experience and if you plan to visit South Africa, it’ll be the cherry on the cake of your trip. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience there.
Give yourself enough time
Most guests spend 3 or 4 nights in Phinda. 4 days is just about the right amount of time you will need to make the most of Phinda Game Reserve, see all the incredible wildlife and relax and unwind completely. You will also have time to visit the local communities. If you have an extra day to spare, plan a day trip to the beach.
Learn the art of patience
A safari in Phinda Game Reserve is a thrilling experience, but there will be occasions during which your ranger will drive around for hours and the most you’ll see will be impalas. It can be frustrating, but it’s all part of the experience. Learn to make the most of it, and take this opportunity to admire the beautiful African sky, or even to chat with the other guests!
Talk to the rangers, and listen to what they say
Different people have different interests when it comes to wildlife. Some dream of seeing rhinos and elephants, others want to see leopards, lions, cheetahs, or hyenas. Rangers at Phinda Game Reserve meet newly arrived guests and ask them what they are hoping to see: this is your chance to express your wishes!
Also make sure to listen to the rangers instructions regarding game drives: don’t move around the car, don’t stand and don’t get off, unless he says it’s ok to do so. Don’t make noises to the animals and don’t try to call them, as they may be bothered.
By all means, remember that rangers are the best source of information about the animals and the flora at Phinda Game Reserve, so ask them any question that pops to your mind!
Dress for success
Being appropriately dressed for a safari is important. You need to wear clothes that make you blend in with the colors of the bush, and they must be comfortable, because you will be sitting in them all day. Layer up with a long sleeves t-shirt, a sweater and a jacket: mornings are cold in the bush, but it gets warm during the day.
Check out my post What To Wear On Safari – The Ultimate Packing List For Africa for more ideas on what you should pack for your trip to Phinda.
Pack the right camera gear
A safari isan incredible photographic experience. In Phinda, you’ll have plenty of chances to take incredible photos of wildlife, so make sure to take (and learn how to use) a good DSLR or full frame camera with a good lens. I recommend a 70 – 300 mm as a minimum. A mirrorless camera won’t give you enough lens length to catch the animals in the distance, or their detailed patterns.
Make sure to also pack a pair of good binoculars, especially if you are into bird watching.
Make sure to check out my other posts about South Africa
- 14 Unmissable Things To Do In Johannesburg
- 17 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town
- Where To Stay In Cape Town: A First Timers’ Guide
- 10 Great Day Trips From Cape Town
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Knysna And On The Garden Route
- 6 Areas Where To Find Accommodation In Knysna
- 17 Cool Things To Do In Stellenbosch
- 7 Amazing Estates To Do Wine Tasting In Stellenbosch
- Stellenbosch Accommodation: 12 Hotels In Stellenbosch For Any Budget
- The Best Airbnbs In Cape Town
- A Guide To Renting A Car In South Africa