A Safari from Cape Town: The Best Game Reserves to Explore

Cape Town is one of the most spectacular cities in South Africa, and definitely one of my favorites. Getting the chance to visit means touring the famous V&A Waterfront and enjoying stunning panoramic views from Table Mountain.

It’s also an opportunity to explore amazing beaches and tour the area’s lush winelands. But there’s still more to see!

If you dream about seeing the iconic animals of Africa, but can’t get to the big game reserves like Kruger or Addo, you’re still in luck! You can actually go on safari from Cape Town, as little as two hours drive away.

In this post, we’ll discuss the best places to go on a safari from Cape Town, and what you can see there. We’ll also let you in on the best times to go and tips on having the best trip possible.

These wildlife parks offer a stunning change of scenery and a unique opportunity to connect with nature.

So whether you are a first-time safari-goer or a seasoned pro, read on for everything you need to know about going on safari from Cape Town!

You should also read my post The Best Day Trips From Cape Town.

Safari from Cape Town

Where To Go On Safari From Cape Town

One thing to keep in mind is that the game parks within easy driving distance of Cape Town are not ‘wild Africa’ in the strictest sense. You won’t have vast plains to traverse or encounters with massive herds of wildebeest.

What you will have is a great opportunity to see these iconic animals under an African sun. The chance to ride in the back of a safari vehicle in malaria-free bliss, and see the wildlife interact with each other.

You’re going to love it. Let’s go!

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Sanbona lies just a 3-hour and 15 minute drive from Cape Town, in the heart of an area called the Little Karoo. This 143,321-acre expanse of open plains and Cape Fold Mountains is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.

The reserve is home to a wide range of animals. Over 200 species of birds, mammals and reptiles call this beautiful park home. This includes the famous Big Five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo.

The wildlife tends to be least active in the heat of midday. To give you the best experience possible, game drives here are done in the early morning and at the end of the day.

You can even take to the reserve on foot. An expert guide will lead your nature walks. They’ll tell you everything there is to know about the area’s flora and fauna, and answer all of your questions. And, of course, your guide is there to keep you safe!

The word ‘Sanbona’ means ‘vision of the San people’, the original occupants of Little Karoo. On a visit, you’ll also get to see the park’s ancient rock art created by the San.

Sanbona even has an interactive trail for the kids. While, for their safety, littles under 4 aren’t allowed on the game drives, they’ll love learning about the plants and animals. They’ll get to know the different animal tracks, and get a lesson on nature conservation!

You can choose between full-day and half-day experiences as part of a day trip from Cape Town. Or you can decide to stay in the comfortable tented lodge, the roomier family lodge, or the luxurious manor. You may just never want to leave!

You may want to consider this 2-Nights 5-star Sanbona Game Reserve with private transfers to and from Sanbona – keep in mind that this particular tour does not include accommodation, but you will have transfers from and to Cape Town and the game drives included.

To book your accommodation in Sanbona, click here.

Aquila Game Reserve

Aquila Private Game Reserve

Just a two-hour drive from Cape Town, Aquila Private Game Reserve is a really stunning slice of South Africa. It’s tucked away in the Southern Karoo region and is home to a variety of animals.

You’ll have the chance to spot the iconic Big Five. There are also many more of Africa’s exclusive animals roaming the over 24,710 acres of natural malaria-free terrain. Caracals, ostriches, jackals, and a variety of beautiful antelope like oryx, greybuck, and eland roam the territory.

You can explore the reserve on a traditional game drive in an open safari vehicle. You also have the option of mounting up and enjoying a safari on horseback, or even taking a quad bike safari.

And if you can’t decide, mix them up! Go for a game drive in the morning, and either quad or mount a horse to explore in the afternoon.

The 12 and unders have their own African adventure happening with the Junior Ranger Programme.

And don’t forget your swimsuit – you won’t be able to resist the infinity pool. You might also want to take advantage of the decadent Tranquila Spa treatments while you’re here.

Aquila Private Game Reserve offers some great accommodation options. You can choose from budget-friendly standard lodge rooms to luxurious premier cottages.

There are also family-friendly alternatives, such as the family lodge and family cottage. Luxurious premier lodges are available, too if you want to treat yourself!.

All accommodations are located within the reserve, so guests can easily access the game drives and other activities.

You could join this day trip from Cape Town to Aquila – it includes all transportation and a game drive too.

Otherwise, if you’d prefer to stay a bit longer, you can book your stay at Aquila Game Reserve here.

Safari from Cape Town
Photo by Melanie Delamare @shutterstock

Gondwana Game Reserve

Gondwana is a private, malaria-free game reserve, located about a 4-hour drive from Cape Town. You’ll find its 27,000 acres along South Africa’s famous Garden Route.

The reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Big Five, as well as giraffe, wildebeest, springbok, endangered Cape Mountain zebra, and many other animals.

Gondwana Game Reserve has a variety of safaris types to offer, including game drives, mountain biking, and nature walks. Game drives are the most popular activity. Their open-top safari vehicles give you a great vantage point for observing the wildlife.

Mountain biking is another excellent way to experience the African bush, and Gondwana has a variety of trails. Guided nature walks are offered, too, and are my favorite way of exploring the nature of Africa.

I love being able to see tracks up close and get to know the fynbos (vegetation) and the small, unique critters in the area.

A spectacular option offered at Gondwana is the Pioneer Trail. This 3-night walking trail adventure is a slack-packing excursion. This means that all you have to carry is a light pack with your trail essentials.

Any other gear you have plus food and equipment needed is transported for you from camp to camp. This is a bucket-list experience for anyone who loves Africa.

In addition to safaris, Gondwana Game Reserve also offers a variety of other reasons to visit. Try the turquoise blue swimming pool, their open-air Tented Bush Spa, and for the kids, the Junior Ranger program.

Your Junior Rangers can learn about fishing and tracking in Africa, and will receive their own Ranger’s backpack. You can even take a family safari with them as part of the program, as kids under 6 aren’t permitted on regular game drives for their safety.

Children will learn how to identify the local plants and animals, and they’ll gain a better understanding of how the ecosystem works.

Accommodation in Gondwana ranges from the back-to-nature Eco Camp to the roomy villas for families and groups. You can even splurge with the luxurious Ulubisi House for up to 8 people, with a private staff.

A variety of packages is offered, and they include your activities and game drives along with accommodations. However keep in mind that Gondwana isn’t for day trippers!

You can book your stay at Gondwana Game Reserve here.

Safari from Cape Town
Photo by Ekaterina Mironcheva @shutterstock

Inverdoorn Game Reserve

Inverdoorn is about a 2 and a half hour drive from the heart of Cape Town. Like the other game drives for a safari from Cape Town on this list, it’s a malaria-free Big Five reserve, with a variety of Africa’s iconic wildlife roaming the 24,710 acres.

What sets Inverdoorn apart is its commitment to conservation and responsible tourism. The Inverdoorn Cheetah Project has won awards for its ethical operation. You can admire the cheetahs here – and rest assured that these animals are in the best care.

While at Inverdoorn, you can learn about the biology, ecology, and conservation of cheetahs through educational talks and presentations. You can also see cheetahs up close during game drives and cheetah educational tours.

The cheetah project offers a unique opportunity to learn about these amazing animals. If you choose to, you can even get involved in the conservation efforts, which is a rewarding experience. Volunteer, or offer a financial donation.

The reserve has one and two night packages – no day trips. These packages include morning and evening game drives with experienced guides.

There are no children’s activities at Inverdoorn, but the swimming pool can be enjoyed by all ages. Also keep in mind that children under 4 can not accompany you on game drives. You won’t find the rooms to be child-friendly either.

Aside from the safaris, Inverdoorn offers a range of other activities. From stargazing and picnics, to spa services to high tea, the entire experience is an opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation.

The reserve’s dedication to creating a meaningful experience extends to your accommodation options. You can choose from luxury lodges, beautiful chalets, and comfortable tents.

All of your meals will be provided for you – you’re bound to feel very pampered by the time your stay is over.

You may want to consider this safari in Inverdoorn that includes transportation from Cape Town, as well as accommodation and all meals. Alternatively, you can simply book your accommodation in Inverdoorn here.

Buffels Bay
Photo by Caron Palmer @shutterstock

Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve

The closest of our wildlife reserves, Buffelsfontein is only an hour north, near the coast. At 3,954 acres, it’s also the smallest of the game reserves you can visit on safari from Cape Town. You might see 4 of the Big Five at Buffelsfontein, but if you’re hoping to spot a leopard, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

There is a good selection of other animals living on this family reserve. Zebras and giraffes roam free here, as well as cheetahs, kudu, and red hartebeest.

You can choose from 3 hour or 1.5 hour game drives. The longer drives happen in the morning and the afternoon, and the shorter drives depend on the number of people booking.

Aside from game drives, Buffelsfontein also offers bicycle safaris! Not many wildlife reserves give you the chance to ride through them on bicycle. I suggest you take the opportunity when you have it!

You are welcome to come just for your safari drive and a meal at the restaurant, or you can spend a night or two. Either way, you can drive to the reserve, or opt for their transfer service from your hotel.

If you’re short on time, Buffelsfontein is a terrific, intimate experience.

This highly rated Wildlife Safari, Olive, Beer & Wine Tasting goes to Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve and includes a 3-hour game drive.

Phinda Game Reserve

Best Time To Go On Safari From Cape Town

Now that you know what your choices are for a safari from Cape Town, it’s time to decide when to go.

There’s never a ‘bad’ time for a safari in South Africa, but there are times that are better than others. The weather is a factor, as is the size of the crowds.

Here’s what you need to know when it comes to deciding when to go on safari from Cape Town.

Summer (December – February): This is the peak tourist season with warm weather. However, it might get a bit crowded and wildlife may be harder to spot due to lush vegetation.

Autumn (March – May): The weather is mild, and it’s a great time for bird-watching. It’s also less crowded.

Winter (June – August): The vegetation is less dense and animals congregate around the fewer water sources, making wildlife easier to spot.

Spring (September – November): The weather is warming up and it’s a wonderful time to witness newborn wildlife.

In general, the best time of year to go on a safari in a game reserve near Cape Town is during the dry season. This is from the tail end of autumn into the springtime, from May to October.
During this time, the vegetation is thinner, making it easier to spot animals. The animals are also more concentrated around water sources, which makes them easier to see.

My own preferences are autumn and spring. These tend to be times when you can experience the best of all worlds. Vegetation is just filling out or thinning out, so it’s still green and beautiful. The animals still have a limited choice of water sources, and crowds are fairly small.

But I’ll take a safari anytime I can get one.

Phinda Game Reserve
Phinda Game Reserve

Safari From Cape Town Useful Tips

Here are some tips to help you have the best trip possible when you’re going on safari from Cape Town.

Plan your trip in advance

The wildlife reserves near Cape Town are understandably popular. If you want to be sure to be able to enjoy the reserve of your choice, don’t leave your booking until the last minute. You should also think about the right time of year to visit. We’ve got you covered there!

Phinda Game Reserve what to wear in South Africa

Pack the right clothes

You’ll need to pack comfortable clothing that you can layer, as the weather can change quickly in South Africa. Mornings, especially, can be cool, even in the summer.

Specifically, when it comes to clothes keep it khaki. Opt for neutral colors like browns and greens. Bright colors or white can scare off animals or make you more visible when your goal is to blend in. Also, bright and dark colors can attract mosquitos. Steer clear of camo, though.

You’ll also need to pack good walking shoes, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Unfortunately, malaria-free doesn’t mean mosquito–free.

A camera with extra batteries and SD cards is a given. If you have binoculars, bring those too!

In terms of bags, my recommendation is to take a lightweight, foldable tote or backpack. You’ll need this on the safari vehicle to keep your water bottle, sunscreen, and bug spray with you, and anything else you might need during a 2-3 hour game drive.

For more guidance on what to pack, read my post What To Wear On Safari.

phinda game reserve

Patience is key

You may not spot a lion or elephant immediately. Wildlife spotting requires patience, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

Embrace the early morning

While it may be tempting to sleep in, early mornings are often the best times to see wildlife, as animals are more active. Be prepared for a 4:00 am wake up call!

Be prepared for the animals

You will have a knowledgeable guide along with you on safari. But it’s so much more fun if you’ve read a little about the wildlife you’ll see in Africa. Also be aware that you should never try to touch or feed the animals.

Respect the environment, too. This includes not littering and not disturbing the plants and animals.

Final Words: Safari From Cape Town

If you’re going to be in Cape Town be sure to take advantage of these nearby wildlife reserves. You can have an amazing experience that you will never forget.

You will have the opportunity to see some of the most incredible animals in Africa, up close and in their natural habitat. With a little planning and a little extra time, you can have the wildlife safari you’ve always dreamed of, even on a trip to Cape Town.

This post was contributed by Deb Hendricks of Introvert With Itchy Feet. Deb’s been travelling for years, and has never found a place that didn’t fascinate her. But Africa is the only place she returns to over and over again. Nowhere else has more to offer a traveller than this amazing continent. She hopes that by writing about it she will inspire you to experience Africa for yourself. It’ll be the trip of a lifetime!

Further Readings

If you are planning on visiting Cape Town, these other posts are a must read:

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Discover where to go on a safari from Cape Town - via @clautavani

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