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Game viewing & safaris

©SA Tourism©SA TourismWith vast tracts of land set aside for conservation and a more than fair share of the earth’s large and small animal species - including the big five - southern Africa is probably the top safari destination in the world.

In order to make it easier for you to choose where to go, we've tried to categorise game-viewing experiences, but it's not always easy, and there is some overlap. But here goes. National and provincial parks are administered by the national or provincial authorities and are, mostly, relatively pristine. That does not mean there will always be big game. The Table Mountain National Park, for example, is a fabulous destination with myriad fantastic attractions including many species of antelope, but there are no elephants, lions, giraffes or other large game. The parks in the more established safari areas of southern africa offer fantastic game-viewing experiences at a good price. In most, you can self-cater and drive around in your own car. If you’re really watching your budget you can even stay at a backpackers hostel or camp, and do day trips into the parks.

If, however, you're feeling flush, you could splurge out on an indulgent stay in a private game lodge. These range from relatively modest to over-the-top luxurious. At the former you will have really comfortable and characterful accommodation, great food, and fun and informative game drives, while the latter offers spectacular accommodation, superb food and superb service from a veritable army of well-qualified staff. Not surprisingly, the prices reflect the difference. Most, but not all, of these are in the traditional safari areas. As the interest in game viewing - particularly malaria-free game-viewing - increases, though, new game lodges are springing up in areas that were previously ignored as safari destinations, notable in the Eastern and Western Cape.

We spent ages trying to think up a name for the smaller game destinations, and we've decided that game sanctuaries is the closest we can come to describing them properly. These are big, or even very big, tracts of land on which a variety of animals are allowed to roam free. In many cases, the experience will be very similar to that of a private game reserve or national park. But we've made the distinction to separate out destinations that have a more heavy hand on management and, for example, keep different animals in different enclosures or heavily supplement feeding. Don't let this classification put you off, as many of these sanctuaries offer a great game-viewing experience, and some are conveniently close to the main centres so you can get a wonderful game-viewing experience in a short space of time.

Another fascinating way to get an insight into wild animals is to visit a rehabilitation or breeding centre, or an animal interaction park or show farm.

Many of the parks are accessible to even small ordinary cars, but some necessitate a four-wheel drive. And some parks, for example, Kruger National Park, are very accessible to small cars but also offer an off-road safari experience.

If you have the time and want to see game in a number of different environments, you could do a mobile safari that visits a range of reserves and parks, each with its own special attractions.

And there are so many wonderful adventurous game-viewing options – you could do a horseback safari, a mountain bike safari, a quad-bike safari, a walking safari, a paddling safari, a dug-out canoe safari and even watch game from a hot air balloon.

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