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10 Best Destinations for Photographic Safaris in South Africa

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Adelle Bell

Safari Travel Planner

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Adelle Bell

Author: Adelle Bell - 6 February 2024

Last Update: 10 May 2024

Scenically, South Africa is an extraordinarily diverse country that offers unparalleled photographic safaris and tours in Africa. Here are just a few factors that contribute to South Africa’s appeal:

  • Diverse landscapes
  • Prolific wildlife
  • A fascinating mix of cultures and peoples
  • More than 2,500 kilometres of stunning coastline
  • An amazing floral kingdom
  • Bustling cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Exceptional natural light
  • Clear skies provide excellent conditions for stargazing and astrophotography

In short, South Africa just teems with a wealth of photographic subjects and opportunities! Here are just ten of South Africa’s amazing photographic safari destinations:

1. Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo

Game drive in the Kruger National Park
Game drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa

The massive Kruger Park forms part of the Greater Kruger, which is assuredly the jewel in South Africa’s impressive wildlife crown. Not only is the Greater Kruger home to the Big Five—lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos—but it also houses numerous other animals, such as endangered wild dogs, pangolins, aardvark, and cheetahs.

Its more than 500 bird species include several rare species like Pel’s fishing owls, ground hornbills, crowned eagles and peregrine falcons. The Kruger has done invaluable work in black rhino conservation, so wildlife photographers have a good chance of photographing these rare creatures in the Kruger.

2. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Northern Cape

Stunning Oryx in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Stunning Oryx in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa

With black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards, numerous antelope species, and a plethora of raptors, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a wildlife area of note. It’s the biggest conservation area in Africa, and activities include game drives, birdwatching, wilderness camping, and the 4×4 Eco Trail.

The park plays a crucial role in the conservation of the Kalahari ecosystem and its unique wildlife. It is a sought-after destination for photographers with its starkly beautiful red dune landscapes and unique desert-adapted species.

3. Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Mpumalanga Lowveld

Safari vehicle observing lions in Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
Safari vehicle observing lions in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa.

The Sabi Sands Game Reserve consists of a cluster of about 20 private game reserves that adjoin the wildlife-rich southern Kruger. There are no fences between the Sabi Sands and the Kruger, so the animals move freely through this area, known as the Greater Kruger.

The Sands is renowned internationally for its high density of big cats and other predators, as well as its leopard conservation initiatives. It’s justly famous for its superior sightings of lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and in particular its famous leopards like Thandi, Hukumuri, Ravenscourt, and endearing young Marieps. For spectacular wildlife sightings and photography, the Sabi Sands is unrivalled.

4. Pilanesberg National Park in North West Province

Multiple people on a safari viewing an elephant in Pilanesberg National Park
Multiple people on a safari viewing an elephant in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of the most accessible parks in SA, located less than a 3-hour drive from Johannesburg. It lies in the crater of an ancient volcano, resulting in fascinating geological rock formations.

Apart from the famous Big 5, the park also has wild dogs, hyenas, cheetahs, roan antelope, tsessebe, and magnificent rare sable antelopes. Photographers will love the well-built hides in the park that provide safe and comfortable places to view and photograph wildlife.

5. Madikwe Game Reserve on the South Africa/Botswana border

Group of people observing a lioness in Madikwe Game Reserve | Photo credit: Morukuru
Group of people observing a lioness in Madikwe Game Reserve | Photo credit: Morukuru

Malaria-free Madikwe includes the lush banks of the Marico River, as well as open grasslands, bushveld plains, rocky outcrops, and the Dwarsberg mountain range. The reserve accommodates the Big Five, a thriving population of wild dogs, as well as African wild cats, caracals, flamingos, aardwolf, blue cranes, hyenas, mongoose, honey badgers, blesbok, eland, gemsbok, etc. Madikwe is closed to outside visitors.

6. iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal

Hippo swimming through a river in Isimangaliso | Photo credit: Kosi Forest Lodge
Hippo swimming through a river in Isimangaliso, South Africa | Photo credit: Kosi Forest Lodge

Meaning ‘miracle and wonder’ in isiZulu, this park is an absolute must for eco-tourists and photographers. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognised for its exceptional natural beauty and vital ecological importance. It consists of various ecosystems like wetlands, lakes, coastal dunes, and savannahs.

This makes it a haven for diverse plant and animal species like hippos, crocodiles, and rare birds like Pel’s fishing owl and palm-nut vultures. It offers wildlife viewing, hiking, birdwatching, snorkelling, boating, turtle walks (15 Nov – 15 Jan only) and fishing.

7. Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

Rhino being observed by a tour group in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park
Rhino being observed by a tour group in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, South Africa

The Hluhluwe and Imfolozi Parks are adjacent to each other and jointly are SA’s oldest Big Five reserves. They’re also home to cheetahs, wild dogs, and nyalas. There are several hides overlooking waterholes and pans, ensuring excellent up-close wildlife sightings and photographic opportunities.

It’s home to the world’s largest population of white rhinos, and the park is renowned for its rhino conservation programmes, both current and historic. Game drives, walking safaris, boat tours, and wilderness trails are on offer.

8. Marakele National Park in the Waterberg Mountains, Limpopo Province

View of the Waterberg Mountains in Limpopo Province
View of the Waterberg Mountains in Limpopo Province, South Africa

Situated in the Thabazimbi region of Limpopo Province, this park’s scenic landscapes include mountains, grassy plains, and deep valleys.

It’s home to the Big Five, cheetahs, hyenas, and a variety of birds, including the rare Cape vulture. The latter is a big drawcard for birders and photographers, as the park has the biggest concentration of vulnerable Cape vultures in the world, with around 800 active breeding pairs. Guests can enjoy game drives, 4×4 trails, bush walks, glamping, and hiking.

9. Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape Province

Herd of Elephants sipping some water in Addo Elephant National Park
Herd of Elephants sipping some water in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Famous for its vast elephant herds, Addo encompasses no fewer than five of South Africa’s biomes. These include Nama-Karoo habitats, Cape heathlands, grasslands, forests and the subtropical thicket biome. This diversity accounts for the park’s animal diversity. Not only is it home to more than 600 elephants, but it also houses lions, buffalos, black rhinos, spotted hyenas, leopards, and a large variety of antelope species.

10. Tswalu Kalahari in the Northern Cape Province

Leopard on a game drive in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | Photo credits: Tswalu Loapi
Leopard on a game drive in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | Photo credits: Tswalu Loapi

Located on the southernmost edge of the Kalahari Desert, conservation-conscious Tswalu is South Africa’s largest private game reserve. It offers vast expanses of pristine wilderness and is home to desert-adapted black rhinos, black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, meerkats, and a large variety of antelope species like eland, gemsbok and springbok.

The dramatic backdrop of the red sands of the Kalahari makes Tswalu a dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Besides guided game drives, guests enjoy interacting with habituated meerkats, nature walks, horseback riding, tracking, and sleeping in a magical ‘star-bed’!

We know that South Africa is high on the bucket list of many photographers and wildlife lovers. As acknowledged safari experts, we’ve arranged many memorable and successful photographic safaris for our happy clients. If you want us to do the same for you, contact us at Discover Africa to tailor a SA safari just for you.

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