Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa Parks & Game Reserves – How to Travel Independently

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Updated May 6, 2017 / João Leitão / 3 Comments / Filed in: / Reading time 8 minutes
Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa Parks & Game Reserves - How to Travel Independently

Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa Parks & Game Reserves – How to Travel Independently

South Africa Self-Drive 🇿🇦

Do you want to make a self-drive safari in South Africa’s Parks & Game Reserves?

One of my last road trips was to the southern part of Africa.

I traveled with a rental car through countries such as South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.

Hippos in South Africa

Hippos in South Africa

I got my plane ticket just a couple of days before departure and had nothing organized. I only knew I would like to visit the most UNESCO World Heritage sites possible. So, I got myself a Michelin road map and circled these UNESCO sites with a marker. I quickly drew a possible and logical itinerary in southern Africa.

Ultimate Guide to Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa Parks & Game Reserves

Ultimate Guide to Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa Parks & Game Reserves

During one month I drove around 9000 km / 5590 mi, in which I experienced and got some knowledge regarding self-driving in National Parks and Game Reserves around all these countries.

Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa

Self-Drive Safaris in South Africa

This travel article will only focus on my self-drive safaris experience in South African parks and game reserves. Undoubtedly, the best way to experience parks is to have one’s own vehicle in which to travel around.

ℹ️ INDEX: South Africa Safaris Travel Guide

  • Self-Drive Safaris – how to do it on your own
  • TOP 9 Self-Drive Safaris
  • Map of South Africa – TOP 9 Self-Drive Safaris
  • What is the Big Five
  • Q&A: Self-Drive Safari tips and advice
  • Useful links and resources
Beware of dangerous animals road sign

Beware of dangerous animals road sign

🐘 Self-Drive Safaris – how to do it

Self-Drive Safaris - how to do it on your own

Self-Drive Safaris – how to do it on your own

Doing South Africa parks to spot animals on your own and independently is easy, safe and can come out to be a great travel experience.

Basically almost all parks and game reserves do allow you to drive and explore on your own, without any guide whatsoever.

YES!

You do not need to pay any tour company to take you around. Self-drive holidays in South Africa are an amazing way of traveling independently while exploring several wildlife parks.

What I personally did was to book a car online, and pick it up when I arrived to Johannesburg Airport. I also bought some road maps at the airport shop and I was set, ready to go and see some wildlife.

🐒 So basically it’s as simple as this:

  1. Buy an airplane a ticket to South Africa
  2. Get your rent-a-car
  3. Fly to Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport
  4. Pick up your car at the rental office at the airport
  5. Go to the airport bookshop and get yourself a South Africa road map or even some guide book to South African parks
  6. Fill up the tank
  7. GO!

🐆 TOP 9 Self-Drive Safaris

Elephant and Hippos in South Africa

Elephant and Hippos in South Africa

✅ Kruger National Park

  • Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces
  • Entrance fee for foreign visitors is R280
  • Kruger website

✅ Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve

✅ Pilanesberg Game Reserve

  • North West Province
  • Entrance fee for foreign visitors is R65 – Vehicle R20
  • Pilanesberg website

✅ Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

✅ Addo Elephant National Park

  • Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces
  • Entrance fee for foreign visitors is R232
  • Addo website

✅ Mapungubwe National Park

✅ iSimangaliso Wetland Park

✅ Augrabies Falls National Park

✅ Tembe Elephant Park

  • KwaZulu-Natal Province
  • Entrance fee for foreign visitors is R75
  • Tembe website

📍 South Africa Map, TOP 9 Self-Drive Safaris

🦁 What is the Big Five

The term Big Five refers to five of Africa’s greatest wild animals: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.

What is the Big Five

What is the Big Five

🏞 Big Five Game Parks

  • Addo Elephant Park
  • Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve
  • Kruger National Park
  • Madikwe Game Reserve
  • Pilanesberg Game Reserve

🏞 Big Five Private Reserves

  • Balule Nature Reserve
  • Kapama Game Reserve
  • Sabie Sand Reserve
  • Shamwari Game Reserve
  • Timbavati Game Reserve
  • Thornybush Game Reserve
  • Welgevonden Game Reserve

🔗 Useful links and resources

  1. South African National Parks
  2. Kruger Park Self-Drive Safari Guide.
  3. South Africa Nature Reserves Map
  4. South Africa Nature Reserves Map PDF
  5. Game Reserves in South Africa
  6. Book an airplane ticket to South Africa with QatarAirways.com
  7. Book a car at Johannesburg airport with RentalCars.com

⁉️ Q&A: Self-Drive Safari tips and advice

❓ Do I need a 4WD / 4X4 all terrain vehicle to make my own self-drive safari?

  1. No. You don’t need to rent a 4WD to self-drive most South African Parks & Game Reserves;
  2. Most parks only have dirt or gravel roads, so don’t expect many asphalt roads;
  3. Some parks do have a main central paved road which gives way to other smaller unpaved ones;
  4. Most parks have gravel roads which are 100% suitable for small city cars. You will not be the only one with such a car;
  5. Many parks do not have difficult itineraries;
  6. Some parks only have some roads suitable to be driven with a 4WD;
  7. If you choose to get yourself a 4WD, you can profit from those extra roads;
Do I need a 4WD / 4X4 all terrain vehicle to make my own self-drive safari?

Do I need a 4WD / 4X4 all terrain vehicle to make my own self-drive safari?

❓ Where can I book a car or 4WD? Can I do it online?

  1. I booked my car online through the famous Rentalcars.com website, and got a very nice 1 month deal;
  2. I paid around 17 Euros per day for a small yet reliable 2015 Chevrolet Spark;
Where can I rent a car or 4WD in South Africa?

Where can I rent a car or 4WD in South Africa?

❓ Can I pick up my car at the airport? What are the advantages of this?

  1. I picked up my car at Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo International Airport;
  2. As I didn’t have any intentions on staying in Johannesburg, the best would be to get myself on the road asap;

❓ Is it easy to drive in South Africa and find places?

  1. South African roads are well signed. If you wish you can also stop and ask directions to people, although you’ll have to pay attention because specific neighborhoods in some cities are dangerous to stop. Good places to stop and ask for directions are petrol stations. If you feel more comfortable, get yourself a GPS for your car, this will definitely turn your trip much easier;
Is it easy to drive in South Africa?

Is it easy to drive in South Africa?

❓ Where can I book a flight to South Africa online?

  1. I got a very good air ticket deal with Qatar Airways. I paid around 600 Euros – round trip price- for a 17 hours flight from Casablanca to Johannesburg via Doha;

❓ While self-driving is it easy to spot animals?

  1. You can drive yourself around the parks and spot animals;
  2. If you’re lucky, you will probably spot all the types of animals existing in the park;
  3. Some people spend four days inside a park before spotting their first lion, while other people are lucky to see them 30 minutes after they come in;
  4. When lions are spotted many cars will line up to see them;
Zebras and Rhinos in South Africa

Zebras and Rhinos in South Africa

❓ Is there fuel available inside the parks and game reserves?

  1. Fill up your tank before entering the park;
  2. Parks such as Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park have petrol available, but at a more expensive price;

❓ How many kms can I drive inside one park?

  1. It all depends on you since you don’t have any minimum or maximum milleage. I drove about 260 km in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, for example;
Elephants can completely destroy your car

Elephants can completely destroy your car, be careful

❓ Is there accommodation available inside the parks and game reserves?

  1. There is accommodation inside most parks in South Africa. Price range varies;
  2. Accommodation fully books during South African holiday period and tourism high season;
  3. You can get hotel rooms, bungalows or just a normal camping spot for your car and tent;

❓ Is it dangerous to drive alone? Can I get insurance?

  1. From the moment you enter the parks, you are at your own risk;
  2. The parks and reserves do not issue any type of insurance;
  3. Most wild animals can kill you if they feel threatened or … hungry;
  4. The majority of animals will run away from your car, but biggest animals such as elephants, buffaloes, giraffes and rhinos might not even mind your presence. Give them space so that they don’t see your approach as a direct confrontation;
  5. Lions are not usually afraid of people and can get very curious. Close your windows and lock the doors;
  6. Leopards are very shy animals so they will always be on the run;
  7. Elephants and rhinos can completely destroy your 4WD or car. Don’t horn at them, don’t scream at them, don’t get too close with your car;
  8. If elephants wave their hears forward and walk in your direction, pull your car backwards and whatever you do, don’t horn or they will most probably charge on you;
  9. Check if the park you’re visiting is malaria-free;
  10. You can also get your travel insurance here;
Is it dangerous to drive alone?

Is it dangerous to drive alone?

❓ I love birds. Are there any birds around South African parks?

  1. Apart from mammals, these parks are also very rich in bird life. Profit from this also;
  2. Basically, birds are to be seen everywhere;
  3. You will end up seeing more birds than mammals;
Are there any birds around South African parks?

Are there any birds around South African parks?

❓ What should I take with me?

  1. Take some snacks with you, perfect to spend your time while waiting for animals to show inside refuges;
  2. Get yourself some binoculars, although you’ll see most animals at a very close range, having binoculars does help to spot them from far, or get close details of their features;
  3. Get yourself water bottles before going into the park;
  4. Most parks include the car price with your entrance ticket;
  5. Bring insect repellent, just in case you come during the insect season, or just to keep bugs away;
  6. Bring extra camera batteries and enough memory cards;
  7. Bring a quick camera battery car charger, the ones that connect to the car lighter;
Driving in South Africa

Driving in South Africa

❓ What speed am I allowed to drive?

  1. Animals do suddenly cross the road;
  2. Don’t drive more than 30 km/h (18 miles/h);
  3. Make sure you know the exact gate times. They do change depending of the season;
  4. What mechanic and car things should I consider?
  5. Check your rental car extra tire;
  6. If you have a flat tire, don’t change it on spot. Go to the nearest village / hotel / refuge / guard facilities to do so;
  7. Get yourself a park map. Very useful to know where the waterholes and refuges are located and to guide yourself around the parks;
  8. The slower you drive, the best chances you have of spotting animals among the vegetation;
  9. You can’t drive after sunset, so go back to your hotel within time;
What speed am I allowed to drive?

What speed am I allowed to drive?

❓ Can you give me some advice about the best way to see animals?

  1. Expect animals everywhere;
  2. Stop when you come across other drivers and ask whether they spotted some interesting animals;
  3. Best time to spot animals is in the morning during sunrise and late afternoon before sunset. Much of the “animal action” happens early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Take this in consideration;
  4. Switch off the car when you want to stare for a while at the animals and waterholes;
  5. Profit from the known refuges, most of them built near waterholes. Sit down and wait for the wildlife to get close. Some people wait for two or three hours;


Visual artist shares inspiring photos and exotic travel destinations. Adventure travel blogger with ideas and narratives to motivate independent travelers and audacious backpackers. Intense journeys into more than 126 countries around Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Oceania since 1999. Expat in Morocco - North Africa since 2007, polyglot and proud Lonely Planet Pathfinders blogger.

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3 Comments. Leave new

Very helpful – thank you for talking the time to do this.

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Thanks for such an informative article Joao. I’d love to go there with the family and to know it is easy to do alone, is great. So expensive and restricting to go with a company, even though they have added bonus of less thinking! Also good to know a regular car is actually fine. Your links are really useful too.

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