The Big 5, one of the main reasons why travelers visit South Africa. The Kruger National Park, located in the East of South Africa, is the most famous destination for this. Many tourists do not want to skip this famous park when visiting South Africa. However, you can also spot the big5 on the Western Cape, a few hours’ drive from Cape Town. If you have limited time for your trip (often you only have 2 or 3 weeks of holidays) you don’t need to travel all the way to the other side of the country but you can stay close to Cape Town.
Spotting the big5 is more than just looking for the 5 most famous animals. It is a true African experience! Don’t just go looking for the big5 but also enjoy the beautiful scenery and the other animals that don’t belong to the big5. So we better say enjoy your safari experience! Believe me … it will never get bored.
There are several options near Cape Town, 3 of which we can recommend. Hereby you will find an overview of these 3 and what the pros and cons are.
- Gondwana Game Reserve: Wow! What a beautiful place this is. Located on a 5-hour drive from Cape Town, the exit is on the N1 at Mossel Bay. Before you take the exit you mainly drive along empty and dry farmland. So you do not expect that a beautiful (green) nature area is hidden in the mountains. It is a large area and you will get the real safari experience here! You stay in beautiful round huts that all have beautiful views over the valley. In Gondwana you will be spoiled; the accommodation, the food and the game drives are amazing. The only drawback of Gondwana is actually the costs ;). Gondwana is also the only accommodation on this list where you may also do a game drive with your own car. You need a good 4 × 4 for this because this is serious off road terrain.
- Garden route game lodge: A great place for young and old! Located on a 4-hour drive from Cape Town on the N1 at the town of Albertinia, the exit to the lodge is directly on the N1 and the borders of the park also run up to the road. The landscape here is quite dry with mainly low vegetation and fynbos. It is nice to see how fascinated the rangers are with their work. I saw a cheetah here for the first time! The area is pretty large and you will see many animals on your game drives. The lions are in a separate area so that the balance in the park is not disturbed (there are many rules for keeping lions and, for example, what the ratio of lions to the number of bokkies should be). The lions here also hunt for their own food. At the Garden route game lodge you sleep in rondavels that are fully equipped, in lodge rooms close to the main lodges (very suitable for families) or in luxury family suites that overlook the valley.
- Aquila game reserve: An easy and accessible game lodge at a 3-hour drive from Cape Town. Aquila is primarily suitable for families traveling with small children. The terrain is not as large as the other lodges, the activities are more focused on the budget safari traveler and there is a lot organized for children. Because the lions have been rescued from captivity (they were kept to hunt) they are in a separate section and are being fed. The vegetation is low and dry so you can see the animals in Aquila very easily. There are various accommodation options: Lodge rooms, beautiful cottages with views over the valley and also group accommodations are available on site.
All lodges can be visited all year round and the different seasons each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The game drives are always done in an open vehicle at sunrise and at sunset. So it can be a little chilly in the South African winter. The advantage of this season is that the lodges are generally more quiet and that they offer beautiful winter specials which can make the price of the stay more attractive. In the South African summer, on the other hand, it can be very hot, but you are guaranteed that you will not be feeling cold at 6AM with your morning game drive. Keep in mind that this is a much busier season and that the lodges will be fully booked way ahead.
How long you want to stay at a Big5 game lodge is very personal. And it also depends on your budget, because it is not cheap. At Garden route game lodge and Aquila it is also possible to only book the safari but not to spend the night on the premises, but I would always recommend at least a one night stay to get the real safari feel. I guarantee that you will return to Africa more often for more safaris! If budget is not a problem, stay 1 night at several lodges, you always have a different experience.
Specified for low season (LS): May to October and high season (HS): November to April. These prices are indicative and may therefore differ when making the booking, this is mainly due to the availability of the accommodation.
Gondwana Game Reserve
€ 450 (LS) / € 600 (HS) per villa with 2 people B&B and afternoon safari
€ 485 (LS) / € 640 (HS) per villa with 2 people B&B, dinner and afternoon safari
€ 570 (LS) / € 720 (HS) per villa with 2 people full board and 2 safaris
Garden Game Route Lodge
€ 240 (LS) / € 361 (HS) for Lodge room with 2 people B&B, dinner and 2 safaris
€ 240 (LS) / € 371 (HS) for Chalet with 2 people B&B, dinner and 2 safaris
€ 580 (LS) / € 877 (HS) for Family suites with 2 adults and 2 children (up to 12 years) B&B, dinner and 2 safaris.
Aquila Private Reserve
€ 240 (LS) / € 310 (HS) for Lodge room with 2 people full board and 2 safaris
€ 310 (LS) / € 465 (HS) for Cottage with 2 people full board and 2 safaris
€ 510 (LS) / € 695 (HS) for Premier cottage with 2 people full board, 2 safaris (or safari on horseback) and a bottle of wine
Nice to know
Why is the Big5 the Big5 ..? Ever thought about it? In any case, it is not because they are the largest animals. The Giraffe is not part of the Big5 but it is clearly the largest animal in the Savannah .. Look it up before you go on safari or let your ranger explain it to you!