Private Game Reserves vs. National Parks

For travellers wanting to experience the quintessential safari, one of the most important decisions to make is whether to visit a private game reserve or a national park.

A safari is a safari is a safari – right? Wrong. There are numerous factors to consider when planning your ideal safari itinerary that will ultimately end up impacting your overall experience. For example, choosing to travel to Namibia’s desert landscapes will be vastly different to visiting South Africa’s lush wilderness, the same goes for the type of reserve you visit.

Private Game Reserves vs. National Parks

The fundamental difference between private game reserves and national parks is evident in their names. Private game reserves are pieces of wilderness that have been bought by one or more private owners. National parks on the other hand are owned and protected by the state. Often the same wildlife species can be found in both, however it’s the experience that differs.

Safari Experience

Private game reserves tend to offer a far more personalised safari experience. This is because the reserves are generally smaller than national parks and restrict the number of visitors allowed in the reserve at any given time, ensuring a completely uncrowded environment. Also, unlike in national parks, there is usually no option to do a self-drive safari, and all game drives take place at certain times in professional game viewing vehicles, and under the guidance of a professional ranger. While this might limit you slightly in terms of flexibility, it enhances the overall experience drastically as not only do you receive fascinating knowledge from ranger, but you are also more like to find the wildlife due to the rangers’ experience with tracking and familiarity with the reserve. Private game reserves tend to attract the best in the business, and therefore the guides in these reserves boast some amazingly in-depth knowledge of the bush.

Rhino river lodge game drive in manyoni private game reserve

Wildlife Viewing

Private reserves limit the amount of game vehicles allowed at a wildlife sighting at the same time. This not only provides a more personal wildlife viewing experience for guests, but also places less pressure and disturbance on the animal. Whereas in national parks, its not uncommon to find ‘traffic jams’ gathered around a pride of lions trying to get some rest.

Unlike national parks where drives must adhere to the park gate’s opening and closing times, private reserves offer the opportunity to take part in night drives for the chance to spot some of those lesser-seen nocturnal creatures such as jackals, hyena, leopard and aardwolf. Occasional off-road driving, which is strictly prohibited in national parks, is also allowed in some private game reserves, which allows you to get right into the bush and closer to wildlife that might not be near the road. As the vehicles are always driven by experienced rangers, the utmost effort is always taken to have the least impact on the environment possible, so off-road driving is usually saved for special occasions.

The benefit of visiting a national park over a private game reserve, when it comes to wildlife viewing, lies in the fact that national parks are usually larger than private reserves, and therefore offer more space to traverse in search of the wildlife.

Rhino sands game drive in manyoni private game reserve

Accommodation Options

National parks offer a variety of affordable and self-catering accommodation options, as well as a selection of more luxury lodges. Accommodation on private reserves, however, tends to be smaller, high-end lodges and camps that focus on providing each guest with a bespoke holiday. These lodges usually pride themselves in not only their rooms and delicious food, but the overall experience that is provided to guests. Think classic morning coffee stops with Amarula, and afternoon sundowner setups; surprise bush breakfasts and beautiful boma dinners. These lodges always have something special up their sleeves.

Travellers come in different shapes and sizes, and the idea of a ‘perfect safari’ is subjective. Despite this, from our experience, if there is one thing almost all travellers can agree on, it’s that they want their safari to be special and exclusive. After all, nobody enjoys sharing their hard-earned holiday with throngs of tourists. This is why (and we don’t want to sound snobby), if the choice was ours, we’d choose private game reserves every time.

Private Reserves We Love

Manyoni Private Game Reserve

Manyoni Private Game Reserve, previously called ‘Zululand Rhino Reserve’, is situated in Zululand, KwaZulu Natal. This 23,000ha reserve was born in 2004 when 17 dedicated landowners dropped their fences with one common goal in mind; creating a protected wilderness area for Africa’s iconic wildlife and re-introducing and conserving species that historically occurred in the area. Today, the reserve boasts thriving populations of all members of the iconic Big Five, as well as other popular animals such as cheetah and wild dogs. Guests are often treated to excellent sightings of these animals while staying at the various privately-owned lodges within the reserve, such as Rhino River Lodge, a traditional family-friendly safari lodge; or Rhino Sands Safari Camp, a more luxurious tented safari camp ideal for couples.

Makalali Private Game Reserve

Situated close to the Drakensberg mountain range, to the west of Kruger National Park, Makalali Private Game Reserve offers 22,000ha of pristine wilderness and is one of the leading pioneers in ecotourism in South Africa. Apltly named Makalali, which means ‘place of rest’, this private game reserve is perfect for relaxation and romance. Home to Africa’s Big Five, Makalali also offers superb wildlife viewing opportunities, which can sometimes even be enjoyed from the comfort of the camps. Garonga Safari Camp, for example, overlooks a dry riverbed that is regularly frequented by elephants, giraffe, buffalo and other wildlife. In addition to its wildlife viewing opportunities, Garonga is favourite among travellers to Makalali for its superior standards throughout.

Garonga in Makalali Private Game Reserve

These are just two private game reserves that we highly recommend, however there are plenty more where they came from! For help picking the perfect reserve for your desired safari experience, get in touch with us.