South Africa wildlife holidays advice

Tips from our friends in South Africa

Transport tips

Debby Oscroft, Sunway Safaris: “The experience of a game drive in an open vehicle is definitely not to be missed! If you are on a tour where an optional game drive in an open vehicle is available – I highly recommend the experience. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being so close-up to the wildlife and having an unobstructed view to take great photos.”

Get more from your wildlife holiday

Debby Oscroft from our South Africa wildlife holidays supplier, Sunway Safaris: “The first experience in the bush is a really special time for anyone who loves the outdoors and nature. Always be as quiet as possible so as not to frighten off the wildlife. They have super-sharp hearing and senses so are easily spooked, ruining any chance of watching them interact. Always try and wear muted colours, keep movement to a minimum and no sudden movements as this will scare them away. It is a great idea to always set your camera up with the correct lens, before the game drive (if needed) and also to have your binoculars handy – bag unzipped so to further lessen any noise in taking them out.”

Cultural tips

Will Fox is the founder of our supplier On Track Safaris. He is a wildlife conservationist specialising in leopard behaviours: “So many people come back from Africa and say, “that was nice, but I wish I’d been more involved.” They don’t want to just be shown animals, it’s not Disney World. Safari should not just be about seeing animals and staying in a nice lodge with a spa. That is wonderful, but it should also be about understanding the real issues in Africa and learning more about whatever it is you’re keen on. We teach our guests a few words in the local language. If you say ‘inkomu’ – thank you in Tsonga – to some of the staff in the lodges, you’ll get such a beaming smile. They’re just so impressed that someone has learned a few words of their language.”

Volunteering with wildlife tips

Anne Smellie, from our supplier Oyster Worldwide, specialising in South Africa volunteering trips: “South Africa is ideal for first time volunteers. Four weeks is the recommended time for volunteers. It allows you to get more out of it, but you also contribute more – which is really the whole point.”

Kruger National Park tips

Rupert Calcott, from our supplier Exodus: “Kruger National Park is one of the most diverse natural areas left in the whole of southern Africa. Because it’s such a long, thin reserve, it covers an extremely wide variety of habitats and the diversity of animals you find there is much greater than in Botswana, Zambia or Zimbabwe. It’s got a little bit of everything. Most people don’t go to the northern part of Kruger though. I think it’s a very underrated part, and well worth looking into.

Avoiding wildlife exploitation

Anne Smellie, from our supplier, Oyster Worldwide, explains why we don’t promote projects that work with captive lion cubs, as they may be sold on to canned hunting facilities: “This is a really controversial topic and sadly, I speak to a lot of people who have unwittingly gone on a project to work with lions and then upon arrival realised that the trip is not at all as it seems. Even worse, a lot of people will arrive and not find out that the project is corrupt. It simply exists as part of the culture of wanting to make money out of animals and, the most upsetting thing is that it’s completely legal.”

Itinerary tips

Debby Oscroft from our supplier, Sunway Safaris: “Another ‘must-do’ is walking in the Drakensberg Mountains. I had the privilege of growing up in the foothills of the Drakensberg and there is nothing quite as breathtaking as being able to walk along the trails just below these mighty peaks and take in the surrounding beauty. It is a wonderful experience for anyone who is keen on walking and enjoys nature.”

Health & safety on South Africa wildlife holidays



Visit your GP at least 6-8 weeks before you travel to ensure you are up-to-date with vaccinations that are required for South Africa.

The southern and western regions of the country are malaria-free, so it is possible to travel here without the need for antimalarial medication. However, malaria is present in the northeast – including Kruger National Park.

Cities have good health facilities, but do be sure to take out good travel insurance that includes emergency repatriation.

Be careful of temperature extremes, and don’t presume that it is always hot. Depending on your location, there can be very cold winter nights, even if it is hot during the day. Talk with your holiday company for advice on packing and read your trip notes well. Always protect yourself against the harmful rays of the sun, ideally with environmentally friendly sun creams, and also keep well hydrated.

Tap water is safe to drink in most of South Africa, though check with your lodge or campsite if staying in remote areas.

Bring a basic first aid kit and medication for sickness and diarrhoea if planning to travel in remote regions.

Check the latest health advice for South Africa.


Always listen to your tour guide with respect to animal watching and behaviour. They are the experts, and certainly with responsible wildlife watching companies, they know exactly what harms, frightens or disturbs a wild animal. Never get too close to a wild animal, no matter how badly you think you need a photo.

Do not touch the wild animals. Ever. A responsible tour operator will never allow this, and so if you are ever invited to ‘pet’ or ‘walk with’ a wild animal, you must report it. It is not safe, nor is it good for the wild animal. We carry diseases and bacteria that are very harmful to them.

Don’t use flash photography with wildlife as it can frighten them and reactions can be aggressive. Similarly, try and be very quiet around wild animals so as not to disturb them.

Crime levels are notoriously high in South Africa, particularly in cities, townships and public transport. However, violent crime generally takes place away from popular tourist areas, and most visits are incident-free. Larger towns and cities have tourist police.

Be careful at ATMs. Avoid using them in secluded places and after dark and don’t withdraw large amounts of cash. Just as you would back home, always check that the machine has not been tampered with, and that no one is looking over your shoulder.

Keep all valuables out of sight, even in your car during the day, as robberies can happen at traffic jams. There have also been cases of theft at Johannesburg airport, so you are advised to keep valuables in your carry-on luggage.

Avoid driving at night if possible, especially on the approach roads to Kruger National Park and around KwaZulu-Natal. And drive within the speed limits at all times.

Do not pick up hitchhikers or stop to assist travellers ‘in distress’ – these techniques are often used by hijackers.

Take note of the nationwide emergency number – 10111.

Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for updated safety advice.

Holiday reviews from our travellers

Recommendations from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful South Africa wildlife tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday.
“Go on every possible game drive. Every one of them was special in some way, and if we had missed a single drive, we probably would have regretted it when speaking to others on their return. As first time safari goers we didn't want to go with a checklist of what we wanted to see. We just went to see whatever Africa had to offer. We were not disappointed!” – Janet Thomas

“If going during the winter season, plenty of layers are required for evening/morning wear – before the sun gets up. Otherwise, simply enjoy – it is a sensational trip!” – Guy Wills

“Have a good camera, enough memory sticks. Every moment is worth a shot. "– Louise Chen

“South Africa is best suited for the very first-time safari goers – it has the perfect travel infrastructure and seemed more predictable than going the very first time on safari in Tanzania, Zambia or Botswana. Luxury lodges are agreeable to stay at, though there you will be deprived of many basic and fascinating things the wild nature offers. Getting suntanned is South Africa is quite risky, better be fully covered all the time.” – Yuriy Danchenko

“If you have an interest in flora and fauna of all sorts this holiday will suit you perfectly. We were as captivated by insights into birds, insect life and plants as much as we were by the excitement of the traditional big five on safari.” – Martin Thomson

“Remember that the distances are a lot bigger than in the UK, and petrol stations may not be open 24 hours a day – which almost led to us being stranded...!” – David Campbell

“Take a trip to a charity shop before you leave to buy shirts/tshirts etc as part of the fun is getting wet and dirty when cleaning and playing with the monkeys. Leaving things behind when you depart helps other volunteers. Take a pack of rubber gloves and leave behind what you don't use.” – Sara Lee
Photo credits: [Transport tips: South African Tourism] [Cultural tips: Randy OHC] [Kruger NP: Joe Turco] [Itinerary tips: Fritz Park] [Review 1 - Chris Fawcett: Frontierofficial] [Review 2 - John Ryder: Derek Keats]
Written by Catherine Mack
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