8 Reasons to Choose a Private Game Reserve for Your Next Safari

South Africa has been on my list of countries to visit for many reasons; the culture and history, scenery, wineries, and of course ANIMALS!!! Last November I found a cheap flight to South Africa and squealed with excitement because I knew that this was going to be my chance to go on a safari and see all of the animals from my Wildlife Fact File binder. *Please tell me I am not the only dork that had this book of animals as a kid?

When researching South African safaris I was overwhelmed with the information on the internet. So, I made a list. Yes, a list. This helped me narrow down my search so my brain didn’t explode from safari info overload. Here is what was most important to me: 1. Game viewing (that’s a no-brainer) 2. Limited crowds 3. Affordable and all-inclusive and 4. Near the Garden Route (since I was renting a car to drive the route I wanted to be somewhat close).

Why I didn’t choose Kruger National Park

It was a tough decision. Kruger is Kruger, it almost felt like it was a must do. However, after reading reviews it didn’t fit my list. 1. Game viewing – well of course you are probably going to see animals in Kruger. 2. Limited crowds – I did my research and while Kruger can be amazing, it is also a shitshow of tourists who want to get that perfect shot. Once one vehicle spots an animal the hoards arrive. There might be two lions with 20 or so cars crowded around, that doesn’t seem authentic to me. 3. Affordable – Kruger can be affordable especially if you choose to self-drive. But, if I am driving how am I going to spot animals? 4. Near the Garden Route – nope. Not close. The reason I decided to pass on Kruger was the overcrowding of vehicles when viewing wildlife.

What is a Private Game Reserve?

Grazing Impala

My next option was a private game reserve. Private game reserves are large chunks of land where animals live without fear of being poached and are hunted in a controlled environment. Most game reserves serve as a wildlife preserve, animals are bought and placed on the land. 

There are TONS of lodges that offer safaris on private game reserves. I don’t know how I stumbled upon Amakhala Private Game Reserve but it was a diamond in the rough. Amakhala had everything I wanted. It is near Port Elizabeth, the perfect starting point for driving the Garden Route to Cape Town. That is another reason I chose this reserve.

1. Game Viewing Without Hoards of Tourists

Oh you know…just breakfast with giraffes. What you don’t see is the 15 other giraffes around our game vehicle.

In a private game reserve you get to see the animals without the crowds and with excellent rangers. Amakhala has a rule that only two safari vehicles can be at an animal sighting at one time. You don’t have to fight for the perfect shot when there are only to cars.  And the best part is since it is a private reserve those safari vehicles can go off-road and get closer to the animals.

2. Private is Private

Just our vehicle and the elephants

Sharing is not caring, at least in this case. Similar to the hoards of tourists lining up to view that one lion. At a private game reserve there is a limit of how many people can be on the reserve at one time. At a national park, such as Kruger, anyone can enter which can lead to traffic jams and people who don’t know how to drive (they are the worst). At a private game reserve you might stumble upon two or three other game viewing vehicles on your four hour drive. That is is…two or three. This allows you to view wildlife in their natural environment doing what animals do.

3. Everything from Budget to Luxury Accommodations

View from my tent. This was more like glamping.

Amakhala has several lodging options, you can stay in a lodge, swanky private cabins, or as I did a tent. The tents at Woodbury Tented Camp aren’t just any tents, their tents and lodge are nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed at and just look at this view! The tents are secluded, I think they have eight or so tents on the property and the only tent I saw was the one I stayed in. Definitely nice for when I want to be naked and sit on the deck (ok, I didn’t do that because Carly was there).

4. All-inclusive Option

The patio where we’d have breakfast and lunch at Woodbury.

Another big reason I chose Woodbury Tented Camp at Amakhala was because it was all-inclusive. Two safaris a day plus booze and food were included. In the morning the chef would ask how we wanted our eggs, and for dinner we were given a few options to choose from which were made to order. The kitchen crew made sure all of our meals had a taste of South Africa, one night we had a braai (aka South African BBQ).

5. Family Style Meals = Easy to Make Friends

And the dinner room where we’d drink more than we should and laugh until the wee hours of the morning.

I was a little nervous about the family style seating. As much as I call myself an extrovert I have introvert tendencies and being forced to be social wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Was I wrong! I loved eating family style, we told stories of what we saw on safari that day, made connections with people from all over the world, and got liquored up laughing the night away. I think one of the reasons I loved Woodbury so much was because of the other guests.

6. Guides Who Know Their Shit

Creeping on Jason, our guide at Woodbury

On to our guide, Jason, he was AMAZING! Jason was beyond knowledgeable on South Africa, African animals, Amakhala, and life. At times Jason would stop the car, get out, look in the dirt, and say “there was a cheetah here earlier, look at the tracks, let’s go find him”. Like come on! He was an animal tracking wizard, he knew where to look and how to spot them all while driving the car and chatting with us. Just amazing. You can probably find knowledgeable guides anywhere, however guides know their reserve like the back of their hand. They know where the elephants like to have breakfast and which bush the cheetahs lay under.

7. Ability to Off-Road

Not another vehicle in sight. Look how close he got to us!

On a private game reserve the guides can go off road to get a better look. One morning Jason spotted the lion pride from what must have been two football fields away. He quickly pulled off the road and drove towards the lions To make experience even better Jason was our guide for the duration of our stay.

8. Nighttime Game Viewing

The beauty of staying at a private gamer reserve is exploring at night. Night drives offer you a completely different experience. For example, on our night drive we saw the lion pride on a hunt and more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life.  National Parks such as Kruger close at night so you don’t get a chance to see the nocturnal animals.

I am beyond happy with my choice. When I thought of a private game reserve I thought it would be small and we’d see the same thing everyday. That was not the case, I stayed four nights and each day Jason took us on a different route around the reserve. There was a couple in our group from Singapore and they mentioned the reserve is bigger than their entire country. The staff was friendly and accommodating. The food was tasty. The animal viewing was SUPERB. If you are looking for a budget friendly safari in South Africa I highly recommend Woodbury Tented Camps at Amakhala.

This safari took me back to my childhood; flipping through my wildlife fact book imagining myself spotting animals in the bush. I can’t wait to book my next safari. Let me know if you have any recommendations.

*This is not sponsored. I just loved Amakhala so much I want to share it with you.

13 thoughts on “8 Reasons to Choose a Private Game Reserve for Your Next Safari”

  1. What an experience! A safari in South Africa is #1 on my bucket list, and I never thought about going the private reserve-route. Definitely something to consider, especially with the all-inclusive options.

  2. I didnt even know there was an option of having a private game reserve but sounds like its worth considering. Loved reading your experience and glad it worked out well for you. 🙂

  3. We love safari and like you, consider exactly where to go very carefully. We have enjoyed safaris in private game reserves very much, firstly because the high-quality game viewing has been so prolific, secondly because having an experienced guide not only means you find / see more but learn so much about everything the whole time, and thirdly because there are less other people! A bonus is the gorgeous accommodation that usually comes with this option too. But we’ve also enjoyed self-drive in parks like Kruger and others — although we have seen less than in the private camps, there’s an incredible thrill in spotting and identifying it yourself, and we’ve mostly been able to avoid the big hoardes by venturing onto quieter routes within the various reserves.

    1. It is nice to get perspective on Kruger, I still would love to go and see if I can spot any of the wildlife.

  4. I never knew the difference, but I think a private game reserve is the way to go. Being able to off road and having very knowledgeable guides would make such a difference in the experience.

  5. Love your pics, but I am a great fan of the Kruger National Park. I have never been there when is it so crowded you can’t see the animals. The busiest times are school holidays, but that has no impact on me. There are also amazing private game reserves within Kruger. I have been to a dozen or more parks all over Africa and Kruger is still one of my favourites.

  6. I have done a night safari in one of the national parks in India and it is absolutely amazing, so I can imagine how much fun you had at the night tour at private game reserve. Were you scared when you saw animals so close to you?

  7. Private Game Reserve definitely sounds like the better deal! And I am all for it, especially because of the way they are putting a limit on the number of people that can be on the reserve at a time. Stressing wildlife for enjoyment is such a no-no!

  8. Seeing the stars like you described sounds absolutely magical! This is something that is super high on my list – it would be such an adventure! Especially free from relatively few other visitors. And amen to a guide who knows their shit – that is so important!

  9. This is really interesting. I think I’d like to try both. However, I like that there aren’t as many tourists, so it feels like a more intimate experience with the animals. I also love that the animals live here without the fear of being poached. That’s so cool!

  10. I do like the sound of avoiding the crowds and going to a private game reserve but I also like the idea of having a wider area to explore. Going offroad to get closer to the animals and getting that perfect shot without anyone else fighting for it or having to wait for it is probably a BIG reason why I would probably choose a private game reserve, thanks for these suggestions!

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