Africa is synonymous with safaris and with so many superb wildlife destinations to choose from, it can all become quite overwhelming when it comes to deciding where to go on your bush adventure. That's why we're breaking it all down for you as we explain the main differences between a private reserve and a national park, hopefully making it easier for you to make that final decision.
What is a private game reserve or special concession exactly?
Private safaris take place within private game reserves or special concessions within national parks. There can, however, be a blurry line between whether the land is private or part of a larger reserve. Many national parks have given long-term concessions to private safari operators, and as a result, fences have been dropped between some private land and national parks so that wildlife can roam free. These distinctions are not very important to you, but as a general indication, a larger conservation area supports a greater diversity of wildlife for viewing.
Getting around and game viewing
Experienced game rangers will drive you in an open 4x4 vehicle with an animal tracker. Drives take place early in the morning and in the late afternoon into the evening as these are the times when wildlife is more active. The guides and trackers stay in touch via radio, which helps them locate the animals and take you to them. In Southern Africa, the number of vehicles at sightings is strictly limited, whereas in East Africa this is not always the case.
Because the animals are used to the game-drive vehicles, and don't seem them as a threat (or prey!), your ranger will be able to let you get quite close to animals, making for great photos. In some reserves, notably Sabi Sand, rangers are permitted to drive off-road to get you closer to Big Five sightings. During the evening game drives, you'll probably stop for a drink and snack with the ranger, out in the open, which is a magical experience at sunset.
Some private safaris even allow accompanied walking, which is a great opportunity to learn more about the smaller creatures and details of the bush, and you'll be a kept a safe distance from animals. This may only be available after the morning drive.
Accommodation in private lodges is surprisingly luxurious, although the you may be far from civilisation. Expect aircon, great food and warm service. Private pools, libraries and wine cellars are not uncommon, and you'll have the day to enjoy it all between the game drives. The best part is that private lodges are generally all inclusive, that is they offer full board (accommodation and meals), with all lodge activities being included in the cost too.
On private safari's you're likely to spot more animals, learn more about them and be closer to nature, all whilst being perfectly safe.
Differences when it comes to game viewing and time restrictions
In national parks game viewing is generally harder work. Firstly, you're on your own, without a guide or animal tracker to help you look for animals. Second, the roads can get really crowded and there are often even traffic jams. Your own binoculars and guidebooks for identifying game, birds and flora are recommended, if not essential.
Another issue when visiting national parks is the strict gate opening and closing times which mean you'll likely get out into the reserve later and return earlier than if you were on a private safari. Most wildlife is inactive during the heat of the day, so long hours of daytime driving can be tiring with little yield.
Many visitors choose to rather stay in accommodation surrounding the parks, which is generally less expensive, and then make day trips into the park. There is a wide variety of this type of accommodation near main gates, from small B&Bs through to sumptuous lodges with all the trimmings of a private safari lodge.
If you do choose to stay in a national park you can choose to use the services of an open vehicle safari operator, where you'll be accompanied by a ranger within the park in their vehicle, and will have some of the experience of a private safari. This of course would be at an additional cost.
So what does Portfolio Journeys recommend?
If your budget allows for it, the splurge of staying at a private safari lodge within a park or reserve is always worth it, especially if it's your first time in Africa - even two or three nights will allow you to experience the African bush in a unique way. You can always opt to extend your trip (and your budget) by spending some time at a country house or lodge located just outside the park for some R&R before or after your safari.
The kind of safari experience you choose and where you decide to have it ultimately depends on who you are and what you want to get out of it. With so many options available in a variety of areas, it's easy to find the right fit - rest assured, there is something for everyone out in the bush!
Our Portfolio Journeys' travel experts would be more than happy to advise and recommend something suitable, in line with your specific needs - all you need to do is come with your safari vision and we'll make the rest happen. We look forward to bringing your safari dreams to life! Get in touch with us today.