​Expert Reviews – Sabi Sands

Sort By: Most helpful Rating 1-6 of 6 Reviews
Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

10 people found this review helpful.

Big Five Bonanza
Overall rating
5/5

Flanking the unfenced western boundary of the Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is Southern Africa’s most exclusive and famous wildlife safari destinations. It is also one of the oldest private nature reserves and the birthplace of sustainable wildlife tourism in South Africa. Occupying 70,000 hectares of prime wildlife real estate, Africa’s premier private park is home to a diverse assortment of wildlife, including 145 mammal species and the most consistently reliable Big Five sightings on the continent.

While sightings in the southern parts of the reserve can get overcrowded at times, I really like the less touristy northern section with its relatively lower density of lodges and game drive vehicles. But, that said, only the harshest critics of this wildlife wonderland would be heard condemning it as a ‘glorified zoo’. I concede that it’s a commercial machine and the land has been developed to its fullest potential, but the animals remain totally wild – if well-habituated. And the fact that all the wildlife, including its world renowned leopard population, is so relaxed around the open-top vehicles should be considered the ultimate bonus for wildlife enthusiasts who will get to enjoy incredible up-close-and-personal sightings of all the Big Five (and more) in action.

The Sabi Sands is magnificent and safari aficionados and budding nature photographers will not want to miss out on a visit to this pricey but highly rewarding private reserve.

Expert
Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

8 people found this review helpful.

Classic Big Five safaris, with superb leopard-watching
Overall rating
5/5

Sabi Sands delivers the classic safari experience on a plate. It’s a prime chunk of wildlife-watching territory tucked up against the southern section of Kruger National Park, with no fences between the two. This feast doesn’t come cheap, but if your idea of heaven is heading out on a morning bushwalk then, in the afternoon, spending an hour or two watching big cats before retreating to the comfort of one of Africa’s most romantic luxury lodges, I can highly recommend Sabi Sands. The reserve is divided into numerous privately-owned concessions, most of which are aimed firmly at the top of the market and cater for people who prefer the idea of staying in a comfortable lodge rather than sleeping under canvas. The best (and priciest) include Exeter, Lion Sands, Londolozi and Sabi Sabi, which have cool, contemporary accommodation, and MalaMala and Singita, whose lodges have a more traditional feel.

Watered by the Sand and Sabie rivers, the woodlands and grasslands of Sabi Sands include some of the very best places to see leopards in the continent. I’ve had some superb sightings here. The resident cats have never been unduly hassled by vehicles and are therefore pretty relaxed. There are strict rules limiting the number of vehicles attending each sighting, and while some feel that off-road driving should be controlled too, I’ve found the reserve’s drivers, trackers and guides to be highly responsible. The only downside is that in areas covered by vehicles from several lodges, you may sometimes have less time than you’d like at each sighting, in order to give other vehicles a chance. The drivers are all in constant radio contact. To have acres of pristine wilderness more or less to yourself, you’ll need to opt for one of the ultra-expensive options such as those mentioned above.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

7 people found this review helpful.

Best for a quick Big 5 fix
Overall rating
4/5

A cluster of small jointly managed private reserves bordering the immense Kruger Park, Sabi Sands is arguably the best place anywhere in Africa for certain sighting of all the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – in the space of a 2 or 3 night stay. Indeed there is probably no better place in Africa for close-up vies of leopard behavior and interaction. Sabi Sands offers a top-notch guided safari experience, as all game drives are conducted by professional guides working for the various camps in the private reserves. Night drives and guided walks are also on offer at most camps. The one downside, at least for those reserves that share traversing rights, is that guides tend to use the radio rather than innate tracking skills to locate wildlife, so that queues of expectant vehicles can end up waiting for their for one sighting (a maximum of three vehicles per sighting is allowed), which can start to feel a bit contrived, especially when you are asked to move on mid-sighting to make way for the next vehicle. Still, for first time-safarigoers, it is a small price to pay for the near certainly of seeing the Big Five (along with the likes of cheetah and African wild dog), and the animals – which move freely between here and Kruger – remain truly wild.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

7 people found this review helpful.

Chasing the Big 5 in Sabi Sands
Overall rating
4/5

Sabi Sands is one of the best places in Africa to see the famous Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Sabi Sands consists of a cluster of private Game reserves that are more or less run in the same way. Each one of these reserves offers you a full inclusive package which consists of 2 game drives and all meals. Some even include drinks. Game drives are conducted in open safari vehicles and most guides in Sabi Sands are very knowledgeable and capable. For people, who would like some exciting wildlife encounters on a short safari, Sabi Sands is the right place to come.

Personally I find the whole Big Five hype slightly annoying. All the guides work with car radios and a lot of game drives consists of chasing from one good sighting (picked up by radio), to another. Luckily there are strict regulations about how many vehicles are allowed to approach any given animal, but this results in vehicles cueing for particular sightings. To give everybody a chance to get to any of these good sightings, the time you are allowed to spend on any particular sighting is regulated as well. In Sabi Sands, all predators and other high profile animals are very habituated which makes for some exceptionally good sightings on a par with what you get to see on wildlife documentaries. My highlight must be the fantastic leopard sightings. You won’t see anything like that anywhere else. The leopards are extremely relaxed and the guides are experts in following them through the bush.

Expert
Harriet Nimmo   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.

2 people found this review helpful.

Leopard City
Overall rating
4/5

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is one of the best places in Africa to see leopard. The guides know the individual leopards and their territories, and I have never been here and not seen at least one leopard per day.

Sabi Sands is a classic Big Five game reserve, and an ideal location for your first ever safari. You stand a good chance of seeing rhino here, despite their numbers plummeting in the adjacent Kruger National Park due to poaching. You may also be lucky and see wild dogs, especially during the dry winter season.

There is a variety of lodges, all offering the same wildlife experience, but varying in degrees of luxury (my first experience of being offered a ‘pillow menu’!).

The reason I’ve not scored Sabi Sands a 5 is because the reserve is not particularly scenic. It has thick bush rather than open vistas, which can make photography tricky. It is also perpetually popular, so you may have to wait in line for some wildlife sightings, although these are strictly controlled, with only three vehicles at a time actually allowed at each sighting. Sabi Sands delivers!

Expert
Heather Richardson   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Heather is a British travel / conservation journalist, and has written for publications and broadcasters such as the BBC, Departures, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

Big Five, (almost) guaranteed
Overall rating
4/5

The Sabi Sands is the easiest place to see leopards in Africa – these cats are so habituated they’ll even crawl under the vehicle or stroll right past without a care. The Sands has dense wildlife and it’s rare you won’t see the full Big Five (though obviously there are ‘quiet’ days). This is a private reserve attached to Kruger National Park and it’s home to the most luxurious lodges in the country. It’s not a cheap place to visit, but tourism here is seriously polished. You’ll see other vehicles around, but there is a policy of only three cars at one sighting, which helps it to feel less crowded.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.3/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 2
  • 4 star 4
  • 3 star 0
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
Write a User Review