Expert Reviews – Sabi Sands
Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
13 people found this review helpful.
Sabi Sand - safari de luxe
The oldest private reserve in South Africa, dating back to 1934, Sabi Sand Reserve is in effect a private extension of the vast Kruger National Park. It is also probably represents the greatest cluster of unadulterated safari luxury on the planet, surpassing even the Masai Mara. The (65 000 hectare/ 153 000 acre) patchwork of properties, Sabi Sand consists of a patchwork of about 18 unfenced private private game reserves including world-renowned names such as Londolozi, Exeter, Sabi Sabi, Singita and Ulusaba. It sits right next to the south-western section of the park, sharing an unfenced 50km (31 mile) border and animals wander freely between the two. Many visitors who think they are going to the Kruger (and go home saying they’ve been there) never realize that they’ve actually never set foot in the national park but have spent all their time in the more rarified world of Sabi Sand. MalaMala is technically not part of the reserve, but its land is parcelled between the Sabi Sand and the Kruger.
The statistics here are astonishing. Two rivers – the Sand and the Sabie feed the reserve sustaining one of Africa’s most diverse eco-systems. This is definitely Big Five country but overall there are over 145 species of mammal, 110 reptile species, 30+ amphibian species, 45+ fish species, 500+ bird species – and over 330 different types of tree! Added to which it is owned by people who are passionate about conservation and have the money to back up their passion. The area is thick with game, you will be guided by the best rangers in the business, and the viewing experience will be unsurpassed. Scenically, it isn’t the world’s finest park but much of it is beautiful – a mix of riverine forest, open savannah and mopane bush. It was in the Sabi Sands that I had my first taste of safari de luxe –open jeeps, night drives, expert spotters and my first sighting of a leopard, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
Are there any drawbacks to this paradise? Only a couple in my book. One is that this is unashamedly upmarket territory. There are one or two marginally cheaper lodges but if you can’t afford the megabucks, the Sabi Sand isn’t the place for you. Two, it is malarial. Three, in gameviewing terms, it is relatively densely populated so while you will be guaranteed brilliant sightings and a stay of unsurpassed sybaritic luxury, you won’t have the place or the leopard to yourself. But those small technicalities apart, there’s little that you can fault here. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
5 people found this review helpful.
Best for a quick Big 5 fix
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.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
5 people found this review helpful.
Chasing the Big 5 in Sabi Sands
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.
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.
1 person found this review helpful.
Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve is probably the best place 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 a day.
Sabi Sands is a classic Big 5 game reserve, and an ideal location for your first ever safari. There are 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 – 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 3 vehicles at a time actually allowed at each sighting. Sabi Sands delivers!