Expert Reviews – Sabi Sands

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Big Five Bonanza
Overall rating

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.

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

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.

Average Expert Rating

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

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