sabi sands game reserve

Sabi Sands Game Reserve: Ultimate Safari Travel Guide

Among the most iconic and well-known game reserves in South Africa, Sabi Sands Game Reserve is a safari park you won’t want to miss. Located along the unfenced border of the famous Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands Game Reserve is home to an incredible array of animals, including all of Africa’s Big Five and plenty more, including favorites like zebras, cheetahs, and giraffes.

Our ultimate guide to Sabi Sands Game Reserve includes everything you’ll need to know to plan your visit, from detailed wildlife information and travel tips to the best places to stay in Sabi Sands for a world-class safari. Both first-time safari travelers and seasoned visitors will appreciate a stay in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, truly one of the gems of a South Africa safari.

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Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Named after the Sabi and Sands Rivers that flow through the land, Sabi Sands Game Reserve is a world-renowned wildlife destination in South Africa. Covering a massive 65,000 hectares, Sabi Sands shares a 50-kilometer unfenced border with Kruger National Park, meaning that you can expect much of the same (or better!) wildlife here that you’ll find in Kruger.

Sabi Sands is an incredible spot for those seeking out Africa’s Big Five Animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo). Home to additional wildlife such as African wild dogs, cheetahs, and an incredible array of zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and more, it’s almost harder to think of a major safari animal that isn’t found at Sabi Sands.

While guests at Sabi Sands can’t self-drive through the park, most guests wouldn’t want to; expert safari guides at the reserve’s impressive lodges are the true experts in seeking out and spotting the wildlife you’re looking for. Get ready for game drives, walking safaris, night drives, and bush meals – it’s all possible at Sabi Sands.

What is Sabi Sands Known For?

Sabi Sands Game Reserve is well known for its rich wildlife, but it is particularly famous for its big cat populations. Visitors rave about sightings of prides of lions and more elusive big cats like leopards and cheetahs.

As a safari destination, the land has never been used for farming, so it remains pristine and unspoiled – a rarity in this day and age. Travelers love the incredible, truly world-class lodges you’ll find in Sabi Sands, which tend to offer mid-range to ultra-luxury safari experiences. Impressive lodges in Sabi Sands are among some of Africa’s most luxurious lodges.

What Is the Difference Between Sabi Sands and Kruger?

Sabi Sands Game Reserve is a private game reserve, meaning that the land here is owned by private landowners; many of the landowners at Sabi Sands are now third- and fourth-generation. Kruger, however, is a national park, meaning that the government of South Africa oversees the land.

As a national park, Kruger is open to the public, allowing for self-driving safari experiences through the park and offering affordable rest camps that can make for a great budget safari experience. Sabi Sands, on the other hand, is only accessible to guests of the reserve, providing a more intimate and exclusive safari experience.

While Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Kruger National Park offer quite different safari experiences, Sabi Sands shares an unfenced border with Kruger, meaning that the wildlife roams freely between the two. The reserve is also home to a wider variety of animals than Kruger.

Read More: Kruger National Park: Ultimate Travel Guide

best safari south africa
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Sabi Sands Game Reserve Wildlife

Sabi Sands Game Reserve is a Big Five destination in Africa, meaning that you’ll get the chance to spot all of the Big Five Animals during your safari. In fact, Sabi Sands is actually where the “Big Five” terminology – first used by big game hunters – was first repurposed for wildlife photographers and subsequently popularized for safaris. In this way, Sabi Sands is the first true Big Five spot in Africa.

Sabi Sands Big Five

Sabi Sands is well-known for being a spot for safari travelers looking to experience the Big Five firsthand. While there is much, much more to spot and photograph on safari than just these five species, these animals generally make for the most thrilling encounters for travelers.

Lions in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

You’re certain to spot your fair share of lions while on safari at Sabi Sands. Because there is such a rich concentration of wildlife in Sabi Sands, lion prides have been known to grow into huge coalitions not usually seen in other reserves – and they can become quite famous. For several years, the famed Mapogo Lion Coalition ruled the area, though other prides have since taken control of the area.

Leopards in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

While lion sightings are much more common in Sabi Sands and elsewhere, leopards are generally much more elusive to spot. However, leopards are one of the big draws of Sabi Sands, at this private game reserve boasts the highest concentration of leopards anywhere on Earth.

Guides in Sabi Sands have become particularly adept at searching out leopards, so if there was ever a place to spot a leopard, it’s at Sabi Sands!

Elephants in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Elephants are quite common in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, so you’re almost guaranteed to spot them. Highlights of elephant sightings for many visitors include seeing mothers and their young together in the wild.

Buffalo in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

You’ll certainly see plenty of buffalo while on safari in South Africa, including during a stay in Sabi Sands. Cross your finger and hope for some memorable buffalo encounters or instances of big cats stalking them along watering holes.

Rhinos in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

While black rhinos are considered to be the traditional species of rhino included in the classical Big Five, Africa is home to both black rhinos and white rhinos. While white rhinos can grow larger in size than black rhinos, black rhinos are considered to be more dangerous and aggressive.

Both species of rhinos are present in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. However, white rhinos are much more prevalent in this game reserve (and throughout Africa in general), meaning you’re much more likely to spot a white rhino than a black rhino.

Best Sabi Sands Lodges

Sabi Sands Secret Seven

In addition to being home to the classic Big Five animals, Sabi Sands boasts its own “Secret Seven,” a list of seven unique, slightly smaller animals that are quite popular with safari travelers looking for even more wildlife sightings.

The following animals comprise the Sabi Sands “Secret Seven,” including the pangolin, aardvark, civet, porcupine, large-spotted genet, serval, and the African wild cat. Spot these animals out and about on game drives or, even better, on walking safaris! While these seven animals might not be as well known as the Big Five, they make for just as impressive encounters.

Other Wildlife in Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands certainly has more to offer than just the biggest name animals. Expect impressive amounts of zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, unending species of birds, and much more. While the season you travel to Sabi Sands will determine what you see, you’re in for a wildlife treat no matter what time of year you visit.

Sabi Sands Guides

The Sabi Sands Game Reserve is home to some of the best, most experienced safari guides in Africa. These guides have a deep knowledge of the reserve and its wildlife, and are known for being passionate about giving guests the best possible experience.

Whether you’re looking forward to walking safaris in search of the park’s smaller flora and fauna or seeking out the most impressive big animals on the reserve, guides are highly knowledgeable about the wildlife at Sabi Sands. Skilled in tracking and spotting wildlife, they are friendly and accommodating, making sure guests have an enjoyable stay.

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Things To Do at Sabi Sands Game Reserve

You’ll never get bored on your stay at Sabi Sands, that is for sure!

Of course, most experiences are designed around having the most incredible South Africa safari experience possible, encountering as much wildlife on memorable excursions as possible. These are some of the most popular ways to enjoy the African bush in Sabi Sands:

  • Game drives: Drives with experienced guides through the park are, of course, the number one way to experience Sabi Sands. Day-time and night drives are both unique experiences and will introduce you to new species.
  • Bush walks: Also known as walking safaris, these experiences walking the lands will bring you up close and personal with smaller species.
  • Bird watching: Sabi Sands can be a great spot for bird watching, especially during migration season! It’s a popular activity for interested travelers.

Other ways to enjoy the park include closer-to-home activities like bush dinners and stargazing. You’ll love getting to experience this impressive and wild landscape at all times of the day and in new ways, making every moment at Sabi Sands a new experience.

Of course, part of the attraction of staying at a luxury lodge in Sabi Sands is simply enjoying the accommodations. Whether you want to relax by the pool with a drink or simply shake off your shoes and sit back on the patio, it’s all possible. After exhilarating days of game drives, something just relaxing is a must.

Lodges like Cheetah Plains have even begun offering conferences and unique experiences on-site in Sabi Sands, like art-buying and diamond-buying for luxury travelers looking for a whole new safari experience. It’s a totally unique take on what a safari can be!

Read More: African Safari: Ultimate Tour and Destination Guide

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Best Time to Visit Sabi Sands Game Reserve

The time of year you plan to visit Sabi Sands Game Reserve will impact your experience in a variety of ways. Changing weather patterns and temperatures means you’ll see different wildlife at different times throughout the year. The high season for tourist travel and the low season for tourist travel also means there is a huge difference in visitor numbers at the game reserve, which can make a big difference in your experience.

We recommend considering planning your trip between the months of May and September – this is generally the best time to visit Sabi Sands Game Reserve. This is the dry season, meaning you’ll enjoy milder temperatures and clearer skies.

Plus, wildlife is more active during the dry season, as they are searching for food and water. May through September is also the low season for travel, meaning you’ll pay lower prices and enjoy greater seclusion. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering when to visit Sabi Sands.

Dry Season: May to September

  • During the dry season, wildlife congregates around water sources, making them much easier to spot and quite easy to photograph.
  • No rain and lots of sunshine make for ideal driving conditions and no risk of being rained out. Plus, you’ll enjoy low humidity and milder temperatures. However, the air can get quite dusty and dry.
  • For morning and evening game drives, warm gear is required – make sure you come prepared!
  • Dry season coincides with the low season of travel. Expect lower prices and much more seclusion to feel like you have Sabi Sands all to yourself. Well, almost to yourself.
  • During the dry season, the risk of malaria risk is very low.

Rainy Season: October to April

  • The surroundings are lush and lovely, with dry bushes turning into green meadows and hills. Days can be warm and muggy.
  • Young animals are born, meaning you’ll encounter some heartwarming scenes between mother and child on your game drives
  • This is the season to witness bird migrations, making this the best time to visit for birding.
  • The rainy season is also peak travel season, with U.S. and European travelers escaping cold winters. Expect to pay higher prices and see the reserve more filled with travelers.
  • The risk of malaria is much higher during the rainy season, so come prepared with antimalarial drugs.

Where To Stay in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

While Sabi Sands has a truly unbelievable array of luxury lodges to choose from, Lion Sands River Lodge and Inyati Game Lodge are among the best. Lion Sands was named on Travel + Leisure’s list of the best safari lodges in all of Africa!

While Lion Sands River Lodge is a favorite, the property also has three additional lodges, all nearly equally as impressive: Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Lion Sands Tinga Lodge, and Lion Sands Narina Lodge, as well as an array of incredible treehouse accommodations!

For the ultimate luxury safari experience, consider staying at Cheetah Plains Lodge, considered among the nicest safari lodges in all of Africa. Expect nothing less than the best here, with incredible food, beautiful accommodations, and second-to-none safari tours and experiences. It doesn’t get much better than a stay at Cheetah Plains.

Read More: 8 Best Lodges in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Best Sabi Sands Lodges

Sabi Sands Game Reserve Travel Tips

Plan Your Sabi Sands Trip

Here are some important details to keep in mind as you consider planning your Sabi Sands safari.

  • The best time to visit is between May and September when the weather is dry and temperatures are milder. You’ll see great wildlife and enjoy less crowded lodges and game drives, as it is the lower season of travel.
  • Sabi Sands is a malaria-risk location, so make sure to take precautions against mosquito bites. The season of lowest risk for malaria is the May through September dry season, another reason to visit at this time!
  • There are a number of lodges and camps located within the reserve, but make sure to book well in advance, especially if you’re planning on traveling during the high season of travel, October through April.
  • The reserve is located in a remote area, so visitors should be prepared for a long journey to get there. Flights are available directly to the reserve, though they can be expensive.

Finally, while Sabi Sands offers an array of accommodation options, including more affordable spots, most of the Sabi Sands lodge options you’ll find are luxury and have a price tag to reflect it.

If you’d prefer a more budget-friendly safari experience, there are plenty of other destinations worth considering, including next-door Kruger National Park, Pilansburg National Park, or even more off-the-beaten-path South Africa safari destinations like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park on the country’s eastern coast.

Important Reminders For Game Drives

The reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinos. Visitors should be prepared to see some of these animals up close – while this can be both thrilling and scary for first-time safari travelers, you’ll soon learn to feel comfortable, especially traveling with experienced Sabi Sands guides.

Here are some important game drive tips to keep in mind for your experience.

  • Get up early to see the animals! Lodges usually offer game drives throughout the day, so take advantage of them as much as possible. Evening drives are another must-try experience.
  • Dress in layers when heading out on game drives so you can be comfortable in the changing temperatures.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen and insect repellent to protect yourself from the sun and bugs throughout the day.
  • Make sure to bring anything you might need with you during the day, like extra camera batteries, medicine, a spare hat, etc. You won’t want to get stuck wishing you’d brought something else.
  • Be respectful of your guides! They are well-trained professionals and experts in the nature and makeup of the game reserve, so treat them well and respect their guidance, especially when in the presence of wildlife.

What to Pack for Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Your safari lodge will have much of what you need waiting for you, but make sure that as you pack your bags for your trip, you have what you need for a comfortable and memorable travel experience. Here are some reminders as you pack your bags:

  • Bring extra camera gear like memory cards, flash drives, lenses, or a lightweight camera case – but don’t bog yourself down with too much heavy equipment. Consider what is truly necessary before either overpacking or underpacking.
  • Make sure to bring layers of light-colored clothing, steering away from bright colors or prints.
  • Comfortable, durable shoes are a must for your safari, especially if you want to experience a bush walk.
  • Does your lodge have a swimming pool or jacuzzi? Remember to pack a bathing suit!
  • Don’t forget to bring comfortable clothes for before and after the game drives – you’ll want to change out of dusty or dirty game drive clothes to relax and enjoy the lodge at the end of the day.

Enjoying Sabi Sands

Whether you’re an experienced safari-goer or a first-timer, the Sabi Sands Game Reserve is sure to provide an unforgettable experience. With some of the highest concentrations of big wildlife in Africa, plus expertly-trained guides and plush accommodations to help you enjoy it all, it’s no wonder Sabi Sands is such a bucket list destination for safari travel and easily one of the best safari destinations in South Africa.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.