Where to see wildlife in South Africa

Aimee Spicer / 16 March 2015 ( 07 December 2016 )

South Africa is a dream destination, not only because of its rich and complex culture but also due to the abundant natural beauty on offer.



Undoubtedly one of the biggest pulls, aside from the sandy coastlines and warm weather, is South Africa’s staggering array of wildlife

Experience the adventure of seeing animals that you’ve only previously heard about in books or seen on the television; from the land to the sea and skies, South Africa is teeming with wildlife and if you have a bucket list, then a trip to this beautiful country for a safari should be on it.

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Meet the big animals…

The Big Five was a phrase originally used by hunters to indicate the big game animals – lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant and leopard – and most people try to tick these mammals off their must-see list. 

However, the catalogue of fantastic species you can see is frankly exhaustive. Prepare to be awed by animals such as zebra, crocodile, giraffe, hippopotamus, cheetah, hyena, wildebeest, aardvark, wild dog, otter, leatherback turtle and baboon. 

You never know what you might witness just around the corner on safari in South Africa. The Lakeside Lodge, set in Entabeni wildlife reserve, is a great place to see these majestic animals.

Spot the Big 5 on an all-inclusive safari holiday at an authentic Game Lodge in South Africa.

…and the small ones

For the ambitious, there is another animal spotting challenge: the Little Five. This list involves life in miniature, with the elephant shrew, the ant lion, the buffalo weaver, the rhinoceros beetle and the leopard tortoise making the cut. 

Keep your wits sharp and your eyes sharper by trying to tick these tiny creatures off your list of animals to see in South Africa. Small and large animals of all kinds can be found at the Karongwe Private Game Reserve or Kruger National Park out by Pretoria.

Why you should visit Kruger National Park in South Africa. 

Look to the sky

Keen ornithologists will be lost to their binoculars as they try and identify the striking hornbill, the kingfisher and the colourful lilac-breasted roller. 

For those with less bird watching expertise, there will be large birds like the roaming ostrich and exciting species including various types of eagle and vulture. Majestic cranes, such as the blue crane – South Africa’s national bird—are handsome and sightings are common.

If you head out to sea, you might just spot the famed albatross, the bird with the longest wingspan in the world and the fabled good luck charm of sailors. 

The best place to see pelagic birds would be to head for the cape, or if you do venture north towards Kruger National park keep your eyes peeled for inland birdlife.

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Explore the sea life

When people visit the wilds of South Africa it is often to see the land animals, but frequently forgotten is that the South African coastline is rich with sea life. Encounter the ancient and enigmatic great white shark, unchanged over millions of years of evolution. 

There is also a good chance you will catch a glimpse of whales off the South African coast, since the country provides a detour for many migrating species.

The most commonly spotted whale in the area is the southern right, but you’re in with a chance of witnessing Bryde’s whale, and the gentle giant of the sea – the humpback whale – too. 

If you are very lucky, you may even spot the distinctive black and white features of an Orca pod. Famously curious, dolphins are frequently spotted off the South African coastline as well. 

If you head to the Rainbow Nation, don’t neglect its varied and awe-inspiring sea life. Take a boat trip out to sea, or tour the southern waters for your best chance of spotting these majestic animals.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.