If you are travelling to South Africa you can’t leave until you have been on a Cape Town safari!
It is one of the most incredible, exciting and unique experiences you can have, and South Africa has some of the best safaris in the world!
When we made our plans to return to South Africa, we knew we couldn’t be here for 3 months and not revisit a safari.
We first visited 4 years ago and had an incredible experience in Kruger National Park, but this time around our plans meant we were sticking near Cape Town and the Garden Route.
This meant that we needed to find the best safari near Cape Town. It was also incredibly important to us that we went on an authentic safari that had its ethos in the right place when it comes to conservation.
After our experience at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve we are certain that we may have found the best safari near Cape Town!
Read on and see if you agree!
- 1 About Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
- 2 Why we loved Sanbona Wildlife Reserve – what makes it the best safari near Cape Town?
- 3 What does the experience look like?
- 4 How to get to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
About Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a luxury 5-star private game reserve and yet you could easily believe it is a national park just like Kruger.
Sanbona may be private, but it is actually a non-profit reserve. First and foremost, they are concerned about conservation of the land and wildlife which is ultimately what your money goes back into.
The reserve spans over 58,000 hectares with 3 different independently operated luxury lodges: Dwyka tented lodge, Gondwana family lodge and Tilney Manor.
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve can accommodate a maximum of 58 guests and that is where things stop. They have no intention of expanding the accommodation because they want to limit the level of human interference in the area – we were very happy to hear this. It also makes this a very exclusive experience!
Considered to be a diamond in the desert the reserve is unique in terms of landscape with three different biomes in this area: fynbos mountains, succulent karoo and thicket. Wildlife aside, it is quite simply stunning.
This vast territory is completely open for all the wildlife with the mountains acting as a natural barrier separating the lion’s territory.
Why we loved Sanbona Wildlife Reserve – what makes it the best safari near Cape Town?
There are so many reasons why we loved our experience at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and why we are happy to recommend it as the best safari near Cape Town. Here are just a few:
For us, when we go on safari we want a truly wild, natural and authentic experience.
We don’t want to go to spot X because the reserve has left some food there and knows we will be guaranteed to see an elephant – that seems like cheating and isn’t wholly authentic. Part of the fun is in the tracking and seeing who spots what first! (Ben ALWAYS wins!)
Sanbona truly lived up to this authenticity. The animals are not provided with food unless there is a severe drought, flood or natural disaster.
There are no fences within the park and you have to work to track down the wildlife.
They are also focusing on endemic species. This means that they only want to have wildlife that would naturally live here. They are not going to introduce a species just for the customers.
In fact, the name Sanbona comes from ‘San’ being the people that lived here and ‘bona’ meaning ‘vision’. Essentially they are trying to turn back time to return the area to how the San people would have seen it.
The game drives themselves!
The game drives themselves were incredible.
Our game ranger was Jordan. The knowledge he had about the area, the wildlife and even the plants was exceptional.
We felt like we were on a real adventure and even though you can never be sure where the wildlife would be, we saw plenty of amazing sightings on each and every game drive thanks to Jordan.
Feeling of disconnect
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is just a few hours from Cape Town but once you are in the reserve you feel a million miles away from anywhere, anyone and have almost no distractions.
58,000 hectares is huge and once you enter the reserve you have another hour before you get anywhere near your accommodation.
In an age where we are constantly go go go this was a welcome escape.
This also extends to the wifi. At Dwyka tented lodges where we stayed, there was purposely no wifi in the lodges themselves. You are encouraged to spend time with your family and enjoy your surroundings. This is a good thing and really helped us switch off. Some people complain but don’t be that person!
The main building (20 metres away) does has wifi should you need it.
We were told that the same applies with wifi at Tilney and Gondwana too.
It’s a luxury safari
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a 5-star luxury safari in all aspects.
We loved the accommodation – it is beautifully decorated, spacious and private. The restaurant and the grounds are equally beautiful as well.
This unsurprisingly extends to the service from the staff which was excellent, the food which is a-la-carte for all meals (plus the occasional Braai or BBQ) and the experience as a whole.
We love our adventures, but also love our luxury surrounding and this combined both perfectly.
The accommodation, the romance!
As mentioned above there are three accommodation sites: Dwyka tented lodges, Gondwana family lodge and Tilney Manor. Each are independent meaning they have their own restaurants, spas and facilities.
We stayed at the Dwyka tented lodges and found these would be perfect for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. They are individual luxurious lodges with a huge back patio and a jacuzzi positioned in a way that gives you full privacy.
Gondwana family lodges (which we took a look at) have the clue in the name. This is similar to a mini resort and is much better suited to families.
Tilney Manor is one for everyone, the manor house has a small number of stunning rooms and is immaculately decorated.
Book your accommodation here.
We have travelled extensively but never in our life have we seen so many stars so clear, bright and beautiful.
Switching off all the lights in our lodge and getting into our private jacuzzi with a bottle of wine and looking to the stars was spectacular and awe inspiring. We were honestly a little bit lost for words.
We also had an outdoor shower at our lodge – this was an incredible experience to shower under the stars!
The whole ethos
We felt so happy to learn exactly how Sanbona is run as a non-profit reserve, their efforts towards conservation and to only bring endemic species back to return the reserve to its natural state.
There are a lot of animal-based activities in South Africa that say the right thing, but here we felt and could see them doing the right thing – this made the experience all the more special.
What does the experience look like?
Most people stay for a minimum of two nights, any less would not make much sense. Here is what our two-night itinerary looked like:
12:00 – arrive at welcome lodge for refreshments and to park the car. Our suitcases were loaded in a minivan.
12:30 – drive 40 minutes from the welcome lodge to your chosen accommodation and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!
13:10 – arrive and enjoy an a-la-carte lunch. Sion had the traditional South African Malay dish bobotie which was delicious. Check in to your accommodation, and get ready for your first game drive.
15:30 – We met our game ranger Jordan for our first game drive lasting 2-3 hours with a stop for sunset and drinks. We were very lucky to stop just as a cheetah walked past. We got out of the safari truck and watched the cheetah walk away with a G&T in hand – bliss.
19:00 – back at the lodge for a debrief and a complimentary drink with our ranger. From here dinner was open so you could go straight away or have a quick shower first. Our first night was actually a traditonal braai (BBQ) in the outdoor area which was lovely.
05:30 – wake up and get ready for the morning game drive – many of the animals such as lions, hyena and jackals are most active at this time.
06:00 – morning game drive 2 hours.
08:00 – back for a buffet and a la carte breakfast.
08:00 – 15:30 – free time. We enjoyed the jacuzzi, the room and if you want to, you can book a spa treatment. We felt extremely relaxed.
16:00 – bedtime – as per day 1, game drive and dinner.
Day of check out
05:30 – wake up and get ready for the morning game drive.
06:00 – morning game drive 2 hours.
08:00 – back for a buffet and a la carte breakfast followed by check out at 11:00 for Dwyka (different for each lodge).
How to get to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
To get to Sanbona from Cape Town is easy.
It is approximately 270 km from Cape Town and you should allow 3 hours to drive.
Below are the step by step instructions you can screenshot if you do not have a sat nav.
Top tip: download maps.me for your iPhone, this is a free sat nav and you do not need data/roaming as you download the map in advance and then it just uses the phones GPS.
- Take the N1 highway in the direction of Paarl – There is a tollgate on this road ($3/4), just before the Huguenot Tunnel.
- Once through the tunnel, take the second turnoff to the right into Worcester (R60) – Follow the signs towards Robertson.
- Drive through Robertson, still on the R60 into Ashton.
- Proceed through Ashton – the R60 becomes the R62.
- Carry on through Kogmanskloof and Montagu.
- About 43km from Montagu, turn left at ‘Die Vlakte’ and Sanbona Wildlife Reserve sign.
- Continue for 7km to reach the main entrance.
- Proceed for another 15km to reach the Welcome Lounge.
We have been on three very different safaris, two private reserves and one national park. Without a doubt, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve combined the best of both worlds and gave us an experience we will never forget. If you are looking for the best safari near Cape Town then we think we have found it!
You can book Sanbona Wildlife Reserve here.
Get more South Africa travel inspiration from these posts:
- Cape Town Pride: Everything you need to know
- The Complete Gay Guide to Cape Town
- Top 5 Things to do in Oudtshoorn (and why we love it)
- How to hike Table Mountain (the easyish way)
- 12 tips for keeping safe in Cape Town!
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