We often get clients wanting to do an overnight safari out of Cape Town. While there are a few places around Cape Town that offer wildlife safaris (see Big Five Safaris Near Cape Town), here we explain why we encourage you to take a few extra days and head further north to the Kruger – for a full-blown African safari experience. You won’t want to leave!
A Bit of History
Way back when, before Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India company landed in Cape Town and began farming and building up the area, the land was wild and filled with animals, including the Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard roamed freely.
That was in 1652. The last wild lion was seen in the Cape in 1858. It took just over 200 years for humans to wipe out the entire population of lion (and many other animals) in the areas surrounding Cape Town. While the change in habitat due to widespread farming in the area was partly to blame for this, the main reason was ruthless hunting.
So the Big Five no longer call the Cape ‘home’, but fear not, Table Mountain National Park still has many antelope, mountain zebra, smaller cats like caracals and genets, plenty of baboons and hyrax (or dassies) and prolific reptiles and birds.
The fauna of the Western Cape is known as fynbos and is one of the six floral kingdoms in the world, and the only one that is contained within one country. With over 8 700 plant species within a relatively small area, it’s a feast for botanists and nature lovers.
As one heads north into inland South Africa, the flora changes, first to the Karoo, with its huge arid plains. In the north-east, the Greater Kruger National Park consists of vast tracts of true bushveld – four different types of it – scattered with thorn trees, marulas and mopane trees. This is the natural habitat of the Big Five. This is real, unspoilt, Africa.
Cape Town’s climate tends more toward a Mediterranean one, with hot dry summers and relatively mild, wet(ter) winters. This is unlike the climate of the Highveld, with its cold, dry winters (perfect for spotting animals in the dry landscape) and summer rains. There’s nothing like an afternoon thunderstorm in Africa and the smell of fat drops of rain on African dust.
Searching For The Big Five
So while Cape Town and its surrounds offer visitors a smorgasbord of sights and sounds – white beaches with azure seas, forested mountains, vast Winelands (and the wines and fine cuisine that accompanies them) – it doesn’t extend to the rolling plains of the Big Five.
There are a number of small private game farms that offer affordable Big Five safaris around Cape Town. If you don't have the time or budget to head up north then these Big Five Safaris Near Cape Town are ideal.
The game reserves near Cape Town can’t, however, offer the wide open savannahs with large numbers of indigenous game, including the Big Five, that the national parks further north – like the Greater Kruger National Park – can offer. And that, in a nutshell, is why we encourage our clients to set aside a few days (or a few weeks!) to head north and tick off that bucket list item: Seeing the Big Five in their natural environment.