Travellers often ask us about budget-friendly Big Five Safaris near Cape Town. And, who wouldn't want to hop straight off a beautiful sun-kissed beach onto a thrilling Big Five game drive?
Budget safari destinations near Cape Town are unfortunately limited and cannot compete with the well-known game reserves of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The good news is that the handful of existing game parks in the Western Cape are all malaria free, unlike Kruger National Park and many of the other bigger reserves which have high risk malaria seasons.
Cape Town is situated in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, with the Atlantic ocean along the western shoreline and the Indian ocean to the east. The climate is distinctly Mediterranean and home to the unique Fynbos biome which boasts an incredible biodiversity found nowhere else in the world.
This is not lion country
Whilst spectacular in it's own right, the Cape Peninsula is very different to the typical African savannah that your average lion would happily call home. Nevertheless,if your time is limited and you cannot travel to the bigger reserves out of the province, then there are a few affordable safari options offering Big Five game viewing within easy travelling distance of Cape Town.
Budget Big Five Safari Destinations close to Cape Town
- Inverdoorn Game Reserve - 2½ hours drive from Cape Town
- Garden Route Game Lodge - 3½ hours from Cape Town
- Aquila Private Game Reserve - less than 2 hours from Cape Town
There are other affordable game parks with plenty of large mammals, including members of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), but none of these are home to all of the Big Five. There are also some other reputable Big Five game parks in the Western Cape, but these fall into the high-end market and it would then be more affordable to fly to one of South Africa's leading safari regions and experience a budget safari in a world-famous reserve like Kruger. Getting back to the three top Big Five game reserves close to Cape Town...
This is a good option for two reasons: the proximity to Cape Town compared to other options and the relatively good size of the reserve. It is not the most affordable of the budget options, but the quality of the safari experience is worth that extra expense.
The 2½ hours drive from Cape Town, makes Inverdoorn easily accessible as a day visit, but it is a full day out. The reserve is open to day visits, costing about R1600 per person, including lunch and game viewing (excluding transfers).
- Home to the Big Five, giraffes, cheetahs, hippos, zebras, eland, gemsbok, kudus, impalas, springbok, wildebeest and more.
- Covers 10 000 hectares of semi-arid wilderness in the Klein (Small) Karoo near Ceres.
- Hosts a renowned cheetah rehabilitation sanctuary - Western Cape Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre
- Early morning walking safaris to encounter giraffes (for overnight guests only).
- Return transfers between Inverdoorn and Cape Town or the International Airport can be arranged through Inverdoorn.
Safari Activities: Cheetah Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre visits; Morning and afternoon game drives; Guided bush walks with giraffes (depending on conditions); Star gazing in the Little Karoo.
Inverdoorn Game Reserve on TripAdvisor: almost 350 reviews, over 210 of which rate the destination as very good or excellent, with about 10 very unhappy customers.
Safari Lodge Accommodation:
Visitors stay at the Iziba Safari Lodge, the lodge on Inverdoorn Game Reserve. The lodge caters for various budgets, from mid-range to high-end, offering different accommodation styles.
The most affordable option is the 3 Star guest house costing about R5700 for a twin or double room (2 adults sharing) per night and the chalets at about R7000 a chalet for two people sharing per night. These rates exclude single supplements for solo travellers, so expect to pay more if you are travelling alone. The rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner, two safari activities a day and welcome drinks. The chalets are air-conditioned (the guesthouse rooms only have fans) and en-suite. Facilities include a swimming pool, restaurant, lounge, boma and gift shop.
If you plan to visit Inverdoorn, make a reservation in advance, especially if you want to stay at the lodge.
This lodge is slightly more budget friendly and it has enjoyed many great reviews. It is an hour further away from Cape Town than Inverdoorn Game Reserve, mentioned above. At 3½ hours drive from Cape Town, the Garden Route Game Lodge is probably just too far for a day tour. However, day visitors are allowed into the reserve free of charge and can join the daily game drives at 11am and 2pm. The daily game drive option works well for the footloose, travelling along the Garden Route.
- Home to the Big Five, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, bontebok, red hartebeest, kudu, eland, impala, springbok and more.
- Transfers between the Garden Route Game Lodge and Cape Town International Airport or George Airport can be arranged.
- Family safaris and facilities ideal for families with children.
Safari Activities: Game viewing drives; guided tour of the Reptile Centre and the Cheetah Conservation Centre.
Garden Route Game Lodge on TripAdvisor: almost 910 reviews, nearly 520 of which rate the safari experience as excellent, with only 4 terrible rating reviews.
Safari Lodge Accommodation:
Overnight guests stay at the 3 Star lodge on the game reserve which is located in a scenic spot along the Langeberg Mountain Range. Accommodation rates start at about R4700 per twin room per night. There are a variety of lodge rooms, chalets and suites, including family units. The rooms are en-suite, air-conditioned with modern amenities.
Facilities include two swimming pools, restaurant, lounge, spa and feature garden.
Under 2 hours from Cape Town - this is the closest Big Five Safari destination to Cape Town. The prices are good, but Aquila gets mixed reviews, many of them unfavourable. If you are not expecting the rolling grasslands of the quintessential African safari experience, and really just want to see some big animals then this should do.
Aquila is open to day visitors, offering daily transfers between Cape Town and the reserve. A day visit costs about R1400, including welcome drinks, a buffet lunch and one game drive (excluding transfers which cost about R850).
- Home to the Big Five, giraffe, hippo, antelope and over 170 bird species.
- Covers 7 500 hectares of Karoo wilderness between the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains.
- Four star lodge with various accommodation options.
- There is an Animal Rescue Centre at the reserve.
Activities include: game drives, sunset champagne drives, horseback safaris, quad bike drives, 4x4 trails and fishing.
Aquila has two TripAdvisor pages totaling almost 390 reviews, with only about 125 excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. About 30 visitors rate Aquila as terrible, many of whom felt the reserve was like a zoo.
Safari Lodge Accommodation
The most affordable rooms at lodge cost about R1900 per person sharing per night and the cottages about R2200 per person sharing per night. Again, the rates exclude single supplements, so expect to pay more if you are travelling solo. The rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner, two game drives and an optional visit to the animal rescue centre. Facilities include two swimming pools, dining areas, bars, gift shop and children's area.
Other Wildlife Safari Options from Cape Town
Best Option: Fly to Johannesburg and explore the Kruger National Park!
For the best Game Viewing Safari experience, combine Cape Town with Kruger Park and the private game parks in the Greater Kruger Park area. Either fly straight to Johannesburg and visit Kruger Park, before continuing your trip to Cape Town or vice versa.
Flying to Johannesburg will of course take more time and cost you a local air ticket, but there are plenty of affordable Kruger Park Safaris to choose from once you're in Johannesburg. Alternatively, if you have more time you can take a self-drive overland or along the coast and on to Kruger Park.
The famous Garden Route area offers a few malaria free game viewing options that focus more on the general nature offerings of the area, but these aren't Big Five safari destinations. Exceptions include the Garden Route Game Reserve and Gondwana Private Game Reserves, which host the Big Five.
Other non-Big Five options include Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, Bontebok National Park, Outeniqua Nature Reserve, Agulhas National Park, and the Garden Route National Park. Or you can visit one of the Cape Nature Reserves, Table Mountain National Park or the West Coast National Park - but again these are not typical safari destinations and visiting these wilderness areas is more about enjoying nature than spotting the usual iconic wild animals.
Family-friendly Addo Elephant National Park, located at the eastern end of the Garden Route, is well worth visiting. Home to the Big Seven - elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, the southern right whale and the great white shark, it's the third largest national park in South Africa and hosts one of the densest elephant populations on the planet. Here are some Addo Park Tour options.
Other safari options include the Eastern Cape Game Reserves, such as the Big Five Lalibela Game Reserve, Shamwari, Kwandwe Reserve and Kariega Game Reserve. These are private game reserves and lodges which tend to be more expensive and luxurious. Sticking to national parks and cape nature reserves is generally a cheaper option, but may not include big game viewing.