Sabi Sands Game Reserve – a Ready Set Safari Review

Rhinos Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa is one of the most ‘famous’ places to go on a Big 5 safari in Africa. It consists of about 65,000 hectares in the southwestern corner of Greater Kruger National Park and is renowned for its leopard sightings. Sabi Sands is open to Kruger National Park, located just north of Skukuza (within the government-run Kruger National Park) and south of Manyeleti game reserve, Timabvati game reserve and Thornybush Game Reserve. This means that wildlife roam freely between Kruger National Park and these reserves, which means you will typically find the same animals in all places.  We prefer (and recommend) reserves that are open to Kruger because it means animals have a massive area to roam, you see less fences, there is no ‘wildlife management’ and you could see anything at any time. Other smaller reserves may not have all species (for example, many smaller reserves don’t have wild dogs and only one pride of lions, one herd of elephants etc).


Sabi Sands Private Game Lodges

Elephant bull Sabi SandsSabi Sands is in an excellent location and is home to about 21 private game lodges to choose from. There are not really any ‘cheap’ options in Sabi Sands – you definitely pay for the quality game viewing! We have focused our inspections on the most affordable options within the reserve, which include: Notten’s Bush Camp, Elephant Plains Lodge, Arathusa Safari Lodge, Cheetah Plains Lodge (currently being redeveloped), Nkorho Bush Lodge, Idube Game Lodge and Umkumbe Safari Lodge.


Out of these we have personally stayed at all except Nkhorho Bush Lodge and Idube. I’m working my way through posting reviews for each lodge, so will link through to each once that is done but in the meantime please get in touch with me if you are interested in staying in Sabi Sands and would like some advice or help with your booking. The good news is that there’s only one lodge that we (wholeheartedly) wouldn’t recommend.. But you’ll have to get in touch to find out which one as we don’t want to share it publicly!


The next tier of lodges (even more luxurious but more expensive) include Chitwa Chitwa, Ulusaba, Lion Sands, Savanna Game Lodge, Inyati Safari Lodge and Simbambili Game Lodge. Finally if you are looking for ultimate luxury and service and not afraid to pay for it, there’s Sabi Sabi, Singita, Dulini, Leopard Hills Lodge, &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp, leopard-heaven Londolozi, Silvan Safari Lodge and Mala Mala.


Game viewing in Sabi Sands


Leopard walking down track Sabi Sands
We have had leopard sightings during every stay in Sabi Sands except one lodge (where we only stayed one night).

There are very few places you can visit in the world that will give you better odds of seeing leopards up close. Sabi Sands has almost always lived up to its reputation in our experience for being the land of the leopards. But it’s also a great place to spot other wildlife too and the chances of seeing the whole Big 5 if you spend a good 4+ days here is very high. In fact we managed to spot the whole Big 5 on one of our first drives in Sabi Sands!


Here you can see just about everything, but in our personal experience the frequency of seeing cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs is perhaps a bit lower than other reserves like Madikwe and even Timbavati. But it is excellent for elephants, leopards and lions… and so much else. It’s also a great place for animal interactions. If you are booking your first safari and you want to take advantage of some of the best game viewing you can find, Sabi Sands is a great option.


Why stay at a lodge in Sabi Sands Game Reserve?

  • Hyenas and vultures on kill at Sabi Sands
    Sabi Sands is an excellent place to see animal interactions

    Very high standard of lodges (except for perhaps one) – while they are expensive you will not be disappointed with the quality of accommodation and service.

  • Great reserve management that means that even though there is a high concentration of lodges in the reserve, traversing areas are limited to only two or three lodges. This limits the number of vehicles that can respond to sightings within that area.
  • Arguably the best place in the world (or at least South Africa) to see leopards up close
  • High density of wildlife with a good chance of seeing the Big 5
  • Great for elephants and lions
  • Off-roading allowed for all predators and Big 5
  • Open to Greater Kruger so no management of wildlife – higher likelhood of seeing wildlife interactions
  • Lots of dams that offer wildlife and photographic opportunities
  • Southern lodges are close to Skukuza airport while Northern lodges close to Hoedspruit and many lodges have access to internal airstrips (easy access via flights_
  • Generally good standard of guiding and guiding etiquette plus most lodges have trackers
  • Great diversity of landscape and bushland – feels ‘wild’ and not too much exposure to fences and city/town influence as with some other reserves
  • Good anti-poaching efforts


The ‘cons’ of Sabi Sands

  • Malaria area
  • Possibly not as good for cheetah and wild dog sightings as some other reserves
  • Relatively expensive, particularly for the more exclusive lodges!
  • Restricted traversing works both ways – this means you cannot always go to good quality sightings or if a leopard/lion/other animal wanders over an invisible boundary, you can’t follow.
  • Popular lodges means it’s harder to get a reservation and when you do, you can be rotated out of sightings quickly (ie. you might not get to spend very long at each sighting)
  • Plains game can remain more elusive compared to other reserves and the government-run section of Kruger. You usually will see zebras and giraffes but not necessarily with as much frequency.


Male lion Sabi SandsDo we recommend Sabi Sands Game Reserve?

Yes, we believe Sabi Sands is one of the best game reserves in South Africa (and the whole African continent itself). If you have the budget, you will not regret staying at any lodges in Sabi Sands – all except perhaps one that we wouldn’t recommend! If you’re looking to go somewhere to have an authentic, relaxing, luxurious safari experience while having an excellent chance of spotting the Big 5 Sabi Sands is a great option. Get in touch with us to get more advice on the best lodges to suit your taste and budget. We will work directly with lodges to get you the best deal!


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