Timbavati Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Timbavati Elephants

Timbavati Private Game Reserve is approximately 53,000 hectares and forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. That means that animals can roam freely between Kruger National Park (the government owned and run park) and Timbavati, which is privately owned (by multiple land owners), as well as other Greater Kruger reserves like Thornybush and Sabi Sands. We prefer to go to reserves open to Kruger because that means wildlife has about 20 MILLION HECTARES to roam, which means a) not as many fences, b) no ‘management’ of wildlife and c) YOU COULD SEE ANYTHING AT ANY TIME. This is in contrast to smaller, managed reserves that have to trade wildlife to prevent in-breeding and manage the ecosystem.

Timbavati Game Reserve Accommodation

Elephant walking in Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Timbavati is a good place to find elephants

Timbavati is home to about 14-20 lodges, including Kambaku River Sands, Kambaku Safari Lodge, Motswari, Shindzela, Kings Camp, Tanda Tula, Umlani, Ngala (safari lodge and tented camp), Makanyani, Walkers River Camp and Simbavati (river lodge and hilltop lodge).


We have personally stayed at Kambaku Safari Lodge, Kambaku River Sands, Mostswari, Walkers River Camp and Shindzela Tented Camp and you can click through each link to check out our review of each (or you can soon when I get round to adding them!).  We would recommend all, but each has their own charm. Feel free to contact us if you would like more information or a better comparison (or indeed if you’d like us to put together an unforgettable safari experience for you).

Game viewing in Timbavati

Hippo yawning in Timbavati Private Game Reserve
I may have forgotten to brush my teeth. … for the past 20 years.

Being part of the Greater Kruger means you can see all your African safari favourites while out on drive in Timbavati, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, hippos and more. Not to mention the amazing diversity of bird life!


Timbavati Private Game Reserve is one of my favourite reserves, not just because I met my husband there five years ago but because it offers excellent game viewing and (if staying at the right lodges) it can be a lot less crowded than other reserves like Sabi Sands, Thornybush and Madikwe.


The lodges in Timbavati all have different traversing rights, which means each lodge has a certain area they are allowed to drive

Two male lions mating in Timbavati Private Game Reserve
There are other lions though, and sometimes they get up to some interesting antics!

within when out on safari. This can be both a good and bad thing when compared to reserves like Thornybush and Madikwe where lodges are typically allowed to drive wherever. On the one hand it means sightings can be a lot more quiet and you may get longer to stay within a sighting, but it also can mean if there is a really cool sighting on another property you may not be able to go and see it. It really depends on the lodge and how large their traversing area is to know whether this is good or bad! I personally prefer the potential option to stay at a sighting for longer, but this is still no guarantee. Regardless of lodge there’s usually enough happening across the reserve to make sure you see lots of amazing wildlife sightings – particularly if you stay for 3+ nights.


Please note that while a lot of sites promote that Timbavati is home to rare wild white lions, unfortunately the two female white lions that existed in recent years have since died (the remaining female was killed in a lion fight in 2017). The only existing wild white lion we are aware of is a male that hangs around Kruger National Park, between Satara and Singita.

We would recommend Timbavati as a good reserve to consider when booking your safari. Here’s the list of pros and cons:


Leopard sitting in Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Some of my favourite leopard sightings have been in Timbavati

Why stay at a lodge in Timbavati Private Game Reserve?

  • High standard of lodges – all with good reputations and reviews
  • Some lodges have traversing areas that are relatively quiet, meaning there’s an opportunity to spend longer at sightings (good for photography)
  • High density of wildlife with a good chance of seeing the Big 5 if staying for 3+ nights (keep in mind you could easily see them in one drive if lucky)
  • Excellent for hippo and hyena sightings (probably the best reserve I have come across for hyenas- including hyena cubs)
  • Good for elephants, lions and leopards (some lodges/areas better than others for big cats)
  • Off-roading allowed for all predators and Big 5
  • Open to Greater Kruger so no management of wildlife – higher likelihood of seeing wildlife interactions
  • Lots of dams that offer wildlife and photographic opportunities
  • Close to Hoedspruit airport makes it easier to get to/from if flying. 1.5hr flight from johannesburg.
  • Generally good standard of guiding and guiding etiquette, plus most lodges have trackers (potentially higher chance of finding wildlife)
  • Great diversity of landscape and bushland – feels ‘wild’ and not too much exposure to fences and city/town influence as with some other reserves
  • Great quality anti-poaching means it is one of the best reserves in terms of preventing rhino poaching


Cheetah walking in sun in Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Taken on my latest trip to Timbavati (clearly in contradiction of the “Con” listed to the right)

Timbavati Private Game Reserve ‘Cons’:

  • Malaria area
  • Possibly not as good for cheetah sightings as some other reserves (particularly smaller managed reserves) (though I have seen cheetahs many times including during our last trip)
  • Getting more expensive as it grows in popularity, and new conservation fees are being introduced in 2018 of around ZAR 3300 (AUD$33) per person, per night, which adds up!
  • There is at least one hunting lodge within the reserve (it is fenced) and the reserve does allow a certain amount of private hunting (to help pay for anti-poaching and other costs) each year
  • Restricted traversing means sometimes you cannot go to good quality sightings or you may watch a leopard or lion wander across an invisible border you are unable to cross. Politics on these type of reserves means traversing borders are upheld pretty strictly and it can make for moments of frustration.
  • Plains game can remain more elusive when compared to other reserves and the government-run section of Kruger. During my first trip to Timbavati (granted we only stayed two nights) we missed seeing zebra (and incidentally also buffalo). Typically if you stay 3-4 nights you would most likely see zebra and giraffe (and possibly multiple times), but they may be a little less common when compared to some other more open reserves and definitely less common than Kruger National Park itself!


Would we recommend Timbavati Private Game Reserve? Yes! It’s a strong option if you are looking for an authentic South African safari experience with a good chance of spotting the Big 5 and a range of other famous African mammals and birds. Of course which reserve and lodge is best all comes down to your priorities and preferences so please feel free to shoot us an email at cara@readysetsafari.com or contact us  if you would like tailored advice based on your specific circumstances!

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