You’re always close to the bush when you’re in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city. There are plenty of game reserves and safari parks, whether you’re a day tripper or looking for something a bit longer and a bit further out. The great thing about all of these destinations is that they’re malaria-free, so you can skip the meds and just head out for an escape to authentic safari experiences. In most cases you’ll be able to spot the Big 5, but there are also loads of other wildlife to encounter and hundreds of bird species for bird watchers. Here’s our roundup of the top 7 game reserves and safari parks that are close to Johannesburg…
1. Madikwe Game Reserve
Just a 4,5 hour drive out of Johannesburg, you’ll find Madikwe, the 5th largest game reserve in South Africa. You’ll get to see the Big 5 (lions, leopards, buffaloes, rhinos and elephants) at this state-owned but privately-run reserve, as well as 300 bird species. Madikwe is also popular for its population of African wild dogs, social creatures that make for amazing photo opportunities.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 4½ hours
- Activities: Birdwatching, fishing, ranger skills training, photographic safaris, spa treatments and wellness classes
2. Mziki Private Game Reserve
A couple of hours outside Johannesburg, Mziki Private Game Reserve features plenty of wildlife including three of the Big 5 (elephants, buffalo and rhino) and zebras, wildebeest, giraffes and an assortment of antelope. It’s also a treat for birdwatchers, with over 300 species to spot whether you’re taking a classic game drive or exploring on foot or by barge.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 2 hours
- Activities: Bush walks, birdwatching, barge cruises, game drives, archery, fishing and mini-ranger courses for the kids.
3. Mabula Game Reserve
Set in the malaria-free Waterberg region of Limpopo, Mabula Game Reserve offers way more activities than just your average game drive. Visitors can look forward to horse riding, quad biking, hot-air balloon rides and bird walks, among others. Just some of the animals the game reserve is home to include cheetahs, lions, leopards, elephants, jackals, hyenas and honey badgers.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 2½ hours
- Activities: Stargazing drives, bush walks, dam picnics, crocodile feeding demonstrations, quad biking, hot-air ballooning, birdwatching, horse riding and quad biking
4. Welgevonden Game Reserve
Welgevonden Game Reserve is 3,5 hours north of Johannesburg and one of the most pristine safaris in South Africa. You’ll easily spot the Big 5 from open safari vehicles, as well as 50 other animal species, 300 types of birds and harder to find creatures like brown hyenas and honey badgers. Welgevonden also features a wide range of accommodation options, from mid-range camps and luxury lodges to self-catering and exclusive use properties.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 3½ hours
- Activities: Horseback safaris, stargazing, walking safaris, game drives, San Bushman rock art tours
5. Plumari Private Reserve
Plumari Private Reserve is a stone’s throw from the city and one of the closest Big 5 game reserves to Johannesburg. This idyllic area of bushveld, mountains and wetlands is packed with wildlife including elephants, rhinos, lions, porcupines and giraffes, among others. Birdwatchers will love it with 200 species to spot. The reserve also has a conservation breeding program for rare animals like the golden wildebeest, sable antelope, black impala and king buffalo.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 1½ hours
- Activities: Game drives, birding, hiking, trail running, horse riding, mountain biking, clay pigeon shooting, spa treatments and 4×4 trails
6. Dinokeng Game Reserve
Just one hour from Johannesburg, Dinokeng offers the chance to spot the Big 5, cheetahs, giraffes and brown hyenas. Enjoy guided drives, boat tours, walking safaris and even self-drive safaris for certain types of vehicles. Besides the wildlife focused activities, you’ll also be able to take to the skies with microlight flights and hot-air balloon rides.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 1 hour
- Activities: Clay pigeon shooting, bush walks, cultural tours, boat cruises, microlight flights, hot-air ballooning, game drives and fishing
7. Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Set between the arid Kalahari and the lush bush of the lowveld, Pilanesberg Game Reserve offers ample guided tours and is also a great destination for self-drive safaris. The combination of landscapes makes for an area where a diverse range of fauna and flora thrive and you’ll easily be able to spot the Big 5 here. Malaria-free and just 3 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, it’s a great choice for a day trip to an authentic and family-friendly safari experience.
- Distance from Johannesburg: 3 hours
- Activities: Self-driving safaris, hot-air ballooning, birdwatching, game drives, photography from wildlife hides