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Gondwana Private Game Reserve, Cape Town.
Photograph: Gondwana Private Game Reserve

The 8 best safari day trips and weekends from Cape Town

Track down the elusive ‘Big Five’, and have a whale of a time doing it

Alicia Erickson
Written by
Alicia Erickson

Can you go on a safari from Cape Town? It’s a question often asked by curious travellers thinking of planning a trip to the Mother City, unsure of whether they’ll be able to catch a glimpse of various fantastic creatures. Happily, the answer is a big ‘Yes indeed.’ Cape Town’s charm extends far beyond the urban centre, and one of its most alluring elements – beyond the mesmerising mountain views and glimmering Atlantic Seaboard – is its proximity to nature.

South Africa is renowned for its wildlife, and while the Western Cape may be a little more under-the-radar in this arena than other regions, it still has its fair share of nature reserves. Just a short drive from Cape Town you can spot the ‘Big Five’ (that’s: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffaloes) roaming the veld, learn about conservation efforts and spot whales breaching from the Atlantic Coast. For those wanting to take a walk on the wild side, here are the best lodges and reserves for a safari day trip from Cape Town.

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Alicia Erickson is a travel writer based in Cape Town. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

The best safaris near Cape Town

Aquila Game Reserve
Photograph: Michael van Rooyen

1. Aquila Game Reserve

At just under a two-hour drive from the city, Aquila Game Reserve has certainly earned a name for itself as a top safari experience near Cape Town. The reserve helped reintroduce the Big Five to the Western Cape and is rooted in wildlife rehabilitation, land protection and community support. Whether you opt for a day trip or book a couple of nights, you can take a traditional safari in an off-road vehicle or choose to search for the Big Five from a quad bike. If you’re lucky, you may just spot the elusive Cape mountain leopard. After a day of wildlife thrills, soak in the infinity pool, refuel with some traditional South African cuisine or treat yourself to a spa afternoon. Accommodation ranges from rustic digs to plush cottages.

Inverdoorn Game Reserve
Photograph: Inverdoorn Game Reserve

2. Inverdoorn Game Reserve

A Big Five game reserve located around a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town, Inverdoorn Game Reserve is a wild escape into the arid plains of the vast, dessert-like Karoo region. A home to lions, elephants, giraffe, zebras, hippos and wildebeest, Inverdoorn also hosts a cheetah rescue and rehabilitation centre. This conseration-focused establishment offers an opportunity to disconnect in the wilderness while searching for some of South Africa’s most exciting creatures. Rest your head in cosy, tented camps and relax in a pool with views over the veld and golden mountains on the horizon.

Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve
Photograph: @fairyglennaturereserve

3. Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve

One of the closest safari experiences to Cape Town, Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve is set against the craggy foothills of the Brandwacht Mountains. Just over an hour from the city by car, Fairy Glen transports visitors to a magical, rustic setting, with options for both day and overnight safaris. Count yourself extra lucky if you spot a leopard, but elephants, lions and other creatures roam the plains in relative abundance. Stay overnight in the self-catering accommodation to maximise your chances of spotting various fantastic beasts at sunrise and sunset.

Goudkop Bush Camp
Photograph: Goudkop Bush Camp / Instagram

4. Goudkop Bush Camp

This simple and underrated wildlife destination is found two hours north of Cape Town. Goudkop Bush Camp is a quiet cattle and sheep farm on Skrik van Rondom Farmstall, set in the heart of the Sandveld Nature Reserve. Stay in a thatched roof hut tucked into the slopes of the valley, hike along rocky trails, look for elk and other wildlife on a game drive, or simply unwind and do nothing in this slice of nature. The on-site restaurant and farm shop will keep you happily fed and watered during your stay.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Photograph: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

5. Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Stretching across 58,000 hectares, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a pristine and unparalleled experience in the South African wilderness. A three-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town – taking in the stunning scenery of the R62 tourist route along the way – will get you to Sanbona, situated in the rugged and beautiful valley of the Little Karoo, just outside Montagu. Treat yourself to a weekend of wildlife viewings rooted in conservation, while unwinding in luxury safari tents or manor houses among the still plains. Elephants, lions and giraffes are all in the mix when you’re on a nature walk or a safari drive through the rolling hills and dramatic rock formations. If you fancy tracking down some visual wonders that are even easier to locate, the stargazing here is also pretty spectacular.

Gondwana Private Game Reserve
Photograph: Gondwana Private Game Reserve

6. Gondwana Private Game Reserve

Situated along the Garden Route in Mossel Bay, Gondwana Private Game Reserve is a little further from Cape Town (a four-and-a-half-hour drive), but certainly worth the journey if time is on your side. Eco-friendly camps and villas ooze luxury safari aesthetic, while also blending into the towering green hills. From spotting elephants wandering the reserve and lions napping in the sun, to learning about the native fynbos species and searching for sunbirds, falcons and cranes on a bird-centric safari, a weekend at Gondwana promises to be a wild ride.

Grootbos Nature Reserve
Photograph: Grootbos Nature Reserve

7. Grootbos Nature Reserve

Grootbos Nature Reserve embodies the meaning of ‘where the mountains meet the sea.’ Throw some forests into the equation, and you’ve got a spectacular eco-reserve. Just over two hours from Cape Town, Grootbos transports its guests deep into nature and offers an experience that’s notably different from a typical safari weekend. Set out from the elegant accommodation on a botanical walk to learn about endangered plants, look for over 20 species of mammal (including many types of antelope) and don’t forget to keep an eye out for whales appearing along the coast.

Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Hermanus

Formerly a small fishing village, Hermanus has blossomed into a charming harbour town that attracts visitors from far and wide. Whale watching is what brings the crowds here, as Hermanus is graced with migrating southern right whales from June through to December. Try and spot them from the wind-swept beaches or join a boat tour and spend a day experiencing the splendour of these mighty marine mammals. Hop in your car, make that 90-minute journey from Cape Town and stay for a day or two in this whale watching paradise.

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