Photo Credit: flowcomm

Sabi Sands Game Reserve, where leopards roam

Kruger National Park‘s success in wildlife conservation is undeniable; however, it can sometimes be challenging to spot this wildlife due to the vast territories of vegetation. For those who want a more customized and exclusive experience, several private game reserves are available near Kruger. The biggest one is the Sabi Sand Game Reserve that has an unfenced border of 50 kilometers with the great Kruger area. From special tour packages to luxurious lodges by the water holes, Sabi Sand Game Reserve is ready to take your feet off the ground.

“Mvula” Leopard (Panthera pardus) with honey badger kill (Mellivora capensis) Regina Hart License: CC


Sabi Sand Game Reserve was first built on an area of 65000 hectares in the 1950s by the local landowners of Mpumalanga. Today, their grand-grand sons are managing the area and protecting the diverse wildlife in the region. The game reserve gets its name from the Sabie and Sand rivers running through it, which also increases the animal migration into the park. Before the park was established, agricultural activities were carried out by building water holes and dams. The abundant source of water contributes greatly to the diversity since battles and wild animals use it for drinking.

Hippo in a waterhole David Berkowitz Licence: CC


The highlight of Sabi Sands is obviously the big five. The Mpumalanga province is regarded as the best place to see the big five in the world, even the most elusive members.

The most exciting feature of Sabi Sands is a dense population of leopards compared anywhere else in Southern Africa. The South African leopards are mostly spotted by the trees were they camouflage themselves to observe the surroundings. These trees are usually far from the main roads. One advantage of Sabi Sands is the ability of the special vehicles to drive off the road, which is not possible even in Kruger. This brings the visitor closer to the leopards without disturbing them.

Leopards on the prowl in Sabi Sands Tim Ellis License: CC

Lions can be spotted resting amongst the Savannah throughout the day. The game drives will make sure you can come close enough to them to watch them while they are taking a nap.

Both the white and the black rhino can be spotted in the park. Although these two are somehow difficult to distinguish from each other, the local rangers will help you recognize them.

Buffalo and elephants are the easiest to spot the big five and they are quite abundant here.

Elephants in Djuma Game Reserve – Sabi Sand – Kruger National Park David Berkowitz License: CC

Besides the big 5, the park is home to 517 bird species, 147 mammal species, 114 reptile species, 50 fish species, and 33 amphibian species. This is also thanks to the long and unfenced border between Sabi Sands and the greater Kruger.


Sabi Sands Game Reserve is extremely exclusive in the sense that day visitors are not allowed here. Besides, self-drive is not an option. So, the only option is to book accommodation at one of the lodges here and join a guided safari tour. Luckily, you won’t have an interference with the day visitors and vehicles other than the designated 4x4s.

Each drive is accompanied by a ranger and a tracker. While the ranger informs the guests about the park’s history, flora and fauna, the tracker scans the area with special binoculars for the big game. The game drives are organized twice daily. The first one starts just after sunrise and continues until 10 o’clock, while the afternoon drive is between 3 pm and sunset. Only two vehicles are permitted at a sighting at a time to prevent overcrowding and scaring the animals off.

A tracker seating at the front of a game drive vehicle David Berkowitz Licence: CC

Another type of safari organized in Sabi Sands is the game walk. Also accompanied by a ranger and a tracker, you will walk among the bushes to get really close to the habitat of the wild animals. It should be noted that the minimum age to join a game drive is eight, while that for a game walk is fourteen.

Tips & Things You Might Need To Know

The stay in lodges includes everything from safari tours to the meals, so you will have access to all the three meals. Dinners are more special since they are arranged at different locations depending on the weather. The African Bush dinner is an extraordinary experience right in the middle of the thrilling wildlife.

Djuma Vuyatela Lodge in Djuma Game Reserve – Sabi Sand – Kruger National Park David Berkowitz Licence: CC

If you have a special request regarding the meals (halal, vegetarian), you need to inform the lodge management beforehand.

Like in any safari, neutral colors like green and brown are recommended.

Due to the abundance of mosquitoes in the area, we advise that you wear long-sleeved t-shirts and pants during game drives, and bring insect repellant with you.

During the game drives, it is forbidden to leave the vehicles. Attempting to feed wild animals can have deadly consequences.

While you are driving in between lodges, you might sometimes come across some wild animals. In that case, you must slow down and wait as the animal walks off the road. Also, do not attempt to attract the animal’s attention.

Each lodge is close to a different wildlife habitat, which the rangers will inform you about. Because the lodges have no fences, the animals can be spotted walking around the facilities at night. The bottom line is, you must not go out at night with the accompany of a staff member.

The recommended duration of stay is three nights to cover all the animal encounters.

The best time to visit the park is between October and March, as this when the baby animals can be spotted more regularly. Winter is also a pleasant option since the bushes are thinner, better-exposing the animals

“Styx Pride” Lion (Panthera leo) Regina Hart License: CC

Getting There

As with the other game reserves in the Greater Kruger Area, you have a variety of options. The closest airport to Sabi Sand Game Reserve is Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit. There are regular flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town. From here, you can either take a shuttle or small aircraft.

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit thomas_sly Licence: CC

There are two other airports near the region: Hoedspruit and Skukuza. They provide the same options in terms of reaching the park from the airport.

Because each lodge in the park has it’s private airstrip, you don’t have to worry about locating it yourself.

A current method of transportation is from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport via Federal Air that will take you directly to the airstrip of your preferred lodge. You can even use these flights to transfer between lodges since they are far away from each other.

The final option of getting to the park involves self-drive. Johannesburg is the closest city to the park with a 450 km distance along the national road N4. The road is tarred and convenient with full of road stalls in between. Keep in mind that the gates are only open between 5 am and 10 pm.