Game Reserves and National Parks—what’s the difference?

If you are planning a once-in-a-lifetime African safari, it is important to keep in mind the differences between game reserves and National Parks so that you can get the exact adventure that you have been dreaming of. Many travellers to Africa don’t realise that there is a huge difference between game reserves and National Parks, and this can often lead to disappointment because guests were hoping for a distinct type of experience.

What can be even more confusing is that private game reserves often exist within the target National Parks. For instance Singita Lebombo operates on a private concession within the Kruger National Park. Read on to learn more.

difference between national park and game reserve sunset

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two lies in the exclusivity and freedom that guests will encounter. If you are looking for a unique safari adventure, it is essential to book in a private game reserve. Because there are fewer safari tours that take place in private game reserves, guests are allowed to freely explore the African wilderness.

Private game reserves offer guests the opportunity to escape from the crowds that are associated with the larger National Parks. This means that guests can experience the true African bushveld all to themselves, and they won’t have to share their wildlife sightings with an enormous crowd of other vehicles.

The number of visitors to National Parks is not restricted so the safari experience is open to everyone. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that you will have to share your sightings with quite a large number of other people. ‘Traffic jams’ are a real thing in National Parks as visitors scramble about to view animals that have been sighted. Visiting a National Park will also mean having to share your bucket-list safari experience with all sorts of other visitors. At private game reserves, the number of vehicles that can be present at a game sighting is restricted to two or three cars which means that you are ensured the ultimate game viewing experience.

National Park vs Game Reserve Lion Road

National Parks are open to everyone, so sightings are often fleeting and crowded with other visitors and tourists. Often the best photos you can get will have a car or two in the picture.

National Parks often have many tar roads that allow visitors to enjoy them in any rental car available from the airport where you arrive. Even most of the dirt roads have been well maintained and will allow you to drive on them in a regular sedan or hatchback. This makes them National Parks very accessible to visitors. Most game reserves use purpose built 4X4s in order to traverse through the wild African terrain and get you into the best possible position to view the animals.

Private game reserves are just that, private. They allow you to experience Africa’s wilderness in a more authentic fashion, where you see Africa’s animals in their natural environment, undisturbed by the vehicles around them.

Game Reserve Vs National Park Vehicle Lion

Private game reserves only allow game viewing vehicles from the lodges to be used, and the rules about where you can drive are very different from the rules at National Parks. In private game reserves, game viewing vehicles are allowed to drive off-road to allow guests to search for big cats or to track specific animals. Private game reserves don’t have hours of operation like National Parks so guests are given an exclusive opportunity to experience an exhilarating night drive. This means that visitors to a private game reserve enjoy a more ‘full’ experience than visitors to a National Park.

Game reserve vs National park Lion Sighting Hyena

This means that at private game reserves you get to see amazing animal interactions that often occur out of sight of main roads and would definitely be missed at most National Parks.

It is essential to have the option of going on night drive if you would like to search for nocturnal animals which won’t be visible during the day. Unfortunately, visitors to a National Park have to abide by the rules that are set by the Park. This means that game drives are restricted to certain times and to certain roads. Guests cannot enjoy night drives in many National Parks. Bush walks are another popular activity that private game reserves offer that cannot be enjoyed by guests of most National Parks.

difference between national park and game reserve sunset

National Park vs Game reserve RondavelsMost National Parks generally offer self catering options like these quaint rondavels or “huts”, where luxury private game reserves are usually an all included experience, with beautifully made up rooms and sumptuous feasts waiting for you after your daily activities.

There are positives to both types of African safari, but for the ultimate luxury African safari experience we would always recommend a private game reserve.

 

Game Reserve Vs National Park Luxury Rooms

Although it might seem that private game reserves are the way to go, it is important to remember that National Parks do offer some of the best game viewing in Africa and it is an experience that is not to be missed. Ultimately, your choice has to be based on the kind of experience you are looking for. If you are looking for exclusivity and freedom, private game reserves are your best option.

Game Reserve vs National Park Whats The Difference Duiker

Please do let us know if you have any more questions on the above as we’d be more than happy to help.