National Parks versus Private Game Reserves

Safari Guide and Vehicle

Many of Africa’s national parks have private conservancies or reserves adjacent to them.  For example, the national park of Kruger covers about 1.5 million hectares, but if you include the private reserves on the outskirts this brings the area of ‘greater’ Kruger to about 2 million hectares.  Likewise the Masai Mara National Reserve is at least doubled in size when you include the private conservancies which are in its immediate surrounds.  The same is true of many other parks in other countries throughout Africa.

There are also private concession areas within some national parks, such as Kruger.  They offer similar experiences to lodges in private reserves outside of the park, but you can not go off road here, and all national park rules apply.

South African National Parks - Kruger

There is no self-drive safari option in the private reserves; instead a knowledgeable game ranger guides you for day or night game drives or walks, usually twice daily.

The advantages of staying in the private reserves include:

  • relative lack of visitors in comparison to the national park, including no self-drivers.
  • access to areas which are off-limits to national park visitors.
  • knowledgeable guiding.
  • excellent choice of quality accommodation.
  • in many places your guide can take you off road to get closer to the wildlife.
  • some activities such as night drives and guided bush walks are included in your stay. Often these are simply not allowed in national parks.
  • your conservancy fee is helping with the conservation of the habitat and wildlife.
  • you can also go into the national parks, so you have the best of both worlds.

The reasons to stay in national parks include:

  • often more choice of accommodation within a variety of price ranges.
  • you can self-drive in some parks (eg Kruger).
  • the national parks were usually set up in the best spots many years ago so are usually in prime locations.
  • your national park fees are helping with conservation of the park and its wildlife.

So you can see that there is really no definitive answer as to which is best – national park or private conservancy.  It really depends on where you are going and what you are hoping to get out of your safari.  For this, your best bet is to talk to people who really know about the areas you’re considering.

Amanda Marks - Author

Amanda Marks is a founder and director of Tribes Travel. She believes travel opens hearts and minds.

Read more articles