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Sabi Sands versus Timbavati – which game reserve to choose?

Singita Ebony - Outside Deck

Sabi Sands or the Timbavati? How do you choose?

I’ve done what my English teacher always banged on about. I’ve written the article before this introduction. And what have I realised? That I am in big trouble.

Trouble with my friends in both the Sabi Sands and Timbavati. Understandably, both ”sides” feel they are the outright winners.

But it is not clear-cut. I am a keen skier. So every time I ski, I like to re-evaluate where to go: between Val D’Isere or St Anton? Verbier or Zermatt? They are all excellent choices. It is the same with Sabi Sands or Timbavati? But I am someone who likes to consider all the angles. So if you are THAT sort of person, this article was written for you.

Luxury game viewing

Game viewing

This is the crux and it’s almost impossible to answer. This is because both reserves are fairly close to each other, have similar vegetation, and open borders with the Kruger. (So that the wildlife moves between these reserves and the Kruger.)

Both have a plentiful array of animals including the Big Five. Both have leopards that have become comfortable with the presence of game-viewing vehicles. (This is not the case for most game reserves, as leopards are usually shy and elusive.) Neither reserve is the ideal terrain for cheetahs which need wild open plains to hunt. So these are more likely to be seen elsewhere.

Lion sightings are probably more plentiful in the Sabi Sands. On the other hand I have had amazing luck seeing packs of wild dog in the Timbavati on several occasions.

In both reserves you are highly likely to spot the majority of wildlife that you want to see during a three-night stay. But given the open borders, nothing is guaranteed. But the Sabi Sands probably has more vehicles out in the field (see our section on Wilderness) and this can help with sightings.

Winner: Sabi Sands – by an edge

Discover the Kruger ‘Wilderness’

Sense of Wilderness

The Timbavati is more remote, and thus has a much greater sense of wilderness. Though there are villages nearby, you are much less aware of them. Plus it is surrounded on three sides by the Kruger so as you travel into the Timbavati, you feel as if you are away from all the cares of the world.

The vehicle density is less, especially compared to the Western and Northern Sabi Sands. Yes, sometimes vehicle density is a good thing as it helps with animal sightings. But overall most people want to see fewer vehicles and have a greater sense of wilderness and exclusivity.

Winner: Timbavati

The best Safari destination

Sabi Sands or Timbavati for a Safari
– Choice of Accommodation

In the Sabi Sands, you have a choice between merely expensive, eye-wateringly expensive, and sell-your-own-grandmother expensive. The Timbavati also has an increasing number of uber-luxurious lodges. But it also has a wider spread of game lodges to suit a more moderate budget. (Though there are virtually no inexpensive lodges left.)  It also has a wider variety of game lodges. From traditional thatched lodges to tented camps, from exclusive-use camps to walking safari fly-camps.

Winner: Timbavati

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Quality of Guiding

The quality of guiding is a very personal, subjective, consideration. For example a ranger may have a degree in botany and go into wonderful detail about the ecology. And then the guest declares that he talks too much!

Broadly I would say that the guiding is of a very high standard in both reserves. But perhaps the average Sabi Sands range tends to talk more, and explain more. (Though this is not always the same thing!) This is generally what you want on safari. But it varies extensively from ranger to ranger, so I am going to shut up now!

Winner: Sabi Sands? But difficult to tell

Superb Game viewing

Accessability

The accessibility gap between the two reserves has narrowed in recent years. Nowadays both game reserves are connected to Cape Town and Johannesburg with direct flights to nearby airports. So for many itineraries, there is no difference in connectivity or accessibility.

But the Sabi Sands is closer to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). And KMIA services other destinations such as Vilanculos in Mozambique, Livingstone at Victoria Falls, Phinda, and Durban. And you can connect via Johannesburg and arrive there on a late afternoon flight. (Though we don’t recommend that!)

This advantage is not a slam dunk though. Some connections arrive and depart at times which mean that you’d miss a game drive to make the connection. Not good. This can sometimes, but not always, be offset by a charter flight from the lodge, but at certain times of the day. As there are strict rules to protect the wildlife.

So – if you have time – we recommend adding a night at a country lodge close by. You get the full safari experience and then take a scenic panorama tour via the Blyde River Canyon. But then that means the small advantage of Sabi Sabi disappears…

Winner: Sabi Sands, unless you stay another night, in which case it’s a tie
Cedarberg_Africa_londolozi_cheetha_in_tree
Cedarberg_Africa_Londolozi_walk21
Cedarberg_Africa_londolozi_elephant_bull

Exclusivity & Brand Name

If you are looking for the crème de la crème and brand-name bragging rights, then Sabi Sands is your man (or women). It contains virtually all the brand names that the Conde Nast reader will have heard of: Singita, Londolozi, Mala Mala, Lion Sands and so on.

Let’s be honest – if you say you were on safari in the Sabi Sands, your friends will be more likely to have heard of it than the Timbavati.

And that’s 100% fine. But remember it’s like designer clothing. The extra you pay for the designer handbag is mainly for the brand name, not just the quality of the leather. Same with game lodges.

Winner: Sabi Sands, but you pay extra for that…
Singita Ebony - Outside Deck
londolozi bath, safari & beach honeymoons in Africa
Lion-Sands-Narina-suite 2.1

Sabi Sands or Timbavati for a Safari
– Value for Money

Which brings me neatly to my final category: value for money. All game lodges in these premium game reserves are expensive. This price is supporting the game-management of a private game reserve, and an extensive anti-poaching initiative. This is an immensely expensive operation.

But if you have read the blog so far, and are relatively neutral about Sabi Sands versus Timbavati, you will get more ‘bang for your buck’ in the Timbavati.

The exact same game lodge, staff, rangers would command a noticeable price premium if it was in the Sabi Sands, mainly because of the brand. Now brand has a value to most people, but if value for money has greater importance for you, then Timbavati has the edge.

Winner: Timbavati
Tanda Tula Safari Camp
Luxury safari accommodation - Simbavati Hilltop Lodge pool 2
sabi sands versus timbavati - Kings Camp

Sabi Sands AND Timbavati
– Staying at Both?

Many clients ask to stay in both reserves. That is perfectly possible, and can be ideal for people who fundamentally like to experience ‘new’ things and to be on the move. If you only have 4 nights, it can be great to split it 2 nights in each. But the terrain and the game-viewing is not fundamentally different. They are both part of the greater Kruger National Park. So it may be more relaxing to spend 3-4 nights in one lodge.

If you have the time – at least 5 nights – for your safari, I would rather suggest that you stay 3-4 nights in either the Sabi Sands or the Timbavati (you choose!) and then 2 to 3 nights in a completely different game reserve

  • The contrast with Tswalu is amazing
  • Or add on a malaria-free game reserve to your time in the Cape such as Sanbona
  • Or head north of Johannesburg to the very scenic Welgevonden or Marakele Game Reserves
  • Or fly into Madikwe

Note: These last two options will require you to overnight in Johannesburg in between.

Cedarberg-Africa-Kruger-sabi-sands-game-drive
Cedarberg_Africa-Kruger-Sabi-Sands-leopard
Cedarberg_Africa-Nature-Reunion-Twk_Elsa-Young_Londolozi

Sabi Sands versus Timbavati
– The Conclusion

My aim in writing this blog is to help you make the choice. Or feel comfortable with the choice you have already made.
The bottom line is that both reserves are an excellent choice, probably among the very best in Southern Africa.

But don’t believe the hype that says one reserve is way better than the other.

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Tell us what you would like to do & we'll send a no-obligation quote

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The perfect safari destination


More about Cedarberg Africa

Cedarberg Africa is a specialist safari operator for Southern and East Africa. Because of our excellent buying power, you can use our services to book your safari, and it won’t cost more than if you booked direct or via the OTAs. Plus you’ll benefit from our 25 years of safari experience.

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Milandi Joubert

Africa Travel Specialist

Hi I’m Milandi, I’m here to help you plan your ideal holiday experience

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