Pilanesberg National Park (The Best and Closest Safari to Johannesburg)

Elephant Pilanesberg National ParkOn a trip to Johannesburg it was quickly realized that the highlight of the trip would be a safari in Pilanesberg National Park. Maybe the post should be called, “Johannesburg gone wild.” The city itself doesn’t have a fun or safe reputation so we headed to the nearby national park of Pilanesberg.

There, we had an awesome self-drive safari experience. And the proof should be in the photos we were able to snag.

Lion Pilanesberg National Park

Kruger was a bit far away seeing as we were in South Africa a total of four days. Plus, we haven’t had any malaria or yellow fever shots, and apparently there is a larger chance of malaria toward Kruger.

Pilanesberg National Park was quickly the park recommended as an alternative to Kruger. The InterContinental tried to sell us on a tour claiming it was 40 minutes away. Turns out it’s 2.5 hours away. We also asked about renting a car and we were told “it’s not possible”.

That is a big joke. The car rental and the park were super easy to tackle. The roads were (mostly) paved and all. But I can do a separate post on that.

To prove how awesome a “self drive” safari is/was… well the proof is the animals we saw. I had no idea a park that near to the big city would be so abundant with wildlife.

Giraffe Pilanesberg National ParkPlanning a trip

Cost: For two of us and the map, we spent $17 to get into the park for the entire day. 

Rent a car or truck. I’ll do an entire post on doing a self-drive to save money. But I’ll say that a 4×4 isn’t necessary for 90% of the roads. Perhaps if it were flooding, but the day before we went it was raining and it was totally dry by the time we got there.

Get there real early. The best times for us were in the morning and evening.

Spend the night. You can camp there for relatively cheap or stay at the expensive park hotels. There are hotels in the town right outside, “Sun City”. There are hotels for $80 to $900.

So Sun City is a pretty great spot to spend the night. We were using points and thus stayed in Jo-burg, but it would have been pretty cool not to have to rush out (because we had to return the car by 8:30 pm (because of a generous agent)). But it’s totally worth the extra day of car rental and paying for a hotel 1 night.

Rino Pilanesberg National ParkTips for seeing wildlife

Again, dawn and dusk were especially good. Animals were out and playing especially in the evening. Yet, we drove around all day and saw plenty of animals. Since we left a little early and the sun rose quickly, most of these pictures are “mid day”. So you’ll be fine either way.

Watering holes are where we saw the most animal activity. In fact, when you look at the map they give you, you notice bodies of water, partly along the main road, running from west to east right through the center. That line through the center was by far the best for us. We drove all around but those were the best spots for us.

Lion Pilanesberg National ParkBest spots:

  • Tshepe Drive from the south east entrance (Kwa Maritane) was a highlight of the day. The north side of this drive is where we saw the lions. We came in this entrance in the morning and it was kind of dead. But in the evening, when the road was in the shade (as it’s to the east of Magare peak), it was alive with all kinds of Rhinos, Elephants, Kodus, and more of the common Zebras and Wildebeest.
  • Mankwe Dam in the very center of the park. Just on the North East side of this dam (just on Motlobo Drive) we saw Elephants, Rhinos, Ostriches, Kodus and all kinds of things.
  • Tshwene Drive by Dithabaneng peak was incredible for seeing Giraffes. Very large groups of them were roaming around all day.
  • Makorwane Dam was where we saw a ton of elephants. Two very large groups with babies. And there were other animals in the area, like Rhinos.

Hippo Pilanesberg National Park

What Animals Do You See At Pilanesberg National Park?

Well I’ll tell you what we for sure saw and then I’ll just read the list of what is in the book.

What we saw….

Giraffe, Black Rhino, White Rhino, Kodu, Zebra, Hippo, Lion, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, Elephant, Impala, Ostrich.

What there was left to see..

Duiker, Klispringer, Buffalo, Eland, Waterbuck, Leopard, Red Hartebeest, Mountain Reeduck, Cheetah, Caracal, Tsessebe, Black-backed Jackal, Springbok, Brown Hytena, Banded Mongoose, Chacma Baboons, Vervet Monkey.

And I don’t have the energy to type out all the birds…

But I want to say that we had a question mark next to any deer like thing… because we saw so many and can’t always tell the difference between them all.


Our experience in Pilanesberg National Park was so incredible that it’s inspired two things. 1) Always do self-drive safaris. And 2) We need to explore Africa. This is the only habited continent that we haven’t really explored or traveled.

The rest of the photos:

Lion Pilanesberg National Park

Zebra Pilanesberg National Park Female Lion Pilanesberg National Park Kudo Pilanesberg National Park Pilanesberg National Park Wildabeest Pilanesberg National Park Male Lion Pilanesberg National ParkElephant Pilanesberg National ParkDSC_4376

Thanks for reading friends!

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  1. Wow, great post, and how fortuitous. I just booked a vacation stopping in South Africa for 5 days. Was hoping to do Cape Town and a safari, which didn’t seem to work when considering the distance of Kreuger. But it may be possible with this park. Any way to get hear more about your 4-day itinerary?

    • I highly recommend it!
      It’s not that far and as you can see, the experience was great.

      We kind of slept off jetlag, worked, and did nothing else notable really. The safari was the highlight.

  2. Thanks for the memories; I did a 3-week trip to South Africa in 2002, including 4 days in Pilansburg park. It was marvelous, and had such spectacular luck in seeing not only the Big Five but so much more. I’d recommend it without reservation. We stayed at the 5-star lodge in the park and it couldn’t have been better. LOVE South Africa!

    • Glad to hear others also had such a great experience and that it wasn’t just luck. We really should have spent the night there.

  3. The staff at the IC Jo’burg/Sandton was honestly the most moronic staff I’ve encountered at a hotel. For future notice, if you stay at the Holiday Inn around the corner, they have a really nice desk with info. Also get 15% off at the Budget rental desk at the train station (which is like a 15-20 minute walk from the IC. You know, the train you probably took to get there?). They gave me options for stuff that didn’t involve expensive tours, said I could join a tour too (unfortunately there weren’t anything the 2 days I stayed there). For instance, that’s how I found out about the park across the street, with a hot air balloon ride for only $7! Also the lounge is apparently the hangout of Qatar airlines staff, and said staff are presented with a few nice bottles of ZA wine every day. Good to know.

    I mention this because that property is on point breaks now…

    • Unfortunately, the Holiday Inn Jo’burg is no longer available as a PointsBreak property. Dang!

    • Oh I didn’t even mention the best part of the stay. They tried to charge us for lounge access and breakfast because… *drumroll*
      Because I filled out the reservation for one person and showed up with two.

      That doesn’t make any sense, we showed up with two and was told it was free and we had a stand off and checkout. I didn’t even bother to explain that IHG phone agents changed it to 1 person when changing the dates. Anyways… very rude experience. Just kind of a “oh well, sucks for you attitude.” And they blamed it on the lounge staff for mis informing me.

  4. Beautiful pictures.

    • Thanks Tina!
      The wifey does a good job!

  5. Gawd, I blush to think the cash I’m spending on a 2 week Micato safari to Botswana/Zambia vs your day trip with a rental car. You could stay a year…

    • lol, that was my inspiration for the car rental. But it seems most people think the car rental is impossible.

  6. You must give a separate post detailing how to rent the car to use on safari. What insurance did you use? That insurance would cover damage done to the car by any of the animals? Did you drive from J, berg to this park and back? I saw a TV report that showed people installing flame throwers on their cars because of so many car jackings in J, berg. You guys feel safe?

    • Also, how did you get to J, berg? Train as mentioned or what airline from where? How were they? Coach I assume?I’m planning a trip to SA and that info would be welcomed.

  7. We went to SA last year and LOVED IT!! Capetown was gorgeous! We spent a little more time (and a lot more money) flying from Capetown to Jo-burg, then renting a car to drive to Sabi Sands game reserve (right outside Kruger). We stayed at Mala Mala, which was pricey, but we felt it was worth it to us since it was still small groups in each car, not many tourists, guides did lots of off-roading, it included food, lodging and we saw EVERYTHING. We balanced out the cost by driving ourselves from JNB in a cheap rental. We’ll have to try a self-drive tour one day though!
    Post on the safari:
    Post on Capetown:

  8. Went to Pilansberg with a group last June. Did one of those open air van tours. I really enjoyed the experience, although I could definitely so doing it the way you did with just the 2 of you. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in the town nearby. Rented out the whole place and the rate came out to about $50 per night per person including a full sit down dinner and breakfast.

  9. If you have a few days in South Africa, you can do Kruger National Park as a self-drive, although it’s a bit further from Johannesburg (6-8 hours depending on which gate). You can stay the night in bungalows in public rest camps for $80-100, not quite a PointsBreak property but not bank-breaking either and you have animals at your doorstep. Here’s how to do it:

  10. Hi Drew

    This is a truly amazing article you wrote there, I have been to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve many times as we provide transport to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and i must say you captured some amazing moments in your photos, seems like your GoPro did a great job, i love it as well, thanks for sharing your experience.

    Airport Shuttle SA


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