What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park

Many people have questions about the difference between a National Park,, a private game reserve and private concessions when they are planning their first African safari experience.

Hopefully we can answer them for you but if you have any more questions please comment below and we will try to help you further or add the answer to this blog post.

National Park vs Game Reserve

The difference is quite straight forward but the difference in the experience you get can be a little harder to understand. National Parks are government-owned and managed while private game reserves are privately owned and managed.

National ParkPrivate Game Reserve
Owned byGovernment OwnedPrivately Owned
Managed ByGovernment ManagedPrivately Managed
Cost$ – Usually Cheaper$$$$ – Prices range dramatically but private reserves are almost always more expensive than National Parks.
AccommodationUsually simple, round rondavels, wood cabins and camping. Although national parks are increasingly adding nicer accommodation to their options. Usually private ensuite rooms in up market lodges or luxury bush homes designed to cater to families.
Luxury vs StandardStandardUsually Luxury based
Service LevelsStandard service levels aimed at the masses. Most amenities will be clean and reasonably well looked after.A higher level of service can be expected at luxury game reserves and lodges.
CrowdsCan become crowded in busy times and around big 5 sightings.Only those staying on the private reserve have access to the activities and animals so crowding is not an issue.
AnimalsThe animals that can be seen depends on the location of the national park, but some like the Kruger National park offer a fantastic variety of wildlife including the Big 5.Again this depends on the reserve but they usually offer Big 5 viewing. It is important to confirm this with your lodge/reserve.
Animal Interaction and viewingNational parks are usually more controlled and vehicles need to stay on the tar roads. because of this sometimes game viewing can be from a greater distance.

However sometimes the action is happening right on the road!

Many private game reserves have the ability to travel off road and follow the animals and action into the thick bush making sure their paying guests get the best possible viewings while still respecting the animals and wild habitat.
Self Drive Or GuidedUsually self driven but you can sign up for night drives with a guide or go on a guided walk in some camps. You can also go with a separate tour company that operates in the national park.Usually with a guide in the lodges private 4X4 vehicle
RulesNational parks have strict rules which include designated opening and closing times. This can mean that game viewing needs to happen during the day time.Private game reserves have rules and structures but they are much more flexible and allow you to go on night drives and create their own unique experiences. These could include bush dining and safari walks.
ExamplesSouth Africa

Kruger National Park
Addo Elephant Park
West Coast National Park
Table Mountain National Park
Karoo National Park

Kenya

Maasai Mara
Amboseli National Park

Zambia

South Luangwa National Park
Kafue National PArk
Lower Zambezi National Park

Botswana

Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Phone National Park

South Africa

Londolozi
Singita
Kirkmans Camp
Madikwe Safari Lodge
Ngala Safari Lodge

Kenya

Mara Plains
Angama Mara
Bateleur Camp

Botswana

Selinda Explorers Camp
Zarafa Dhow Suites
Vumbura Plains
Mombo
Jao Camp
Duba Plains

Tanzania

Chem Chem
Ngorogoro Crater Lodge

Some of the difference you can expect.

Vehicles

Most people access national parks in their own vehicles. This is specially true in the Kruger National Park which has tar roads which allow most modern suburban vehicles to travel through it with ease. In some other African countries a 4X4 is required in order to visit the park as the roads are generally dirt and you need a more powerful vehicle with good clearance to traverse safely through the park. E.g. Moremi in Botswana.

What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park Leopard

Private Game Reserves usually use their own specially designed safari vehicles that are open so that less of your view is inhibited. This allows you to have better sightings while also being emerged in the wildlife experience.

These are also usually 4X4 vehicles that allow them to drive on dirt roads as well as off roads to get closer to the animals.

Accommodation

What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park Skukuza Rest Camp L

Many of the national parks accommodation is adequate rondavels or wooden cabins with all the amenities you will need. they often have self-catering facilities as well.

What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park Londolozi Tree Camp L

Most private lodges have separate double rooms that are ensuite with exquisite bathrooms, your own pool and the best of the best in terms of luxury accommodation.

What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park Skukuza rest Camp Interior L

The interior of the national parks accommodation is usually clean and simple.

What’s The Difference Between A Private Game Reserve and A National Park Londolozi Founders Camp L

Depending on the price of the private game reserve the standard of the accommodation can vary dramatically. However you usually get what you pay for and some lodges offer the very best in luxury accommodation in the world.