National Parks, Reserves & Conservancies

They're not all the same

We are often asked what the difference is between national parks, reserves, and conservancies. And each time our answer remains the same: Each offers a completely unique safari experience depending on the priorities of your trip. 

If you’d love to gain a better understanding, we’re here to offer some basic clarity with a rundown of the pros and cons below. Just remember, not all countries and regions are the same. National parks, reserves, and conservancies in Africa are all special in their own way.

National parks vs reserves vs conservancies – a simple explanation

Private reserves and conservancies display high proactivity concerning advanced wildlife management strategies, community development, and sustainable tourism practices. When visiting, you’ll not only get a front-row seat to their efforts but have total peace of mind that your stay is directly supporting their continuity. What also stands out with private reserves and conservancies along national park borders is how they help to increase the area for wildlife to roam. Conservancies and private reserves encourage biodiversity rejuvenation (rewilding) of previously overfarmed or overdeveloped land. 

In this regard, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is a true standout with its extensive habitat restoration projects. It is currently investing heavily in carbon offsets and land restoration through an unlikely hero: the humble, hardy Spekboom (‘pigtree’). 

As government-operated establishments, national parks generally have limited resources to manage and protect their wildlife and key habitats. While conservation practices are there, they’re not at the level you’ll experience within private reserves and conservancies. 

ATC tip: Want to ensure your safari choices are ethical, be it at national parks, reserves, and Conservancies? We only partner with local operators, lodges, and camps that recognize the importance of sustainable land use, human empowerment, and wildlife preservation. 

Conservation and sustainability

Private reserves and conservancies display high proactivity concerning advanced wildlife management strategies, community development, and sustainable tourism practices. When visiting, you’ll not only get a front-row seat to their efforts but have total peace of mind that your stay is directly supporting their continuity. What also stands out with private reserves and conservancies along national park borders is how they help to increase the area for wildlife to roam. Conservancies and private reserves encourage biodiversity rejuvenation (rewilding) of previously overfarmed or overdeveloped land. 

In this regard, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is a true standout with its extensive habitat restoration projects. It is currently investing heavily in carbon offsets and land restoration through an unlikely hero: the humble, hardy Spekboom (‘pigtree’). 

As government-operated establishments, national parks generally have limited resources to manage and protect their wildlife and key habitats. While conservation practices are there, they’re not at the level you’ll experience within private reserves and conservancies. 

ATC tip: Want to ensure your safari choices are ethical, be it at national parks, reserves, and Conservancies? We only partner with local operators, lodges, and camps that recognize the importance of sustainable land use, human empowerment, and wildlife preservation. 

Kwandwe Game Reserve
Kwandwe Reserve

Rhino research & conservation in action at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa

Accommodation accessability

If you need to stretch your dollar and possibly even prefer to self-drive, a national park proves the better option. Although you may have to travel longer distances to find animals, there are more accommodation options available at lower price points. That’s good news for last-minute availability and those on a budget, but not so great for those who want to feel the remoteness of the wild without another car, camera, or selfie stick in sight. 

Some national parks like Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft are so expansive that you may not see another visitor for miles! But to guarantee a 100% crowd-free safari, we highly recommend aiming for private reserves and conservancies. 

ATC tip: Smaller, intimate lodges and camps are available in national parks. If you’re discerning about where you stay, you can still enjoy an uninterrupted experience without breaking the bank.

Wildlife sightings

One of the most important aspects of any safari is the wildlife – what you’ll see and how you’ll see it. While parks and reserves span vast geographic areas typically encompassing water systems and migration pathways (The Serengeti and Chobe National Park), this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always witness a higher volume of wildlife. 

Borders between national parks and adjoining conservancies or private reserves are largely unfenced, allowing wildlife to wander freely between these areas. So, even though conservancies are much smaller in size, animals aren’t always concentrated in one area alone. 

What makes viewing so exceptional at private camps in reserves and conservancies is the quality of guides and trackers you’ll have at your side. These highly experienced individuals are top-tier and know the bush like the back of their hand. With the added benefit of being able to venture off-road, their skill in navigating the terrain is unmatched. They’re the crème de la crème of the safari guide world, with confidence, attention to detail, story-telling ability, and a total infatuation with the wilderness (and Africa) as a whole. 

ATC tip: Many of our guests have returned with life-changing encounters in Africa’s top national parks. Ultimately, nature is unpredictable, and it often boils down to being in the right place at the right time.

National parks vs private reserves in high season

Specialized activities

When it comes to activities, private reserves, and conservancies generally offer a more specialized experience with varied activities such as guided walks, horse rides, sleep-outs, bush dining, night drives, and specialized experiences centered around local communities and wildlife conservation (think Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa). Due to a higher staff-to-guest ratio, guides have more freedom to tailor your experience, ensuring you maximize your time in the bush. 

ATC tip: Activities offered on safari also depend on the lodge or camp you stay at. Some of our guests have experienced their most unusual and phenomenal sightings in national parks right outside their bedroom window!

The bottom line...

So there you have it, everything you need to know about the differences between national parks, reserves, and conservancies. While national parks offer a great diversity in animal sightings and scenery, ultimately what you pay for at private reserves and conservancies is the intimacy paired with exceptional service, amenities, and expertise. 

All three options offer distinct advantages and disadvantages which is why we encourage travelers to give each a chance. A combination of these throughout your travels often proves a winning formula since it allows you to decide for yourself what you like and what you don’t. 

National Parks, Reserves, and Conservancies

The process of planning a safari can become overwhelming unless you have access to the right tips and information. If you’re feeling stuck, our team is always here to help.

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