Table Mountain National Park (Cape Town and Cape Peninsula, Western Cape): With so much natural, unfettered beauty so startlingly close to a major city, it's easy to forget that vast portions of the horn-shaped protruding peninsula that makes up Africa's most southwesterly point is actually a preserve, not only for an entire plant kingdom and free-roaming wild animals, but for some of the most splendid mountain and coastal scenery on the planet. You can easily see it by bike, car, or cableway -- by why not hike from Table Mountain's Signal Hill all the way to Cape Point? -- and discover that nature herself made Cape Town one of the world's favorite city destinations, and certainly Africa's most beautiful.
De Hoop Nature Reserve (Whale Coast, Western Cape): A magnificent coastal reserve featuring deserted beaches, interesting rock pools, beautiful fynbos (uniquely diverse shrublands), a wetland with more than 200 bird species, and a number of small game, but for many, the best reason to come here is because it offers some of the best land-based whale-watching in the world.
Tsitsikamma National Park (Garden Route, Western Cape): Stretching from Storms River Mouth to Nature's Valley, this coastline is best explored on foot via the 5-day Otter Trail. If the trail is full or you're pressed for time, take the 1km (1/2-mile) walk to the mouth, or complete the first day of the Otter Trail, which terminates at a beautiful waterfall.
Goegap Nature Reserve (Namaqualand, Northern Cape): This is one of the best places in Namaqualand to witness the floral transformation after the first spring rains. A recommended way to explore the reserve is to hire a bike and complete the two trails that traverse the reserve. Grazing among the flowers are zebra, springbok, and the stately gemsbok, or oryx.
Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park (Northern Cape): This is one of the largest conservation areas in Africa -- twice the size of Kruger -- yet because of the long distances you need to travel to reach it, this desert reserve is seldom included in the first visitor's itinerary. Pity, for it is starkly beautiful, with red dunes, blond grasses, and sculptural camelthorn trees contrasting with cobalt-blue skies. Despite its aridity, the reserve supports a number of predators, including the famed black-maned "Kalahari" lion, hyena, wild dog, and cheetah.
Addo Elephant National Park (Eastern Cape): The main game-viewing area is compact, but this is the place to see elephant by the ton -- the Addo herds are famously relaxed around visitors and will pass a hair's breadth away from your car without blinking; you're also almost sure to see baggy-skinned babies up to mischief, chasing warthogs at the waterholes and whatnot. What's more, Addo extends from the edge of the Karoo to the coast -- so there are whales and sharks as well as the Big 5.
Madikwe Game Reserve (North-West): Rapidly gathering momentum as one of the country's most sought-after getaways, this 75,000-hectare (185,250-acre) reserve offers highly diverse eco-zones (including Kalahari sandveld), allowing it to support an unusual range of species -- which is why it's been dubbed the Magnificent 7 reserve (cheetahs and wild dogs in addition to the usual suspects). Best of all, it's malaria free.
Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province): One of Africa's greatest game parks, with probably the best-developed infrastructure, Kruger is the most cost-effective, do-it-yourself way to go on safari. Most accommodations are pretty basic but clean, functional, and affordable, and the park teems with wildlife. Good news for connoisseurs is that there are an increasing number of classy private concessions, where the finest lodgings are available -- for a price.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal): This World Heritage Site encompasses five distinct ecosystems, includes the croc-rich estuary, swamp and dune forests, and the Mkhuze savanna and offshore coral reefs. It is also close to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, the province's largest Big 5 reserve, which supports Africa's densest rhino population (both black and white).
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (KwaZulu-Natal): The Drakensberg in its entirety is spectacular, but if you have time to visit only one region, head north for the Amphitheatre. One of the most magnificent rock formations in Africa, it is also the source of South Africa's major rivers: the Vaal, the Orange, and the Tugela. Rolling grasslands, breathtaking views, and crystal-clear streams can be explored only on foot or horseback.
The Victoria Falls National Park (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe): This World Heritage Site offers the most stupendous views of the 1,000m-wide (3,280-ft.) falls, and the constant spray, crowned by a permanent rainbow, sustains a lush and verdant rainforest.
Moremi Game Reserve (Botswana): No visit to Botswana would be complete without a trip to Moremi, which makes up much of the eastern shores of the delta and offers arguably the best game-viewing in southern Africa, though the more exclusive experiences are to be had on the many concessions that border the reserve.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.