Last updated: 9th September 2021
Our main reason for travelling to South Africa was to go on a bucket list safari. Having never done a safari, we didn’t know what to expect, so we booked a couple of options. A 2 day safari at Kruger National Park and a big 5 game reserve near Cape Town at the Aquila Private Game Reserve which we’ll tell you all about in this post and if it’s worth the money.
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Big 5 Safari Near Cape Town
The Aquila Private Game Reserve located in South Karoo, 2 hours from Cape Town is heavily advertised in luxury Cape Town hotels as “the best way to go on a safari just 2 hours from Cape Town”. We noticed the Aquila reserve also featured on the BBC tv series The Apprentice. It all looked and sounded good, so we paid for the Morning Safari Full Day Tour. We were both really excited about what it was going to be like.
Morning Safari Full Day Tour Itineary
- 06:00 Depart Cape Town hotel and drive to Aquila
- 09.00 Fizz welcome drink and check in
- 09.15 Breakfast
- 10.15 Safari game drive
- 13.15 Buffet lunch
- 14.00 Leisure time
- 16.00 Drive back to Cape Town
- 18.00 Arrival Cape Town
Getting to the Aquila Private Game Reserve
We were picked up by the Aquila minibus from our hotel in Cape Town at 6am and started our 2 hour drive. Despite the early start, getting there was a lovely drive through the mountains past vast numbers of vine filled fields. Although we did feel a little uneasy about the warning signs on the road “Hijacking Spot For The Next 30km” and “Danger Zone – Do Not Stop On Freeway”.
We were shocked to pass a township in a beautiful valley. Until then we thought townships were just urban, limited to cities, but no, there’s a real contrast between rich and poor even in the rural countryside.
Breakfast On Arrival
Once we arrived at the Aquila Game Reserve we checked in with a welcome drink and paid our £300. We went straight through to the restaurant for the buffet breakfast. It was very busy with lots people and fairly well organised.
The Aquila Game Reserve is set in 10,000 hectares that’s 38 square miles. This region of South Africa on the Western Cape is not known for game reserves because it has a very dry environment. It was good to hear Aquila does conservation work at their reserve and cares for many rescued animals.
Our Morning Safari Game Drive
Time to board our vehicle for our morning safari, and before we knew it we were off! Both excited with anticipation of what we might see on our game drive. The terrain of the Aquila Game Reserve is rocky and hilly. The vehicle truck seats about 30 people and is very bouncy and bumpy, so be warned it’s like being on a fairground ride! What struck us was how Aquila’s landscape is very barren and sparse with very little shelter for the animals as there’s no large trees to provide shade or food for giraffes to munch on.
Our guide/driver was excellent and shared lots of stories about the animals and stopping to point out different things. We loved all his animal trivia – Did you know a giraffe can kill a lion with a leg kick? and it takes a pride of lions to kill a giraffe. You can’t ride a zebra because they have a weak spine, which is how lions can kill zebras because they know to attack its back. Oh and if you are being attacked by an ostrich lie on your stomach right away as the ostrich can’t kick that low. If you have a bald head then it may think you are an egg and will sit on it for 6 months!
Some more trivia – You can recognise a poorly zebra because it will have a limp maine. Did you know the ostrich is the world’s largest bird? A male ostrich is black, whilst a female has brown feathers.
Before we knew it the game drive was over! It lasted 2.5 hours with a refreshment and loo stop at the foot of some mountains.
The Big 5 – BRELL
Our guide taught us ‘BRELL‘ the easiest way to remember The Big 5 – Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard. Sadly we didn’t see the Big 5 this time only four – just missing the elusive leopard. However we did see hippopotamus, rhino, buffalo, giraffes, wildebeest, springbok, zebras, ostriches, lions, baboons and different types of antelopes.
Lunch & Leisure Time
After lunch you have a couple of hours and can enjoy the loungers and swimming pool included in the price. Or pay and book optional extras like Spa treatments, horse back riding or quad biking. We ordered some drinks from the bar and Phil went swimming, whilst watching the animals in the distance with his binoculars. Garth chilled out in the shade and used the free WiFi.
Our Verdict on the Aquila Private Game Reserve Safari
The service at Aquila was good and it has a nice upmarket feel and looks like it would be a nice place to stay overnight or try the spa. BUT overall we thought the safari felt like Jurassic Park. Mainly because our truck had to enter different gates that fenced off animals from each other. The lions are kept in a separate enclosure and fed meat, so they don’t hunt. You also see the lions straight away, you don’t have to search them out, so that part didn’t feel wild or natural. There’s also lots of other groups of tourists, so that means you pass lots of trucks. If you think of it as a ride through a big zoo rather than a safari that should give you a better idea of what to expect. Whilst we enjoyed our day trip to Aquila, it’s not wild, we easily preferred our ‘out in the bush’ wild safari experience at the Kruger National Park because it felt more authentic having to search or go on a chase for animals in a bigger and more wild environment. It’s also very expensive we weren’t sure if it’s worth the money, maybe if there had been another game drive after lunch that might have satisfied us a lot more.
- Good if you want to see a lot of animals in a short space of time.
- It’s a private game reserve near Cape Town. Just 2 hours away.
- You’ll get good photographs as you get very close to the animals at times.
- If you are only visiting Cape Town then it’s an alternative to a Kruger National Park Safari.
- It caters well for families and children.
- It’s very expensive.
- We felt it had the feeling of a zoo because its managed and animals are fenced off from each other.
- It’s not really a game drive, we didn’t have to search far for animals unlike a wild safari.
Aquila Big 5 Safari Practical Information & Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Aquila Safari Tips
- Tip #1: Don’t sit at the truck at the back. Sit in the middle, where the wheels are for the smoothest ride.
- Tip #2: Pack your swimming shorts if you decide to go for a dip.
- Tip #3: Take a book to read for the few hours you have to relax.
- Tip #4: Dress in neutral colours to avoid spooking the animals.
- Tip #5: Take suncream and water with you.
How We Did It
- Our Morning Safari Full Day Tour cost us R1,990 per person (£202 for 2 people)
- Transfers from Cape Town to Aquila R940 per person (£95 for 2 people)
- We stayed at The Glen hotel in Cape Town who booked and organised the trip for us.
- We this tagged this day trip on the end of our 2 week tour of South Africa.