Shamwari - Certainly the best known..
"Best" is always a tricky thought, however. It would be easy to say "you get what you pay for" and that has an element of truth in the Eastern Cape. There are numerous smaller private reserves with good accommodation and staff, pretty reliable wildlife experiences. Addo is also a great place to visit where you actually get MORE than you pay for. But Shamwari and perhaps Kwandwe would be generally considered to be the "best".
In the end, if cost is irrelevant in your decision, Shamwari would be my suggestion. If cost IS a significant factor, move down to the group at the next price point, look at their web sites to see the size of the reserve, the nature of the lodging. Find reviews of them here on TA by entering the name of any property in the window next to the word "Search" on the upper left of every TripAdvisor web page and see what visitors have had to say about it.
As Dave points out, 'best' is very subjective - there are a lot of things which go into the game reserve experience!
Personally I'd recommend Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape - I place a high premium on lower vehicle density and Kwandwe only has two lodges and two small villas in a larger reserve. The guiding is also excellent. (On the other hand, the larger number of lodges at Shamwari does give you a bigger choice in terms of accommodation, and their guides are very good as well.)
Owner, Timeless Africa
I can't tell you which is the best, only comment on the 2 places I stayed. I stayed 5 days at Great Fish River 1 night was free. Since I travelled solo not paying a supplement at this lodge was a bonus. The cabin I stayed in was a short walk from the lodge along a beautiful river valley. I saw many beautiful birds along the trail. Since I stayed during the winter I was woke at 0700 hrs, ate breakfast 0730 - 0830 they had many choices. Went on a game drive at 0900 until 1200 at which time we ate in the bush sometimes and others back at the lodge. One day in the bush we had fish skewers and wild game burritos. We then had another game drive until around 1800 hrs. Then went to the lodge and drank the local beers or wine (included in price) until 1930-2000 hrs then had dinner. Each night had a choice of soup or appertiser and a choice of 2 entres (usually game or fish/chichen) lots of food and well prepared. I saw rinos, elephants, lions, cheetahs, buffalo, many antelope and birds, zebra, giraffe approx. 60 different animals.
I also went to Gorah Elephant camp. I had to pay a 25% single supplement and the beers were 16 rand or 20 rand for heineken. Had two game drives each day. Since this is next too Addo national park its very big and spred out. Saw many animals there also but more difficult because of the tall grass. At Gorah stayed in a tent which was very nice. The food was very good but the only choice you had was the soup. Part of the game drive was at night so we saw springhare and spotted eagle owls.
Because I saw more animals at Kwandwe I would give it the edge since they could drive off the gravel/dirt roads.
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