My Wish List:
- Win the Powerball and go into the Witness Protection Program
- Accidentally walk in on Channing Tatum taking a shower
- Go on an African safari
Somehow, the third one seems the most attainable. But to be honest, I was never sure what – outside of seeing and photographing big game – an African safari would encompass. Do you just lay around in a tent all day clutching mosquito netting? Do you have to kill your dinner?
As it turns out, there are some big differences between safari vacations, and one big similarity.
The similarity is that virtually all safaris include twice daily “game drives” – the element we’re all familiar with – where you’re taken out in an ATV with guides to watch and photograph big game. (The “Big 5” are lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinoceros; but there are also giraffes, zebras, hyenas, wildebeests and dozens more). These game drives are, of course, the single most memorable element of any safari, because you can often get within a few feet of these majestic creatures. (Generally speaking, try not to be wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress at the time.)
Drives are done in the early morning (usually before breakfast) and evening. (Evening is when the majority of “kills” happen, since this is feeding time for many species.)
But from here, safaris begin to diverge.
Let’s use Kruger National Park as our frame of reference, since it’s considered the premier big game park in South Africa. Within Kruger, there are a number of safari camps, from budget to luxury – and it’s the price point that offers less or more options to the safari traveler.
The budget camps – which vary between camping and semi-glamping in terms of price and accommodations – feature shorter game drives, with less experienced guides. Even these, of course, will likely offer some excitement; they just won’t feature as much big game overall, since highly experienced trackers are key.
And budget safari camps offer little in terms of mid-day activities (those hours in between your morning and evening game drives). So, bring a good book, because you’ll have no TV and a lot of hours to kill.
At the luxury end of the spectrum in Kruger National Park (including Brand g’s African safari and land tour vacations for 2017 & 2018), you’ll be at a camp like Sabi Sabi, which has four different 5-star camps on its grounds. (“Camp” is a misnomer, since all the accommodations are air conditioned, villa-type suites – no tents.) The camps have been voted World’s Best by both Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure.
At Sabi Sabi, hunting has been banned for over half a century, which not only makes for an abundance of big game, but means that the animals are more relaxed in the presence of the safari vehicles, because they know you’re not there to kill them.
(Side note: At Sabi Sabi, small monkeys and other innocuous animals are allowed to roam the grounds, but the camps are surrounded by fencing to keep the predatory animals out. Interestingly, they ask that you close the doors and windows when you leave your suite; one couple didn’t, and came back to find monkeys rummaging through their things.)
But aside from the luxurious digs, the Sabi Sabi camps also understand that guests sometimes need diversions. They offer bush walks with expert naturalists, a spa, and elaborate dining. So, in between game drives, you can hit the walking trails, have a mud bath or hot stone massage, and dine on incredibly fresh, locally sourced meals, with wine from their 6,000 bottle wine cellar. Some of their suites even include plunge pools.
With that said – virtually no safari camps, budget or luxury, have TV’s, so if you’re addicted to Real Housewife reruns, load them onto your iPad. While the luxury camps want you to have diversions, they also want you to commune with nature, and it’s hard to do that when Teresa Giudice is turning over tables in the background.
Dining is a big focus of the luxury safari camps. Your dinner meal, in particular, will be quite the exotic, multi-course affair. (They will make simpler meals for those who are less adventurous.) Nothing caps an evening game drive quite like a glamorous, al fresco dinner with award-winning South African wines.
So, that, in a nutshell, is what a safari is like. Depending on your budget, you can enjoy decent game drives and a good book in some type of tented accommodations; or even better game drives and a variety of activities in a luxury villa.
Sadly, the majority of travelers go on a package safari trip that starts and ends with the safari. They never see any of the rest of South Africa, which is a shame when you’re flying 20 or more hours to get there. Africa is a place many people will likely only visit once, so why not try to stay and see some of the other spectacular sights?
Here’s a link to another blog post on the other incredible things to see in South Africa:
And here’s a video on Sabi Sabi: