Hi and good morning! I wanted to write these South African Safari recaps partly for myself, but partly because everyone is asking about details of a safari. So, I figure having the details in one place where I can refer people to would be helpful. Plus, maybe it’s a bucket list trip for some of you?
We took this trip to South Africa as a family vacation. My mom is the one who actually inspired it, as she has always wanted to do a safari. And then the more my dad researched it, the more real it became. Through friends and acquaintances, he learned about a guy who helped families plan safari trips to South Africa. He accompanies them on the trips, as he has been countless times. So, we felt comfortable having him help us plan this trip. While I never thought I’d travel to the continent of Africa, this trip made it possible for me. And after going, I’m so thankful and grateful that I had the opportunity to go because it was amazing!
As far as logistics, we spent about four days at a Game Reserve in South Africa, just outside of Kruger National Park. Then, we spent two days in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, another place I never dreamed of traveling to. I’ll probably do separate posts to recap them since they were each different environments.
After flying out of JFK on Saturday morning on a 15 hour flight, we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sunday morning. Note: They are 7 hours ahead of us in the US in east coast time. Here’s a picture of the whole crew before the flight.
I did some reading, movie watching and podcast listening on the flight. I tried to sleep but couldn’t – I did end up resting my eyes a lot though. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted when we arrived, yet we had the whole day in front of us.
Upon landing, we then took a smaller, private plan to our private game reserve where we would be staying for the first 4 nights. I enjoyed looking over the terrain, and as we got closer to landing, we could actually spot some wild animals!
Each of the four days had a similar structure – we would wake up at 5am for some coffee/tea and light snacks (biscuits, cookies) before our 5:30am safari. We had to start early because it’s summer in South Africa and it would be in the 90’s by 9am. Also, this is the best time to see the wild animals out before the heat of the day. I had a hard time adjusting to the time change initially, but it did get easier to wake up that early because it got light between 4-4:30am where we were staying.
Then, we would be out on the safari for 3-4 hours (usually with a coffee/snack break in between), and would return by 9-9:30 am for a large breakfast. We would then have a few hours before lunch at 2, where we would nap, relax by the pool, workout, read, etc. And after lunch, we would leave for the afternoon safari around 4pm. We’d be home for dinner by 8-8:30 and then get up and do it again. The food was amazing and plentiful – each course usually had numerous things to choose from. Me and baby never had to worry about going hungry! I actually suffered from the opposite – being too full at times.
This vacation was different than any other I’ve ever been on for many reasons. First of all, it was very regimented and not a “relaxing travel vacation.” Though we had some windows of flexibility, it had to be regimented because we had guides and safari tour guides leading us, and they knew when/where to find the animals. We were also dictated by weather and heat. Secondly, it wasn’t the most active vacation. I managed to work out at the gym a couple times throughout the course of our trip, but there wasn’t much walking or exercise involved. It was dangerous to walk around the grounds – animals are always roaming!
Animals in the Wild
I pretty quickly realized how absolutely amazing it is to see animals roaming in the wild, in their natural habitat. It is so unlike anything you could ever see or feel at a zoo, where you have some protection. Here in the African bush grounds, these animals are out wild, doing what they have to do to catch their prey, eat and survive. Yet, I didn’t feel scared. I was just in awe to see some of the beauty of these animals up close. I have so much more respect for the animal kingdom and circle of life now after our days of guided safari touring.
By the end of day 2, we had seen the Big 5. We were quite fortunate to see them all that quickly so we were told – sometimes people don’t even get to see them all during their stay. The “Big 5” refers to the 5 wild (dangerous) animals: elephants, leopards, rhinos, lions and buffalos. They were explained to us like this: They are the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot and if you threatened them, they could kill you.
Just the sheer size of these animals was jaw-dropping. We got up close and personal with so many elephants throughout the trip. I feel like much more of an elephant expert. Did you know they eat 12-18 hours/day?! They are also faster than they look, and can get aggressive. We saw mom’s with their babies, groups of elephants (a “memory” of elephants), and even elephants showing hostility towards a Rhino for coming to drink out of their water.
We saw giraffes eat from the tallest trees. They are such majestic animals. We also saw zebras, rhinos, hyenas, vultures, and a variety of antelopes and birds, each going about their own business living each day. It was so cool to just be a bystander and observe the products of nature.
The area we stayed in had many other game reserves nearby with guests who were on the same sort of safari schedule as us. All of the safari drivers and trackers would keep in touch with each other. If they saw a rarer animal or one of the “Big 5,” they would radio to one another, so other groups could try and navigate to it. The leopard and lion were highest on my list – they are a little harder to find and obviously very well known predators.
When we found out there was a leopard out and in the open, our guide drove straight there. Of course, the guide doesn’t tell you what you’re in for (it’s always a surprise). But, the anticipation is always there when you’re scanning the environment. We saw the leopard just chilling in the shade, about 10 yards away from the large antelope it had killed earlier in the day. While there was a little fear instilled in me in that moment, most of me felt like, “holy sh*t, there’s a leopard right there!” It is a huge animal, but BEAUTIFUL. The leopard skin is so much prettier and detailed up close.
We did a bush walk one morning, which can be dangerous because you’re on foot. The guides carry guns with them of course, but you still have to be alert. We mostly learned more about the birds, droppings of animals, and habitats on this walk.
One afternoon we even went to a local animal rehabilitation center. This is where animals who are injured out in the wild come to “rehab” before going back out to the wild. We saw cheetas (which I got to pet!), lions, wild dogs, leopards, vultures, and honey badgers. It really makes you appreciate these animals for so much more than just mean animals to kill. They are doing what they do to survive in their habitat. So, thinking about the killing and poaching of these animals was very sad.
We had a ton of fun outside of the safari’s too. One afternoon, we came home to learn that monkeys had learned how to open the doors of the house and grabbed the apples.
They hung around all afternoon, trying to steal whatever food they could (which was mostly snacks from my mom’s purse). They were so funny to watch and pretty cute. Another night, we had a sing along with the staff members while my brother sang and played guitar. I’m grateful for the memories not only of the animals and actual safari experiences, but also for the people we met and got to know along the way. The memories we made as a family are untouchable.
Would you ever do a safari? Are you an animal person?
Favorite wild animal? I think mine is now an elephant! They’re so cute!