A South African Safari Adventure
Updated: Jan 2
For most, an African Safari is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Even the most spectacular photos cannot convey the feeling you get when a wandering elephant sticks its long, curious trunk in your jeep to take a sniff, or a pride of lions casually stroll by as if they are passing you on the street. You just never get used to seeing a hyena wander by as you’re eating dinner, or having to stop to give a momma warthog and her cubs the right of way.
Experiencing the African bush is life changing, but it requires thorough planning and preparation. From determining which season to travel in, to selecting an itinerary and getting the required shots, there are so many details involved and so little room for error. I’ve put together this guide to touch on some of the basics, but customizing an itinerary that meets your specific needs and expectations will ensure that your safari is everything you imagined and more.
Megan’s Safari Guide
Plan your safari with me for access to important guidance on:
When to go -- The seasons in South Africa are opposite of the US. Their summer provides greener, more lush backgrounds and scenery. It is prime birthing season, increasing your chances of seeing babies as they are born. Conversely, their winter is not as hot and the more barren landscape can often provide better viewing options. Also, the scarcity of food and water can provide more predictable location patterns.
What is required -- Understand what shots or medications are needed, where to get them and the required timelines. Plus, understand the option of malaria-free zones.
Who can go -- Most places require children to be at least nine years of age, though my recommendation would be teenagers and above. Because many camps are set in the middle of the bush where wildlife can pass through at any moment, there can be no loud voices, abrupt movements or running around. The same goes on safari rides which often require complete silence and stillness for safety. Guests must be respectful and able to obey all rules.
Plotting your trip -- Expert guidance on mapping out your trip to minimize travel time/difficulty (a six hour bumpy ride across the savanna is not how you want to spend your vacation!).
Conveniences -- Want access to laundry facilities? How about a concierge service to hold non-safari bags so you can easily pack for all aspects of your trip? Need help selecting your class of travel on your flights? I have the inside scoop on how to make your trip as easy as possible.
A Typical Day on Safari
Six nights is an ideal amount of time to spend on safari--enough time to experience the wildlife and not so much time that it takes away the allure. I recommend breaking it up into two or three different camps. This allows you to have some variety both in experiences and in animal sightings. Different camps are known for different things and having diverse options better positions you to see a large range of animals. Although each resort varies a bit on its offerings, most follow the same general daily schedule for safari outings.
Most jeeps seat six people in three rows--ensuring everyone has an excellent, exterior view of the scenery. The jeeps have a guide and a tracker. This duo stays with your entire journey so that they can easily keep track of what animals you have and have not seen, ensuring you get the most out of your adventure. The land is like their own backyard and it is mesmerizing to watch them navigate every nook and cranny.
Guides are in constant contact with other guides in the area to share information on animal sightings via radio. They want to show off the beauty of their land and its wildlife and do everything they can to ensure that you see as many animals as possible, with the Big Five game animals being Cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos.
The trackers, as their name implies, are in charge of looking for tracks--animals, insects, snakes, you name it. They can tell by simply examining the land and grass in an area where the wildlife has been and where they are going. One of our guides said looking at tracks is like “reading the morning newspaper,” it tells you everything you need to know about what happened the night before. It is really an art and fascinating to watch these experts at work.
The guides and trackers that lead you on safari are inviting you into their backyards and the animals that inhabit it are like family to them. One of my guides had been tracking three male lions since birth and had names for each of them. He knew their eating patterns and had seen their scars as they struggled for survival--something that is difficult for males once they leave the pride. When we found one of them, he was sleeping. That meant he had eaten the night before. Another was roaming around mid-day--not a good sign for his stomach. These little personal insights bring the animals to life.
The animals in the bush co-exist with one another--prey living next to predators.They have also become accustomed to visitors and associate safari jeeps, and the people in them, as being one large animal. That is why it is important for guests to remain quiet and still when they are in the presence of wildlife. No sudden movements, no noises and no arms or legs outside the vehicle. The animals respect the vehicles and will not bother them as long as these rules are followed. We once had a lion walk a foot from us as if we didn’t even exist! While the guides do carry a rifle for safety, they shared with me that they have never had to use it.
5:00 a.m.: A wake up call with coffee and muffins gives you some quick fuel before heading out on your morning game drive. This lasts approximately 4-5 hours. There is a mid-morning stop for a break where guests can stretch their legs and enjoy mimosas or the local Amarula (similar to Baileys) and coffee.
10:30 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.: Return to camp for a full breakfast. Enjoy a leisurely day--take a nap, swim in the pool, read or enjoy one of the various onsite activities which can include cooking classes, fitness classes or naturalist activities, depending on the property.
4:00 p.m.: Afternoon game drive, approximately 4-5 hours. About half-way through, stop for traditional “sundowners”--a gin and tonic served in beautifully colored South African glasses. The drive goes until dark and as the sun goes down, guides use special red lights to show the animals at night. When darkness takes over, it is “Cats' Time” --with their fear diminished, humans must return to camp.
8:00 p.m.: A large dinner is served back at camp. Afterwards, guests are escorted by an armed guard back to their rooms for their safety as animals can and do roam freely in many camps.
CAMPS AND RESORTS
Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, Johannesburg
After a 15 hour flight, the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa is the perfect place to relax and regroup. Originally the Oppenheimer Family estate, the 10-acre property with a former mansion and stables offer a picturesque setting just outside the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.
Rooms are massive and beautifully decorated and the on-site spa feels like a welcome slice of heaven following a long day of travel. Guests can roam the lush grounds, lounge by the pool or enjoy the champagne bar. It is a great pit-stop before your safari adventure begins.
Book with me for the following Virtuoso amenities: Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability; Daily full breakfast for 2 per bedroom; Complimentary one-way private airport transfer (for maximum 4 persons); Two Complimentary 30 minute back, neck, shoulder massages; Complimentary Pressing of 2 items on day of arrival; Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
The largest and oldest private game reserve in South Africa, the Mala Mala Game Reserve shares a boundary with Kruger National Park. Unlike Kruger National Park, which is open to the public, Mala Mala is private, limiting access to guests only. This means that instead of seeing cars full of people lined up to see wildlife, you are able to experience the Big Five in a more intimate setting. It also means that guides are not restricted to established roads, but are free to wander and follow animals off-road as they wish, giving visitors much more access to wildlife.
Established in 1927, Mala Mala was the first safari camp and quickly became the industry standard. With an authentic African feel, tribal colors and decor, it is a great place to begin your safari journey. Accommodations range from luxury suites to multi-bedroom family villas and there are ample areas to relax and unwind around the property. All meals are included in the cost.
Best Part: Mala Mala is optimally positioned. While they can never guarantee an animal sighting--this is the wild afterall--we were able to see four of the Big Five in just our first two hours at Mala Mala!
Book with me for the following Virtuoso amenities: Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability; Daily full breakfast included in hotel rates; Complimentary round-trip airport transfers to/from Skukuza Airport; Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
Set on the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Lion Sands Game Reserve has multiple accommodation options, from its adults-only Ivory Sands to its kid-friendly River Lodge. For guests seeking the ultimate in privacy, multi-room villas are available complete with a private pool.
Regardless of property location, Lion Sands offers a more contemporary African feel in terms of its decor. Its impeccable attention to detail and access to privacy often attracts celebrities. Themed dinners are served at the lodges each night under the stars. All meals and drinks are included, though premium alcohol is an upgrade.
Book with me for the following Virtuoso amenities: Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability (at River Lodge only); Daily breakfast, already included in rates; When staying at River, Tinga, or Narina lodge, guests receive a 30-minute Aroma Bush massage per person, once per stay; When staying at Ivory Lodge, guests will instead receive a 60-minute massage per person, once per stay; Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
If you have your sites set on the ultimate in luxury, Sangita Game Reserve is the place to be--even the safari jeeps are top notch. Choose from accommodations in the Boulders Lodge (more modern upscale and traditional), Ebony Lodge (old-world explorer decor) or the private farmhouse, Castleton (ideal for groups and outfitted with a full staff.)
Private pools, a fitness center, an extensive wine cellar and childrens’ programs are just some of the many offerings across the various lodging options. The service is out of this world and foodies will rejoice over the five star meals.
Best Part: The food and wine set the gold standard among safari destinations.
Book with me for the following Virtuoso amenities: Full English breakfast already included in rates (as are all meals); A Virtuoso gift to the value of $100 per couple (Please note that the gift is applicable for full paying guests only. Children who are paying a reduced rate do not qualify for this gift, they will be awarded an appropriate gift/activity set); Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
This intimate, 10-room lodge is set in the Timbavati Reserve. Its communal feel lends itself to being rented out by a family or a group of friends. The open air lobby spills out onto a grassy area with a pool and the indoor and outdoor relaxation spaces seem to segue right into one another.
Unlike many other lodges, its small nature allows it to be fenced in. This enables guests to walk around outside at night without concern about animals.
Best part: The entire experience feels very personalized--even the safari jeeps hold only a maximum of four people.
See more of South Africa
Not ready to leave South Africa yet? I can help you augment your safari trip with side trips to:
Victoria Falls: Visit the world’s largest waterfall surrounded by spectacular gorges and a natural infinity pool called The Devil’s Pool
Beach trips to places like Tofo beach in Mozambique, the Zanzibar region of Tanzania, the spectacular island of Mauritius and more
Visit Capetown and experience the South African wine country