Before I was born, my parents went on their first African safari. Growing up, I heard stories of their experience and looked at pictures of lions and giraffes and zebras. I listened in amazement as my dad described their off-road adventures, and I’ve wanted to go on my own safari ever since.
Recently, my husband and I were given that unforgettable experience by Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa. In spite of my parent’s stories, nothing prepared me for experiencing a safari first-hand. Oh, I can tell you the trip was glorious and predictably out-of-this world. But there were a few unpredictable discoveries that I also made on my first safari.
1. Africa can be cold.
Africa is, of course, a huge continent full of diverse climates, but African photos all seem to look excruciatingly hot. Deserts and jungle — right? Tarzan togas and cute khaki shorts — correct? Not quite. Even in the summer, early morning or evening temperatures can be very cold. On top of that, riding in an open vehicle in search of wildlife can be a breezy experience. There were many times I’d have to curl up next to my husband and hide under a scarf while driving around. It was a great, albeit chilly, experience! Be sure to bring a light jacket and versatile scarf!
2. Be willing to accept the fact you might not see every animal you’ve encountered in the zoo.
Some safaris guarantee you’ll see every animal. This usually means they are not authentic safaris. Reality is, you may see some animals in cages before hitting the trail. Buyer beware. A proper safari won’t guarantee you’ll see every animal. Do your research. The best safaris are eco-minded. They have highly skilled rangers working with you to locate animals and teach you. They help you explore land masses set aside to preserve the native wildlife.
There is a delicate balance on safari. Something beautiful can be gained by connecting with the environment in a real way, leaving no drastic footprint. The environment controls you. You do not control the environment. Seeing wonderful wildlife is just icing on the cake.
For the record, we saw TONS of animals on our safari at Gondwana Game Reserve in Mossel Bay. This lovely reserve will teach you LOTS. It also takes your breath away. I would recommend Gondwana to anyone!
Something beautiful can be gained by connecting with the environment in a real way, leaving no drastic footprint. The environment controls you. You do not control the environment.
3. Being on safari does not always mean roughing it.
Africa has some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. If you do one quick search online for safari lodges in Africa, you’ll see what I mean. At first, it may seem odd to have such luxury on safari, but luxury serves a purpose. Game reserves offer beautiful accommodations to bring visitors from all over the world. This generates the income necessary to preserve the environment. At Gondwana, even my “tent” experience featured a full-size bed with scented sheets I could snuggle in as I watched zebra graze outside my canvas shelter! I LOVED luxury on safari!
4. You can really get “up close and personal” with the animals!
Even though you may be driving around in a vehicle, that doesn’t mean you’ll be far away from wild things. Quite the contrary! If the safari guide deems the animal safe, you may be just feet away from zebras and elephants or even lions and rhinos. I’m not going to lie, there were times when my heart skipped a couple beats!
5. You can get lost in the safari experience.
One of the most amazing parts of Gondwana Game Reserve was the opportunity to submerse yourself in the experience. We were in the first group to stay in a brand new facility called “Eco Camp.” Eco Camp puts you in the center of nature far away from all the other tourists. Eco Camp is 100% self-sustainable, including everything being run on solar power. You sleep in tents completely surrounded by the elements. There are no gates separating you from the animals. At any time, elephants or zebras…or even lions can walk up to your campsite. I’ll never forget the feeling of openness. It’s honestly hard for me to believe a place like this exists in the world, but it does. I can’t wait to return someday.
I hope you were able to learn something new about going on a safari. I also hope you’re able to experience a safari for yourself at least once in your lifetime. I guarantee you’ll walk away with a much greater appreciation and understanding of the land and its wildlife. You won’t regret it!
Have you been on an African safari?
Images via Aaron Craig