being elliott south africa

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!

african safari

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!

african elephant

 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!

african safari campingafrican safari zebra

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.

eco camp african safari

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


  1. I loved the photography in this post and yes, a good idea to pack warm clothes and manage expectations. I’m British but have been living in East Africa for 17 years and blogging about life here for 10. Right now I am looking out of the window in Nairobi at a very rain soaked garden. The unexpected happens a lot and life is never boring. Thanks for your post and for inspiring people to visit. The reality is so different from those news headlines that you read.

  2. “Africa can be cold.” Love this. I often have people ask me whether it will be too hot when they go to Africa. They don’t realise it’s a huge continent with such different climatic zones.

  3. I love this article. I enjoy your perspective so much, Brynn! Thank you for taking the time to share about your experience. It’s so cool to see that places all over the globe are going green and eco-friendly. Even places in the middle of the bush in Africa. Can’t wait to read about your next adventure!


  4. Reading this article I felt it was just one long advertisement for the eco lodge that the writer and her husband stayed at. There is nothing of substance nor helpful in this article. There is so much more to explore and it really both saddens and angers when people take such trips and do not immerse them fully into the experience. I want to read about the people, the food, the music, any moments that brought you to your knees in gratitude. I traveled to Africa just over 15 years ago and it was the trip that filled me with awe for life. Really when I made it back to NYC I was changed a person. I met incredible people, spending time in both major cities and small villages and learning so much from everyone whom I crossed paths with – whether a child or an elder. I heard stories I would never forget and they were so generous, inviting me into their homes and offering what food they had. And just seeing mother nature – in all her wildness and freeness. Every day I cried. Each moment for me on that trip was just so tender. In many ways it felt like a part of that I had always known existed within me found it’s way home. Perhaps part of that feeling comes from me being Puerto Rican – a mix of Taino, Spaniard and African. For the first time I explored the African part of my heritage. Or perhaps part of that feeling comes from remembering that so many communities around the world have been torn apart and exploited by people with means – people with wealth and status. Being Africa – and yes I did a safari while I was there – reminded me that the world is much bigger than I perceive it and define it – that so many other voices are missing from the narrative of life. Like another commenter insinuated – let’s see more by other people. Lets get stories that fill our minds with pictures that compel us to visit that place. This article does none of that.

    1. Hi Jeannette. You might want to read about a young American couple’s one-year African adventure in their blog “World Pursuit”. It makes great reading, is full of excellent advice, and most of their time in Africa they travelled overland on their own..

  5. I really appreciate the fact this article breaks through steriotypical views of Africa and the safari experience. Anyone who reads the entire article can appreciate the conservation approach which is taking place on true safaris. With all the media hype and movie images about Africa thrown at Americans, I appreciate how Ms Watkins explains the conservation efforts and tells how someone can gain an appreciation for the land and the beautiful wildlife. Helping conserve the beauty while seeing great things is a wonderful concept. The photos are fantastic, too! Bravo to Darling and Ms Watkins! I’m ready to go explore! I want to check out this experience! .

  6. I enjoyed the insight and the way Brynn shows safari is an eco-minded experience. I love her info on being immersed in the experience and her appreciation for the wildlife and the Eco-Camp she experienced.

  7. How to Write about Africa (satire) by Binyavanga Wainaina, “Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title.”

    I hope to see more travel guides based on different cities within the African continent written by people (including Africans themselves!) who expect more than “Tarzan togas and cute khaki shorts.” I mean, really. There is so much more to explore.

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