If anyone was to catch me off guard and ask me what my ideal getaway is, without having to think twice I would say that a dose of weekend R&R at a South African safari tops the list.
I suffer from a bad case of wanderlust, and I have yet to venture the world-renowned Masai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania, and the vast plains and wildlife reserves of Chobe in Botswana. However, I can proudly say that South Africa’s game reserves are heaven on earth.
A South African safari is a place to unwind, recharge your battery, and to soak in utter tranquility.
The gem at the tip of Africa has a lot to show off when it comes to wildlife, beauty, luxury, and recreation. These are the main reasons why I get all nostalgica at the thought of a South African Safari.
South Africa is home to numerous safaris which are also coined wildlife sanctuaries, game reserves, or bushvelds (Afrikaans for bos/bush + veld/field). South Africans love to say they are going to the “bush” when they speak of a safari getaway.
The most famous game reserve is undeniably the Kruger National Park in the North-East. (Chew on this: the Kruger is larger in surface area than the country I currently live in).
My personal favorite is the Pilanesberg game reserve just two hours from my hometown, Johannesburg. While all the parks have several ecosystems, especially the Kruger Park because of its sheer size, what characterises them the most is the shrubby and thorny vegetation earning them the term “bush”.
I adore these semi-arid savannah grasslands. For me, the beauty of nature is not only tropical jungles or exotic beaches; in fact, the South African safari is nature at its best.
It is really fun to spot the animals with binoculars and the naked eye; you really feel you have achieved something because the animals camouflage very well in these terrains. In fact, they camouflage so well that it is sometimes difficult to discern between a lion’s mane and the yellow shrubbery.
Umbrella thorn tree
Many of you will think of Disney’s Lion King when you see this tree because it’s on some of the film posters. Well, being a die-hard Disney fan myself, I did my research and according to an article published by MailOnline, I discovered that the Lion King is actually inspired by the Tanzanian Serengeti.
Disney actually sent their animators to East Africa to become familiar with the terrain. Olduvai Gorge is a canyon in Tanzania that is said to be the setting of the wildebeest stampede that killed Mufasa. I digress. When I see the umbrella thorn tree also present in South African vegetation, I know I’m in the bush, and all I can do is stare and smile.
Once you’re deep into the bush it is very unlikely that you’ll get signal and WiFi. At most there will be very minimal connection.
If you’re roughing it or camping, you will probably be cut off from the rest of the world for most of your trip. Say goodbye to emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever means of communication it may be. You can share that selfie with the giraffe later.
This is why the safari is the ultimate place to kick back. You are most probably with the people that matter most to you, so the only piece of technology you should have in your hands is a camera.
Just make sure you prepare beforehand when you pack, and that you take everything you need for the jeep ride or walk (in a safe zone that is).
Fortunately, on the aforementioned excursions you will be accompanied by an experienced and well-equipped guide/game ranger should there be any emergencies.
Elephants, whom I like to dub ellies, are my favourite wildlife animals. If the lion is known as the king of the jungle, then the elephant is the emperor.
South African safaris boast a diverse range of species, both flora and fauna, with the Big 5 topping the list. You have not had the full South African safari experience if you have not spotted the African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and the Rhinoceros.
What makes my heart sing with pure joy is when I get to witness a herd of elephants getting on with life right beside me. Some may think they are quite the raucous bunch trumpeting in the background, bashing down Marula trees only to get drunk off the fruit (I can totally identify – creamy Amarula liqueur made from the Marula fruit is delicious), and thumping around in packs, but, for me, an African elephant can teach us a thing or two about loyalty and family because of how they stick together and take care of their young.
I love their regal frame and soft brown eyes, but don’t be fooled by those because it’s not fun when you have an elephant charging at you. And lastly, a baby elephant calf will melt the toughest man’s heart when it sticks close by to its mother.
The best part of any safari is the jeep rides. They usually take place in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t so strong and the animals are out and about.
The jeeps come in different sizes, but all of them are open with plastic flaps should it rain. The window-free design lets you breathe in the fresh air and experience the wildlife in true National Geographic style.
The most important thing is to keep quiet even if you spot an animal and to listen to what the ranger says at all times. I love soaking in the early morning sunrise or the late afternoon sunset – it’s absolute bliss!
Red, yellow, orange, and gold make for the picturesque African sunset. After a fun-filled day, there is nothing better than to sip on a glass of vino while you enjoy a light dinner with a view; a very colorful one that is.
I love it when sunset comes around; it gives me the chance to reflect on the day and welcome in the night feeling rejuvenated and happy.
The safari regions are very much pollution-free and well-preserved, which means that the air is crisp and the sky is clear at night.
The perfect way to end a day in the warm sun spotting animals is to lie back, soak in the peacefulness, reflect, listen to nothing but the crickets chirping in the distance, and stare at the gleaming milky way. All you’ll need is a blanket, a hot flask of cocoa, binoculars to reveal the millions of stars, and your favourite person by your side. I have to say that this is extremely romantic, and a safari is definitely a textbook-perfect place for a couple during the day, at sunset, and at night.
It’s always great to enjoy this experience with someone who is savvy about the constellations and individual stars to make it somewhat educational.
Chalets & camping sites
What I love about a South African safari is that it caters for everyone. Whether you’re one to rough it and sleep in a safari tent in a camping site, or you prefer to end off the day in a bubble bath in a luxurious chalet decorated in true African style, the choice is yours and both are equally exhilarating.
The bush has different accommodation options: five-star chalets, comfortable lodges, basic cabins, and camping sites. Despite the differences, it is the decoration and styling that make the experience unique so that you feel like you’re deep inside nature, away from the hub of the city.
What’s a safari without potjiekos? This is especially for the ones braving the wilder side of life in the safari tents. All you need is a three-legged cast of iron pot called a potjie and wood or charcoal. Fear not if you forget the latter because dry animal dung works just as well to get a fire going.
Potjiekos is a traditional dish made with cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, cauliflower, potatoes or rice, and if you aren’t vegetarian, with meat. It is slow-cooked and makes for the perfect stew to place over pap made from white mielie-meal. Or you can opt for some braaied wors to top off that pap and gravy. Mmm, this is a South African meal in its true form.
Most of the camp sites and chalets have a communal meeting place built for bonfires, cooking and entertainment. The idea is for everyone to gather together and enjoy African dancing and singing, braais and potjiekos, braaied marshmallows, and good conversation.
A safari is a great location to connect and bond with friends, family, and even other holidaymakers without the interference of technology buzzing in the background or the worry of an early wake-up for work.
So, that about sums up why nothing tops a South African safari as a little weekend escape, or longer if you have the luxury.
I always recommend a safari as one of the main sightseeing locations to anyone who hasn’t visited South Africa yet.
A safari gives you a true taste of Africa’s beauty in its full glory, and you get to see animals up close in their natural habitats without disturbing them.