Pictures and videos are worth a thousand words, and if you follow me on any social media, you saw exactly that when we were on safari in South Africa. If you can imagine though - as absolutely amazing as every picture and video was that I took - they just don’t do justice what we saw. I’m not quite the crier, and I cried when we left. I have thought about safari every day since we arrived home - literally every day. I have gone through my pictures and looked at my videos more times than I can count (side note: I never look at pics again after I take them unless it’s for a blog or social media post... I seriously don’t know why I take so many). And finally, and maybe most important to mention, I’ve had actual dreams on the regular about this trip since we returned home. All the cool places Tres and I have been lucky to go to, and I have never come home and dreamt about them. Lions, Zebras, Hyenas - they’re dancing around in my head as I slumber. If that doesn’t sum up an unforgettable experience, I don’t know what does.
So let’s talk about it. I will start with a fun story about how bad I have wanted to go on this trip - you may skip to the FAQs if this is not of interest to you, I won’t blame you if you do. But here goes... My entire life I have been obsessed with animals (babies as I call them). I wanted to be a veterinarian growing up but me and science never got along very well in school so I got over that dream. When I met Tres and we talked about where all we hoped to travel in life, all he heard from me was, “If I ever get to go on an African Safari, I don’t ever have to go anywhere else the rest of my life.” So one lovely year in May - 2011 to be exact, and the year after our wedding - we decided to go to the Kentucky Derby. Anyone remember this Derby? It was a good one - a year of the underdog. Well, we were there and before the big race, we placed our bets. Of course, I knew nothing about any of the horses and before I went to place my bet, I didn’t even know any of the horses names. But then I saw “Animal Kingdom” and couldn’t place my bet fast enough. Tres and everyone standing around me laughed when I told them I was betting on this horse. I’ll never forget how many people told me this horse had a negative zero chance of winning. So I said to Tres, “If Animal Kingdom wins, you have to take me on an African Safari.” I’m not a big gambler so I bet a whole $20. Guess what that $20 became? About $1,000. Because my African Safari dream horse won the race!
So years pass, we plan lots and lots of trips but the safari didn’t happen until 2018. It took 7 years and we finally went on my dream vacation. As you can see, I had high expectations. No question, it lived up to all of them. First are a few highlights from the trip that I absolutely loved then you can read the FAQs below to really dig into what the experience is all about - especially if you’re planning one of your own!
The ease of planning thanks to the travel company we used - Rhino Africa. Our friends who have been on safari a couple of times recommended these guys and they were dream planners. We even waited until the last minute (a month out) and Rhino Africa got us right on track. We didn’t have to think about a thing, we just showed up in South Africa and it was all done.
The surprisingly quick (17 hour) flight over. We have been on a lot of long international flights but this one... I worked myself up about this one. Seriously, what do you do on a plane for that long? The Delta flight we took from Atlanta to Jo’burg is the 2nd longest flight in the world. But it was actually the easiest international flight we have ever taken. Movies, eat, sleep, sleep some more, and you’re there! I’m always cranky when we go to Europe because I never get enough sleep. There’s PLENTY of time to sleep on a 17 hour flight. When I woke up and Tres said, “we land in 30 minutes,” I thought he was lying so bad I had to look at my flight duration screen. I was refreshed and fabulous when we arrived!
The most amazing lodge - Savanna Private Game Reserve. I cannot recommend Savanna Lodge enough. The beauty of it, the relaxation, the serenity, the fancy “tent” rooms with private plunge pool and outdoor shower with animals in view, the food, the service, the game rides, the staff, the daily laundry service, the nightly turndown service - literally everything! More below and in the FAQs on how fabulous this resort is and why I think you should choose it on your own trip.
The food experiences. Tres and I are not big “all-inclusivers.” As a matter of fact, on any other trip we don’t do them at all - as I’m sure y’all already know, we would rather restaurant hop. But on safari, you don’t really have a choice (you’re in the middle of the bush with the only food being at the resorts) so you want to make sure you choose a lodge with great food. At Savanna, dinner every night is a surprise. You never know what cool experience you’re going to get, but you can always count on twinkly lights, warm and cozy fires, entertainment, beautifully set tables, delicious wine and champagne that flows throughout the night, and fantastic food - from the small bites at social hour to the set courses at the table. More detail about each night in the FAQs below. Aside from the animals, this was my favorite part. Tip: do the restaurant hopping in Cape Town - it’s a food dream. I’ll have a blog post on Cape Town soon.
The game rides. Another part of the “all-inclusive” experience, this is another one you want your lodge to do well. No, actually this is THE ONE THING you want your lodge to do well; after all, you go on safari to see animals so you want the staff to make this an absolute priority. This is Savanna’s priority. According to our travel planner at Rhino Africa, every lodge does things a little differently, and she could not say enough positives about how much of a focus Savanna makes their games rides, so we knew we were in good hands. We had days when we would even stay out a little later to make sure there wasn’t anything we missed. There was no rushing back for lunch/dinner or any type of strict schedule - it was all about seeing the animals. Tres’ biggest concern going on a safari was always, “what if we go all the way there and we could have seen more at a zoo.” The guys at Savannah make sure you see it all - it’s unbelievably cool how much you see, y’all! I can’t put into words how neat it is seeing these animals in their natural environment. And they’re so close - oh my! There were moments when they were so close I could almost touch them. But please, as excited as you may get - don’t do it! You’ll think about it.. You will. That’s how close they are. Just don’t - yikes!
The friends we made. We got incredibly lucky and met some of the coolest people. For 3 days (or however long you stay) you’re doing everything together with your guides and lodge neighbors. Every breakfast, lunch, and dinner you sit down together to eat and have drinks so you get to know the other people there pretty well. We absolutely loved our entire game ride group - all around our age so we had a lot in common. One couple was on their honeymoon from Charleston so we had the south in common with them. The other couple was from Jo’burg so they gave us a lot of restaurant recs for Cape Town and explained to us some of the traditional South African dishes and foods. And our guide, Kevin was simply the best - full of great knowledge and information about the animals and lots of fun to chat with at dinner. I even met a wonderful fellow “woman in business” entrepreneur from London I have kept in touch with since we left. She’s the CEO of Samaya Ayurvedic an amazing skincare company in London, and we are planning a giveaway collaboration soon, so stay tuned!
How to plan:
As I discussed above, we used Rhino Africa and could not have been happier. The experience starts with a brief questionnaire on the safari experience of your dreams then the agent contacts you with options. Janine, our travel planner, focused on our priorities, exactly what we wanted to get out of the safari experience. She also focused on the travel we would be doing to Cape Town following the safari - she booked everything from the flights to the car rides when we landed. Everything was smooth sailing, and I’m so glad I didn’t have to figure those flights and the transportation out myself. They will also focus on your price point, giving you the option that best fits what you’re looking for. We almost went with another resort, but Janine immediately contacted me when there was a cancellation at Savanna. We had to change our dates around a bit, but she ensured us Savanna was the way to go. Moral of the story: we booked too late and got extremely lucky with that cancellation. Book earlier than we did :)
Where to stay:
Sabi Sands is the way to go! At least that’s what we heard from family and friends who had been on safari, so we chose a lodge in the Sabi Sands. As for the lodge - Savanna. It was amazing. Read in my highlights above. Like I said, where you stay pretty much IS the experience you’re going to have on safari so you want a good lodge!
How long to go:
We were worried 3 days wasn’t going to be enough time, but it’s plenty. Each day, there are 2 game rides - one in the AM and one in the PM. 3 days = 6 game rides. Would I stay longer? Yes, of course! But we felt like we saw everything we wanted to see in 3 days. Every single ride truly is a completely different experience - you literally never know what’s going to happen. I can see how it could become an addictive hobby if you live in South Africa. The Jo’burg friends we met told us they have been on too many to count - I am so jealous!
What to expect/What you will see:
It’s impossible to know how each ride is going to go - They’re all so unique! We were so lucky that the first ride we took, lions had just taken down a warthog and were feasting. We all but saw the kill - that would have been super cool (or I would have cried)! But just imagine, we get to the lodge, get settled in, jump on the open-air Land Rover, and in minutes we are looking at a pride of lions eating away at a warthog. The next day, Kevin informed us they would be thirsty soon after their kill the day before, and sure enough, we found water near the kill, and here came the same pride of lions to drink. It was “baby season,” so saw a lot of babies with their mamas - baby cubs, baby zebras, baby elephants, a baby rhino, a baby giraffe... so extremely adorable! A leopard walked so close to our car his tail rubbed the sides. I had a hyena look me dead in the eyes one day and started walking towards our car and it got SO CLOSE it was scary. I thought he was after us, but they literally care less about you - it’s amazing. Elephants were everywhere!!! I think we saw elephants every day, and how close we got to them to watch them eat was so phenomenal. Their trunks and the way they break down food is so neat. The final day, we tracked down a mama lion who had left her cubs to hunt. She was very protective of the kill she’d made - guarding it from vultures that were doing everything in their power to take scraps. A couple of the vultures got bravely close and she came running out of the grass towards them. That was SO intimidating to see the look in that creature’s eyes when she means business - one of the cooler things I’ve seen in life. A lot of this and more is in my Instagram stories - you can actually watch it @andreas_cooktales.
Day to day on safari:
Each day is early-rising but the schedule is at a relaxing pace so you get as much rest as you need. Here’s what our day looked like:
- 4:30am- Wake-up call
- 5:00am- Coffee/Tea, Muffins/Cookies
- 5:30am - MorningGame Ride with a coffee/Amarulo stop in the bush
- 9:30/10:00 - Return to lodge
- 10:00- Freshen up, Breakfast
- Hang out and chat at breakfast for awhile, go back to room to nap or hang out by the pool, freshen up for lunch/afternoon ride
- 3:00 - Lunch
- 4:00 - AfternoonGame Ride with a fun cocktail hour stop in the bush
- 8:00- Return to lodge, turn down service complete with bubble bath ran and port wine waiting, shower or bath, change for dinner
- 9:00- Surprise Dinner
The food and drink:
It’s going to depend on where you stay, so I can only speak to Savanna’s food and drink, and it was fabulous. Your room is stocked with snacks, beer, wine, and all kinds of drink choices. When you arrive to the dining area for each meal, you’re immediately greeted by your very own butler. Dan was ours, and we just loved him! The breakfast every morning was so fresh with a huge cold selection. Anything you wanted hot was made to order + there was a new, daily breakfast special each day - everything from specialty French toast and pancakes to an omelet, sandwich, or wrap “of-the-day.” I had scrambled eggs with avocado every single day. They literally had some of the best scrambled eggs I have ever had, so I kept ordering them. The lunches were one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love cold salads and they had a variety each day: quinoa fruit salads, veggie and grains salads, bean salads, olive and tomato salads. They also had specials of the day like pastas, meats, quiches - the works!! We had a glass of wine or two at lunch and an espresso shot before the afternoon ride.
Dinner was the most fun, as it was always a surprise. Night 1was lantern and campfire lit with the most beautiful set tables. We were immediately approached for drink orders and wild boar sausage and bruschetta were passed around while we walked around chatting with everyone. The seated dinner consisted of salad/soup, delicious outdoor roasted chicken, traditional South African meats, and sides. We were entertained by a local choir group as we ate. They danced around the campfire and sang traditional African music. My favorite part was when they sang me happy early birthday, clapping, and dancing all around my seat. It was all so traditional and fun - such a warm welcome to South Africa! Night 2 was my absolute favorite. I kept telling Tres, I can’t believe we are here. I love this place so much. We went straight from our game ride to the most beautiful scene right outside our resort: An old train car that had been converted to a dining room. Outside we were welcomed by Dan with champagne and delicious bites. There were candle-lit pathways, lanterns hanging from tree branches, a warm fire. We socialized outside before we went in the train’s dining room for a fantastic 4-course dinner.Night 3 was back at the resort, but in a different dining area than the first night. Every thing twinkled, the wine flowed, and the food was 3 courses of perfection. There was even a masseuse on site - very unique!
What to pack:
I would describe the attire for safari “personal preference.” It’s kind of whatever you want it to be, and everyone we met wore something completely different. We saw people in everything from workout clothes, to jeans and t-shirts, to traditional safari vests/hats, to shorts and flip flops, to maxi dresses and sandals. I say, pack whatever you’re most comfortable in! But two things are a must: 1) a jacket, 2) sunscreen and/or a hat. Tres and I went for comfort. We wore workout clothes the first day - LuLu lemon shorts, tee, jacket, and Nike tennis shoes for me. The other days, I wore more traditional khaki or comfy dress shorts with a tee or collared button down, a vest, and a hat. Pack a jacket no matter what!!! The mornings and evenings are fairly cool. We went in their summer season and the forecast was right at about 90 degrees, but most of the time it didn’t even feel like it. Sunscreen - yes!!! Cover your face. What I did not do was pack a ton of clothes. Our resort had daily laundry service, so you can re-wear clothes + you leave for your next destination with clean clothes - ahhh, fabulous!
How to get there from the US:
I’m sure it depends on where you live but if you’re on the east side of the country, the direct Delta flight from Atlanta to Jo’burg (16 - 17 hours) can’t be beat! I’ve heard of people flying over to Europe (on 8+ hour flights) then all the way down to South Africa (12 - 13 more hours) - that just makes me tired thinking about it. But look at your best options... it’s going to depend on where you live.
What you may want to tie into the trip:
Cape Town is an absolute must. I’ll have a guide for the food scene posted soon. I’ve also heard from multiple people Victoria Falls is fantastic if you have the time. I want to go back and explore all of Kruger Park too... we heard you can just rent a car and drive through. I can’t imagine how neat that must be!
*** Please email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Instagram me (@andreas_cooktales) with any questions you have that I may have missed. This is a big, important trip to plan, and I know as a first-timer I had a million questions. I hope I answered most of them but happy to help you directly if I didn’t.
*** Really cool videos are all posted on my Instagram Stories if you want to see some of the action we experienced! @andreas_cooktales