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Inside Look: What A South African Safari Is Really Like


Lion on safari

There are many incredible things to do in South Africa, though one shouldn’t visit the country without going on a safari. For those interested in going on a South African safari, it can be difficult to picture exactly what the experience is like. Sure, you know there will be exotic animals, but how close are you getting? Are there any activities planned? Is the food good? What are the packing essentials? To help prepare you for your South African safari, here are some helpful tips. Trust me when I say, this is a must-have Africa travel experience! Note: The below-mentioned tips are based on my experience doing a South African safari with Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps, a rustic and comfortable camp that is somewhere in between backcountry camping and luxury.

Prepare To Really Get To Know The Wildlife

A South African safari is more than just looking at animals. Through 6+ hours of safari driving and bush walks you’ll really get to know these animals: What they look like, what they eat, their mating habits, what and how they hunt, which senses they rely on. While in Kruger National Park you need to stay on the designated paths, in the reserves surrounding it — such as the Manyoleti Reserve that Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps is on — you can off-road, meaning you’ll get really close to the animals (there’s nothing like making eye contact with a lion from 10 meters/33 feet away!). Moreover, you’ll fall asleep to the sounds of lions and hyenas and wake up with elephant and kudu right outside your door — and sometimes even monkeys in your room!

Cocktail stop on safari

You Can Drink

Before going on safari, I was unaware there were bars in the bush. Not only did our camp have a well-stocked bar, but about two hours into our evening game drives the guides would stop and set up a makeshift bar in the bush, stocked with soft drinks, local wine and beer, and spirits like scotch and amarula, a thick sweet and cinnamon-tasting spirit that’s especially good on chilly game drive days.
safari group

Safari group

You’ll Make Good Friends Fast

A South African safari isn’t all about wildlife; there’s also a strong social element. You’ll be with your group quite a bit — as in for all game drives and meals, which makes up almost the entire day — meaning it’s easy to get close really quick. Even with the people at my camp who weren’t in my game drive group I formed close bonds with over long lunches and wine dinners. It makes seeing the animals that much more fun when you’re able to share the experience with great people.

The Weather Can Be Unpredictable

When I went on safari, I wrongly assumed it was going to be hot without actually checking. Little did I know South Africa was experiencing the worst spring they had in 20 years, meaning it was cold and windy on the jeep. While the guides provided us with blankets, it still would have been nice to have gloves and a coat. Make sure to check the weather beforehand and pack layers so you’re prepared.

You’ll Learn About Conservation Issues

During many of the meals and excursions the group and guides would get into discussions about current conservation issues, for example, trophy hunting, the overpopulation of elephants, and rhino poaching. It was always interesting to hear the guides’ point of views of the matters, as they can give you both sides of the story. Not only did it open my eyes to issues I hadn’t heard about, it also made me realize that not everything is as black and white as people think when it comes to saving nature.

Taking photos from the car

You Don’t Need A Telephoto Lens — But You’ll Want One

When I went on my South African safari with Honeyguides Tented Safari Camps we were usually able to get close enough to the animals that my 18-55 mm lens was fine, especially when I trimmed and cropped it. That being said, there were people in my group with telephoto lenses that were able to get amazing shots of the colorful birds (there are many of them) and closeups of the animals’ features that my lens couldn’t capture. If you have the money, buy or rent a telephoto lens for the experience; however, if you can’t, know you’ll still be able to get some good shots.
muesli house

Delicious muesli cake on safari

Food Is A Highlight Of The Safari Experience

Most of the safari camps in South Africa serve delicious multi-course meals from talented chefs, even if they’re not a luxury operation. For example, the chef for Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps is a man named Nicholas Gumbanjera, who studied at the Bulawayo School of Hospitality and Tourism in Zimbabwe for four years before honing his cooking skills at the Sheraton Harare in Zimbabwe, the Sheraton Pretoria near Johannesburg and the Ikhutseng Game Reserve before becoming a chef for Honeyguide. His hard work paid off, as Chef Nicholas creates thoughtful menus featuring multiple courses, delicious pairings and sweet endings. For example, one dinner the group had included a chicken salad crostini canape; creamy mushroom risotto appetizer; choice between an apple and leek-stuffed pork fillet gowned with savannah sauce or grilled lamb chops topped with lamb sauce; and a bread and taro pudding laced with chocolate sauce for dessert. This is just one example of the many decadent meals he put together for the group.

You’ll Find Out How Interesting Poop Can Be

Before going on a South African safari I never realized feces could be so interesting. In the animal kingdom, however, dung is used for many purposes, from marking territory to attracting a mate. For example, did you know you can distinguish hyena and jackal poop from the rest of the animals because they’re the only two animals that eat both the bones and meat of their prey? Moreover, did you know rhinos leave feces in their territory to attract females, who can tell if they’re attracted to a male by analyzing it? And then there are the hippos, who will actually spray feces on a female to attract her. These are just a few examples of how fascinating the animal kingdom can be without even trying.

Elephants on safari

Resist The Urge To Run

Before going on safari I had heard you couldn’t walk around outside by yourself. During my experience, this was only true at night, when we could potentially walk too close to an animal without realizing and make it feel threatened. At no point in time in the bush should you ever run, especially if an animal is charging you. It may go against your instincts, but typically when animals charge you they’re doing it to scare you, and will stop before reaching you once they realize you’re not backing down. On the other hand, if you run away from them they’ll chase you, and the situation will probably not end well.

The Night Noises Can Be Unsettling

For those who aren’t used to sleeping in the bush, hearing the growling, screeching, jumping and footsteps of wild animals right outside your tent can be unsettling. I’ll admit, my first night I had a tough time sleeping because I kept thinking a lion was in the tent. The truth is, lions really only attack humans if they feel threatened, and if they smell or see a human they’ll turn and walk away. In reality, humans are the top predator in the wild, and most animals — including lions — know this. By night two — after going on a bush walk and numerous game drives as well as hearing the guides’ stories of wildlife encounters on foot — I felt safe in my tent, and actually enjoyed hearing the nighttime noises of the savannah grassland. Note: The rents at Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps are raised so you have stairs and a porch, and they’ve never had a predator climb the steps. Have you ever been on a South Africa safari?  My trip to South Africa was sponsored by the South African Tourism Board. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are my own.

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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