First Singita Safari: My Thoughts

Filed Under: Hotels

In the past two installments I’ve reviewed Singita Boulders Lodge in Sabi Sands Reserve and Singita Lebombo Lodge in Kruger National Park. I only briefly covered the game drive portion of our safari experience, and in this post wanted to talk about that in more detail.

If you’re an experienced safari-goer then by all means skip this post. However, given that I’ve never been on safari before, I didn’t really know what to expect. If there’s anything you’re curious about that I don’t address, let me know in the comments section.

I’m going to start by sharing some of my overall thoughts about safari, and then I’ll talk more about our specific experiences at the two lodges.

Safari Basics

You’ll probably have a different experience depending on where you go on safari, how nice of a place you’re staying at, etc., but below is my experience.

You Go On Two Game Drives Per Day

Generally speaking when you go on safari you go on two game drivers per day. The times vary based on where you are, but the idea is that you’re going on safari shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset.

In our case, we were on game drives about seven hours per day — about four hours in the mornings and then about three hours in the evenings.

The times vary based on the time of year, given that you want to plan it around the sunrise and sunset. The reason they generally do game drives around this time is both because it’s the most pleasant temperature-wise (it avoids it getting too hot), and also because there’s often the most activity among animals around those times.

You Drive In An Open-Air Jeep

Most of the time you’ll be in an open air Jeep that seats about 10 people. It might sound scary to be just a few feet away from all kinds of wild animals, but we were told that as long as you stay in the vehicle the animals won’t attack you.

This is both due to their familiarity with these cars, and also because they don’t view the people inside the cars as being individuals they could attack.

To be honest it took me a while to fully get used to that. I remember when we first saw lions and got really close to them I was scared. After all, these animals could kill us all in a heartbeat.

But within a couple of days I felt 100% safe.

You Have A Guide & Tracker

Typically you have two people on safari with you:

  • You have the guide, who generally does the driving and shares the most information
  • Then you also have a tracker, who generally sits on a seat on the hood of the car

The tracker is there to act as an extra set of eyes for spotting animals. By sitting on the hood of the car they have the best view, and another reason they’re there is to look for animal tracks on the dirt roads, as that’s one of the best ways to find the hardest to find animals.

Whenever you approach dangerous animals the tracker jumps into the car, as it’s much safer for them (after all, the hood of the car is pretty exposed).

For what it’s worth, at both camps we had incredibly passionate guides and trackers. It’s so nice to be with people who clearly love what they do, and that was the case at both camps.

Your Guide Has A Gun

Given our gun culture in the US, I was at first a bit taken aback by our guide having a gun. However, this is totally normal, and is only used in extreme emergencies if attacked by animals. Both of our guides said they never had to use their guns before.

Seeing Animals Killed In The Wild Is… Not Sad?

I love animals, and as a kid I was even a vegetarian for many years because of how much I loved them. Going into this trip, one of my biggest questions was whether I’d actually enjoy game drives — after all, the holy grail of a safari is seeing a “kill” happen, and that’s something that on the surface sounds horrifying to me.

Much to my surprise, I actually didn’t find it sad at all. It’s weird, but if anything it was just a reminder of how the world works. None of these animals could survive if the food chain didn’t work the way it does.

So while the smells of a dead zebra might not be great, I was pleasantly surprised by how desensitized I was to the whole thing.

Game Drives Were Surreal

Safari trips seem to be polarizing — I’ve heard some people say it was their absolute favorite trip ever, and I’ve heard others say they’d never do it again.

This type of trip energized me so much, because it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. I love nature, and seeing so many majestic animals up close and personal was unreal.

Otherwise the only context in which I’ve seen most of these animals is in a zoo or some other form of captivity, so I found safari to be incredibly eye opening.

In many ways it made me think about life on a higher level. The cycle of life and food chain has a way of putting everything else in the world into context.

Does Safari Get Boring?

We spent a total of six days on safari, and an average of about seven hours per day on game drives. So altogether we probably spent about 40 hours on game drives, give or take.

Let me note upfront that I like active vacations, though game drives are a different kind of “active” trip. There’s a lot of incredible nature and it’s exhilarating, but you’re also sitting the entire time.

Let me also say that I’m someone who usually “works” constantly (I love what I do, which is why I put it in quotes), so the concept of doing very little for seven hours per day is foreign to me.

So, do game drives get boring? I would say yes and no. I definitely think there’s a high diminishing marginal return.

I’d say for the first three game drives I was absolutely captivated. For the next few I loved it but didn’t quite have the same excitement. But the last few I did find myself checking my phone every so often to see what time it was.

Also, I’d note that there’s a lot of sitting and waiting on safari as well. For example, if you find a lion sleeping you might stay there for 30 minutes in hopes of it waking up, going hunting, etc.

Of course you can always opt out of some game drives and just stay in the lodge you want. If I were to do it again, personally I’d probably say three to four days is ideal.

Sabi Sands Reserve Vs. Kruger National Park

We spent our first three nights at Singita Boulders, located in the Sabi Sands Reserve, and our last three nights at Singita Lebombo, located in Kruger National Park. I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on the two experiences, and how they compared.

Sabi Sands Reserve Game Drives

Sabi Sands Reserve is really cool because the entire area is a private reserve, so it’s truly untouched and there are virtually no tourists. They have a massive 45,000 acre concession, and it’s largely rectangular. That’s great, because it meant every day we could drive in a different direction, and it also meant that we could easily drive across the concession.

Our guide was Coleman and our tracker was Themba. There were two things I particularly loved about driving with them:

  • Coleman was an absolutely insane driver, and had no problem going “off road” in order to get us close to the animals; like I can’t even begin to describe his driving
  • Coleman and Themba were an incredible team with following animal tracks; they’d literally find the lions and leopards based on tracks alone in a very CSI way

We saw all of the “big five” within the first 24 hours, and we saw wild dogs eating an impala, lions eating a zebra, leopards, cheetahs, and so much more.

Kruger National Park Game Drives

Kruger National Park is massive, and much of it is open to the public. Singita is given a 30,000 acre concession, so they have quite a bit of private land on which to roam.

I thought the landscape was a bit more beautiful than at Sabi Sands, because it was more mountainous, as it’s right on the border with Mozambique. That being said, I didn’t love the shape of the concession as much (silly as that sounds), since you were typically more or less driving in the same direction, and there was less land to cut across.

Our guide was Henry and our tracker was Andrew. They were phenomenal:

  • They worked really well together, and were fun
  • They were incredibly knowledgable, not just in terms of finding animals, but in terms of answering literally any question we could possibly have about animal behavior, etc.

We once again saw all of the “big five.” We even saw a pride of over 20 lions, which was probably the highlight of our safari there.

I Can’t Wait To Go On My Next Safari

I absolutely loved my first safari. Personally I’m not dying to do exactly the same kind of safari again in the near future. That’s not because I didn’t absolutely love it, but rather because I rarely like to return to the same destination or repeat the same experience (this is especially true nowadays, as I’m trying to travel less and be home more).

That being said, I’d love to do a different kind of safari, with different landscape, different animals, etc. As a matter of fact, Ford and I have already planned our next safari. We’re going to Namibia next year around my birthday, and we’ll be staying for three days at andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, which has completely different landscape. While definitely not cheap, it’s a fraction as expensive as Singita.

I figure that’s both similar and different, so if anyone has any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them.

I’d also love to go gorilla trekking sometime in Rwanda, though that’s outrageously expensive — the permit alone costs $1,500 per person per day, and that doesn’t include accommodation or anything else.

Bottom Line

Our first ever safari was magical. This was completely different than any trip I’ve taken before, and I’d recommend a safari in a heartbeat. Seeing these animals firsthand was surreal, especially since I’ve never seen them in the wild before.

In many ways it also put life into perspective for me. Seeing how the animal kingdom works firsthand puts a lot into perspective.

If you’ve been on safari before did you love it, hate it, or…? 

  1. Unfortunately the natural areas that essentially form the basis of this trip are threatened by the aviation that got you there.

    Would be cool if your blog did more to discuss minimizing these impacts including reducing flying where possible.

  2. I believe I had a totally different experience in the Serengeti with the game drives per day. We were on a drive ALL day and only stopped for a brown bag lunch stop and bathroom breaks at bathroom facilities that are setup for park visitors.

    While I didn’t stay at one specific resort, we rotated between stops in Central and Western Serengeti and also stayed in Ngorongoro on the rim, Manyara and Tarangire. I guess when the resort is in the park it might be a different experience.

    The permit for gorilla trekking in Rwanda doubled from $750 to $1500 per day recently. It is cheaper to visit from the Uganda side, but I am told the trek is more treacherous and not as safe as Rwanda. I did Serengeti and Rwanda on the same trip. I highly recommend both although the gorilla trekking price is steep!

  3. We are going next August to four different lodges (S. Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Vic Falls).

    What kind of camera did you use? I have two Nikons (D750 and D5100) but they are heavy. We are very limited in weight we can take on the small planes. I am getting the new iPhone 11 Pro.

  4. One of the reasons you saw the big 5 in 24 hours is because the game is highly managed. It’s not a true wilderness experience (if that matters to you) say as compared to the Okavango. Also, in East Africa you can go for a game drive all day. In short, the safari experience is extremely varied depending on where you go.

  5. Part of the Sabi Sands complex, Singita stands out from most other reserves there in two respects – the devastatingly stylish and luxurious accommodation, which has few peers in any African setting, the world-class food (accompanied by a hand selected selection of top Cape wines) and the fact that no other reserve have traversing rights on the relatively large property. The guiding standard is also exceptional. Game viewing is typical of Sabi Sands, which pretty much as good as it gets in terms of big cats (especially leopard) and other members of the so-called Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhino).

  6. Lucky, my mom and I are doing a safari next year, and also staying at &Beyond SDL in early April! It’s being totally renovated, so we’re very excited. Maybe we’ll see you there?

  7. @ Eric

    No offense, but why are you reading a blog about travel and aviation if you’re going to hound the writer for their environmental impact?

    Trust me, I don’t love everything Ben writes (if you want me to explain more I’d be glad to), but like, seriously, why are you here?

  8. Did you have a private jeep on all your game drives at Singita, or did the other guests ride in the same jeep as you? I have gone on several group game drives and am definitely looking for a more private experience on the next safari.

  9. Would agree with all the comments above. Have been in Zimbabwe & Botswana on animal safaris and the various locations made them very different experiences.
    Sossusvlei will be completely different again, unbelievable environment, but no animals. We only spent two nights there with one day at the dunes in between.

  10. I would also add that folks that spend a lot of money on safari “expect” to see the big 5 (because you know some white hunters went to Africa a century ago and decided what we should see on the holiday safari of today) and as a result companies try to give their guests what they want. South Africa manages their game populations, and yes one is then guaranteed to see the wildlife one paid for.

  11. I was in Namibia in March at Sossusvlei, and I’d highly recommend doing the Wilderness Safaris lodges over the andbeyond. The Wildnerness Safaris lodges are closer to Sossusvlei proper, and the airline that Wilderness Safaris uses – Wilderness Air – is run by Wilderness Safaris. I’d recommend Little Kulala or Kulala Desert Lodge. Kulala Desert Lodge is the absolute closest to the Sossusvlei, so that minimizes your driving time. The others are farther away. Either way, I wouldnt stay in any place in Sossusvlei area more that 2 nights – there’s really not much to do after you go and climb the dunes (recommend climbing Dune 45 and Big Daddy. If you have to prioritize one, just do Big Daddy, as that empties out into Dedvlei, which you’ll see afterward). After Sossusvlei (again, no more than 2 nights, there’s nothing else there, maybe go up to Etosha Park and/ or into Botswana.

  12. Safaris are my fav trips. Okavanga is great, but highlight was Virgin’s Mahali Mzuri lodge in the Mara because of small upscale lodge and wide variety of terrain/game. Sabi Sands was nice, especially the leopards. Don’t bother with Victoria Falls. Namibia doesn’t have the game density.

    Serengeti was wide-open. I’d go back to the Okavanga and the Mara.

    We inititally planned to see the gorillas (booked rooms and flights) but difficulty and cost got us to change our minds. It was 1 hour (yes, that’s all the time you get to spend with the gorillas vs almost 1 week enjoying solo cheetah family viewings in the Serengeti – we are cat lovers so it wasn’t even a change done with a bit of reluctance).

    Best tip is to request a private tour vehicle so you can go where you want, when you want. Well worth the extra cost (and make sure you account for the guide’s lower tip income if you do).

    Not many locations have both driver and trackers.

  13. @Eric Unfortunately the natural areas that essentially form the basis of this trip are threatened by the plastic and silicon in your computer, the electricity it uses, and the data centers processing your comment.

    Would be cool if you did more to minimize these impacts including reducing unnecessary browsing and comments like these where possible, if you dont see any value in them.

  14. I’ve had the privilege of going on many safaris. Singita is among the best. Three key reasons why Singita private game reserve in Sabi Sands is so great: (1) open vehicles (2) that can go off road and (3) Sabi Sands is well stocked with animals.

    Generally, game vehicles in private game reserves are open jeeps (not roof and no side covering/windows) and can go off road. In national parks, vehicles are usually prohibited from going off road, so if you see an animal in the distance, you cannot drive to the animal.

    Important points to consider when planning a safari.

    Wish you and your readers many wonderful safaris. I never get bored. I’ve gone three weeks in a row and never tire of the excitement of not knowing what you’ll see.

  15. This is a highly sanitized version of a “safari”, with trackers, radio contact and a driver. It’s basically to guarantee US or German tourists can spot the Big 5 in a one day, two nights experience. I’ve done this once in Chobe, got stuck in a Jeep with Bolivian tourists who expected to see gorillas and tigers. Sabi Sands is basically a zoo, with all the animals in one big cage.

    Rent a car, drive around Kruger or Etosha yourself. It’s magical, and the poeple are much nicer. Besides, you don’t have to tip because high-end lodges are too cheap to pay their inexpensive African staff properly.

    Also, Sossusvlei is great, but it’s a desert camp, not a safari location.

  16. For a “different kind of safari,” would recommend the walking safaris in Zambia. Did a week in South Luangwa National Park this summer, and it was special.

    The walks give you a whole different connection to the surroundings, and it breaks up some of the routine of drives. The walks are not about tracking down big 5. Focus is more on learning about small things you miss on drives — the tracks, flowers, birds, etc. But you do happen upon lions and such on the walks, which is a thrill.

    Would recommend Time + Tide/Norman Carr, which has a luxury lodge and four bush camps in South Luangwa.

  17. Great to read about your safari experience! Ironically I got into the game several years ago because of an article you wrote about visiting South Africa (I think you took a train from Jo’berg to Cape Town). Since then I have been fortunate enough to visit/safari Rwanda, Uganda, Sabi, Kruger, Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls and others. There is no vacation/adventure like a “safari” IMHO. Of course you have to get to the gorillas! I recommend two days of actual treks at your chosen lodge. Pluses and minuses of both Uganda and Rwanda so go with whatever works best for your plans. Vic Falls & Botswana are also a must for the natural beauty and loads of elephants. Nothing like a micro flight over the falls! Namibia is a bit different but we loved it. Fewer animals in Namibia so I would recommend moving around a lot. We actually drove around various places in Namibia. Rented jeep in Windhoek and continued to drive all the way to Vic Falls (remarkable trip!) For a lot more bucks you can actually hop around by small private plane. Final thoughts, take advantage of walking safari’s when the lodge offers them, great way to break up the time on the jeeps and a whole different experience. Congrats on your great trip!

  18. We also wanted to go see the gorillas in Rwanda, and as you said they decided to double the fee – which I kind of understand since people still pay for it and it all goes to the organizations that protect them.
    You can cross over to Uganda, I believe the permits are only $500 there (however as a LGBT couple we refused to go spend our money there given the current climate).

  19. Enjoy south Africa lucky
    Please come visit KZN province
    I will show you around and would love to meet you

  20. You seem to really really want to go gorilla trekking. That trip needs what, a three day permit? So for Ford and you together $9000. And when you’re trekking there is no value in staying in a name brand luxury $4000 per night resort. I know it won’t be for your dad’s “round birthday” like this trip. But for something that you clearly find very special, it’s hard to take this economizing seriously when we are reading a report of a trip that cost you in the ballpark of $50,000.

  21. I grew up not far from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia so I’m biased – but I think the walking safaris, the Zambezi river, size of the parks and diversity of wildlife make this one of the top destinations in Africa. Add on a couple days at Vic Falls as well.

    Ngorongoro Crater and the Serenengeti are pretty magical too – but get more traffic.

  22. Look into Ngorongoro Crater, it’s often called the Garden of Eden on Earth and it was amazing. Well worth it.

  23. @RCB – while Ngorongoro Crater is spectacular, and the Lodge is truly an amazing property, I wouldnt go to Tanzania now (and Ben and other LGBT people might not either) due to Tanzania’s increasingly harsh and punitive LGBT laws that were recently enacted and actively encourage arrests/ turning people into the police.

  24. Ngorongoro Crater is the most amazing place on earth. @Jason, you are exaggerating the situation in Tanzania!

  25. One of your best trips and associated reports that I’ve read here in the past five years. Congratulations on pulling this off! I’ve never been on Safari but believe I would enjoy a scaled down accommodation, perhaps even outside in a tent for a few days. I’d love to do an early morning balloon ride over the Serengeti. A doctor friend of mine and her doctor boyfriend spent a year in Africa with Doctors Without Borders and at the end they did the balloon ride and got engaged at the same time. Also, I’d love to do a low flyover in a single engine piper or something similar, recalling the Robert Redford and Meryl Streep scenes in the movie “Out of Africa.” Did your father love the Safari?

  26. Do those jeeps at least have seat belts? Our jeep (all jeeps in fact) in Serengeti and Ngorongoro was fully covered (just a regular jeep) and the roof could be lifted.

    Why are the jeeps different?

  27. Allow me to be pedantic for a moment.

    The vehicles in the photos, and most others I’ve seen in Southern Africa used for game drives, are Land Rover Defenders.

  28. Rwanda gorilla trekking permits are 30% off (US$ 1,050) if visiting other Rwanda national parks (Akagera national park, Nyungwe national park) for 3 days and more during the low season of November – May. As noted above, you can do Uganda for less but remember a tourist was recently held for ransom there by guerrillas crossing over from Congo. And they don’t call Bwindi an Impenetrable Forest for nothing.

  29. @Lucky, I had to smile when you described the highlights of your safaris. We visited Singita Boulders several years ago, and like you, had a fantastic time. And like you, we experienced animals coming right up to our open jeep (including a leopard that came from behind and scared the hell out of me). But while not the highlight, the most memorable part of our safari was coming upon a pair of lions lying in the middle of our road “making love”… again and again and again… while our driver and spotter just sat there and let us take in the action. Lots of interesting pics, naturally .

    In your review of Singita Boulders, you didn’t mention how they keep the wine in the well-stocked wine cellar cool. They purposely built the cellar around several large boulders, which hold in the coolness and keep the cellar at an even temperature. Very clever.

  30. @Lucky, did you, at any time, feel that it might have been a bit staged? Maybe they shot down a zebra the night before, dragged it to a certain spot and then drove you there the next morning to “find” it being eaten by animals? Maybe the animals are so well-fed that they have little interest in humans and therefore don’t attack the vehicle? etc.

    Another thing: if you’re on a four-hour drive in an open jeep, and it’s not safe to alight, what do you do if you need to use the restroom? Seriously.

  31. I did Zambia and Zimbabwe. A normal drive of a few hours and a private drive of about 15 hours.
    The group drive was nice with regards to what we saw but I didn’t like the people. They couldn’t keep their mouth shut for a moment and missed more than half of the sights. Which is why we booked private for the next day.

    Anyway I wouldn’t do 2 drives a day for 6 days as it gets boring. For me doing 2-3 drives in a trip is enough.

    And if you happen to visit the Victoria Falls, pay up and do the helicopter tour through the gorges. Absolutely spectacular.

  32. I am a bird photographer and had a personal guide for 2 weeks in South Africa last November. We started in Durban and worked our way north to Kruger.

    Multiple lodges but so amazing. In Tembe Elephant reserve owned and run by Zulus, we had various game dishes at meal time. Also stayed at Royal Swaziland Reserve on the way north to Kruger – so many native owned areas.

    Animals were fantastic but missed the cheetah 🙁

    Going back In February for the western part at Capetown and 2 weeks in Uganda. Will make the trek to see the mountain gorillas.

    Absolutely lifetime experience!!!!!!!!!!

  33. @ Daniel from Finland

    Small deliveries can be done if and when required. They will stop for it.
    For bowel movements you will be invited to take position in full line of sight of the ranger so that he can give you air cover with his gun during the process.

  34. I spent a few days in Namibia and loved the experience. Climbing the sand dunes was a challenging experience, and sliding down so much fun.

  35. @Eric you’re reading the wrong blog if you’re this concerned about environmental impacts from flying lol. thank u, next

  36. Lucky, based on all the expensive, fancy vacations and first class flights you’ve taken, I find it hard to believe you’re putting off gorilla trekking in Rwanda because of the cost. It is a one in a lifetime experience, the gorillas are threatened, no? Ellen just opened a wildlife fund to help protect them. What is $9k between you and Ford? Sounds like you really want to do it, I would definitely invest in that type of experience. Of course, just an outsider’s suggestion/perspective. You do what you think is best. But you’ve inspired me to take advantage and not wait on doing things we dream of doing (i.e. bucketlist vacations, etc)! If you can do it, I say go for it!

  37. I would love to go on a safari! And I think this is one of those things you don’t do too often unless you truly love them. Sometimes a break is nice and gives you a better perspective on everything.

  38. These things are not for me. I hate sitting, and need to stretch my legs constantly. Apart from that, I’ve been told that jogging is discouraged as you look like a meal in running shoes. I could handle the rest of it though.

  39. We loved our safari experience and has been wanting to do it again. To save cost, we did Kruger National Park self drive, stayed at the Marriott chain’s Protea hotel right outside the gate. Self drive was very fun trying to find the animals ourselves and got lots of surprises. Of course the downside was we need to stay on the road per the park rule so sometimes couldn’t get as close as the private reserve could. We managed to find 3 out of the Big 5 ourselves 🙂 then, we headed to Sabi Sands stayed at Arathusa Safari Lodge where two game drives daily were included. It was different having someone experienced to find the animals for you and explained the animal’s behavior. We got so close following a pride of lions, literally less than three feet away! We enjoyed both and both have pros and cons. I never thought safari could be affordable until I did the research so you dont need to shell out $10k for safari, there are more affordable options! Pictures and trip reports are posted in my blog:

  40. My wife and I went to Arathusa Lodge in Sabi Sands six years ago. Our experience was very similar to yours: great lodgings, great food, two game drives a day with a very knowledgeable guide and tracker. We saw leopards mating, and saw a group of five lions deciding whether to attack a water buffalo (they didn’t). We did a walking safari with the ranger, just the three of us and his rifle. As someone mentioned, those are great for seeing the little things you’ll miss from the vehicle (Toyota Land Cruiser in our case). We went in late June, winter there, so no real concern for mosquitoes. We loved it!

  41. Great post! My wife and I did Serengeti a couple years ago and it was magical. Best thing we did was book ourselves which seemed risky (and the outfitter/packagers play that up) but it was easy and saved us thousands. Hope to get back again.

  42. @Ben – I am thrilled to hear you and Ford will be visiting Namibia. I live in Cape Town but I lived in Windhoek in Namibia for 5 years. It was the best 5 years of my life. I’ve travelled the world for decades but Namibia got under my skin like no other place I have ever visited. It is very different to South Africa, in fact, in some ways it makes South Africa feel like it’s not really part of Africa at all. After Mongolia Namibia is the least populated country in the world and it shows, outside towns and villages it feels like the landscapes are untouched by man. The scenery is simply spectacular. It is a vast, open country but it is a harsh environment and it shows in the toughness of the people and the way animals adapted to survive. It is impossible to take all of Namibia in on one trip but whatever you decide to do I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. If you haven’t been to Victoria Falls yet you can consider combining it with your trip to Namibia. It is not far and it is one of those places I believe everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. And do the helicopter flip over the falls, it is well worth it. I’ve been to incredible places all over the world but Namibia is my special place. I hope when you visit you will fall in love with it like so many other people have done and that you will go back again and again to experience this truly unique and incredibly beautiful country.

  43. Safaris in Africa are simply the best.

    Many lodges offer walking safaris as well, they are great and add a bit of “extra” to the experience.

    Lions and other cats are quite easy, cubs are sometimes curious about the jeeps. Black rhinos are quite of interesting as they are not that smart; they’ll ran away, or charge against the jeep. A moment when one just doesn’t have the camera in mind, especially if the guide cannot get the jeep starting..

    One of our trips was to a lodge in Zimbabwe on a private reserve. The other lodge wasn’t open and for a few days we were the only guests in our lodge — so basically had the whole reserve to ourselves. Amazing! (.. especially compared to places like Kenya and Tanzania where the parks tend to get pretty crowded)

  44. Singita has just opened a lodge in Rwanda that looks spectacular, and is just a short trek to view the gorillas (although the permit is not included)…

  45. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is amazing Lucky. I will never forget the connection when I looked into a Gorilla’s eyes, it was beautiful and strange at the same time. Like a mirror to ourselves. Definitely do it!

  46. Thank you very much for sharing your observations and thoughts as well as others here who shared their insights into their safari experiences. I did have one question –
    Must you stay in the vehicle at all times? Like what about toilet breaks or if the guides deem it safe to get out and have a break/stretch in some spots?

  47. @Dennis, what they did in our morning game drives was a break for morning tea time where they find a safe place to set up for us to have tea and snacks. Morning drives were super cold so make sure you dress warmly for them. As scary as it sound, it was wonderful! We never had to stop for toilet break… Also, they offered safari walk after lunch if you wish to participate where we learned about animal footprints, one of their techniques to track the animals. More details and pictures in my blog!

  48. Why can’t people mind your own business and leave the animals alone.

    Imagine some aliens stalking you from 5 feet away and watch you eat breakfast then watch you go to work, take a break, use the restroom, working, smoking, playing with your kids.

    This is a variation of (white) human supremacy at it’s finest.

    That being said, who cares, we are Westerners with money and we can do whatever we want. Global warming isn’t going to stop us from living the American dream and travelling the world. (truth not sarcasm) So jokes on you PETA Greenpeace @Eric. Greta Thunberg is just adults way of affirmative action, we listen to cute children but don’t care nor will do anything about it.

  49. @Eskimo
    Without ecotourism, the land and animals have little *economic* value

    We can tilt at windmills all we want. But if the people and government see no value in the land, they’ll use it for something else.

    $1500/day permits is a major reason why the Rwandan and Ugandan governments protect animals.

    Hordes of Western money helps the local population find jobs, which can be in scarce supply. (Witness the attempted mass migration of people from Central America to the US, and from Africa to Europe)

    Rich powerful people take Safari, and become advocates for conservation… using their power to protect as much as possible

    This allows game reserves and animal protections

    Without enough economic prospects , you get the current situation of the Brazilian fires to strip the land for farming. As Brazil said… the forests are theirs, Lungs of the World be damned.

    I did a medical relief trip to Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and border of Somalia in 1997.
    Very easy to tell a starving family not to kill all the wildlife and strip the land when you’re sitting in your Big house with food, potable water, and electricity.
    A lot harder when you look into their eyes

    Is this fair? Right? Of course not. But the world revolves around money and power
    So only money and power can save the animals

    Ecotourism is one of our only options until Rich nations give transfer payments to poor nations to pay them for the environment. And that ain’t happening any time soon

  50. On topic

    I did Masai Mara in 1997
    It was life changing.

    People like to denigrate South Africa as a glorified zoo

    Yes, SA is managed, but that is far from a zoo.
    The animals roam, and live a fairly normal life.

    There’s a place for a more managed environment

    1) It’s a gateway for people like Lucky who tend to travel only in manicured luxury environments. Now that he’s done SA, his mind is opened to a more natural safari

    2) They are good for older and less healthy people. Some of you will understand in 20 years

    3) You can see the animals. We know people who did their once in a lifetime trip, and saw nothing.

    4) SA is safe
    Many on these boards do not understand how important that is

    My thoughts:
    Do the Wildebeest migration and the gorillas

  51. Great post. Never been on a safari before, wonder what my options are if we want to drive and see things ourselves? Going on holiday and getting up super early is not my cup of tea.

  52. I bring this topic up here because heavy utilizers of aviation are the people best placed to pressure aviation to clean up.

    Not everyone will choose to fly less (I have, even now with a $300k+ job I’ve realized that it isn’t necessary for me to fly around the world in first class to have an outstanding vacation focused on activities or skills like mountain biking).

    If we do keep flying, we should express a preference to airlines to transition to more fuel efficient planes. Also, alternative technologies including electric and series hybrid electric aircraft are rapidly coming to fruition. If you care about the planet, we should apply market pressure to bring about these changes and support political systems that also do this (carbon rebates, etc).

    It’s silly that this blog goes all in on a plane painted in a special color while ignoring these topics.

  53. @Eric You are 7 years too late, it’s all over now:

    Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nov. 2007
    “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

    Of course nothing substantial was done by then. Inevitably, as AOC has told us, ‘the world is going to end in 12 years’, maybe less. We are so far beyond the Global Warming “Tipping Point”, there’s no reason to worry about it any more. So we may as well enjoy the time we have left. Anyone that has miles in their FF accounts should be flying as much as possible before the World comes to an end.

  54. Lolz, @Robert, I know better than getting involved with a climate change denier on the internet, but for laughs:

    It’s like any other incremental process, the longer we wait and the less we do, the more severe the effects will be (sooner) and the more aggressive action that we’ll need later.

    The IPCC and US climatechange. gov executive summaries are great and I’d encourage anytime to read them for an introduction to the problem.

    The natural world is already experiencing devastating effects in terms of coral bleaching and disappearing glaciers, but this is small potatoes relative to the natural and human suffering that will occur in the coming decades. The more we do and the sooner the more we’ll mitigate this suffering.

    Lucky essentially paid Air France to burn $8,000 worth of fuel for him and his family to see some animals. It would be cool if he’d discuss the moral implications of the damage this does to the climate (even in terms of next steps to reduce aviation emissions), but he probably won’t because he’s a water carrier for the travel industry that would rather you not think about these things at all.

    You can see from the defensiveness of many of these reactions that people that wouldn’t go to another nation and shoot an animal for sport, throw plastic wrappers on the ground, or take food from locals are having trouble rationalizing the damage to the climate induced by such a trip.

    Encouraging folks to consider this before booking their own safari. Sorry if it isn’t fun to think about.

  55. @Eric Ironic that you call me a “climate change denier”.

    Several million years there were glaciers a mile and a half deep over Manhattan. Since they aren’t there now, that’s “climate change”, and I don’t know of a single person who “denies” it. 😉

    As for the future, all we have are “computer models”, which can’t even accurately “predict” the present time conditions, much less a 100 years from now. So yes, let’s gut our economy and turn over all of our political rights to a computer model that can’t even tell us what is going to happen next week, much less a hundred years from now.

  56. The type of finite element analysis that underpins local weather prediction is completely different from the enormous body of science regarding climate change which has made predictions that we are now observing in terms of climate shifts that vastly outpace prior climate shifts.

    Again, the IPCC and ClimateChange. gov executive summaries are excellent places for people that are genuinely interested in not destroying our world to start.

    We can find solutions that are consistent with our current quality of life and political systems, but if you’re in a democracy, in my view, you have a moral responsibility to vote for politicians that have sort of plan to mitigate climate change.

  57. @JRMW

    While you have a valid point and in a position that nothing much could probably convince you.

    I do like to share how westerners or foreigners try to manipulate the local under the guise of “protection”. Now all of these are debatable and will never be unanimous.

    USA in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan (CIA, Bush), Korea, Laos (CIA), Panama, Haiti, etc.
    Basically any dictatorship that doesn’t worship the mighty USA.
    It’s hard to look for WMD when the oil money is covering your eyes.
    It’s harder to look for drugs when the canal is such a $$$$ beauty.
    What ever we have accused China, USA has already done it in the last century.

    UK back in the Empire days, Slaves, Spices, Indians, Hong Kong.
    Russia, China, WW2 Japan
    Mafias, Drug Cartels, Unions, Google, Facebook, Equifax, Daenerys Targaryen, the Matrix
    The list goes on, fiction or not.
    Large and powerful organizations will always manipulate you under the excuse of your own safety, but it is for their own good not yours.
    This is no different than USA invading Africa to ‘protect’ wildlife. And no there isn’t money to be made protecting animals that’s why USA are in the oil fields not safaris.

    I would like to know what is your $300k+ job. Most decent paying jobs I know all trash the climate directly or indirectly. If you Venmo me half of that (after tax) every year, I swear I would not go on a safari, LOL.

    Now in seriousness, to make that much money you should probably be smart enough to understand that, to save the world is not to change how 7 billion people live their lives, it is how to use technology behind the scene and without changing their lifestyle. You don’t force people to quite smoking, you make smoking safer (without sacrificing taste of course).
    You don’t force people to stop eating red meat, you make red meat healthier and less climate impact (without sacrificing taste of course). You don’t force people to drive electric cars, you make them much better cars (hat tip to Tesla but sympathies to their investors).

    @Robert Hanson
    You shouldn’t trust anything AOC said. She’s probably possessed by Mayan witch from 2012 (oops it didn’t end back then either). You have much more than 12 years to enjoy :). You should be grateful that people like @Eric is working hard to give few extra years for you to enjoy. And yep computers predicted a different President in 2016 up until election day. All because people like AOC made lots of Americans stayed home thinking its in the bag.

  58. Just to get back to the safari aspect of the original post (!), @MissVictoria is on the money in that you don’t need to shell out $2k a day. If you are already in Africa, you can do several safaris at a fraction of the price of Sabi Sands or any of the pricey lodges. Seeing a tree climbing lion is definitely worth it; no one mentioned that in this string. They were (are?) common at Lake Manyara, which is where I saw them. Being in an open air vehicle with a lion above you lolling on a branch, that’s something you don’t forget. Wow. @Jason, I know many LGBTQ travelers will avoid Tanzania, I agree; I went back in the Nyerere days, and it was different (not quite so rabidly homophobic), and I totally agree with the many comments here that Ngorongoro is absolutely sensational. @Daniel from Finland: NOTHING staged in Ngorongoro! We were able to actually camp in the crater overnight (not legal now, you can only camp in the conservation area near the rim) which was both terrifying and amazing. And we camped in pup tents without a tracker. Seeing both Masai Mara and Serengeti (two visits on either side of the border) also memorable. But the gorillas: A must. Ditto @Alex.

    True @Ron you only spend an hour with them. But you have to hike in, and hike out, it’s a big chunk of time, it’s a long hike, it will probably be raining for part of it and definitely wet and rather miserable when you are there sitting on the ground and, yes @Eskimo it is invasive, but you are at a distance, watching the elders sit and eat and observe, and the young apes play. Worth every cent.

  59. Please, please, PLEASE can we all stop calling them “Jeeps”. They are not jeeps. Jeep is a car manufacturer, they make models like a Cherokee. What you have pictures of is a Land Rover and a Toyota Land Cruiser, neither of which are made by Jeep. You did not, therefore, go out on a “Jeep”.

    I would suggest that ‘diminishing returns’ on game drives is a function of staying in a small, highly managed (manicured) private concession and is not representative of safari in general. Once you stop treating it as a tick box trip and start asking questions and learning about the ecosystem as a whole, each additional drive is a wonderful opportunity to learn more.

    Next time you’re reaching for your iPhone because you haven’t seen something ‘interesting’ for 10 minutes, consider asking the guide some questions. Get them to explain how termites work, or about symbiotic relationships between species, or how a giraffe can pump blood with enough pressure to get up its neck, and somehow not power wash its brain. Or talk about the social dynamics of wild dog and what it takes to allow a beta female to breed vs just having her lactate for the alpha female’s pups.

    That you emerged from such a high calibre Lodge feeling that drives offer diminishing returns makes me question the quality of your guides. While I’m sure you feel they did a good job, this may be one area of travel that you lack experience to effectively evaluate.

  60. @Lucky loved reading all your safari trip reviews! My husband and I stayed at &Beyond Nxabega this past May. The new camp managers, husband and wife team, had just left &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert before they closed for their renovation. When chatting with them at Nxabega they mentioned guests would book their trip to Sossusvlei based on the moon cycle for optimal star gazing. Star gazing at &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert is one of the main activities and they have their own astrologer. I thought booking a trip according to the moon cycle was interesting and not something I’ve really heard before so wanted to share.
    On a side note the Okavango Delta is like another world and I’d highly recommend going. In addition to Nxabega we also stayed at &Beyond Sandibe which has been my favorite Safari lodge to date.
    Super excited to read about your next Safari adventure. Reading this one has made me want to book another. Next on my list is Jack’s Camp in the Kalahari, which I believe is currently or about to under go a renovation.
    Happy travels!

  61. You should absolutely consider doing gorilla trekking in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest) instead of in Rwanda! The fee in Uganda is only $750 per person instead of $1500 per person, and it’s the same type of gorillas that you see in Rwanda. My parents and I had a fantastic experience. Uganda also has numerous other fantastic sites for safari, including Murchison Falls and Kidepo National Parks. Uganda’s tourist infrastructure isn’t as built up as in South Africa or Rwanda, but the nature, animals, and people do not disappoint.

  62. Thank you for a safari review! I went to Ngorogoro crater in 2006 and it was life-changing. I’ve been wanting to plan another safari and gorilla trekking trip for next year. This review was certainly helpful and if you could just review a whole bunch more outfitters so I could decide that would be great! 😉

  63. @Emily B – Lucky and Ford absolutely should not travel to Uganda nor spend any money there, despite it being cheaper than Rwanda. Just google “gay rights Uganda”. that’s enough.

  64. @Eric makes a good point and as enthusiastic travelers we should try to find ways to minimize our impact… and to use our voices and dollars to influence the trends by favoring companies that make a real effort to improve their products and services. Companies that don’t make the necessary incremental improvements will get left behind. That is how positive progress happens.
    I don’t understand why everyone has to jump on him for offering this reminder. The argument that there has always been climate change is just silly. Of course there has… but this time it is not in our favor and we do have the power to influence it if we stop acting like it’s a personal insult to suggest we at least try to clean up our act. And these changes will not ‘gut our economy’ @Robert Hanson, but will open up whole new economies.
    I don’t mean to preach… I love to travel and do fly fairly often… so I am guilty as anyone. Doesn’t mean I should deny the effect of that. It means maybe I need think about some small changes. Like if I want to explore Southern Africa, maybe fly the long distance and hire a fuel efficient car and road trip the rest instead of flying, for example (yes it’s doable…there are some really good national road systems and some of the best parks, like Kruger, Etosha and others are easy in a little sedan). This may mean I visit fewer countries at a slower pace, but I bet it will be more rewarding too. I can try to really research which lodges make the most effort to be fuel and water conscious and spend my money there…
    There is a balance somewhere that I am still trying to find, between supporting the beautiful wild places with my tourist dollars and minimizing the flip-side environmental impact. Not easy but we should keep it in mind. So thanks @Eric.
    On the subject of the gorillas: no one has mentioned DRC. I went in Virunga, arguably one of Africa’s greatest national parks and one most in need of our support. Admittedly you have to research the current safety situation before you go as it is volatile, but it is simply spectacular. And much cheaper than Rwanda. I tried to spread my support by trekking to see Golden Monkeys in Rwanda while staying in a small locally owned lodge and then going to Virunga’s Mikeno Lodge to see the gorillas. Unforgettable experience! (And there is also the volcano while you are there).

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