Some might think it sounds slightly terrifying, cruising around in a tiny car surrounded by elephants twice the size of your vehicle and Lions who could potentially break if they wanted to; but in reality it is probably the most rewarding experience you will receive on “safari” in South Africa.
We started our journey much like any other animal enthusiast a little nervous about venturing into South Africa, at the Lion Sands Resort. If you can afford to do this please do, even just for one night, a one night fare will cost you around $1000 CAD per person, but it is insanely luxurious, and of course there are some cheaper options at different resorts. With your room rate you get all inclusive meals a drinks, a private butler and house keeper who makes up your room multiple times a day, a personal driver and tracker who will take you on 2 safari cruises for each night of your stay.
We were lucky enough to have connections and be able to get a night in at Lion Sands to experience the “African Safari” we all see on television. A private pick up at the airport and cruising right into the national park in an open top jeep. With our own private guide and tracker we were able to off road and find all the animals our hearts could possibly desire. The unique thing about this experience is the close proximity you get to the animals, we were in an open top vehicle and “Scotia” the leopard, who has taken up residency on their part of the reserve, was a mere 15 feet away from us. Elephants were so close I could touch them, although you don’t dare! One of the baby elephants thought he was being big and strong, trying to scare us he would charge at our jeep, he thought he was intimidating but we just wanted to pick him up and give him a cuddle! Other moments you will experience is a pack of lions walking right in front of you while you are in awe of just how beautiful these animals truly are in their natural habitat.
One thing you learn is THEY DON’T WANT TO EAT YOU! They just want to do their thing while you do yours. Which leads to why you should RENT A CAR AND DRIVE YOURSELF!
We flew into Skukuza Airport ( which is the most beautiful airport we have ever flown into, It’s smaller than an average hotel, with only a small check in counter, arrival departure gate gift shop and rental car company ). The small rental car company is where we picked up our fancy blue Toyota corolla that took us through the park on our own for the next week!
There are magnificent “camps” along the way. I wouldn’t call them camps as they are set up to westerner’s standards. The bungalows you can rent for $50 CAD per night are closed walls, have running warm and cold water and most have a BBQ or a small kitchen if you want to cook dinner at night. If you aren’t in the cooking mood most of the camps have a restaurant where they make an amazing chicken pineapple burger! every camp also has a store, a park and one has an elephant museum. So you aren’t exactly “roughing” it when I say “Camping in Africa”, when I first thought about “camping” I was nervous about what to expect, and my expectations were blown out of the water once we arrived.
Every day is different, different roads, different areas of the park, different animals. When you’re driving in the park you can only drive max 50 kph, but at most times you are going 30 kph always on the look for more animals; this made us less nervous as well because they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in Canada. You have to stick to main roads so it’s hard to get lost, the most exciting thing that will happen is getting stopped for an hour while a heard of elephants crosses the road in front of you, or Cheetah’s stalk their prey for a lunch time snack before resting their belly’s on the side of a termite mound. Every day you will experience something new, have an amazing encounter with some kind of animal, and be amazed by what these animals do when they are in their home land and not in a zoo or park.
Rent the car! Experience the African back roads for you self. loose track of time, listen to the old school music on the radio and enjoy searching for wild African animals! The most rewarding thing is seeing these animals in their natural habitat, they aren’t going to hurt you, they are just living life the way they know. You’ll see cat’s on the hunt, Elephant in the watering holes with Hippos, Giraffe’s reaching for those leaves on the top branches, and millions of colorful birds. There is truly so much to see, one visit to this park will have you wanting to come back year after year!