Going on a safari is a must when traveling to South Africa. There are several safaris available in country (the most famous being in Kruger National Park), but the one we chose was in the 22,000 acre Entabeni Game Reserve. After a quick flight to Johannesburg from Cape Town, the bus ride out to Entabeni is about 3 hours. Our tour guide on the bus really hams it up as we enter the reserve and the gates open, announcing over the loud speaker “Welcome…to Africa” (cue the John Williams music).
In order to maximize the time, they start the safari right away, so be prepared to have anything you need for the next few hours and into the evening because it does get very cold as the sun goes down. We hopped off the bus and into open air Land Cruisers (while your luggage makes its way to the lodge). These are not your suburbanites’ Land Cruisers either. These vehicles are the real deal, taking 10 of us over boulders and on 45-degree rocky inclines and declines. I’ve got to hand it to the folks at Disney World because the rocky wildness of the Indiana Jones ride is a spot on copy of how ruggedly off road we were going.
We spent a few hours out in the safari and immediately saw wallabies, which got everyone amusingly super excited. I say amusingly because seeing a wallaby is like getting into a tizzy over seeing a squirrel in the city; by the end of the trip, after seeing hundreds of wallabies, no one gave a shit about them. So don’t go crazy wasting film on them if that’s the first thing you see.
We did however also see rarer creatures in the wild. Because there are too many animals to list out, you’ll be able to see what we encountered in the galleries below. Over the next few days we’d go on excursions at sunrise (waking up very early) and sundown, as those are the best times to try and see the animals. They key animals that you want to try and spot are the big five game animals: the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. During our time we were lucky enough to see all except the leopard, a historically hard animal to spot because they usually only come out at night and are very shy.
Our lodge was located at the top of a mountain in the reserve and it takes about 30 minutes to get from the lodge to the main areas where the animals reside. The lodge itself is extremely comfortable and the tap water there is safe; we were not roughing it at all. Huge rooms, hot showers, comfortable beds, outdoor patios, a spa, and a pool–the place has it all. And don’t worry, they have South African plug adapters available for guests. We were however warned to stay in lighted areas as to not get attacked by an elephant or rhino or something.
All the rangers who acted as our guides were highly knowledgeable, super friendly, and worked very well together over radio to call out where particular animals could be sighted. For example, believe it or not, trying to find elephants is NOT as easy as you’d imagine. Despite their size, elephants are actually extremely quiet (unless of course you piss them off), so it did take a lot of driving, tracking, and radio chatter among the rangers to pin down their location.
If you can get access to one, I’d highly recommend bringing a camera with a telephoto lens. Although an iPhone works fine, the rangers might not necessarily be able to get you super close, so you’ll really want the real deal if you’re going to take pictures. By the end of the trip, I wanted to stay another week. It literally is the Lion King come to life out there (I swear we saw the cliff that had to be the inspiration for Pride Rock). With the animals walking right up to and around the Land Cruisers, you’re equal to them like no where else in the world. Specifically the cheetahs–yeah they’re really badass–and the lion parents with their playing cubs were so close you could pet them (and then immediately get your hand ripped off). It’s a beautiful experience, one that’s worth the price and time to get.