Going on a safari was always one of those things Drew and I thought we’d do when we retired. But, seeing that the kid situation didn’t quite work out as we had planned, we decided to say eff it, let’s do this safari thing. What are we waiting for? So we packed our bags and flew over to South Africa in August. Being in the opposite hemisphere, it was their winter and a great time to go because it’s not too hot and much easier to spot the animals since there’s not much vegetation to block your views.
There are a lot of amazing safari lodges and the task of choosing one can be daunting. Tripadvisor is a great place to start once you decide on where you want to go (Kruger, private game reserves, etc). We decided on Sabi Sands Game Reserve near Kruger National Park because you’re practically guaranteed to see the Big 5 there. What are the Big 5 you ask?
After tons of research and lots of emails, we luckily were able to reserve 3 nights at Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge in South Africa. Because August is peak season, many people book a year ahead of time! Here I was hoping to score a room 3 months ahead of time…but the universe was kind and we stayed at one of the best safari lodges in Sabi Sands.
There were a million things I loved about this place. One was the watering hole where hippos and crocs loved to hang out. The perk is, you get to see hippos all day. The not so perky is you get to hear them at night making grunting noises as they graze.
Chitwa Chitwa is such a well-oiled machine. Our stay could not have been better – they did everything so well from the very beginning. From Johannesburg, we took a small plane to the nearest landing strip and were picked up by our safari guide, Surprise.
Every afternoon around 3pm, all guests meet at the main lodge for cake and tea or coffee. Then it’s off to the jeeps for our game drives. It’s an open-aired jeep with 9 seats, but I love that Chitwa Chitwa never fills up those 9 seats and instead takes a 2nd jeep out so we’re not packed like sardines in the jeep and everyone has a great view of the animals. Ah yeah, mama lion waiting for dinner.
I could not stop saying “Oh my God” on our first game drive because I couldn’t believe how close we got to the animals. Sometimes we were only 5 feet away from a mama lion! Other times, elephants cruised by and we could’ve reached out and touched them…though you should never do that. Nor should you stand up in the jeep and make yourself a target for the animals, unless you want to win a Darwin award.
Most of the animals at Sabi Sands are used to people, so they just disregard us, or this big blob looking thing that we’re all sitting in -and they just go about their business. Eating, sitting around, sleeping. But much credit goes to our guide Surprise who is amazing and knows how to read the animals’ body language really well. He grew up in the bush and learned over the years when it’s safe to approach an animal, and when it’s better to leave them be. If you go to Chitwa Chitwa and are able to request Surprise as your guide, do it! He’s also great at helping people get over their fears. Like how he helped me get over my fear of poop by having me stand in literally a shitload of impala pellets!
So not only do you get to go on game drives that’s better than anything you’ll see on Nat Geo, but at the end of the drive, you stop in a clearing and have sundowners -cocktails, wine, beer at sunset- and talk about all the amazing things you saw on the drive!
By the time you get back to the lodge, it’s dark and your guide has to walk you back to your room, just in case. There was a dead nyala hanging from a tree off the back deck of the British family’s room. A leopard, saving his meal for later. So to be safe, it’s a good idea that they have the guides walk you back to your room. You get some time to freshen up before your guide comes back to get you for dinner.
After dinner, we’re walked back to our rooms by our guides again. Time for bed because the wake-up call for morning game drives is at 5:45am! Your guide comes to pick you up about 30 minutes later and you’re off on the jeep as the sun rises. It’s cold in the mornings so they have hot water bottles and fleece blankets in the jeep to keep you warm.
Every time we go out for a drive, I’m in awe. Every. Single. Time. There are moments when we get so close to the animals that I’m thinking, “Uh, please Mr. Leopard, don’t lunge at me because I’m only 10ft away.” But they never do…well, at least not on our game drives.
One morning, we found the baby cubs alone on a termite mound. The two female lions went off hunting in the night and hadn’t returned yet. They left their babies alone, which could put them in danger if other predators are around.
Oh, hello Mr. Cheetah. Please keep looking at baby lions instead of me. Surprise said we won the tourists of the year award because they hadn’t seen a cheetah in these parts in about 5 months, and we got to see not one, but TWO!
Not only that, but they were scoping out lion cubs for breakfast. Not sure if these babies had spotted the cheetahs, but to keep predators from attacking, their mamas sprayed around the perimeter of the area so any predators would pick up the scent and think that they were around, even if they couldn’t see them. Somehow, the cubs knew not to roam far from the area where their moms left them.
Thank you Chitwa Chitwa and our guide, Surprise, for making our first safari experience out of this world! The people, the food, the environment, and the close encounters with the animals totally surpassed my expectations. They are all so unique that it’s hard to pick a favorite. I love them all!
Don’t forget to watch the awesome video of all the animals in action!