Much like my chase for the northern lights, it took me two trips to see the Big Five. On a trip to Kruger National Park in 2013 I saw lions, elephants, rhinos, and African buffalo, but no leopard. The highlight of my time in the Serengeti this August was a leopard in a tree. The rhino was nowhere to be found because there are approximately 42 rhinos in Tanzania.
If an African safari is on your bucket list I recommend heading to the Serengeti in Tanzania and picking a luxury lodge. Sadly, I cannot help you with which luxury lodge because I used Flash Pack for my trip and I don’t recommend them. After a $1,500 markup, Flash Pack outsourced the trip to a local company, Tent With a View Safaris, and the accommodations were too rustic for me. If converted Land Rover camping sounds like your idea of fun (the passenger seat of the Land Rover was the toilet, for example), the staff, food, and rest of the experience was wonderful. Forget Flash Pack, book Tent With a View directly or book a nicer lodge.
I stayed at the Naledi Game Lodge in South Africa and have only wonderful things to say about it. It's a small family-run lodge in the Balule private reserve and while it's much more affordable than many of the safari lodges in Sabi Sands, it is still quite luxurious. Our rate was $250 per person per night, but prices are closer to $350pp now. They serve gourmet, delicious meals and have very knowledgeable and passionate staff. The lodge only has 3 rooms there so it's a great intimate safari experience. Find this place in the Serengeti.
A few things you should know before choosing a safari vacation in Africa:
It takes a long time to get there and back and you will be tired. Coming home from Tanzania was over 24 hours of travel.
Animals are active early in the morning so you have to get up at 5:00/5:30am to see them, and you will be tired.
Riding around in 4x4 vehicles all day without air conditioning is not the most comfortable way to travel, and your back will be tired.
Fly to your game lodge, sparing stressful driving on less than quality roads. And take anxiety medication if you don't like small planes.
It is not cheap.
You will never want to go to a zoo again.
I recommend the Serengeti over Kruger because the sprawling savannah vistas are truly otherworldly. It felt like walking out of my real life and into Disney’s Lion King. And while the wildebeest are ugly, loud, and not overly smart creatures, there are SO MANY of them. Watching them cross the Mara River and sometimes be eaten by a crocodile - who needs the National Geographic Channel!!
Because safaris are all inclusive and there’s nothing further for me to recommend, please enjoy some photos from Tanzania that I hope will encourage you to go!