I spent two glorious nights at the Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge for safari. It was my first safari and I could not have asked for a better experience!!!! The small, thirteen suite property is situated right in the bush with animal friends visiting us throughout our stay. It was common to spy water bucks grazing in the yard just off the terrace, have elephants visit us at dinner….hanging out at the edge of the mist, and have warthogs run across the path in front of us (to which I called out “Hi Pumba! and said warthog stopped, turned, grunted, and continued on his way)…
The five-star Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. The resort is extremely eco sensitive and is lauded as one of the most eco sensitive lodges in Africa. Each suite has a private plunge pool (mine was on the end–number 6 with amazing views of the bush) and an outdoor shower. The covered dining area overlooks the watering hole giving even more opportunities for game viewing. Some nights, the staff sets up the tables outside with lantern light for dinner under the stars. It was a romantic setting–even with a group of friends. Our safari game ranger dined with us at night giving us more opportunity to ask questions and learn about the local culture and the animals.
Below is my live video on youtube of our room at the game lodges and the public areas (albeit in true safari style sans makeup)….
Our safari guide (game ranger), Lee, was amazingly knowledgeable. I loved it that this cute, twenty-something blonde gal loved the animals, knew their habits and tendencies, and carried a gun that would take down an elephant if needed…. She was a trailblazer—not many females become game rangers because of societal and familial pressures and they are subjected to what I call Little Missie syndrome—you know….”Let me help you with that Little Missie.” And I have to tell you that Little Missie Lee ain’t no sissie!! I wanted to be transported back to my twenty-year old self and join her girl ranger tribe!!! Lee drove the jeep—down ravines, over trees, through the bush, up crazy hills and could stop on a dime (the sound of the sudden stop on the clay path reminding me of my early driving days on the dirt roads of Arkansas).
Our jeep held seven people (we were all friends) and could go off road proficiently. The photo below is of a second jeep in our group of luxury travel advisors chosen by South Africa Tourism to attend this educational adventure.
In front of our jeep in an attached chair sat Patrick, our expert spotter (Shangaan guide). This guy could locate a chameleon in a tree fifty feet away….in the freakin dark…. Patrick was able to get us prime locations when the animals were traveling—once even positioning us where a leopard would walk nonchalantly by our jeep—like right beside me…I sent the video to Chickadee who exclaimed “He could EAT you from there!!” It was that close!!
Patrick and Lee also were our Bush Butlers—preparing coffee and tea with snacks in the morning and wine and cocktails in the evening….in the bush….at sunset… Our sunset cocktail party was once visited by a lone hyena who gazed longingly from a distance at our gin and tonics.
The safaris left at 6am and 4:30 pm each day with an option of a walking safari after breakfast if one was so inclined (and I was—remind me to tell you about our walking safari unexpected rhino encounter….wow!!).
It’s important not to miss a safari time even if you think you’ll catch it on the later round because different animals are seen at different times and you might miss out on something you’d really like to see (or something very cool)… The recommended length of safari is three or four nights so do “as I say” and not “as I do” on a professional educational trip. Our guides did a fantastic job of checking off all the animals on our respective lists, but if we had more time, we might have seen lions awake instead of at their morning nap and seen the hippos out of the water and not mostly submerged….
I found that elephants are quite the hams in front of the camera:
The Rhinos were terrifyingly beautiful!
The Zebras and Giraffes brought me back to my childhood….just love them!
We got up close and personal with a group of sleeping lions….I was ecstatic when a lioness opened her eyes to see what we were up to…
I learned that the Big Five were named because they were the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot (back when that was in vogue) and the name stuck (in case you were wondering how the buffalo was named as one of the Big Five). Lions, Leopards, Buffalo, Elephants, Rhinos.
I loved watching the Buffalo!
The Hippos made me happy, although apparently they are quite dangerous–they kill more people each year than any other animal. Who knew those stubby little legs could run so fast–much faster than a human…
And of course, we cannot forget our friends the Kudus (below), Impalas and all their cousins whose names I forget…
I asked Lee how they arrange the animal sightings—especially when Sabi Sabi may have safari guests arriving and departing different days. She explained how they arrange the visiting areas to maximize animal sightings, but still saving some animals for another day (of course, there are surprise sightings that we definitely take advantage of). The game rangers are in communication with each other—helping each other out by telling them when they see something amazing. At Sabi Sabi, they also have a respect for the animal to where they don’t overly crowd them or have too many jeeps visit at one moment. The rangers are skilled in animal body language and know when an animal is agitated or has had enough. Their tails may be curled up (like with the Rhino) or they may shake their head and flare their ears (like the elephant)…
One question I am asked a lot is the difference between being on a private game reserve and a public park land. Lee explained that in a park, one cannot go off road to get closer to the animals—thus needing more high-powered cameras and binoculars. In a private game reserve, the jeeps are free to go off road as long as they can do so safely and with respect to the animals being viewed. Another difference is the number of jeeps in one spot. Many private game reserves restrict the number of people who can view the animals at one time so the animals are not agitated or become scared of being pinned in by jeeps.
When on safari, one should be mindful of positing photos of endangered species on social media. Phones and modern cameras geotag photos giving poachers the opportunity to locate the animals more easily. Poachers are even a problem on private game reserves—Sabi Sabi had their own poacher patrol roaming the property to attempt to eliminate the problem. One can simply disable the geotagging feature on the phone/camera or wait a few days (at least three) before posting so the animal has time to properly move on to another area. It’s tempting to post that photo of a Rhino immediately, but just wait. The opportunity to post will still be there in a handful of days.
During our visit, we also visited the other Sabi Sabi lodges: the Selati, the Bush Lodge, and the Little Bush Camp. They all have a different feel, different sizes, and different restrictions (some do not allow children unless the camp is completely bought out). We met with the general managers of all the properties as well as the director over all the lodges. Needless to say, we have true insider access!
Give us a call or shoot us an email to book your Safari experience. We have solid relationships with safari wholesalers and providers and connections with GMs and sales managers of the very best lodges. We are on a first-name basis with many of the managers and can offer special perks—best room position, upgrades, room amenities, coordinating special celebrations, etc. You can reach us at 770-702-0787 or email us at becky at bellatravelplanning.com.
Becky Lukovic is an experienced travel advisor and a South Africa specialist. She travels the world to meet hoteliers, tour operators, winery owners, and more. Her passion is cultural and experiential travel. Be sure to follow her on Instagram.