My Take on a South African Safari & Ulusaba

This was our first safari so it’s tough for me to compare this to safaris that take place in other African countries on first hand experience alone.   That said, I did do a fair amount of research and also spoke with a number of people on our safari who have been elsewhere. What I have learned is each safari is unique and there are some major differences, such as landscape, wildlife etc…, depending on the country. 

Elephants crossing on our safari 
I've heard many people say a South African safari is a great "intro safari" for those who have never been on one before.  Based on our trip, whether it's your first or tenth safari, it shouldn’t matter as you are going to enjoy it.  I could see why people may call it introductory, it can be somewhat easy to get to, there are a number of suitable lodging options, some of them close together pending where you stay, and it's also relatively close to major cities.  In addition, if you are in Kruger, anyone can drive a car into parts of the park to see the animals so long as if you stay on the road. Yet when you are on the safari at a lodge, you are out in the wilderness and it feels that way.  

A baboon on our safari 
When some people think of safaris, they think of vast open plains, herds of animals on the horizon and a sun setting in the distance.  South Africa is not that.  When you hear the term "in the bush", that is truly what it is.  You aren't driving across the plains in search of a hundred zebra, instead you head out in your jeep off-roading into the thorny wilderness where you are in search for big cats while stumbling across smaller packs/herds.  One of the nice things about Sabi Sands (the park we were in next to Kruger National) is that you can off-road into the wilderness where you get up close and personal to the animals whereas in some other countries you don't have that option.  

The South African Bush
Driving down steep cliff faces, going over boulders, and driving through bushes so thick you can't see what's on the other side is what made the South African safari so spectacular. Barreling over the brush in search of leopards, lions or any other predator we could find is one of the most thrilling travel experiences to ever have.  And you get this when on a South African safari.  

Coming across a dazzle of Zebra in the bush
There was one predator we tracked and saw on most of our game drives, the leopard.  The area we were in was known for leopards which apparently can be increasingly rare to see on any game drive.  The couple we were with who had been on 10 different safaris said they had only seen leopards on one or two safaris previously and it was from afar.  We had seven game drives over our four days and ended up seeing leopards on 5/7 drives, often times right next to our jeep.  On the contrary, cheetah and wild dogs are not common at all in this area so we didn’t see either of those species as well as not seeing a kill which obviously is one of the more sought after sightings. 

One of the leopards on our game drive
In terms of our safari camp, we stayed at Ulusaba which is part of Virgin’s Limited Edition and it’s actually where Richard Branson has his private safari lodge.  There are two camps at Ulusaba, one camp at the top of a cliff face (Rock Lodge) giving views for miles and miles and then one nestled deep into the heart of the bush known as Safari Lodge; which is what we opted for. For me, I wanted the lodge to be in the thick of it where animals roam through which is exactly what happens at this camp.  

Elephants at Ulusaba 
There is about 8 or so rooms at Safari Lodge thus it is very small and intimate. Given the size, you got to know every single person at the camp and every staff member knew your name.  At night, there was a big communal dinner where you would share your stories with the other guests, where if weather was permitting, would be under the stars. 

A family of Warthogs heading to the mud hole
The food was as good as it gets as well, which was always paired (for lunch and dinner) with South African wine.  They served breakfast, lunch and dinner over the dried up riverbed where at times, elephants would pass by to take a drink out of the fountain.  Pending your room, you could also catch the elephants pass by in the afternoon.  We had a private plunge pool in the back of ours and one afternoon when we were taking a dip, an elephant strolled by.  We also had a hyena den in our back yard so in the wee hours of the morning, we would get woken up from some laughing hyenas returning from their nightly hunt.  And if you needed to get away from your room for a bit, they had a viewing deck over a mud pit where you can enjoy a cocktail as you look at warthogs, elephants and zebras bathe in the mud. 

Elephant siting from our plunge pool 
All in all, Ulusaba was one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had.  Samantha and I were blown away by the service, the food, the layout of the hotel but most of all, the general experience of staying there.  There are certainly a number of great options to stay at when on a South African safari but Ulusaba is one of the best and will set the bar for hotel standards for us going forward. 

One of the walk ways at Ulusaba 

I don’t know what exactly I expected going to South Africa but the entire trip far exceeded my expectations.  And if there is a safari bug, I know have it and am already thinking about where I want to go next.  While I would love to go back to South Africa and Ulusaba, I do want to see what other safari's are like such as a gorilla safari in Rwanda, the great migration in Kenya or the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  However, if you are looking to plan a safari, starting with South Africa is a great option, especially when staying at Ulusaba. 

Deep in the bush, we came across this scene


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