Looking for things to do in South Africa? I’m sharing all about our travel to South Africa and what to expect on a South Africa safari.
Last year we had the opportunity to go on the trip of a lifetime! We were in the process of moving abroad when the pandemic hit and left us both stranded: on two DIFFERENT continents! After spending 18 months apart, we were finally reunited in our home in Houston.
Shortly after, we were able to finally go on a long delayed trip to South Africa. Our friend wanted to have her wedding in the country she was born – and we were happy to join her there to celebrate! Any chance you get for a South Africa safari you take!
Where is South Africa?
As the name implies, the country is located at the southern tip of Africa. Some people get confused and think it’s a territory or a region but it’s a country and officially the Republic of South Africa. The only thing south of South Africa is ANTARCTICA!
What language is spoken in South Africa?
We were grateful to find that most everyone in South Africa spoke English. Our language skills seriously paled in comparison to the multilingual people here!
The country has over 10 official languages and most people speak SEVERAL fluently! The most common languages spoken are Zulu (23 percent), Xhosa (16 percent), and Afrikaans (14 percent).
What animals do you see on a South African safari?
We were SO lucky to get to see so many amazing animals in the wild. Most people hope to see The Big 5 when they come to Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and the African buffalo. The elusive leopard is the only one we didn’t see.
The giraffe was one of the first animals we spotted. We saw them on our drive into our lodge and then several times on our multiple drives. I snapped this as he was walking over to get a bite to eat from that tree…. and then proceeded to poo while he was eating. It’s wild out here!
Hands down the coolest part of our safari was seeing lions in the wild. They live in a special part of the park since most of Mabula Game Reserve is managed for wildlife conservation.
We saw male and female lions and even caught them MATING! TWO DAYS IN A ROW! We couldn’t believe our luck. That’s some Discovery Channel stuff right there!
I’m not gonna lie, getting that close to wild lions is… terrifying. But holy moly what an experience! We would all breathe a collective sigh of relief and silently cheer when they got close to us or we got to see something exciting. In college I was in Alpha Delta Pi sorority and our mascot was a lion. My “little” sister was on this trip with us so we were thrilled to get a picture with “Alphie”!
My husband about gave one of our guides a heart attack when he THOUGHT he spotted one. It was pretty funny how fast he threw the vehicle into park and ripped out his binoculars! Unfortunately, you start seeing things out of nothing when you are starting at trees and brush for hours! Any dark spot looks like it could be a sleeping animal!
Another of the highlights was spotting African Wild Dogs while on an evening game drive. This cuties are critically endangered and only about 500 left in the wild. So we were very lucky to catch a sight of them!
The lodge we stayed at was a private game reserve and is home to some 60 mammals, 300 bird species, 100 plant types and numerous reptile and insect species. We even got the chance to do a true bush adventure: a horseback safari!
Nothing can compare with the excitement and thrill of big game viewing on horseback but this is NOT for the faint of heart. You get REALLY close to the wild animals!
One of my friends was actually knocked off her horse just yards away from a rhino and her baby. She was ok but that was pretty scary!!
What to wear on a South African safari
Color and comfort are the most important things to consider when searching for what to wear on a South African safari. You want to stick with light colored neutrals because you want to blend into the scenery.
You do quite a bit of sitting so you also want to be comfortable. Our morning safari met at 5:30am and we were back for breakfast a 8am. Evening safari met at 4:30 and got back for dinner at 7pm.
The mornings were cool so we made sure to bring the blankets from our rooms specifically provided for the drives. Once the sun came up and we got warmer we were able to take it off. So make sure you dress in layers!
We came in so late for dinner, I usually just changed my shoes and took off a layer or two on top. This outfit was what I wore on an evening game drive and basically just swapped my shoes and touched up makeup for dinner. The dining is very casual.
I found clothes for our South Africa on Amazon and at Old Navy. Here’s some links to the exact items I packed for safari! The majority of my clothing was cotton or linen and the neutral colors were great for mixing up my outfits since were were in South Africa for over 2 weeks.
When to go on safari in South Africa
So I can only speak from personal experience but we found the weather during our trip in October to be perfect! Remember, South Africa is in the southern hemisphere to their seasons are opposite to ours in North America!
We arrived in the middle of Spring and the temperatures were lovely. I mostly wore lightweight capris and pants with layers on top. A blanket scarf was perfect to keep warm and was easy to take off.
Where to go on safari in South Africa
Our stay at Mabula Lodge outside of Johannesburg, South Africa was perfect. We flew in and out of JNB and it was nice to stay in the city for a few days before we headed out to the game lodge. A hired driver to took us the two hours to and from Johannesburg.
The lodge was beautiful and hand selected by our friend who was the bride at the wedding we attended there. The place felt very intimate as the staff lives on site for shifts of a couple weeks (not sure exactly how long). This meant we had the same guides for our game drives and were served by the same staff as well.
Mabula had beautiful trees and plenty of wildlife to see right there on site. I especially loved the gorgeous Jacaranda trees that were in full bloom with their bright purple flowers when we visited. I learned that Johannesburg is the largest landlocked city in the entire world and they have the “largest man-made urban forest” with more than 10 million trees.
Mabula was probably the most relaxing place I’ve ever experienced. The sights and sounds of the lodge were so tranquil. I loved sitting on the terrace sipping a latte and catching up with friends while the waterfall nearby bubbled and monkeys played over our heads.
We were so far from a city so the night sky was beautiful and it was amazing to see the constellations in the southern hemisphere. Dining under a 100-year-old Wild Fig tree while the stars sparkled in a brilliant night sky was nothing short of magical.
What happens on a South Africa safari?
I mentioned above we went on two drives each day. The morning one leaves at 5:30 am. You meet up in the lobby and grab a coffee or tea and a rusk biscuit. They are very popular in South Africa. They’re a cookie that is dehydrated until it they’re really crunchy, kinda like biscotti.
On the drives, our guide would usually ask us what we wanted to see that day. Unless there’s a high profile sighing, most of the trucks head out on their own all over the game preserve. The drivers use radios to let each other know where the herd of elephants is or if they’ve got a lion spotted etc.
The afternoon drives are similar, with a tea time before and a few hours of driving and viewing. The morning drives end with a coffee, tea, and rusk break before we head back to the lodge. The evening drives end with a “Sundowner” or African happy hour! This was a really fun way to end the day!
Our drives were in open air trucks and can be a little unsettling at first. You get REALLY close to the animals and it can be a little scary. It can also be windy and dusty so just know that when you go!
Another tip is to stuff your suitcase with as many items to giveaway as you can. A few dollars for you on coloring books, crayons, and other supplies would mean the world to a few kids here in South Africa. The staff at your lodge would be more than happy to facilitate their delivery. Also consider donating any clothing or shoes you don’t have room for or want to bring back to the states.
How much is a safari in South Africa
It takes just under 19 hours to get from our home IAH to JNB. The flight was a BIG chunk of the cost of our trip. We splurged on first class flight but even in economy you’re going to spend a pretty penny. That’s why a trip like this is really best to save up for a do BIG!
Once you’re in South Africa, you’ll find the exchange rate great for Americans! It’s more than 1:16 for USD to ZAR. Here’s a breakdown of some of our safari related costs if you’re looking for how much a safari in South Africa costs:
|Lodge Accommodations, all meals, and safaris for 5 days and 4 nights for 2 adults||$870 USD|
|Round trip first class flights for 2 on United Airlines from Houston, TX to Johannesburg, South Africa||$8127.90 USD|
|2 night stay in Johannesburg Marriott Hotel Melrose Arch||$240 USD|
|Transfer from Johannesburg to Mabula (x2 for return)||$145|
I hope this post provided good insight on a South Africa safari! I also hope you’re feeling inspired to travel somewhere new and bring color and creativity wherever you land! Be sure you check out my travel archives if you’re looking for more travel inspo!
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