What To Expect On Your First Safari (Hint: It’s Mind Blowing!)

Growing up, The Lion King was one of my favorite movies to watch. I mean who didn’t want to roam the African plains getting into good intentioned fun with Timon, Pumbaa and Simba? Though, I will say to this day it’s hard for me to watch Mufasa die without feeling some type of way. In fact, I almost cried during the Broadway play version of the movie. Anyway.

The one thing that has always been at the top of my bucket list of travel experiences is going on a safari. That dream became a reality the moment I stepped off a tiny Beechcraft Baron at the Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport and jumped into one of Kapama Karula Private Game Reserve open game-viewing vehicles.

The drive over to the lodge was an adventure in and of itself. Wind blowing through my hair, sun shining, brushland to the left and right of me… I literally couldn’t contain my excitement as we drew closer to home base. Then we stopped. For a crossing giraffe. And I lost my mind. I knew this would be a very special couple of days!

Kapama Karula lodge is an absolutely gorgeous property situated on the Klaserie River in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo.

Inspired by African culture and the wild, this property’s design purposefully blends in with its surroundings. It’s a luxurious oasis that simultaneously allows you to feel connected with nature while providing five-star accommodations and amenities. Like faster internet than what I have in my New York City apartment. I kid you not.

Back to what I came for: game drives! Each day at Kapama Karula starts at the crack of dawn with a game drive and ends with an evening drive (that includes fancy snacks and wine!). Driving through the African plains in a multi-level game viewing Land Cruiser on the lookout for wild animals is exhilarating, to say the least. During my two day stay, we managed to see The Big Five: the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. We also saw plenty of other wildlife like zebras, hippos, monkeys, crocs, kudu, impalas, mongoose, vultures, hyenas and warthogs.

We not only saw these animals, but we witnessed particularly special events that were National Geographic-level awe-inspiring. We saw lion mating rituals (in which they mate about every 15 minutes for up to five days straight, sometimes without sleeping!), a giraffe grazing with a very newborn baby, a rhino protecting its young, herds of elephants (reminiscent of The Jungle Book, another favorite of mine!) and we saw the elusive leopard chilling in a tree.

One of the coolest experiences? Following a lion stalking its prey during the pitch black night. The lion was literally three or four feet away from me at one point. As it walked right past the corner of our vehicle I sat in, we locked eyes and for a second I was like… what if this animal lunges right at me?! It carried on like I wasn’t even there. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Looking to go on a safari adventure? Here’s a list of things to expect and be prepared for!

The Basics

Pack light, airy clothes in neutral earthy colors and layers (unless you’re going during the winter months of June-August, in which case pack accordingly). Definitely bring a camera with a strap to put around your neck and if you’re just using a cellphone camera, be sure to keep a tight grip on it! Other essentials include a bathing suit, sunscreen, a hat and bug spray. BRING BUY SPRAY. The bugs here are no joke. Aside from the biting sort, be prepared to encounter bugs that you previously had only seen in the insect section at the zoo. Think praying mantises, giant beetles and enormous grasshoppers.

Game Drives

Morning drives start very early, around 6 am! You’ll grab a light snack and coffee and head out while the sun’s just starting to rise (don’t worry, you’ll have a full course breakfast afterward). Evening drives begin before sundown. You’ll take a little break for wine and bites that include Biltong, a South African jerky made of all sorts of meat like kudu and impala. Each drive is about 2-3 hours during which you’re scanning left and right for wildlife in their native habitats.

Night Drives

Nighttime is when the nocturnal animals come alive. Your expert tracker will be equipt with a spotlight, turning it left and right as the driver navigates through the bush. The spotlight illuminates animals’ eyes so that they can be spotted. The anticipation of what will come out of the dark is next level!


While on safari, don’t be worried about animals lunging and eating you. You’re safe with the incredibly knowledgeable safari guides who’ve spent their whole lives studying these animals and their habits. They’re experts who’re going get you as close to the animals as possible while maintaining safety measures. While safari vehicles are not enclosed, the guide will explain to you what not to do when you encounter a predator. For example, no loud noises, sudden movements, or sticking body parts outside the car. Obvious stuff.


You MUST go on a safari at one point (or many!) in your life! It’s seriously one of the most fascinating and exciting experiences I’ve ever had. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have been able to see these beautiful animals up close and personal. It was a completely surreal experience that I highly recommend to anyone who’s looking for the ultimate thrilling adventure. You never know what you’re going to see and that anticipation and excitement is just unreal.

For more on my safari experience, check out my article at Travel Weekly.


Note: I was a hosted guest of Kapama Karula Private Game Reserve. However, as always, my opinions are entirely my own.

For rates & availability, click here.


Chelsea is a San Francisco-based journalist whose passion revolves around exploring the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious.

Her work can be found in TravelPulse, Forbes, INSIDER, SF Gate and more. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine.


  1. May 29, 2018 / 7:00 pm

    Stunning pictures! What an adventure you had! Looks like a great time was had! Thanks for sharing your trip with us all! 🙂

    • cheyday
      July 24, 2018 / 3:55 pm

      Thanks so much!!! It was such an amazing experience 🙂

    • Chelsea Davis
      May 10, 2019 / 8:27 pm

      Hi Ira! Thank you so much! I appreciate it!

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