The wild is not just reserved for Rudyard Kipling characters. Anyone who has the vacation days can move up from Disney cartoons to the real thing!
First step: Choose your adventure.
South Africa’s bushveld was a natural choice for me because of my father’s background. (He was born there and did not move to the States until after graduate school.) However, you may want to explore other areas of Africa, like Botswana, Kenya or Zimbabwe. Keep an eye on the news or use a travel agent to avoid rainy seasons and regional conflict.
Once you’ve chosen your region, consider national park requirements. My family didn’t want to deal with a malaria risk, so we chose Madikwe Game Reserve. A malaria shot isn’t necessary, but they still offer the Big Five, or the most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino. Oh my!
Second step: Be realistic.
The good news: You will not find yourself alone in the bush and face to face with a wild boar unless you’ve done something horribly wrong and possibly illegal. The other news: You will need a guide, and you will need a brick-and-mortar place to stay. Mosquito netting, regardless of whether you get the malaria shot, is necessary, and pitching your own tent and trying this on your own is illegal in many areas. Where it isn’t, you shouldn’t try. (If they don’t bother passing the law, what makes you think they’ll send out a search team?)
Third step: Enjoy!
The best tip anyone gave me in searching for wildlife in an expansive reserve? Look for movement, not colors or shapes. You won’t spot a rhino in the distance or a leopard in the trees above you if you’re not constantly scanning (what looks like) the dead space around you. I promise, it’s actually teeming with life.
Not to get philosophical here, but if you can’t afford a safari tomorrow, that rule still applies. Pay attention to your surroundings, or all the great sights, sounds and smells will pass you by!
–Tara for TKGO