If you’re just starting to plan your honeymoon, check out my first honeymoon post here on how to approach the process and choose the right destination for you. If you’ve settled on a destination, check out my second honeymoon post on how to prepare for the trip and ensure the experience is incredible!
When planning our honeymoon, we wanted to go somewhere that neither of us had been before, and we also wanted to split our trip between beach relaxation and adventure. The first part of our honeymoon was spent on the beach in the Seychelles (read all about it here) and after ten days of sun, sand and resting up after our whirlwind wedding, we headed to South Africa where we embarked on a six-day safari at the Chitwa Chitwa Lodge in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. Whether you’re thinking of a trip like this for your honeymoon or just going for a special vacation, I can say that it was unequivocally the most incredible travel experience of my life to date. Today I’m going to cover my safari packing tips, my recommendations on what time of year to go, and finally all of the details on our experience at the Chitwa Chitwa Lodge in Sabi Sands.
Safari Packing Tips
We were there at the end of August/early September when the weather is very pleasant, but can be chilly, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons. Plan on boots or tennis shoes, comfortable pants, and layers on top. On the hottest afternoon, I was still entirely comfortable in jeans, boots and a light long sleeve chambray shirt. On the coldest morning, jeans, boots, a layered shirt-sweater-jacket combo and cozy scarf was perfect. I recommend bringing a pair of gloves and a hat (we wore baseball caps which were great), because your hands and head can definitely get cold in the mornings. No need to go overboard with cold-weather gear however, because the Land Rovers are stocked with warm blankets and heat packs for each person.
According to our guides (and corroborated by further research), the need to wear earth tones and khaki-colored clothing head-to-toe is a total myth. Of course, if you want to get your safari-chic on, have at it! However, our guides said you can really wear anything, in any color—it doesn’t make a difference. They only said that you should perhaps avoid bright white or bright yellow when going on bush walks, which we only did on one afternoon. I’ve read that black or very dark colors can attract flies in some safari locations (Zambia and other places) but Rich and I often had dark jeans or a black jacket on, and we can’t remember seeing a fly once. Overall, you just want to bring clothes that are comfortable for climbing in and out of a Land Rover and can be layered easily for the fluctuating temperature.
We brought this amazing Ona backpack that’s specifically designed for photography equipment, and it perfectly housed our cameras, lenses, spare batteries as well as extra layers, gloves, and binoculars. I’d definitely recommend bringing a backpack of some kind to house similar necessities while out on game drives during the day.
At Chitwa Chitwa, there’s daily laundry service included in your stay, so you can pack light! This was actually quite necessary, because the very small plane we took to the Lodge only allowed for one small bag each, so outfits were certainly repeated during our stay (poor Rich was so distraught…)! Be sure to check on those bag restrictions for any small planes you may be taking before you go!
When to Go
If you’re reading this from the United States or any other location in the northern hemisphere, keep in mind that South Africa’s location in the southern hemisphere means that its seasons are opposite ours. This worked in our favor, because going in August during their winter is the ideal time for seeing big game and basically living out all of your Lion King fantasies. Because the terrain is dry and foliage dormant, the wild animals that inhabit the area are forced to stay closer to more limited water sources, making it easier for our guides to know where to find them. They’re also much easier to track and spot from a distance when you don’t have lush grasses and leafy trees in the way. Although we’ve never been during their summer months, several of the other guests at the lodge that we befriended during our time there had been, and said that this trip during the South African winter was by far superior. We saw all of the “big five” (lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, and rhinos) on our very first morning! And, that’s not even mentioning the giraffes, zebras, baboons, hyenas, hippos, warthogs, impalas, kudus and countless other animals we had the opportunity to see from the get-go as well.
The Chitwa Chitwa Experience
If I could only travel to one location, and only stay at one place, for the rest of my life, it would be Chitwa Chitwa. I honestly feel homesick writing this post and scrolling back through these photos, and we were only there for six days (I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true). It is impossible to overstate the absolutely magical experience we had—everything from the beautifully appointed villas (with gorgeous safari chic decor that belongs in Architectural Digest), mind-blowingly spectacular meals, unbelievably wonderful staff and a location that is straight out of a movie. The lodge is situated on a small lake with each of its villas nestled right on the edge of the water. Each villa has a private back patio and infinity pool where we would sit every afternoon, just yards away (yet still completely safe!) from hippos, giraffes, zebras, elephants and countless other animals who would come by to drink and bathe in the lake.
Honestly, I’ve never met friendlier people constantly eager to help and ensure that your every waking (and sleeping) moment is the best it possibly can be. I can’t remember the last time Rich and I left a resort or hotel and truly felt like we were saying goodbye to good friends. Every last member of the staff makes you feel not just like a valued guest, but like a treasured member of their family. It’s indescribable.
Each day begins with tea, coffee, scones and a panoply of other treats served on the deck of the main lodge, before our tracker and guide would lead us on the first early morning game drive. The game drives were the most thrilling experiences and our guide Rodney and tracker Ranson were astonishingly knowledgeable about the area and animals—able to identify animals and behavior by the faintest print in the sand. Guests are kept completely safe during the drive, and in every possible way, the trackers and guides exhibited a total commitment to environmental conservation and the utmost respect for the wild animals and their natural habitat. It’s incredibly inspiring and impossible to leave the experience without a newfound appreciation for mother nature. It’s the circle of life, ya’ll. Fo real.
After the early morning game drive, which includes a break for tea and coffee out in the bush, we would return to the lodge to indulge in the most elaborate, delicious breakfasts we’ve ever experienced. Then, we would basically roll ourselves over to the lounge areas in the main lodge, or back to our villa to nap, read or take a dip in the pool, always keeping one eye on the lake and the amazing wealth of wildlife that was constantly filtering through. We also could use the time to hit the Lodge’s gym or spa (though more often chose to relax!). This midday period of free time continued into the afternoon, when lunch was served at 1pm and high tea served at 3:30. Following tea, it’s back on the Land Rover for the evening game drive, which always included a stop halfway through for cocktails and sunset in the bush. We would then come back, have an hour or so to wash up and regroup, before enjoying dinner and drinks at the lodge or (some nights) in special surprise set-ups out in the bush. I could write a book just about how insanely beautiful and delicious every meal was. We’ve honestly never eaten so much or so well.
Speaking of books I could write, it is impossible to describe how special each and every game drive was. We went into the experience having virtually no expectations, other than the general sense that we would hopefully see some cool animals. However, on our very first game drive, we were absolutely dumbfounded when we drove out of the lodge driveway and in rapid succession, came upon a herd of elephants, a herd of zebras, and a pride of five male lions—just a few short yards away from our vehicle. Because there are such efforts to preserve the natural habitat and respect the animals in Sabi Sand, the opportunities to see wildlife are unparalleled. From just a few yards beyond our vehicle, we saw a male leopard on the prowl at night, a pair of giraffes having dinner at sunset, three dozen female elephants bathing with an eight-week-old calf in a watering hole, a pride of lionesses napping in the sun, and countless more. One of the most memorable moments was seeing a female leopard drag an antelope she had just killed up into a huge tree where her nine-week-old baby was waiting for dinner. We parked under the tree and watched the tiny leopard kitten tear away at the fresh antelope meat as his mother rested on a large branch nearby. Every moment was surreal, and every turn was more exciting than the last.
Safaris always operate on a set schedule, because game drives have to start and finish at set times in the early morning and late afternoon to ensure the best chance of seeing animals based upon their feeding times. The rest of the day is then structured around these drives, so definitely be prepared for keeping a tight schedule throughout the safari experience. Not only is it entirely worth it, but they make every moment of the experience so phenomenal, you’ll quickly find you’re excited to show up on time so you don’t miss a thing! As the self-proclaimed worst morning person ever, I actually found myself excited to hop out of bed at 5:30, and loved sipping coffee in the crisp air, looking out over the lake as the hippos woke up and the landscape started to come alive before our first game drive which typically left at 6. While the schedule for meals and game drives is a bit more rigid, the 4-5 hours in the middle of the day between the morning and evening game drives are yours to relax, nap, go on a guided bush walk, or visit the local village.
As you can imagine, the entire safari was a photographer’s paradise, so Rich and I were in heaven, capturing all of the animals we saw each day. We have literally thousands of photos from the trip, so if you’d like a little reprieve from your Wednesday morning grind, keep scrolling below!
If there’s anything I missed, any questions you’d like answered or tips you’re looking for in anticipation of a similar trip, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!
© All images copyright 2015 Mary Orton