Talk about procrastination. It’s been 4 months since I got home from the most epic vacation of all times and I’m finally getting around to posting about it. Sheesh. Who am I and where do I even begin. Let's go on safari!
Let’s start at the beginning… grab yourself a drink and a cookie and buckle up.
For the past 20 years I’ve been begging my parents to take me on safari. Every year when surprise vacation would roll around, I’d somehow interpret all the clues so I thought we’d be going to South Africa for safari. Year after year I was wrong. But not this year!! Back in April we hit the road for 2+ weeks and went on my dream vacation. Cape Town. Safari in Sabi Sands private game reserve at Londolozi. A trip to Victoria Falls. And another safari in Botswana. To be honest, I’m a little concerned that I peaked for the best vacation of my life and I was only 30 years old. It’s going to be tough to out-do this one.
I know a lot of you followed along on instagram while we were on the ground but I got a ton of questions about the trip so I figured I’d lay it all out here on this post. (literally this will be longest and most photo heavy post ever) From where we stayed... to what we packed etc. I’ve already posted my guide to Cape Town here, so feel free to check that out if you’re hitting the city before safari. But for all things safari related… read on.
For our safari in South Africa we stayed at none other than Londolozi. In one word, it’s perfection. Everything from the welcome champagne complete with a herd of elephants at the lodge chilling outside the lodge, the staff, the guides, the rooms, the food, and every detail in-between was beyond my wildest imagination. And before we get any further let me tell you this - I’m one of those people who never wants to go back to the same place twice… there are just too many places in the world to discover. BUT, and this is a big but… I would go back to Londolozi in a heartbeat every year for the rest of my life. It was that special.
Every morning we’d get a wake up call around 5:15 am (aka a knock on our door) to signal it was time to get moving. We’d roll out of bed, throw on our safari gear, and be down at the breakfast area by 5:45. We’d grab a pastry, some coffee and water and then hit the road. I was traveling with my family (me, my husband and resident photographer (we can thank him for 90% of these pics! The other 10% from yours truly), mom, dad, sister and one of her friends) so the 6 of us would pile into a private open air land rover and hit the road. Here's the thing, when you safari on private land there really isn’t a road. We were able to go any which way we pleased and create new roads should we need to traverse a certain section to get to the animals. We had 2 of the most incredible guides and I’m fairly certain they are miracle workers. They’d ask us every morning what we wanted to see and somehow we managed to see everything we wanted. From roaring lions, to lionesses, lion cubs, a dozen or so leopards, all the elephants, plenty of hippos, crocodiles, the words. Honestly we left checking every single animal off the list. We even got to see a leopard hunting it’s prey and dragging it up into a tree. AND BABY LEOPARDS. My sister and I freaked out with excitement and we’ve been Facebook messaging our guide for the past 4 months to check up on the cubs to see if they made it. Luckily, so far, they are all still alive! (circle of life guys…. its real. The lion king was no joke)
After our morning game drive we’d head back to camp and have breakfast. The food was beyond. Everything was made to order plus there was an abundance of cakes, coffee, juices, champagne, fruits, etc… you name it. After breakfast we’d all retreat back to our suites for a little cat nap, perhaps a quick yoga session and obviously I’d squeeze in a little work here and there. Around 1 we’d convene back at the common area for lunch and high tea and champagne. Duh. When in Rome right? After that we’d pack it back up and hit the road again for an afternoon game drive. Mid-way through the afternoon drive we’d stop in the middle of the bush for a sun-downer (happy hour). Imagine drinking champagne or a cocktail of your choice (gin and tonic seemed to be the specialty) in the middle of the bush. Again, beyond my wildest imagination. We’d drive until well beyond darkness so we could see the animals doing their thing at dusk and in darkness. We’d stop and look at the stars, hear stories about the animals and the different prides of lions vying for various territories, and learn about the land. Our guide Andrea has been living in the surrounding Londolozi area since he was 3 or 4 and I’m fairly certain he knew everything there was to know. I miss him!!
After the second game drive of the day, we’d return to camp, shower and freshen up and then head down to dinner. Some nights we’d have dinner just the 6 of us, others times our guides would join us, and some nights it was a camp wide dinner in a giant hut complete with traditional song and dance. It was magical. I cried the last night at Londolozi because I was so devestated that we’d be leaving the next day.
On top of the glorious amounts of food, 2 game drives daily and the most incredible staff of all times, Londolozi puts a lot of time, energy and money back into the conservation of the area and has an incredible social enterprise misison which we learned about at the learning center. On top of employing people from the surrounding areas and their families, they also have a top notch anti-poaching unit in the premise and there hasn’t been any incident of poaching in 10+ years. The men in charge of the anti-poaching are all former military personnel from up in Northern Africa and while we didn’t see one the entire time we were there, I’m so thankful for them. It’s incredible to see these animals in their natural habitat and anyone that would want to harm one of them is disgusting.
Yet another activity while visiting - you can tour the village where the entire Londolozi staff lives while work and attend round table discussions from the guides and/or owners on their stories and the Londolozi mission and how it was started (a hunting lodge) and how it’s become what it is today (a game reserve where conservation is of utmost importance).
Okay… onto Botswana!
The day to day drill in Botswana at the was very similar to that of Londolozi. The 2 main differences were this. 1: in Botswana we safari’ed by boat most of the time. Our lodge was right on a river and this afforded us a different vantage point to see all the animals. If you can tack this portion of the trip onto your adventure, you absolutely should. Watching the elephants comes down to the river for a bath or a drink is pretty magical, especially during golden hour when everything looks perfect. You’ll cruise right alongside a pod of 20 hippos and if you’re lucky you’ll even see one come out of the water.
The other difference, is that in Botswana you safari in a park which means you can just make your own patch and run over trees to get to where you want to go. You on the main roads which is totally fine but less adventurous if you ask me.
And now to some FAQ’s:
How to book: All of these trips can be booked directly through the hotel websites, or you can use a service like Wilderness Travel or Abercrombie and Kent who books everything for you and handles all the transportation between each camp.
What to pack: Clothing wise, not much. We had our laundry done for us every night, it comes complimentary of the lodges, so you need at most 3 outfits for safari and then some dinner clothes. Make sure you pack natural colors too! I was head to toe Eddie Bauer the entire time and rocked my Rag and Bone Olive Green hat like it was my job.
What kind of camera equipment should I bring: All of it. Literally. Part of the reason this post took so long was that Thomas and I have been editing 1000+ images every weekend since returning home. Our photo wall is getting a major makeover and it’s going to be all safari pretty soon. Scroll down to the very bottom of this post for a full list of all the gear we brought...
Would I recommend it: Without a doubt, 100000000% yes. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. You can bet that this was NOT my last safari trip and I’m already planning my next trip. Kenya, Uganda (Gorilla Trekking), Namibia, and Tanzania are at the top of my list and there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’ll be back at Londolozi again. If you want to do Londolozi, plan ahead. They book out about 18 months in advance and get this - 60% of their bookings are repeat customers. You guys, that’s unheard of. Obviously I’m not the only person who is obsessed. We met one couple while we were there that has been every year for the past 10 years. It’s basically my new life goal to be just like them.
How did you get there: We flew Emirates through Dubai. It was basically the longest 2 flights of my life but there was a consistent supply of hummus, wine and other incredible food. Emirates was equally as magical as Londolozi and there’s a bar on board. And the lounge in Dubai was basically the dreamiest lounge I could have imagined. 24 hour freshly made food, showers, wifi, you name it. How cool is that?
What if I have kids: It’s a LOT of sitting and silence while you’re on the game drive portion of the trip so if your kids are down for that, go for it. That said, I actually don’t think I saw any kids under the age of 18 the entire time.
More pictures below... enjoy
A note from Thomas...
When you're out on Safari you never know what animals you are going to come across and how long they will be in sight. You also don't know how close or far away you will be from these animals and don't want to be constantly switching multiple lenses between a single camera body. You'll spend more time worrying and fidgeting with your gear and less time enjoying the safari experience. So... here's the deal... bring 2 cameras.
The first set up was my zoom setup. I opted to go with the Canon 7D Mark II for the body and pair it with the Canon 100-400 telephoto lens. Why the 7D? The 7D uses a crop sensor vs the full frame sensor that is found in the 5D. To put it as basic terms as I can, the crop sensor crops out the edges of the frame which automatically increases the focal length (zoom) of the photo when compared to a full frame sensor. By using a crop sensor it adds a multiplier effect of 1.5 to the length of your lens. That means my 100-400 zoom lens becomes a 150-600 zoom lens. A bigger zoom means tighter shots on the animals. The 7D also has one of the quickest autofocuses on a DSLR and can shoot up to 10 FPS which can come in handy when shooting animals on the move. This was the first time I had shot with this setup and I was more than pleased with the way the photos came out. The next Safari I go on, this setup will be right next to me.
My second setup was for when the animals got close to our vehicle and wide angle landscape photography. I went with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canons EF 24-70 II lens. The 24-70 is the single best lens I have ever used and probably the best lens Canon makes. Very sharp and quick to focus. If you want the best with versatility this is the lens you should be using.
In both of the cameras I used a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card. The extreme version of this SD card allows for you to take more pictures in a short amount of time and not have to wait for the camera to load pictures onto a memory card. It is the perfect card for the trigger happy photographer and will give you the best possible setup to not miss a shot due to a slow memory card. Also my rule of thumb is to never use an SD card of 32GB incase a card get corrupted. I would much rather lose 32 gigs worth of photos vs 64 gigs. Chances are this will not happen but I have heard horror stories. I made sure to have at least 2 extra empty cards with me at all times incase I a card filled up or got corrupted.
At the end of each day I would dump my cards onto an external hard drive. This would ensure that I had plenty of space for the next days photos. It also made photography organization much much easier by breaking down my captures into camera setup (zoom vs wide angle lens) and day. We can go over file management another time. I am a mac user and the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 2TB hard drive is hands down my favorite. It is super fast when ingesting the days photos, it is durable, and the cable is attached to the hard drive so you do not have to worry about losing it. It can also hold a ton of photos.
The biggest challenge when shooting with the 100-400 lens is that your arm gets tired. Especially when you are on a 4 hour game drive. To avoid this I brought my MeFOTO travel tripod that converts to a monopod. The monopod worked great in the back of the safari vehicle. It allowed me to have a steady hand when shooting, the versatility to easily pan, and I did not have to hold a 4 pound lens up for the majority of the day. At night I was able covert the mono pod back to the tripod and get some amazing long exposure shots of the milky way. Did I mention that this tripod fits inside a standard carry on suitcase?
For the days I did not bring the tripod out, I made sure to bring my portable GorillaPod. This flexible tripod goes everywhere with me and has saved the day more times than not. It has a small footprint and works great as a tripod when you are in a crunch.
Traveling with a ton of camera gear is never easy. You want to protect your expensive camera gear, be comfortable transporting it, and make sure you do not have to check it when flying. The ProTactic 450 Camera Backpack from Lowepro is the best camera bag I've owned. It has top, back, and side access points to quickly grab the great in the bag. It had plenty of room to fit my 2 camera bodies, 2 lenses, batteries, battery chargers, laptop, external hard drive, headphones, microphone, and multiple portable power packs. It also fits under your seat when flying.
On this trip we went on a bunch of hikes. While the ProTactic is great for traveling, its not the best bag for hiking. For our hikes I would transfer all the gear I wanted to use on the trails into the Photo Sport 200 AW by Lowepro. This camera bag is perfect for day trips. It has a padded interior case to hold 1 DSLR and 2 lens with side access to quickly grab your gear. When it starts to rain break out the All Weather cover and your gear stays dry. This feature came in especially handy when we were hiking Victoria Falls.
There ya go! Everything we brought with us. Enjoy