Africa travels continue in part 2 of our trip (If you missed part one read it here)! After Cape Town, we were coming off a high of a great 4 days mixed with a little bit of disappointment about our shark cage dive being canceled and definitely looking for some adrenaline rushes.
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and had a shuttle arranged to take us to our hotel. We arranged this ahead of time through Liberty Travel because our hotel was over 3 hours outside of Johannesburg.
We originally had Kruger National Park on our list (as everyone does) but it just didn’t really fit in our agenda and our travel agent suggested trying Pilanesberg. We were hesitant at first because it seemed close to a city but I can assure you it is very remote, and it has all of the same animals and opportunities to see them- so it ended up being a great choice for us and much more economical!
Our hotel, Bakubung Bush Lodge, was literally inside the game reserve, I’ve never had an experience like this- they literally have to open gates into the game reserve in order to get you to your hotel. Our hotel was fenced in but the animals technically could come right up next to where we were eating dinner – it was soooo cool!
Upon arrival, our hotel offered a lot of options for things to do and allowed us to sign up for a Boma dinner they offered twice a week. We took the jeeps out to the woods at night and they had a beautiful buffet with a fire and traditional dancers. They were extremely talented and entertaining and I couldn’t believe this experience was included with our hotel stay.
The next morning was a bright and early start when my alarm clock went off around 4:00am. We decided back in the states that we wanted to do a hot air balloon safari and the day had finally come. Our guide came to pick us up in a jeep with big thick blankets (because it’s literally freezing out there in the dark)! On the way there we were driving and our jeep just came to a halt. When I looked out the side, I noticed that the headlights were lighting up something walking in the middle of the road. It was a HUGE male lion just strolling down the middle of the street. This was the first real wild animal we were seeing out on the safari and it was absolutely breathtaking (literally thought I might die). Eventually, he moved to the side and was literally feet from where I was sitting and I’m pretty sure we made eye contact.
We made it to the site where they were blowing up the balloon and it was beautiful as the sun was rising. We buried under our blankets and waited in anticipation for our balloon to be ready. We went with the company Airtrackers and they were all so professional and on time for everything. Our pilot was so knowledgeable and charismatic and we all wanted to stay up in that balloon forever! We flew for maybe an hour and got to see rhinos, crocodiles, impalas, wildebeast and more from above. As our first safari, we were super excited to see anything and even more excited to end the trip with a champagne toast! This cost us about $310 per person but was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After the eventful morning, we signed up to walk with lions at Kudus Rus. They scheduled a van for us to take out there and we paid about $20 each ($100 total) for a round trip van to take us the 45 minute ride to the Kudus Rus Game Lodge. It was about $55 each to play with the lions and let me tell you- it’s not for the faint hearted. When we got there they explained to us how we could be jumped on and if we get too close to the ground the lions might all jump us to think we’re playing. Please take into account that I hate being nibbled by a freaking puppy, so I started to get super nervous. We started by walking with 5 lions that were about 11 months old and 150 pounds. It took some warming up but eventually I had a great time with them and was even comfortable enough to crouch down next to them. Of course toward the end of our walk one turned around a took a nibble on my leg. It was a pretty powerful nibble but I never really felt in danger. Brian on our trip also got jumped on and I was very thankful that didn’t happen to me because I don’t think I would have been able to handle that. Keep in mind, these weren’t malicious at all and both instances were just them trying to play with us!
Next we got to bottle feed the babies and this was what I definitely came for. They were ADORABLE and just like little cats. They were a blast to play with and we had a great time snuggling with them. I left Kudus Rus with a mean bruise, a new fun fact, and unforgettable memories. Please make sure to do your research about the places you walk with lions because not all of them have the best intentions. The owner of Kudus Rus was a trained Big 5 trainer and even was a part of a show on Discovery Channel, so we trusted his intentions.
We planned to catch the afternoon game drive that was complimentary with our hotel stay but we got hungry and missed it while waiting for our lunch. Rather than being disappointed we opted for a pool day and spent some time at the pool bar relaxing. It was so amazing to know I was sitting in the middle of a safari (you can literally see wild animals from the infinity edge of the pool!) enjoying a drink by the pool.
That night we hit up the dinner buffet at the hotel (included in our stay) and the food was delicious. We had tried a lot of weird meats since we got there but I have to tell you, Warthog was surprisingly delicious and I kept going back for more. One other thing I noticed about African cuisine- their desserts are absolutely amazing, super sweet, but totally enjoyable with every bite.
The next day we doubled up on game drives and got to see ALL of the Big 5. To elaborate, “Big 5” is the 5 most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot- lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalos. We saw them all throughout the day and on top of that got to see zebras, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, and more! We didn’t see lions super close the way we had the day before but there were literally elephants fighting within feet from our jeep.
I was super nervous about seeing a leopard because we were told that if you were to fight a hungry lion, you have about a 50% chance of surviving. If you were to meet a hungry leopard, you have 0% chance of making it out alive- terrifying! Luckily, we got to see one from a little lookout on a break and although I wasn’t quick enough to snap a picture, I got to see it with my own two eyes and that was close enough for me!
We made it back early enough from the morning drive that we were able to take advantage of the free breakfast provided by the hotel and it was delicious with freshly made crepes and an omelet bar.
The morning game drive was a little more animal heavy than the afternoon but both were really cool. One thing to keep in mind though is it gets dark during the afternoon one, so if you had to pick one I would go with morning. People can also be SUPER annoying on more crowded jeeps. We had a lot of people yelling “STOP” when our driver was trying to get a good view of an animal and everyone didn’t really care about what others could see. It’s best to try to be patient (for your sanity) but definitely expect this on any jeep with lots of tourists.
One big concern I had about this leg of our trip when I was packing was what I should wear, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter. I read all these blogs about hats, and cotton clothing, and no neons but I saw people wearing all kinds of things. One thing to know, you’re going to get dirty just from the dirt and it’s unavoidable. So maybe skip on white and I’d probably stick with closed toe shoes because who knows what could happen! Hats weren’t necessary on our game drives because we had a covered jeep but in the morning you definitely want to layer up! Other than that, I was rocking some ripped jeans and a t shirt one day so it really doesn’t matter.
Overall, Pilanesberg was so much more than I expected. Originally we felt like we were settling for a second best to Kruger but it really stole my heart. Kruger gets super busy so we were thankful to have less crowded game drives and a hotel that was so accommodating. I feel lucky to have gotten to experience these amazing animals face-to-face and inspired to see more of the world.