Safari Honeymoon Recap and Itinerary
Back in June, Logan and I packed our (shockingly small, soft-sided) bags and headed off on a multi-country African safari honeymoon adventure. We decided to wait on honeymooning until roughly 8 months post-nup for a few reasons, including: a.) we knew we would be exhausted post-wedding, b.) neither of us was able to take consecutive time off for the wedding and honeymoon, and c.) we thought it would be fun to have something epic to look forward to. And it was.
The honeymoon came and went sooner than either of us anticipated, and while we’ve been home for over six weeks at this point, not a day has gone by that I haven’t daydreamed about what was undeniably the trip of a lifetime. I spent two full weeks blurting, “Everything is magic!!!” at random intervals, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had so many wild, beautiful, eye-opening experiences (cliché, but true) with my hairier half.
I know some of you followed snippets of the trip on Instagram, but I wanted to do a two-part honeymoon series here for anyone who may be planning a similar trip (now or in the future), is a voyeur, or simply enjoys amateur animal/sunset photography. I thought we’d kick things off with a recap, and then we’ll tackle safari FAQs and packing tips in a follow-up post. Cool? Cool.
Warning: This is a psychotically long-winded recap. I apologize. I got excited. Here is the cut and dry itinerary for those who don’t like details.
DAYS 1-3 Dulini Leadwood, Sabi Sands, South Africa
DAYS 4-5 Thorntree River Lodge, Victoria Falls
DAYS 6-8 Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana
DAY 9 The Residence, Johannesburg, South Africa
DAYS 10-15 Azura, Benguerra Island, Mozambique
DAYS 1-3 DULINI LEADWOOD, SABI SANDS, SOUTH AFRICA
After a very long flight from NYC to Johannesburg, a shorter flight to Nelspruit, and about an hour and a half drive to Sabi Sands, we arrived at Dulini Leadwood at lunchtime dirty, exhausted, and slap happy with anticipatory excitement. Said excitement only intensified when we were greeted with big smiles, warm towels, and a delightful ginger lemonade concoction, and shown to our “room,” which was not a room but a palace. It quite literally took my breath away.
The floor to ceiling windows that opened directly onto the reserve where kudu and impala were grazing no more than 10 feet away. The necessary yet very aesthetically pleasing mosquito netting over the bed. The soaking tub floating in the middle of a spacious stone bathroom. It was straight out of a Condé Nast dreamscape, people! My emotions may or may not have been heightened by the jetlag, but…I cried.
We quickly cleaned up and changed into safari gear—not gonna lie, this was a very good look for my roommate—and headed to lunch in the main lodge. After being fed a true feast that included a variety of fresh salads, saucy bbq ribs, and a bottle of champagne, we piled into an open-air safari vehicle and set out on our inaugural game drive.
Within minutes the vehicle was surrounded by a herd of elephants, and I was flooded with a euphoric giddiness I have only experienced a handful of times in my life (i.e. holding The Dude Diet for the first time, waking up in Vegas at my bachelorette, my wedding day, and doing yoga next to Joshua Jackson last week). It was surreal, and the hits just kept on coming. Giraffes, and rhino, and wild dogs, oh my!
Come dusk, our guide stopped the vehicle at a particularly scenic spot to set up a bar that folded out from the hood of the car, and we had drinks and delicious snacks while watching a truly outrageous sunset. (I believe this may have been when I first coined my “Everything is magic!!!” honeymoon catchphrase.) We drove home in the dark, stopping to check out some nocturnal critters on the way, and then had a delicious candlelit dinner before collapsing into bed.
The next three days at Dulini Leadwood were even more unbelievable than the first. We were woken each morning at 5:30 by a soft knock on the door and a tray with coffee and a small snack. Coffee was drunk in bed (luxury of luxuries!), before we donned our sexy safari outfits and made our way to the vehicle to meet our guide, tracker, and safari mates (two other honeymooning couples who we enjoyed very much) a little before 6. Then into to ze bush!
It’s impossible to express the sheer wonder I felt on those drives. First of all, we were in a private game reserve where the vehicles can go anywhere they please. Anywhere. Want to stalk a leopard through impossibly thick brush? Sure. Please duck to avoid getting smacked in the face with thorny branches. Need to drive through a rocky riverbed and perch precariously on a hill to see a lion feeding her cubs? No problem. Hold onto your hats. It blew my mind. As did the festive morning coffee break—they mixed hot chocolate and a delicious liqueur called Amarula into your cup. Life changing.
We’d return to the lodge around 9:30 am for a group breakfast, followed by a few hours of down time (during which we napped/read/discussed the fact that everything was magic), lunch, more downtime, tea (I have never been fed so much in my life), and an evening game drive that ran from roughly 4 to 7. There was a traditional barbecue group dinner one night complete with singing and dancing, and another night we had an impossibly romantic dinner in our room, which was a serious highlight.
Logan and I were lucky enough to see every animal on our wishlist while at Dulini, but my favorite sighting by far was a leopard and her cubs at dusk. The babies (SO FLUFFY, I’m gonna die!!) were playing together on a fallen tree, and much to the delight of our guide and companions…I cried. (Spoiler: I cried a truly hilarious amount on this trip. I’m a crier now.) Viewing the wildlife was amazing, but we also learned so much about everything from animal behavior to South African history from our endlessly knowledgeable (and wonderful! and hilarious!) guide and tracker. The two of them made each drive unforgettable, and I will be forever in their debt.
One of the things I loved most about Dulini Leadwood (there are actually three Dulini properties in the Sabi Sands private game reserve—Dulini, River Lodge, and Leadwood) was that there are only three suites on the property. The main lodge is small and intimate, and there are three different dining spots—one on a large balcony overlooking the reserve, one tucked away next to a fountain, and one outside the kitchen—so that couples can have a little rrrrromance (please roll your tongue) and privacy at meals if they’d like. The service was impeccable, and so much thought clearly went into making every aspect of our stay as special as possible. If you’re considering visiting Sabi Sands, I can’t recommend Dulini Leadwood highly enough.
DAYS 4-5 THORNTREE RIVER LODGE, VICTORIA FALLS
After getting a final morning safari drive in at Dulini, we flew into Livingstone, Zambia and drove to Thorntree River Lodge in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. First on the agenda (post afternoon cocktails and bathing, obviously) was an early evening cruise on the Zambezi River. On top of being surrounded by hippos and seeing a herd of elephants drinking at the water’s edge, we were treated to what was hands down the most outrageously beautiful sunset that I have seen/may ever see. Dear God, THE COLORS. #everythingismagic
The next day was spent exploring Victoria Falls on both the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides. We’d been warned that we’d get wet, and get wet we did. Very, very wet. The thundering falls were undeniably majestic, but truth be told…we couldn’t really see them too well through the all-consuming mist they create, and it turns out that viewing them from both sides wasn’t reallllly necessary. But we did have a total blast and capped off the adventure by taking a short helicopter ride over the falls, which was definitely the highlight. Seeing the falls from above is mesmerizing and gives you perspective on their true size and power. If you go, do this.
For the sake of honesty/transparency, we didn’t love Thorntree Lodge as much as the other places we stayed on this trip. Our room was lovely, as was the view of the Zambezi, but the food and service weren’t the best, and we were further from the falls than we would have liked (a little over 30 minutes). In short, if you’re planning to visit Victoria Falls, I’d suggest looking into other accommodations.
DAYS 6-8 andBEYOND SANDIBE OKAVANGO SAFARI LODGE, OKAVANGO DELTA, BOTSWANA
After flying from Zambia to Botswana, we took a bush plane to Sandibe, arriving just in time for the afternoon game drive.
Our drives at Sandibe were similar to the drives at Dulini in terms of timing and coffee/cocktail stops, but the experience was stunningly different in so many ways. First of all, Sabi Sands is hilly with dense brush, and the terrain in the Delta is much flatter and sandier. (The sand makes for an extremely bumpy ride, which definitely took some getting used to.) We could see farther in all directions in the Delta, and the wildlife seemed denser than in Sabi Sands. The herds of animals were enormous—20 elephants drinking by the water’s edge, buffalo as far as the eye could see, countless giraffes with slews of babies, hippos on hippos on hippos. You get the picture.
Each drive was better than the last, and on our final morning, we saw a lion kill an impala. She then dragged it to a safe resting place under a tree (brushing right past our vehicle) and called her three cubs to eat with her. According to our guide, this was the first time the cubs had ever eaten meat, and watching all of this go down was equal parts shocking, horrifying, and beautiful. ‘Twas very circle of life-y, and Logan somehow managed to capture it on video. He now proudly shows it to everyone we know—including the bartenders at Rubirosa—whether they want to see it or not….
As far as lodging goes, Sandibe was top notch, to say the least. Our cabin was very minimalist chic with a small wood-burning stove that was lit at night when someone came to turn down our bed and hide hot water bottles in the sheets (!!!). We also had a large private deck overlooking the delta with a little plunge pool, next to which the staff set up a romantic lunch one day after game drive. That really rocked our world. Elephants regularly roamed past our deck and front door, and overall, we felt “one with nature.” (I couldn’t think of a less ridiculous way to put it. Humor me.)
Similar to Dulini, the food, service, and staff’s general dedication to making our stay memorable at Sandibe was next level. And I think that of all the places we stayed, the main lodge at Sandibe was my favorite. Its shape and overlapping shingles are modeled after an anteater’s body armor, and the interior is a breezy, neutral-hued haven. It makes perfect sense to me that so many people return to Sandibe again and again, including our South African safari mates, who had visited once a year for almost a decade(!!).
DAY 9 THE RESIDENCE, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
I don’t have much to say about Johannesburg because it was a just a short stopover on our way to Mozambique, and we didn’t get to explore the city. With that said, our hotel was beautiful, super comfortable, and serving a British Colonial vibe that I was very into.
DAYS 10-15 AZURA, BENGUERRA ISLAND, MOZAMBIQUE
Oh man. I’m awkwardly teary thinking about this place. We arrived at Azura via helicopter from Vilanculos (on mainland Mozambique), and the view flying in was INSANE. The pictures don’t remotely do it justice, but the bright white sand dunes emerging from kaleidoscopic blue water was nothing short of otherworldly.
Upon landing on Benguerra Island, we were greeted enthusiastically by multiple members of Azura’s staff, which really set the tone for our stay. Everyone was just really…nice. And accommodating, and fun, but the kindness really struck us. We were shown to our spacious, thatch-roofed cabin that had French doors opening straight onto the beach and settled in for a week of doing a whole lot of nothing. We spent most of our time sleeping, reading, eating (so much amazing fresh seafood!), drinking, and PDA’ing our little hearts out on the sand. Needless to say, it was glorious. It did rain for a couple days, but that only forced us into the spa for couples massages and body scrubs, and I certainly wasn’t complaining about that.
While our chill time was fabulous, we did devote one day to Azura’s “signature experience,” which was absolute heaven. Well, the second half was. The first half was snorkeling on the reef, which I suppose was great, but I’m not a strong swimmer, my wetsuit didn’t fit so I had to go without, and I’m kind of scared of fish, so that part wasn’t really my jam. But after the snorkeling, we hiked a crazy sand dune, and the view of the water and surrounding islands was like something straight out of Star Wars. It felt like we were on another planet. (See pictures.)
Post-hike, we were whisked off to a deserted island for lunch on the beach. Again, #everythingismagic.
Leaving Benguerra and heading home was hard (more tears, duh), but our stay at Azura was the perfect ending to the best two weeks of my adult life. I have a feeling we may go back there someday, but if not, I will cherish the memories and the photos of romantic butter art forever and ever. (Amen.)
And that friends, concludes the safari honeymoon recap, aka the longest post ever to be published on this site. More photos below because at this point, why the hell not? If you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I will attempt to tackle them in the follow-up post.
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