As i’ve said before, all travelers and wanderlusts go on a safari at some point. Before you jaunt off to Africa or India for a safari, i beg you to invest a large amount of time looking into your Safari provider. Unless you are fortunate enough to know someone who lives in these countries and can personally escort you around, you’ll be going with a tour operator.
It goes without saying that there are many, many tour operators. After seeing an article in Bon Appetite magazine, i went with a company called CCAfrica. They’ve since become And Beyond Africa. They are considered a “luxury” provider and i’m not lying, it was luxurious (more on that later). But it wasn’t the luxury bit that convinced me to travel to South Africa with them. It was:
- Restricted access. In South Africa, ABA has several safari parks. Each one limits the number of guests allowed on the property at one time. No horror stories about hoards of tourists descending upon bathing Hippos.
- Local staff. Although guides do come from other countries 60-70% of the staff at Phinda, where i chose to go, lived in the area immediately surrounding the nature preserve. This included security, trackers, cooks, drivers, etc. Visiting this park gave me a wonderful opportunity and provided them with employment that was not detrimental to the wildlife (read: they weren’t poaching animals) or themselves.
- Accommodations. The accommodations were first class all the way. However, when i say the accommodations were appealing, what i mean is that the owners took great care to build housing that minimized disruption to the wildlife. Huts were constructed to blend in with existing trees and forest area. In some areas of the park, rooms were literally built into the side of a mountain. This is Phinda and you can get a sense for what i mean in the photo. You can see the lodge but notice how it easily blends in with the surroundings.
- Treatment of the animals. Phinda was a wildlife preserve. Although i don’t read or speak animal, you could tell they were living in a natural habitat. It was such a difference that i have since refused to visit any Zoo’s. Seriously. I’ve had heated arguments with family members when i decline to take nieces and nephews to the Zoo. And again, props to ABA for limiting access to the preserve because i think this makes a huge difference. By limiting the amount of people on the property, the animals are doing what they do and not worrying about cars and hearing foreign human chatter.
That’s what motivated me to visit Phinda. When i got there, i was beyond thrilled with my choice. The staff was absolutely top-notch and made things that sound alarming, easy to understand and fun. Example? Phinda is preserve, animals are permitted to roam freely throughout the entire property. The entire property. Once the sun goes down, guests are not allowed to walk from the common areas back to their room without an escort. Escorts to have tranquilizers in case someone does come ‘visiting’ the lodging area, but thankfully they are rarely used. Instead, our escorts made a point of showing us various star formations or letting us know which animals were talking to each other at night.
The food was amazing and plentiful. I regret not taking photos to share (what can i say, i was a novice traveler!). A typical day consisted of coffee, light breakfast while out on a ride, hot and cold breakfast upon your return, afternoon tea and a three course dinner with or without alcoholic beverages. I accidentally offended our host when i declined the hot breakfast on my first day. I filled up on cold food and didn’t realize i would be expected to eat a second course. Sorry!
Phinda has a variety of activities in addition to Safari rides and walks. This can include airplane trips to see the property, bird watching excursions and possibly assistance with preservation work (if you signed up for that in advance).
Upon booking, ABA can help arrange transportation from major South African airports to Phinda. I would assume this is the same for other preserves and parks.
I’ve traveled with other tour company’s and had pretty good experiences. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for and have a good time. However, what made this trip memorable was the location and the staff. Based on how people treated visitors, it is clear the staff really enjoyed their work and the company. You can’t train that into an employee. It’s either there or it’s not. In marketing we often refer to the “end-to-end” experience. Roughly translated, this means we want customers to have a stellar experience every time they engage with your brand or product. ABA exemplifies this.
If you are going to Africa, or on a Safari, i hope you’ll consider this amazing organization. While i have a strict “no repeat travel rule” i do hope to be able to take advantage of their properties in other countries. It was that good and it was worth every single penny. I’m happy to go on and on about ABA so ping me with q’s.