South Africa’s wildlife experiences don’t start and end with safaris. There’s so much to do in this diverse country than simply hopping into a safari vehicle. It’s time to ditch the car, don your walking shoes, and get closer to nature than you ever thought possible. And because we know that animal experiences are a bit of a touchy subject, we’ve made sure we’re only recommending the sanctuaries in South Africa that practise responsible tourism:
1. AFRICAN ELEPHANT EXPERIENCE
There’s nothing as humbling as getting up close to a full-sized African elephant. Inspect their wrinkled and surprisingly hairy body, feel the touch of their sandpapery skin, and admire the impossible length of their eyelashes. While experiences with the African elephant are somewhat controversial, South Africa has sanctuaries allowing close interactions with humans without compromising on their welfare.
The Elephant Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay offers as close an encounter as you could possibly hope for. While they don’t offer elephant back rides, you can enjoy a quiet hand-in-trunk stroll with Jabu, Thandi, or Maroela and feel her hot breath as she slips her trunk onto the palm of your hand. You’ll learn interesting facts about the African elephant, learn about the company’s conservation efforts and get to hand-feed the elephants apples. Don’t forget to purchase a painting of your chosen ellie’s footprint which goes towards funding the sanctuary’s conservation efforts. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
2. MONKEY MEETINGS
These mischievous creatures are fascinating to watch in their natural habitat. Swinging from tree to tree, pulling each other’s tails, and stealing food are what they’re known for. Enjoy a shady walk through the forest and observe these primates in a way that’s completely non-invasive.
Monkeyland near Plettenberg Bay offers the chance to get up close with over 500 monkeys in the largest free roaming primate sanctuary in the world. The forest is home to 18 different species (11 free roaming) including Capuchin monkey, White-handed gibbon, Ringtail lemur, Hanuman langur, Black Howler monkey, Bolivian Squirrel monkey, Red-backed bearded saki, and Vervet monkey. If you’re lucky, you may spot the rare Spectacled Langur – as elusive as a ghost, he’s the only one of his kind in the entire forest. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
3. MEERKAT EXPERIENCE
Join a meerkat tour in Oudtshoorn and experience their everyday day life as a casual observer. As the sun rises, you’ll be greeted by the “sentinel” – a female lookout who will pop out of the burrow and search the area for predators. Once the area has been deemed safe, she’ll be joined one at a time by the rest of the colony.
Enjoy a 2 – 3 hour tour with wild meerkats. You’ll hike to the burrows in the early hours of the morning to quietly observe this wild, but habituated, meerkat colony as they wake up and go about their day. Stay in Oudtshoorn.
4. CAMEL RIDES
If you think the ancient art of riding a camel is like riding a horse, think again. It’s an awkward experience that involves trying desperately not to fall off, especially when the camel rises from the ground with its back legs first, tipping you forward. As long as you can ignore the 2m drop below you to enjoy the bumpy ride, it’s well worth the experience.
The camels at Imhoff Farm in Cape Town are tame and great for kids and adults. There is also a snake park, horse and cart rides, and an animal farmyard where kids can pet sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, and an alpaca. Stay in Cape Town.
5. SHARK CAGE DIVING
Do you dare to climb into shark infested water with just a metal cage between you and a 2 metre Great White in its natural habitat? There isn’t much that can prepare you for the size of these creatures when you see them underwater and realise just how broad they are, but there is also no way to prepare for the feeling of awe and respect that rushes over you once you’ve done it.
Gansbaai is known as the Great White Capital of the World. A shuttle will transport you from your hotel in Cape Town to Gansbaai (around a 2 hour journey). You don’t need to have any diving experience as its breath-held so no scuba tanks are used. Snorkels, wetsuits and lunch are provided. DVDs will be available but invest in an underwater camera for the occasion. For those who can’t face getting into the water, surface viewing from the top of the boat is still worth it. Stay in Gansbaai.
6. CROCODILE CAGE DIVING
Done shark cage diving and got the t-shirt? Why not try crocodile cage diving. You’ll get an up-close view of these man-eaters in the water – which few have experienced (and survived).
Cango Willdife Ranch
Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn offers the chance to submerge yourself in the water with five 4 metre long Nile crocodiles. The cages are heralded as “bite proof” with over two tonnes of bite pressure per square inch. You’ll be given goggles and a snorkel. An underwater photograph completes the experience. Stay in Oudtshoorn.
7. CHEETAH WALKS
While running a cheetah may not sound like fun, walking with one surely has its benefits. For one, you get to view this magnificent creature up close. If this big cat decides to take a break on his walk, you will get to stroke him gently and listen to him purr.
Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre
Tenikwa near Plettenberg Bay offers the choice of a sunrise or sunset cheetah walk. Don’t be put off by the idea that this activity is unethical. The cheetahs at Tenikwa have been raised in captivity and have been taken on walks since cubhood as part of their daily enrichment. Guests are allowed to accompany the cats on their walks but the walks are purely for the enjoyment of the cheetahs which is spelt out clearly in the safety briefing. The money charged for these walks in turn funds the world-class wildlife rehabilitation programme at Tenikwa. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
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