ROAM: Safari, So Good in South Africa

Imagine a whirlwind adventure through Kenya, where daily game drives showcase grazing zebras, a herd of elephants, groups of wildebeests, prides of lions, leopards and cheetahs, and so much more. You return from your evening sundowner to a luxurious safari camp, your own personal sanctuary nestled in one of the continent’s most iconic settings.  That’s just one sample itinerary.

Travelling throughout Africa holds such immense meaning – and memories – for Mary Jean Tully, the founder and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, an award-winning luxury travel company serving a global clientele. The bridge leading into Mombo, an upscale tented camp situated in the Okavango Delta in Botswana is aptly named the “Tully Tully Bridge” after she and her husband Brad. They generously donated the bridge for their love of Mombo, and for their belief in conservation, preservation, and sustainability. “It’s in my will that when I die my ashes are to be spread there,” she says.

Tully lives in downtown Oakville and her corporate offices are in Mississauga. Her first safari was to Cape Town many years ago. “I will never forget my first sighting. My husband and I got in the vehicle and went to what looked like an empty field, just before the sun started to set. When the golden hour arrived – about 5 p.m. – we pull up, and there’s a pride of lions with their cubs,” she recalls. “I remember one lion was licking her paw and turned and looked right at me. I was terrified, my heart was pounding out of my chest.” The guide reassured her that she was perfectly safe because to the animal she was one with the vehicle and there was no threat. “I remember those moments like they were yesterday. And I’ve continually gone back.” 

Tully travels to Africa at least twice a year. “A safari is so unique. It gets us back to truly appreciate nature.” She firmly believes that an important and rewarding aspect of a safari is helping people open their hearts and nurture their curiosity. “I think that travel makes us better people. I often have clients saying that they want to go somewhere with family – somewhere meaningful.” This also means that they don’t want their kids to be on their devices all day unless, of course, they’re taking photos.

“It’s something that a family or a couple can do together. You still have all of the amenities, but imagine having lunch and seeing elephants walk by, or spending the afternoon with lions and cubs – as a family. You sit there together, learning at the same time, all of you asking questions. Nobody’s obligated to do anything but be in the moment and experience this natural environment.” 

Clients return home saying that the experience has changed them and that their children have a newfound interest in watching National Geographic or Animal Planet, Tully says. “You could take 2,000 pictures and you’ll remember the moment that each one of them was taken.”

A lot of people will go online and book resorts and hotels, but Africa is different. It’s the one place you need to work with someone who really knows it, Tully says. “It’s overwhelming – and not all camps are created equal.”

Tully and her team have personally visited all the safari destinations and properties she sends her clients to, all of them offering the highest standards of luxury, safety and game viewing. These camps and lodges feature all the creature comforts of home, including Wi-Fi to keep you connected if you so desire. She also notes that many areas are free of malaria.

A first-time safari-goer might want to start by visiting Sabi Sands, home to unrivalled Big Five game viewing and some of the best safari lodges in South Africa. Then, they could spend a few days in Cape Town and visit the wine country. The ultimate land of contrasts, South Africa has “everything from mountain ranges to white beaches,” Tully says. “You can see penguins, visit wineries, and dine at fabulous restaurants – there are so many things to do.”

For something different, Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta and many fabulous camps. “The game viewing there is phenomenal,” Tully says, noting that there isn’t necessarily a big city nearby to experience as an add-on, but that “many clients will start their trip with the Kruger National Park area of South Africa, and then carry on to Botswana.”

East Africa’s dry season – from July to October – brings the annual Great Migration, where more than 1.5 million animals head north from Tanzania through the Serengeti and cross the Mara River into the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. For optimal viewing, Tully recommends visiting camps in Tanzania and Kenya.

Spending time at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi is a must. This iconic boutique hotel is considered to be the most Instagrammed property in the world. The property’s resident herd of Rothschild’s giraffes visit morning and evening, poking their long necks into the windows in the hopes of a treat, before retreating to their forest sanctuary. From here, you can spend an hour playing with orphaned elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. “It’s an amazing experience, especially for the kids,” Tully says.

The renowned gorillas in Rwanda present another one-of-a-kind experience. On this guided trek, you journey through the dense jungle and have the opportunity to watch the majestic Silverback gorillas and their troupes as they forage in their protected natural habitat.

A proper safari vacation experience should be no less than two weeks, according to Tully. Everything is included – wine, beverages, food and two game drives per day. The safari lodges range anywhere from eight to 12 rooms. With such an intimate number of suites, you receive dedicated attention the entire time. You wake up early and have breakfast in the bush. Those who might not want to go on a game drive that day can enjoy the camps’ fitness centers, beautiful pools, and outdoor spas. There are also opportunities to visit local villages, and perhaps even get the kids involved in a game of soccer with the locals. At night, guests gather around the bonfire to share stories from the day’s experiences.

“Seeing cheetahs, leopards, and elephants, meeting the people in the local communities, going out for a sundowner – simply, a sunset happy hour in the African Bush – enjoying great food and wine while listening to the roar of the lions – it’s all so magical.”

Tully is often asked if she gets tired of going on safari – a preposterous question. “No two safari holidays are ever the same. You never know what amazing things you’re going to see each day. Africa changes you. To sit there and just listen to the sounds of the African bush. There are no lights around, the sky is absolutely beautiful, the sunsets are spellbinding and you’re interacting with some of the most incredible wildlife – it’s unbelievable. Being surrounded by nature teaches you stillness,” she says. “Through the simplicity of Africa comes great peace of mind.”

Once you’ve been to Africa, you’ll never be the same. “The beauty of going on safari is that every day has its own unique charm,” Tully says. “Mother Nature is as unpredictable as she is breathtakingly beautiful. This will be a trip you will never forget.”

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