Almost any honeymoon is memorable, but when you’re starting life’s journey together, an African safari can be the experience of a lifetime. Pack your sense of adventure and join a modern day hunt for Africa’s “Big Five”—lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and Cape buffalo. 

You’ll encounter unexpected luxuries as well as sights and sounds that will spark your sense of wonder and live in your dreams forever. There’s no such thing as a “typical” African safari. The continent is vast, the wildlife vary from region to region, and a trip can be anything from rough and dirty to easy and pampering—“glamping in the Serengeti,” if you like. 

 Your accommodations may be tents or boutique game lodges; herds of animals may wander by your room while you sleep, or you might have to pursue them by foot, boat or open-top safari vehicles. If you want to spend your whole honeymoon on safari you can certainly do that; on the other hand, some destinations make it easier to wrap different experiences around your big game hunt, such as touring the wine country of South Africa, taking a luxury train journey with Rovos Rail, bungee jumping near Victoria Falls, or climbing to see the snows of Kilimanjaro. If a tent or camp isn’t quite your speed, you can stay in a hotel like South Africa’s Fairmont Zimbali Lodge and still enjoy a safari experience by day-tripping. 

Most African safari destinations are in the southern half of the continent, from Kenya in the north to South Africa down by the Cape of Good Hope. On a continent more than 11 million square miles, however, honeymooners will need to narrow down their destination choices a bit: in addition to Kenya and South Africa, other popular safari destinations include Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda. Each country offers something unique: Rwanda and Uganda are home to mountain gorillas, while Tanzania boasts Africa’s largest game herds in the Serengeti (a ranking shared with Kenya) as well as the continent’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. South Africa is the continent’s most modern country and is known for high-end safari experiences, as is Botswana. Zambia caters to those seeking more low-key animal encounters, while Zimbabwe adventures typically include a trip to mighty Victoria Falls.

Couples can choose a single safari or arrange for a tour with multiple stops through a company like Seasons in Africa, which works with lodges, preserves and hotels across southern Africa. Safari parks include Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Chobe National Park and the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana, Etosha National Park in Namibia, and Kruger National Park in South Africa.

 Some safaris also take place on private game preserves, such as Sabi Sands in South Africa. Sadly, it’s true that big game hunting persists in some corners of Africa, but many wildlife preserves catering to tourists see their mission as conservation. Thanda Safari in South Africa, for example, works to protect endangered rhinos from poaching, and guests can tag along with conservationists to track and protect the preserve’s largest residents. Going on safari isn’t only about wildlife: it’s also an opportunity to meet the people of Africa and learn how they have lived in harmony with their natural world for millennia.

A Botswana safari may include the opportunity to visit with bushmen who remain hunter-gatherers much as our mutual ancestors were 10,000 years ago; in South Africa, safari camps like Thanda offer immersion programs with members of the Zulu tribe. Thanda offers a notably diverse array of lodging options, from a tented camp to luxury bush lodges and the Villa iZulu, a five-room luxury villa with a vast array of amenities, separate quarters for any staff you’d like to bring along, and a helicopter landing pad—all within easy view of a watering hole that attracts a variety of wildlife. Sanbona, another South Africa private reserve, has ranger-led game drives that will get you up close with a virtual Noah’s ark full of African animals: lions, elephants, leopards, African buffalo, white rhinos, hyenas, giraffes, cheetahs, hippos and many more.

In addition to a luxury tented camp and the resort-like Tilney Manor, Sanbona offers the option to let guests “rough it” in an unfenced camp with tents raised riverside deep in the heart of the reserve. The Pondoro Game Lodge, in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, caters to romantic couples with luxury accommodations, a spa and fine dining; each suite features an outdoor jetted tub on a deck overlooking the Olifants River. (the name contains a hint: you might see elephants from your tub.) Private river dinners and candlelit baths make this resort a favorite of honeymooners, but the resort also leads morning and evening wildlife drives, and guests have the opportunity to stay overnight in a treehouse wildlife- spotting location, or to “hide.”

The Madikwe Game Reserve on the South Africa/Botswana border is one of the last refuges of the African wild dog, and guests at Molori Safari will have the rare opportunity to see packs in their natural habitat as well as an abundant population of rhino, cheetah, and more than 350 species of birds.

With just five open-air suites, Molori Safari offers a degree of privacy that can sometimes be hard to find even when you’re on an African safari. Spa treatments and fine dining defy the remote location, which is also excellent for stargazing—the resort has its own observatory, too. Botswana blends the luxury trappings of a South African style safari with vast wild lands—an “old Africa” experience in three unique locations.

 The floodplains near Belmond Khwai River Lodge attract a wide variety of big game, as does the river sitting before the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, including its namesake pachyderms. Canoe safaris are part of the fun at the Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, set on a palm-shaded lagoon. All of these safari lodges deliver pampering along with unforgettable moments, but when you’re ready to leave the bush, you can cap off your African honeymoon in the lap of luxury with a stay at Cape Town’s elegant Ellerman House, a Cape Edwardian mansion with mind-blowing villas overlooking the sea.

> Written by Bob Curley