The silence on the South African savannah can be both terrifying and transcendent, making it easy to forget that we live on an overcrowded planet. Kruger National Park and the North West Province are two of the richest wildlife regions on the African continent, playing host not only to the so-called big five--lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo--but also to a menagerie of zebras, warthogs, cheetahs, and velvet monkeys. On most game drives, the only living things you don't see are humans. This primitive sense of solitude combined with the over-the-top indulgences offered by the area's sophisticated game lodges makes for the perfect adventure-meets-luxury vacation.
ESSENTIALS: SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI
THE LODGES Situated in South Africa's North West Province, the intimate Madikwe Safari Lodge offers a total of 16 suites in three separate camps. Each suite features a circular fireplace, an indoor and outdoor shower, and a private plunge pool. The Ngala tented safari camp, by contrast, offers a slightly more rugged experience. Set on the banks of the Timbavati River near Kruger National Park, Ngala offers six luxuriously appointed tented suites (with outdoor showers and overhead fans) set on wooden platforms. During game drives, a professional tracker searches for footprints and other signs of life. Morning game drives typically begin just before dawn. Guests rest during the midday heat and then gather for a proper English tea service around 3 p.m. The afternoon drive lasts until sunset. As is customary on afternoon drives, the safari vehicle stops so that guests can toast the wilderness.
GAY TOUR COMPANIES
South Africa-based Africa Outing (011-27-21-671-4028) customizes gay safari trips. Coda International Tours (561-791-9880) offers a combined South Africa and Botswana safari package. Gay2Afrika (866-429-2237, Ext. 207) offers tours within multiple African countries. Gay-owned Heritage Tours (800-378-4555) offers a trip that includes luxury game lodges and a visit to Cape Town. OutWest Global Adventures (800-743-0458) offers an eight-day adventure that includes a visit to wine country. Zoom Vacations (866-966-6822) specializes in luxury packages.
WHEN TO GO
Because the foliage is less dense from June to August, the best time for sighting big game is during South Africa's winter. Most tourists descend upon the country during the summer months of October through March, which is also when the region gets the majority of its rainfall.
Johannesburg International Airport is the major gateway to South Africa, offering domestic, regional, and international connections. South African Airways and Delta Air Lines offer the only direct flights to South Africa from the United States. Both operate from New York City's JFK International Airport (flight time is 17 hours). Federal Air operates daily flights from Johannesburg International Airport to the Madikwe and Ngala airstrips.