When I was in elementary school, I was a nature-loving, cliff-jumping, twilight-hiking, slug-licking Campfire Girl who often braved the wild in exchange for merit badges. As a neophyte camper, I always roughed it with my troop during overnight forest expeditions since glamping (glamorous camping) didn't exist back then. Instead of luxury accommodations, we simply selected a wooded clearing and created a makeshift bed directly beneath the stars. No tent. No tarp. Just a Kmart-purchased sleeping bag that failed to repel slugs, bugs, or other forest critters (voracious raccoons included). Those were the good ol' days when being "one with nature" was both normal and frightening at the same time.
Camping has definitely evolved over the years and many places now cater to glampers - aka sleeping bag-averse individuals who want a more luxurious experience within a natural setting. At Safari West, glampers are treated to a 400-acre wildlife preserve with upscale sleeping quarters that resemble those in African Safari camps. In fact, Safari West imported their canvas tents from Africa, which greatly enhances the campsite's already authentic vibe. If traveling thousands of miles to the Serengeti is currently cost-prohibitive, then trekking to this highly affordable sanctuary is the next best alternative for West Coast-based wildlife enthusiasts and former Campfire Girls like me.
What's a Campfire Girl? Think Girl Scout without the cookies.
Animal Safari Bliss
Most of you know that I freaking love animals! They have a way of soothing my soul and turning my smile into a joker-like grin whenever I'm around them. So naturally, I was the first to emphatically raise my hand when our guide asked who wanted to sit on top of the open-air, refurbished military jeep. Being perched above that safari vehicle transformed me from a demure, calm woman into that giddy, curious Campfire Girl once again. Thank goodness the lady sitting next to me felt the exact same way, or I would have felt awkward squealing every time I spotted a giraffe.
Tip #1: If giraffe sightings make you equally ecstatic, then make sure you're sitting on top of that jeep during the first 20 minutes since close encounters are definitely possible. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to hug any of these tall creatures so I had to sadly restrain myself. Seatbelts are provided for that very reason (and for safety, I suppose). Note: Guests are asked to rotate (from lower seats to top seats) so that everyone can have a bird's eye view of the terrain. Since it was raining intermittently, nobody wanted to get drenched except for 2 fellow animal lovers and me so no rotation necessary. Yay for rain!
Tip #2: If rain is forecasted, grab a disposable plastic poncho emblazoned with zoo animals before your tour begins. Warm blankets are also provided since it gets pretty chilly during the winter months. Caveat:This California girl's cold weather tolerance may be considered wimpy - low 40s during the day is freezing in my opinion.
For only $83 ($10 less for overnight adult guests), we navigated the lot for 3 glorious hours: 1 hour on foot and 2 hours via an open-air jeep with an experienced guide. My guide, Robert, was extremely knowledgeable about every single animal species on the preserve. I read on their website that over 900 animals and 90 different species roam the sanctuary. While we didn't have access to certain animals due to weather restrictions, we did see flamingos, cheetahs, porcupines, monkeys, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and even an Australian Kookaburra to name a few. The tour and the scenery was worth every penny. On that note, make sure to tip your guide if you're pleased with the narration. I'm certain you will be.
Tip #3: Price varies depending on season, day of the week, and whether you're staying overnight. Click here for detailed options.
Random safari advice:
Wear closed-toed shoes during the tour unless you want that stray reptile nipping on your toes. Just kidding. Kinda.
Dress in layers since weather is unpredictable. I wore a thermal shirt, 2 sweatshirts, a blizzard jacket, and a cap to protect myself from the elements.
No outside food allowed except for water bottles. Do you remember that Seinfeld episode? Mutton in your pocket = wild animal chase for hours.
For last minute food purchases, make sure to visit Delilah's Snack Bar. They sell packaged snacks, beverages, and other sundries.
For their safety and yours, leave your pet dog, cat, bird, pig, hamster, etc. at home.
Overnight Glamping - In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.
While it's definitely okay to book a safari tour without the overnight stay, I strongly suggest that you fully experience sleeping inside a luxurious canvas tent with amenities you don't typically find at traditional campsites (e.g. private bathroom). If you are definitely staying the night, then purchasing a Travel Zoo voucher is the most cost-effective way to reserve your accommodations. You can save $75 or more by purchasing the voucher vs. booking directly via Safari West's website. For instance, I purchased a 1-night stay for $189 (Monday - Thursday only). Safari West typically charges anywhere from $260 to $375 depending on the date and season. That savings could easily be applied to gift store knick knacks or lunch/dinner at the Savannah Grill.
Tip #1: Make lunch and/or dinner reservations in advance. Best if you do so when redeeming your travel voucher with the Safari West reservation clerk at least 2 weeks prior to your stay. Wine/beer is available for purchase, but if you bring your own bottle, the corkage fee is $10. It was an excellent dinner buffet (roasted vegetables, macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, and BBQ chicken). Don't forget to roast marshmallows by the fire pit when you're done with your meal. Camping wouldn't be the same without it.
Tip #2: Memorize which trail leads to your cabin before it gets dark since it was pitch black when I finished my dinner. I thought landmarks would help direct me, but I couldn't see those either. I had to rely on my dolphin-like echolocation skills (or maybe it was my heightened Campfire Girl senses) to successfully navigate the trail. If you don't have a flashlight, use the one embedded within your iPhone or borrow one from the front desk. Remember to return that flashlight when you check out, or you'll incur a $20 charge. Make sure your porch light is on so you don't (God forbid) enter the wrong tent. Which leads me to...
Tip #3: You're only able to lock your cabin/tent door from the inside, which means you shouldn't bring valuables on this overnight trip. The campsite is definitely safe, but you should be aware of this in case a fellow neighbor forgets his/her flashlight and walks into your tent instead.
Overall, my overnight stay was thoroughly enjoyable. I slept comfortably on a down-covered, king-sized bed with a toasty electric blanket and in-room heater. Each sleeping quarter has a patio/balcony. Mine thankfully overlooked a serene lake on the preserve.
Staying overnight at Safari West (North of San Francisco) is the perfect way to experience cohabitation with nature for sanctuary-loving, city dwellers like me. Most likely, you'll be serenaded throughout the night as well, and that is certainly a beautiful and cathartic thing.
Thanks for my peaceful retreat, Safari West! This former Campfire Girl has finally graduated from sleeping on rocks/twigs with hungry raccoons to resting comfortably inside a lovely African tent. I miss my giraffes already. 'Til my next glamping adventure!
Imagine waking up to the peaceful sounds of flamingos:
PS. My Glamping Safari photo collage is available via my YouTube Channel, or you can watch it below.