Getting chased by a lion and 6 Wild Encounters in South Africa

I definitely had a wild time.

I’ve always had a thirst for travel regardless if it’s a place I once frequented or one I’ve yet to discover. I never thought I’d visit South Africa so soon since the dreams of going there seemed like a long shot. The Lord blessed my parents 25 years of blissful marriage and a chance to discover the beautiful country to celebrate.

What makes South Africa a special trip is how we were able to come up close to the wildlife. Seeing the animals in their natural habitat, literally walking to us humans (and making their presence comfortable, yet quite daunting on our end!) and having the chance to interact with them are just some of the priceless memories I have. Frankly enough, watching the Lion King Broadway production last May piqued my interest to visit South Africa soon – so coming there was like being a part of a film, in a way.

[7] A monkey party outside my jungle villa

With South Africa having a maximum of two for their occupancy rule in their hotels, being in an odd-numbered group meant one of us would have a room to his/herself, so I had the chance to enjoy a room all on my own! One thing that will make me enjoy staying in a room is how maaliwalas or how much light can come in.

The Makalali Private Game Lodge/Reserve is located in the middle of a safari very far from the city life of Johannesburg, and we were given a heads-up that we may encounter wild animals near our rooms, particularly monkeys. We were advised to always keep our windows and doors locked particularly at night (it’s safe and private, but done for the sake of surprise visits from animals that could enter your room).

Makalali actually means “place of rest” and I surely got that during my stay here, even with the presence of party animals! 😉



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Their outdoor shower was amazing!
Their outdoor shower was amazing!

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With its big windows, I was able to enjoy one hot winter afternoon (yes, the irony) the presence of monkeys outside my room. They didn’t make much noise, with all honesty. But as one came, the rest followed!

The monkey was literally peeping through my bed window.
The monkey was literally peeping through my bed window.
Who's up for some monkey business?
Who’s up for some monkey business?

Makalali Private Game Reserve

+27 21 712 5296 |


[6] Strolling with an elephant

An elephant is a part of South Africa’s Big 5, joining the leopard, lion, rhino and the cape buffalo. Other than being pretty large in shape, the Big 5 are the most haunted animals. After hearing word last year that the rhino was getting close to extinction, it was a relief to hear from the rangers that they’re slowly increasing again in number, with meticulous care in breeding and looking after the older, existing ones.

Visiting the Elephant Sanctuary Hartbeespoortdam allowed me to not just feed one of the biggest and heaviest mammals in the world but also get the chance to pet them. One of the friendly (and very hungry!) ones was able to take a short walk with me. I got to hold his trunk, knees, tummy, body, tusks, knees and even feet. They have really rough skin – and the people of the wildlife park mentioned to us that day that these elephants are playful that they like to get themselves dirty and covered in mud. In nature, African elephants are grey.

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Elephant Sanctuary Hartbeespoortdam
+27(12) 258 9904 |

[5] Feeding a four-month old giraffe

Did you know that the tallest mammal in the world has only 7 bones on its long neck, equivalent to a human’s? And just like a human’s fingerprint, a giraffe’s spots are unique, and that’s what identifies them from others. For a giraffe that’s under 6 months old, Zoe is pretty tall and started galloping (!!!) towards me as soon as she heard the rustling sound of the paper bag filled with food pellets.

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Lion & Safari Park
+27 (87) 150 0100 |

[4] Very late merienda in the middle of the safari

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From seeing 'staged animals' at The Lion King Tour in Solaire theatre last May to the wildlife scene in South Africa — it was the joy of seeing each creature live their freedom at their own kingdom that was priceless! South Africa's Big 5 – the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and the leopard are the ones we especially looked forward to seeing during our immersion at the safari – their ferocity to fight back hunters is what makes them 'big'! It's unfortunate that they're the ones being hunted the most… it reminded me how we should take better care of our animals and not capture them for selfish or commercialized motives. After all, it's the Circle of Life that moves us all, so let's keep that ball rolling. 🦁 Swipe to meet our new-found friends, and let me know which one looks the friendliest! 🐘🐗🐒 . . . #TravelWithYsabel #MakalaliPrivateGameReserve #LasPalmasToursandTravel #ALTOforAfrica

A post shared by Ysabel Vitangcol (@ysvitangcol) on

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The chances of a wild animal attack? Very slim. It was getting pretty chilly, the sun sinking and the sky exploding into colours of pink, orange, purple and dark blue. As we wrapped up our afternoon sessions in the game lodge, we also prepared ourselves a little picnic every early evening. Truly, Africa has the best sunsets in the world. It was like seeing the opening scene of Circle of Life all over again, except for this case – the day is about to finish.

I had beef jerky and champagne to celebrate seeing 4 out of 5 of the Big 5 up close! The leopard has always been the hardest to spot since they move fast and camouflage well in the grasslands, but I am more than thankful to spot a lot of different wild animals, too!

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Makalali Private Game Reserve
+27 21 712 5296 |

[3] Four whales surrounded our boat

I would be lying if I told you it was an unplanned encounter – but truth be told, it was quite a rare opportunity to see quite a good number of southern right whales curiously swimming near our boat in one moment. These creatures are easily frightened and like most wild animal encounters, we were discouraged from touching them by certified guides that accompanied us.

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Even our personal tour guide, Andre, remarked that throughout his 4-5 years of experience in the travel & tours industry, it’s a first to see a large amount of whales near him. The southern right (named because they are located in the southern hemisphere) whales live up to about a few hundred years!

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Although not seen in the GIFs / videos I took, I enjoyed the company of one female and three males – including a whiff of the scent of a whale’s breath! 😉 Look how close she is!

[2] Coming close to the great white shark – underwater

The blockbuster film ‘Jaws’ did not prohibit me from saying a resounding yes to a close great white shark encounter – including the fact that we had to do it early in the morning during winter (hello, hypothermia for a person used to the tropics!). I mean, who isn’t afraid of the great white shark? I confess I was, too. But the #YOLO traveler inside me told me to wing it – we were with licensed divers and certified experts, anyway.


They issue a certificate for brave troopers, too!
They issue a certificate for brave troopers, too!

Pop culture – particularly films – try to paint a picture of a great white shark as a monster; the number one predator of human beings that are at sea or close to the sea. Truth be told, they’re actually scared of humans, too, just like the southern right whales. And frankly, they’re not as intimidating as I thought.

Pretty high tide. My feet were frozen.
Pretty high tide. My feet were frozen.


Inside a cage immersed in water, we were instructed to ‘go down’ whenever a shark was nearby us! The number one rule is to keep yourself INSIDE and WITHIN the vicinity of the cage. You can’t really swim around as the cage only allotted a maximum of six people and frankly I was too cold to move so much. It was an absolute thrill to see them underwater!

This is how it looks alike above the surface.
This is how it looks alike above the surface.

If you want to see a ‘same day edit’ of our experience, click here!

White Shark Africa
+27 (0)44 691 3796 |

[1] Pettingwalking AND being chased by a lion

I am more of a dog person and a cat person – but my *friendly* encounter with a lion changed everything. Well, they are known as the king of the cats, or the jungle – and they do take pride (see what I did there?) in that. As a Disney kid, I’ve always wanted to meet the real-life counterparts of the cartoons, and this trip allowed me to see Simba, Nala, Timone, Pumba, Rafiki and Zazu. The film’s setting and characters were based in South Africa, after all.

Timon (Meerkat)
Timon (Meerkat)
Simba (Lion)
Simba (Lion)
Pumba (Warthog)
Pumba (Warthog)

When we were at Lion and Safari Park, we were given the chance to pet baby cubs! I swear, they look like stuffed toys sleeping on a hot afternoon. To be frank, they looked more like huge dogs than cats and I just felt nothing but gigil.  One of the staff members told us to emphasize on the belly rubs since they liked that and if they do wake up or you catch them staring at you up close, simply give them a light blow on their nose and they’d doze away back to dreamland.



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Don't wanna disturb the nap of this one!
Don’t wanna disturb the nap of this one!
Probably one of my favourite family photos. The cub seems to be enamoured by our presence, especially dad's
Probably one of my favourite family photos. The cub seems to be enamored by our presence, especially dad’s

How would it be like to walk with a lion on a more open space – to be specific, in their natural habitat? I was a scaredy cat but not being around THESE cats!

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I felt no fear and I was in absolute peace with two lions by my side. Just when we were about to head back to the safari bus, as I was about to part ways with one of the lions, he started chasing me! Frankly, I was quite calm but my heart was racing fast as it started trailing behind my leg. Thankfully the guides were there to grab the lion’s attention with meat!

This was when we were parting ways and - I guess this lion couldn't take the sepanx so it started chasing me lol
This was when we were parting ways and – I guess this lion couldn’t take the sepanx so it started chasing me lol

Lion & Safari Park

+27 (87) 150 0100 |

So there you have it! That was the wildest trip ever! I’d like to thank my family especially my parents for such a wonderful trip. I hope to come back soon with wonderful memories to make once again.

The writer wishes to thank Las Palmas Tours and Travel (Ms. Rose Naguit, Mr. Carlos Samson) and Africa Land Touring Operators (Mr. Johan Slabbert and Ms. Sheryll Chua) for the wonderful itinerary! Special shout out goes to Mr. Andre C. Brand for being such a wonderful and enthusiastic tour guide!

Book your trip to South Africa with them!