When it comes to destination weddings, we say the more exotic, the better. And nothing could be more exotic than tying the knot in the middle of the Serengeti in Tanzania or among the grasses of the Okovango Delta in Botswana during a safari wedding! When Sasithon Pooviriyakul of Sasithon Photography wed Monty Hermann in Kenya, we couldn’t get enough—so we turned to the pros for a little insight into how you can make this adventurous destination wedding idea your own. So grab your binoculars, pack your khakis, and get ready to plan a safari wedding that your guests will never believe!
The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. As the situation remains fluid, we’ll be sharing tips and stories from industry experts to give you of-the-moment advice and help you navigate wedding planning today. For the most up-to-date guidelines and latest on travel restrictions and requirements, check the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites.
Choose a private reserve
“When you’re looking for a wedding location, I recommend a property that is in a private game reserve instead of a national park,” says Michelle Rago of Michelle Rago Destinations. “You’ll be able to get much closer to the animals in a private reserve, making for some thrilling game drives!”
Embrace your vision
“Safari lodges come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional elegance to rustic luxury," says Lindsey Epperly Sulek of Epperly Travel. “You can really find a lodge that fits your travel style and the way you want your wedding to look.”
Consider the entire property
Weddings, even small ones, take up space, so make sure to look for a lodge that can host a ceremony and reception. “Tenting may not be an option like it is for weddings here in the States, so it’s important to think about whether there is adequate covered or indoor space for your celebration as well,” says Rago.
Check the flight map
Getting to Africa isn’t easy, and requires multiple connections and at least a full day of travel. “To make it a bit easier on your guests, narrow your venue search down to camps that can be accessed with a direct flight from New York, followed by a drive (instead of an often pricey second flight on a small plane),” Rago advises. “For example, Shamwari Private Game Reserve is relatively accessible from Port Elizabeth in South Africa.” She also recommends Sabi Sands, Camp Jabulani, and Kapama Game Reserve, all private reserves in Kruger National Park.
Match the guest list to the lodge size
“Now isn’t the time to play the A-list, B-list game,” says Rago. “While it may work fine when you’ve got access to local hotels and a flexible venue, this much travel and limited space isn’t so easy!” Adds Sulek, “Most safari lodges are on the boutique side, which means adding someone at the last minute isn’t possible just based on the number of rooms available.” Instead, set a list based on how many people your venue can accommodate. Remember: There’s a chance you’ll have a much higher rate of “yes” RSVPs from guests who want to join you for the trip of a lifetime than you would for a wedding at home! “I recommend a buyout of the hotel—and the lodge might even require it depending on the size of your group,” Sulek concludes.
Consider alternative options
“If you are having a hard time cutting down your guest list, but the destination wedding you’re envisioning is beyond the scope of a safari lodge, look to nearby cities,” says Sulek. “Cape Town, in particular, is a stunning destination for a wedding.” Once you’ve tied the knot in the city, you can head out on a safari for your honeymoon. “Add on a few days at islands like the Seychelles, and you’ll have a full, unforgettable experience of the best of Africa.”
Know where your budget will go
“Decide in advance what you will be paying for, versus what guests will pay for on their own,” says Rago. “Whether you’re covering costs or not, choosing lodges and reserves that are closer to major airports will make travel much more affordable.” When it comes to lodging, most are all-inclusive, so you won’t have to worry about surprise charges that can get pricey in a hurry. “This will help you estimate your costs up-front, and will help guests more accurately decide if they can afford to attend.” That being said, a trip to Africa will be expensive no matter what, which could be a strong impetus to keep your guest list—and therefore your costs—down.
Rethink your design
While you’ll be able to include many western wedding traditions (plus local cultural aspects!), the design and décor may be more limited. “The more remote a lodge is, the harder it will be to get your décor must-haves there—and therefore, the more expensive it will get,” says Sulek. So keep your design simple, letting the setting speak for itself.
Employ a travel concierge
Before you even have a guest list, a travel professional will be able to help you find the perfect lodge for you. “A great travel team will find the property to match your vision, as well as understand each venue’s benefits and limitations,” says Sulek. And they’ll be invaluable once your guests are ready to book their flights. Says Rago, “A travel concierge should be part of your event team any time far-flung travel is involved. They will be able to help guests book travel, and also provide a support network both before and during the trip.” That means you won’t be the one fielding those last-minute phone calls or trying to arrange group transportation!
Your travel concierge and the lodge’s on-site staff will be able to guide you through any vaccines and medication needed for your journey, and you should reiterate it to your guests as much as possible. “Malaria is absolutely something to be aware of, and guests should be on a course of malaria medication during their trip if you are visiting an area where the disease is present,” says Rago. Also ask about other inoculations that might be required, such as yellow fever or hepatitis A and B.
Incorporate local customs
“One of my favorite African bush traditions is the evening ‘sundowner,’ which fits perfectly into a wedding celebration,” says Rago. “Every afternoon, you stop for a cocktail and a snack as the sun begins to set over your game drive. For a wedding, it can be dressed up with a full bar and more substantial hors d’oeuvres, giving your guests a chance to savor the sounds and sights of the setting sun.” If your lodge is near a local village, ask the property about dance and singing groups who might be able to come perform around an evening campfire. And of course, keep the menu local! “Regional dishes will help spice up your menu and give your guests a taste of the area,” says Sulek. “In South Africa, for example, that might mean a spread of unique game meats!”
Bring in your own talent
“Planning a destination wedding is already challenging, and becomes more so in a remote area where vendor options are few and far between,” says Sulek. “For the most important item—such as photography and videography—you may be better off bringing the professional of your choice to ensure the quality lives up to your expectations.”
Make it educational
“Conservation is a wonderful aspect that is included in many game reserves and lodges,” Rago notes. “Protecting wildlife and preserving the land is a core component of why these lodges and reserves exist.” Educate your guests about the work that is being done in the area, and consider asking for donations in lieu of wedding gifts.