A little (okay, a lot) of help planning a safari goes a long, sanity-saving way. When it came time for Brides contributor Paulie Dibner to plan her honeymoon, she knew she wanted to go on an African safari. Simple, right? Not quite. The world of safari has changed over the last decade, expanding from the default trip to Kenya for the Big Five (elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, and rhinos) to include gorilla tracking in Uganda and side trips to exotic white-sand islands. Dibner, always up for a challenge, wanted to do it all.
After a look at the logistics involved (just researching intra-African flights is panic-inducing), she reached out to Cherri Briggs, travel specialist and founder of Explore, who came up with the following 12-day itinerary, arranging lodging, guides, and charter flights as well as practical necessities such as an in-depth guide on tipping and the best bug spray.
DAY 1: Rwanda
For some reason, my husband and I thought we’d be ready to hit the ground running after a 24-hour flight from New York City to Kigali. Thankfully, Explore knew we’d need a day to chill and get acclimated. It booked us a night at this very sweet 11-room boutique hotel near the center of town. Our room was lovely, and there’s a low-key pool and patio area, but the real treasure is the hotel’s restaurant, Fusion. It does a knockout shakshuka at breakfast, and the entire menu is truly international with a Rwandan twist, like the handmade pasta with cassava-leaf pesto we had for dinner.
After a dip in the pool, a solid sleep, and delicious meals, we were recharged and ready to go.
DAYS 2–5: Uganda
The next morning, our driver met us and we drove five hours to reach this serene retreat with eight cozy stone cottages and a sprawling main lodge on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The cottages have insane views of the Virunga Mountains (sunrise is magical) as well as a dedicated butler who does just about everything—makes your schedule, arranges meals, and wakes you up before dawn. As the lodge’s name implies, you’re here for the gorillas: We went tracking on two different days and saw gorilla families on both.
It sounds like a cliché, but coming face-to-face with a gorilla (cousin!) is profound. However, no one emphasizes just how rough the terrain is and how physically grueling tracking can be—even for the young and fit(ish). Imagine StairMastering in a steam room in full hiking gear for hours. Someone in our group had to be assisted out mid excursion. (I swear it wasn’t me.) We look back on the tracking as one of the high points of the trip, but man, I wish I had trained better in the months leading up to it.
DAYS 6–9: Tanzania
After the gorillas, we drove back to the Retreat in Kigali for another night (and a much needed massage) before boarding a charter flight to Grumeti, Singita’s private 350,000-acre reserve adjacent to the Serengeti National Park. The tents are a total throwback to the explorer camps of the 1920s—Persian rugs and leather trunks. Because the reserve is private, your guide can off-road, which means you can get thrillingly close to that cheetah stalking a baby impala. Everything—from the decor and food to the conservation initiatives—was executed so well.
But it was the access to the pristine Serengeti plains and the wildlife that made this stop borderline spiritual.
See more: 7 Pulse-Pounding Adventure Honeymoons
DAYS 10–12: Zanzibar
We caught a puddle jumper from Grumeti to the island of Zanzibar, which is technically part of Tanzania but feels like its own thing. The resort, which is excellent under any circumstances, was downright dreamy after days of 5 a.m. wake-up calls and being on a tight schedule (albeit to see once-in-a-lifetime sights). Each of the thatched roof bungalows has its own terrace with a hammock made for afternoon napping. The cyan water was calm and warm and the beach was uncrowded; we could always score a palapa and chaise lounge.
We’re still talking about the breakfast buffet with its juice bar and eggs à la minute. I’d like to say we took advantage of the world-class snorkeling and the resort’s forest tour to see Zanzibar’s endangered red colobus monkeys, but we didn’t. The fact is, we were fried. And this place was blissful. We did, however, each read three books, sleep in, day drink, and not conk out the minute our heads hit the pillows (which is key on a honeymoon). And we returned home feeling relaxed (despite the flight to Dar es Salaam followed by one to Dubai and the endless leg to New York City) and knowing more about ourselves (we are adventure travelers, but we’re also leisure travelers, and that’s okay) and countless factoids about the animal kingdom.
Mostly, though, we came home wanting to go back to Africa.
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning February 26.