Photo Essay: Pilanesberg & Lion Park Safaris

in Adventure Travel / Photo Stories / South Africa

“No, Tasha, you can NOT cuddle the lions. Get back in the car. No, not the giraffes either.”

Ryan tends to say this a lot as we drive through South Africa.

There are just so many beautiful animals everywhere, it takes all of my willpower to stay in the car and keep the windows closed as instructed when really I just want to run up to every furry creature I see and give its belly a good scratch.

Even when we’re not driving through sanctuaries like Pilanesberg National Park looking for animals to gawk at, we regularly see zebras grazing by the side of the road, baboons pulling food out of garbage bins, and snorty weird-looking warthogs running across our path.

“Oh my god, they look just like they do in the movie!” I shout, pointing at a warthog as it runs out in front of our car.

Ryan looks at me with an expression he reserves for small children and stupid people. “Are you talking about The Lion King?”

Duh. What other documentary about Africa would I be talking about?”

Ryan rolls his eyes.

But it turns out Ryan is wrong. I CAN cuddle the lions. After spending the day on a self-driven safari in Pilanesberg National Park at the bargain price of $15 for two of us (take THAT, Kruger National Park, with your $1000 per safari packages!), we drove to Lion Park where, for $16 per person, you can drive around the grounds and see cheetahs, white lions, giraffes, springboks and more. And, not only that, included in the price is – *squeal* – playing with lion cubs.

So there. Who says I can’t cuddle the lions? *sticking tongue out at Ryan*

Pilanesberg National Park

In case you find yourself, like us, with too little time or cash to go north from Jo’Burg to the more famous Kruger National Park, you can still see the “big five” (elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalo, lions and leopards) nearby at Pilanesberg National Park for a fraction of the price. And they even give you a lovely and comprehensive picture guide of all the birds and wildlife found in the park so you can check them off as you go.

Admission fees: 20 ZAR ($2) per car, 65 ZAR ($6.50) per person

photo essay car in pilanesberg national park

Safari camera envy: “You call that a lens? THIS is a lens!”

zebras photo essay pilanesberg south africa safari

South Africa gives new meaning to “zebra crossing”.

rhino pilanesberg national park safari

Rhinos are one of the hardest of the big five to spot, but we did it!

rhino butt pilanesberg national park safari

“Are you photographing the rhino’s butt?” asks Ryan. “What?” I say. “It seemed like he was showing it off.”

cape buffalo pilanesberg national park safari

Another hard-to-spot creature: the Cape buffalo.

kudu pilanesberg park south africa safari

The kudu is an incredible-looking animal related to the antelope.

zebras safari photo essay pilanesberg

And though zebras are everywhere, they’re still extraordinary to look at.

sunset pilanesberg national park

Safari tip: Visit during the dry season when the animals can be easily found at water holes.

Lion Park

Lion Park, also near Johannesburg, is well worth visiting, particularly if you’re itching to cuddle a lion cub. Unlike the controversy surrounding parks like Ocean World, which we visited in the Dominican Republic, Lion Park is respected for its conservationist work and research. And, like Pilanesberg, it’s very affordable.

Admission fees w/lion cub interaction: 180 ZAR ($18) per person

photo essay lion park safari

These lions are for photographing only.

lion park south africa safari

Seriously, NO CUDDLING.

lion cub experience lion park photo essay

Now, THIS lion’s a different story.

white lion cub lion park south africa

I mean, who could resist this little face?

giraffe lion park south africa safari

You can even get right up close to the giraffes.

yellow lion cub lion park south africa

But nothing beats the “awww” factor of these little guys.


As you may have noticed, I love animals. And the next country we’re driving across is Australia…which is full of weird animals. So if you have any recommendations for animal encounters in Australia, please share below! I will hunt them animals down and give them a good ‘ol cuddle. PROMISE.

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