This is just about the closest you'll probably get to having a safari adventure without going to Africa.
I spent two days and one night at Safari West. It was a very unique experience, and nothing like I've ever had before. After you check in, you are taken by jeep to your tent (if staying over night). The tents are big, heavy duty tents, overlooking the main Safari West preserve. They were clean, and very well kept. Don't worry, the tents have running potable water, hot water, a toilet, and a shower! It's like camping on the Serengeti but with amenities. Depending on which tent you're staying at, you'll either have a view of a lake, antelope, or flamingos.
On our first day we arrived in the mid-afternoon and did a special behind the scenes tour at 4 pm. It was just our group of three people, and our tour guide. Supposedly, Safari West doesn't like to advertise what exactly you do on this tour because each tour may be a little different. I'm not sure what others got to do, but we got to hand feed porcupines, give meatballs to the birds in the aviary, hand feed warthogs, and hand feed the giraffes, all the while our expert guide (Sydney) provided informative commentary on the animals. Other people on the regular tour saw us doing this and were very jealous. Feeding the giraffes was the highlight of our trip! The special behind the scenes tour is pricey ($275) and only lasts an hour, but how often do you get the chance to hand feed all those animals (especially the giraffes!) and get awesome pictures doing it?!
Dinner is served at 7 pm. The food is buffet style. We were offered BBQ chicken, tri-tip steak, along with sides of Caesar salad, veggies, macaroni & cheese, and garlic mashed potatoes. The food was average, at best. The meats were a little dry from being on the open-air BBQ pit for so long, the veggies were fairly unseasoned, and the macaroni & cheese was a little on the bland side. But you don't come to Safari West for the food, you come for the safari adventure. On the plus side, they did have a LOT of different local wines to purchase (you are in prime California wine country after all), and a LOT of African beers to purchase. The waitstaff was friendly and serviceable for what it is.
After dinner there isn't much to do except walk around and look at some of the animals before it gets dark. Once it gets dark, most of the animals go to sleep as do the guests. We brought flashlights, but Safari West provides you with one in case you're walking around the grounds at night time. If you're staying in a tent by the buildings, then the there are plenty of trail lights to light the way to your tent. But if you're staying in a tent way in the back of the preserve overlooking the lake, then you'll definitely need a flashlight because there are no trail lights back there.
PRO TIP: If you're visiting in the winter, you probably want to bring some warm pajamas.
At night time Safari West suggests putting the velcro window covers up over the screen windows to help insulate the tent. We did this and turned on the space heater (it seemed to go on only when the temperature dropped below a certain point). This kept the tent a very comfortable 65 degrees or so at night time. I imagine if you're visiting in the colder months that things could get a lot cooler though. Although the bathroom is attached to the tent, it is not insulated so if you're planning on taking a Serengeti tinkle at night or in the early morning, the warm pajamas come in handy.
PRO TIP: Bring earplugs if you want to block out the animal noises at night!
Having heard that the animals can be a little noisy at night, I brought earplugs so I could get some sleep. And let me tell you I am glad I did. The tent walls are thin and don't block out any sounds. You'll hear the animals, other guests talking in their tent, perhaps the occasional toilet flush, and footsteps of people walking by. The animals aren't making noise all night, but when they do they make enough noise to keep you up. If you're sleeping in a tent by the flamingos and monkeys, then you're in for a noisy night for sure. If you're sleeping in a tent at the back of the preserve, then things will be much quieter.
I was at Safari West with my parents for my father's birthday. All three of us were in Tent #9 which is in the middle of the preserve. It was a cozy fit for three people, but it wasn't uncomfortable. My parents took the bed, and I had a cot. The cot was adequate although not super comfy, but I'm young and not too picky. The funniest part of the trip occurred at 4:30 a.m. when I was shifting positions in my sleep. I must have moved just right because one of the cot's legs folded up, sending the head half of the cot crashing to the floor with a really REALLY loud BAM! Immediately -- and I kid you not -- every animal at the preserve was hootin', hollerin', squakin', tootin', chirpin', rattlin', screamin', and screachin'. My parents woke up, wondering what the hell happened. I'm pretty sure everyone else at the preserve woke up from all the commotion too. The animals settled back down after ten minutes and went back to sleep, as did I after fixing the cot.
Safari West has a continental breakfast. It's mostly cereal, toast, muffins, oatmeal, fruit, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice. It's a nice breakfast, but proteins like bacon and sausage would have been good.
We then went on the regular 3 hour guided tour at 10 a.m. There were 13 people total in our group. The first hour consisted of walking around the Safari West grounds to see the caged animals, like the birds in the aviary, turtles, monkeys, and cheetahs. The final two hours were spent on the safari trucks, driving around the rest of the preserve looking at the giraffes, rhinos, water buffalo, antelope, and zebras.
The tour guide was satisfactory, but unfortunately our group had one young child who basically hijacked the entire tour by interrupting the tour guide with his inane comments. He wasn't even asking questions, he was just spouting out pointless things like "that one's the boss!" (Trying to tell us which one he thought was the leader of the herd.) Or "that one is the mommy, and that one is the daddy!" (He was just randomly picking two of the animals to call mommy and daddy.) Or "that one's a baby!" (Whenever he saw a baby animal.) The tour guide spent too much time responding to his comments, correcting him, and telling him which one was actually the herd leader or which ones were the real mothers and fathers. Other people on the tour were getting annoyed as we weren't able to hear what the tour guide was trying to tell us, nor were they getting the opportunity to ask questions due to the kid constantly interrupting. And his parents were no help in trying to keep the kid quiet. More than a couple times, the kid's loud exclamations scared away animals which were close to our truck. The lucky times that the kid wasn't being a loud obnoxious brat, our truck was able to get within five feet of some animals which made for some awesome pictures.
PRO TIP: If you're going on the tours in the morning, be sure to bring a jacket or wear warm clothes as the mornings are cool and riding in the truck is breezy.
Overall, this was a really fun and unique experience. I would highly recommend it. At the very least, you HAVE to do the regular tour so you can see all the other animals on the preserve which aren't immediately visible by the tents (the rhinos, zebras, water buffalo, etc.). If you have extra money to spend, then I would seriously consider the behind the scenes tour too, because feeding the giraffes and other animals is a memory you won't forget!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Escape to Africa by way of Sonoma County…Come discover the Sonoma Serengeti.The classic African safari is a trip of a lifetime for intrepid travelers from around the globe - and, it is closer than you think!. Families who are curious and wild at heart can get close to nature...very close! Marvel under the gaze of a graceful giraffe or explore the Sonoma Serengeti alongside romping rhinos. Our guests enjoy enlightening African wildlife safari drives, and “glamping” tent cabin accommodations. The sounds of Africa will echo in your dreams. Stay one night in a luxury safari tent located on Giraffe Alley, meet some giraffes and go on Safari! Is Safari West Family Friendly?The entire Safari West experience is a kid-friendly adventure for families to enjoy together. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Safari West Hotel Santa Rosa
- Safari West Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, CA