From eating breakfast with gorillas to snoozing with wild cats, Natasha Holt gives us the lowdown on the best safaris to book right here in the UK.
Are you desperately hearing the call of the wild but not quite able to stretch to a luxury game drive in the Masai Mara? Well, surprisingly a safari in the UK might come a close second.
We love spotting weird and wonderful wildlife, especially right here at home. With that in mind, Natasha Holt reviews the Whipsnade Zoo's Lookout Lodge and lets us in the other UK safari experiences and accommodation that are great alternatives.
1. Lookout Lodge, Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Out of the blue, the male lion attacked. With a deep roar, 180 kilos of muscle, teeth and claws launched itself at us as we stood rooted in the torchlight. Thankfully there was reinforced glass in between him and his intended target – he’d taken exception to a disabled guest’s wheelchair – and it certainly made us thankful we were in the Chiltern Hills rather than the Serengeti. But as Spike stared us down it definitely proved that anything can happen once the zoo animals have been put to bed.
On this experience that’s when the fun really starts. Once you’ve checked in to your cosy glamping lodge, next to the rhino pen, you’re whisked around the empty zoo for an exclusive tour at 6pm. This is where you really get to know the animals and find out fun facts, such as flamingo feather turns grey when they are plucked and that lucky female bears give birth while they are hibernating. Next, after giving a bongo his cabbage supper, there’s a delicious two-course dinner before setting off on a torchlit walk. We saw everything from a prowling tiger to a couple of oryx getting frisky in the dark.
Our morning alarm call was a deafening combination of chattering, roaring and birdsong then, after breakfast, we got to feed the park’s hungry residents. The chimps loved their peppers so much they performed somersaults and it was almost impossible not to cave into the hungry bears’ endearing demands for more. Lodge dwellers can either spend two whole days at Whipsnade or make the journey across to its sister park London Zoo after the breakfast tour. The experience will delight kids from 8 to 80 and while it may not have been the Kruger National Park it certainly scratched that safari itch.
The Cost: Prices start at £149 per person (for the first two occupants), additional children aged 5-13 years can be added for £40 each up to a maximum of two per lodge. Visit ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for more details.
Other British safaris you might like…
2. Gir Lion Lodge, ZSL London Zoo, Regents Park, London
Spend the night within a whisker of the London Zoo’s Asiatic lion pride at the Gir Lion Lodge and get exclusive evening and morning tours. The Lodge includes an en-suite and a comfy bed so as the sounds of India’s Gir Forest come alive on your doorstep just hope the zoo’s tropical birds fancy a lie-in too.
The Cost: Prices start from £378 per couple with additional children charged at £50 each. Visit ZSL London Zoo to book.
3. The Lodge, Bristol Zoo
If your table manners leave a lot to be desired then eating breakfast with Bristol Zoo’s gorillas might make you feel better. This overnight experience includes an after-hours behind-the-scenes tour, an animal feeding experience and breakfast whilst watching the great apes. Add to that a four-course meal cooked by your own private chef and it’s basically like being on a five-star resort in Kenya.
The Cost: £100 per person based on two sharing. Children cost an additional £50 each. Call 0117 974 7328 or email email@example.com to book
4. Paradise Wildlife Park, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
Choose the Snooze at the Zoo VIP package and after enjoying breakfast overlooking the tiger enclosure you can enjoy an exclusive tour before meeting some of the park’s smaller residents such as the lizards and bearded dragons.
The Cost: VIP prices start at £249 for two adults and one child or £299 for a family of four. There’s also a £149 B&B option. Visit Paradise Wildlife Park's website for more details.
5. Port Lympne, Near Ashford, Kent
Port Lympne offers a range of accommodation from glamping style pods to cottages and its luxury four-star hotel. There’s even a glass-fronted treehouse hotel. All stays offer unlimited access to Port Lympne reserve.
The Cost: Prices start at £50 per person for the glamping experience to £750 for a treehouse suite. Visit Aspinall Foundation's website.