The night before we went to the Lion Park I couldn’t sleep. I felt like my nine-year-old self before the first day of school. SO excited and totally prepared. I had my outfit picked out, camera charged and research completed. The Lion Park is the number one tourist destination in Johannesburg, and good marketing aside, the title is warranted. While researching the park, some critics described it as a zoo, but the folks at theLion Park are committed to conservation and call their park neither a game reserve or a zoo, but a breeding ground for important species. No matter what you call it, the drive through safari and animal interactions make it an absolute must-see attraction. Where else can you snuggle a lion cub, feed a giraffe, walk with a cheetah and get 20-feet away from a live lion?
You can not come to the Lion Park without doing the lion cub interaction. It’s short, they say only 2 mins, but ours felt a little longer. It is worth EVERY CENT. I felt like Joy Adamson, cuddling baby Elsa in Born Free, one of my all-time favorite movies!
When we stepped into the pen, the temperature was dropping, the crowds were thinning out and the cubs were starting to get a little frisky! I would definitely recommend visiting the park on a weekday and doing the club interaction later in the afternoon. Sleepy lion cubs are sweet, but playful cubs are so much more fun. Plus if there are no lines your interaction will be longer and you’ll have more time for photos!
For the safari portion of the attraction, you can either take your own car through the path, or drive in the safari truck. We decided to take the truck so we could get a little insight on the animals and save our car from rocks and dirt.
The first part of the safari took us through the ostriches, springbok, impala, giraffes, and wildebeast. While I knew the springbok was South Africa’s national rugby team mascot, I learned that the springbok is also South Africa’s national animal! Springbok are known for being able to run up to 100 miles per hour and jump as high as 4 meters!
I would recommend taking the safari tour because you’ll hear some interesting facts about the animals and more importantly the photo opportunities are better. If you choose to take your own car, the windows must be up for obvious reasons – the lions can literally be a few feet away. The safari truck has holes towards the roof that are made for shutterbugs.
Speaking of lions, they had five different prides, three of which were the rare and stunning White Lions! And yes, those lions are doing exactly what you think they are doing.
After the safari we said hello to some of the sweet little critters they have including a meerkat and a hyena (if you recall from the Lion King you’ll know it isn’t as sweet as it looks).
I am now convinced that you have not fully lived until you’ve felt a giraffe’s tongue.
I spotted the giraffe when I first arrived and knew I wanted to feed him, but there was quite a crowd and I wanted quality time with my friend. After the safari the crowd had cleared out a bit and I knew it was my chance. We purchased a bag of food for R30 and I made my way up to the feeding deck. He immediately spotted me, and swayed his long neck over to greet me. I said hello and thrusted my hand out, full of pellets. I was expecting a polite little nibble, and he took me by surprise when he wrapped his long grey tongue AROUND my entire hand, managing to eat every last pellet and gross out the two little girls who were watching.
Two bags of food later and as you can see this guy was LOVING me. I realize the tongue thing looks and sounds a little weird, but please do me a favor and don’t let it scare you away. You can always wash you hands (and shirt). This animal is clearly full of love, and one look into this gentle giant’s eyes and you will fall in love right back. I may have even shed a few happy tears. Hanging out with him was absolutely breathtaking and definitely a highlight of the trip.
I left the Lion Park with a full heart. I can now cross “feeding a giraffe” off of my South Africa bucket list, and can also say, “Hey, remember that time the giraffe licked my boob?”
And if you go…