Looking for an adventure wedding of a lifetime? There’s an intoxicating magic to a safari wedding: exchanging vows drenched in the unrivaled beauty of wild, pristine nature, surrounded by family and loved ones. Just imagine gathering a group of your nearest and dearest in one of earth’s most enchanting settings to experience its offerings together, and then layering a wedding celebration on top of it.
But planning a bush wedding comes with its own set of logistical challenges and many moving pieces. It’s important to engage a planner who is both well-versed in the region and experienced in navigating the coordination required to pull it off. For a safari destination wedding you will never forget, read on.
Africa may be the obvious place to start your search for the perfect safari wedding venue, but the safari experience can be found in many places around the globe. While South Africa and Tanzania are popular wedding host countries with plenty of lodges and game reserves to accommodate all tastes, you can also consider locales like India, Brazil, and Australia.
The size of your wedding can significantly affect your venue options, especially with a wedding safari. Wondering how to organize a guest list for a wedding? If you want a larger party, you’ll need to make sure your venue(s) can accommodate all of your guests, from ceremony to reception. “Many lodges are only able to host a limited number of guests, so depending on your group size, you will want to select lodges that are close enough to each other to allow for joint gatherings,” says wedding planner Kim Zabriskie of The Wedding Collab. This also allows some variation in price point to accommodate the respective budgets of your guests, though keep in mind that you will have to manage getting guests to and from their respective lodges for group activities and events (which can be its own fun adventure, traveling through the bush along dirt roads in safari vehicles).
Be aware of the weather and other seasonal considerations in your safari location around the time of your wedding, since much of your wedding will be centered on the outdoors. South Africa's summer, for example, runs from about December to March, but the dry, colder months of May to October are the best time for game spotting there. The risk of diseases such as malaria is also higher during certain months compared to others, something people who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant would take into consideration.
For most of your guests, this is likely their first trip to the bush, and it is likely a long way from home. “A trip to Africa is both exciting and daunting and requires a lot of hand holding to ensure a smooth and enjoyable time for all,” says Zabriskie. “I typically suggest catering to the most apprehensive travelers’ needs, which means everyone will end up well informed and comfortable.”
Begin by giving your guests ample notice of the wedding date (at least six months), and share as much information as possible. Think: arrival and departure dates, airport and transportation details, vaccination suggestions and resources, visa requirements, appropriate attire across the various events, a suggested packing list, and additional suggested itineraries and/or resources for guests who might want to extend their trip.
“Transportation is a big logistical component of the weekend and should be organized in a way that guests do not even notice how complex it is,” says Zabriskie. In terms of arrival, guests can either land at an international airport and take a bus or van to the lodge (as much as a five-hour journey), or they can hop on a small plane and fly directly to a landing strip in a game reserve near the chosen lodges.
Aside from the major set pieces, like the welcome dinner, rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception, make a plan for your guests. It’s likely everyone will want to take advantage of the morning and evening game drives as much as possible. Remember: These are best enjoyed in smaller groups. (Each vehicle accommodates six to nine people.) Splitting up also allows your group to cover more territory in the search for wildlife; your guides will alert the others when one vehicle encounters something exciting.
While it is important to map out much of the guests’ entire two- to three-day weekend to make the most of their short time in the bush, make sure to include some optional downtime for spa treatments, pool time, or relaxing on the deck at the main lodge or in individual guest cottages.
Safari weddings provide the opportunity to get endlessly creative with invitations (like travel boxes), welcome bags, and daily room drops that incorporate local items and inspiration.
When thinking about your table décor, use elements from the local environment like grasses, reeds, and succulents that reflect your surroundings. These items are practical, beautiful, and often economical. Then, add bespoke details like engraved wooden table numbers and/or leather menus to incorporate some interesting textures.
“One of my favourite safari wedding activities is a bonfire braai [an open, wood-fired grill] under the stars, with a variety of wild game cooked on the open fire,” says Zabriskie. “Many luxury lodges have international food options to satisfy all guest palates, but I always suggest the local offerings.”
Incorporating local music and performance into the celebration is another fun way to transport your guests into their temporary new world. An African children’s choir performing the ceremony music, for example, is a spectacular alternative to the usual Canon in D.
You’ll never be able to outdo nature in terms of sheer beauty, so why even try? Don’t detract from the natural splendor with overcomplicated wedding design. Keep things simple and chic, with neutral colors and plain textures, and allow guests to be stunned by their surroundings.
Two things even the best planners can’t control: the weather and animals moving into your wedding setting. If you’re planning an outdoor ceremony in an area popular with animals, try to reserve part of your budget for a contingency plan and have a few Plan B ideas at the ready. Keep a flexible mindset and manage your expectations.
Be sure to give yourself ample time to truly relish your safari experience. Join your loved ones on game drives, savor a romantic sunset toast, and enjoy any amenities. Many safari venues that host weddings are experts at treating couples to an experience of a lifetime. After finding the perfect safari lodge, you can truly bring your African safari wedding ideas to life. Consider prolonging the magic even further and transitioning right into a safari honeymoon.