We recently visited Safari West. Itâ€™s located in the hills near Santa Rosa, California. A highly recommended experience, we plan on going there again whenever we need a break.
We arrived there just before check-in (they were adamant about the 3pm check-in time). We had an afternoon safari scheduled. Based on our experience, Iâ€™d recommend getting to the area early and visiting the nearby Petrified Forest, then checking in. Take a safari first thing in the morning instead when the animals are waking up. (Itâ€™s also near several hot spring spas, something I want to experience.)
The safari visits all the major enclosures and you do see all the animals. They have a variety of grazing animals (the few predators are kept in enclosures near the main buildings). Itâ€™s built on 400 acres, so itâ€™s small by most standards. Itâ€™s a labor of love, built by a family (who live on the grounds) who wanted to house their growing collection of exotic animals.
The guides are all very knowledgeable about the animals you see. Our guide was majoring in zoology, so she was very well-informed, as well as personable. Most of the guides have been with Safari West for a while, which says a lot about the place. I think it would be a great place to work.
There are also hiking trails that you can take advantage of, but we werenâ€™t prepared and didnâ€™t get to try them out. Next time for sure. The website also has several other recommendations for fun. Thereâ€™s certainly more there than just a safari ride.
We stayed in a â€œtent.â€ They also have cabins but after the tent experience, why bother? The â€œtentsâ€ are tents only in the fact that they have canvas walls and open-air ventilation (along with ceiling fans). They have hardwood-floors, electric blankets, a space heater and a nice bathroom (open-air). Ours was a handicapped tent, so the bathroom was large, with a walk-in (roll-in?) shower. Each tent has a front porch with ice chest, picnic table and chairs. There were purple and pink flowers growing by ours and the sweet smell was a perfect accent to the fresh air.
They provide flashlights to use at night, although there isnâ€™t much need. Most of their animals sleep at night. They have a pair of desert foxes that are nocturnal and they would be worth watching them if you could find your way to them without tripping over anything (there aren’t a lot of lights on the grounds because of the animals).
We ate there that night, enjoying their barbeque (smoked meats, not something smothered in sauce). It was good. There are restaurants around the area, if youâ€™d prefer. Iâ€™d recommend bringing the food back and enjoying it on your own front porch. Much better than what any restaurant could offer. And if you ask nicely, the staff will provide an ice-bucket and glasses for your wine. But remember, any sound you make can be easily heard outside!
The best part of the experience was the utter peace. The night was dark and stars could be seen. There were some road sounds (from the road in front) but I bet those diminished in the tents farther away.
The morning was great. The animals woke up when the sky started to turn grey. They made a ruckus, but it was what one hears in those African nature films. Our tent was right in front of the giraffes, and I could see them from the bed. A great way to start the day, I think.
We were near Lemur Island so I spent a lot of time observing them. They had a group of ring-tailed lemurs (like the ones in Madagascar). Ring-tails are more cat-like than monkey-like in their movements and sounds. One thing the film did not feature was that the activity these lemurs seemed to like best was an annilingus daisy-chain.
We plan on going back in the fall to experience the animals in cooler weather and also to try out the electric blankets! Although a small place, the experience is worth it. Frankly, our tent was nicer than many similarly-priced, overrated hotel rooms in large cities. And if you love animals, this is a must-do vacation.