Ask me, “What is your favorite country you’ve ever visited?” and without a blink or hesitation, I will say “South Africa.” The region is so beautiful and diverse I could write about it all day.

My journey started in Johannesburg once I boarded the Federal Air Beechcraft 1900 airliner into Kruger Park. Everything was picture perfect. The excitement was similar to how I felt at the beginning of Jurassic Park; that same warm and fuzzy feeling washing over me as the movie’s score plays over the opening credits.

The plane landed in the bushes on an airstrip. After disembarking, I was greeted by a staff member who welcomed me to an assortment of snacks, fruits and drinks. The van was loaded, and then we were off to the lodge.

While en route, the driver explained that Singita has the largest concentration of lions in Kruger Park. As my excitement grew, I looked outside my window and spotted an African elephant standing at least 11 feet tall.  I watched in awe and felt gratitude to be able to observe him in his natural habitat.

When I arrived to luxurious Lebombo lodge, I was greeted by the delightful and vibrant concierge, Lucky. She introduced me to the guest service manager, who gave a description of the lodge and the game drives I would soon experience. Then, I was escorted to my well-appointed suite.

The suite’s endless list of features and amenities ranged from a king size bed, a fully stocked fridge, a balcony with an outdoor bed, a living room, a deep-soaking bathtub, a surround sound system, an open air bathroom and, my favorite, an outdoor shower. All meals were included, and premium wine, spirits and liqueurs were also available at an additional cost.

Since I arrived in the middle of the day, the temperature was in the high 90 degree range. I decided the best course of action was to cool off in the lap pool and unwind. During this time of day, the animals are also taking refuge from the blistering sun, which is why game drives are typically in the morning and evening.

When the sun had set, I headed out for a game drive. I meet my ranger, Brian, and tracker, Exon. The two men worked in tandem; Exon spotted the wildlife as Brain gave information about its lifestyle, diet and characteristics.

Exon was a quiet man with uncanny, eagle eye vision spotting wildlife in various directions. He learned how to track wildlife while protecting his family’s livestock as a child. Over the course of a few days on multiple game drives, I was able to spot the ‘Big 5’ (African lion, African elephant, cape buffalo, African leopard, and black rhinoceros), which are the five hardest animals to spot.

Each animal was fascinating in its own right, but the African leopard stood out the most. Brian said they have been tracking her since she was a cub, and she put on a show as I watched her feast on a waterbuck right before my eyes.  The sheer power of the leopard’s bite — to crush her prey’s skull — was captivating and terrifying.

My quintessential Jurassic Park moment happened when we hopped out of the jeep and tracked a rhino on foot. The size of the rhino as we watched him maneuver through the bush was mesmerizing. The poaching of rhino horns is a serious issue in Africa. I am perplexed that someone would want to hurt such a beautiful creature.

My encounters with the wildlife during each game drive taught me a new lesson about each animal and the importance of protecting their habitat. I understood why Brian and Exon dedicated their lives to sharing and preserving this land and am forever grateful to have experienced Singita Lebombo.