For a twist on the traditional African safari, why not hop a ride on an animal rather than merely watching them? Near Pilanesberg, two hours north of Johannesburg, you can take an elephant-back safari through the lightly wooded Letsatsing game reserve, home to rhino, giraffe and zebra. Guests are collected from the game-trackers' desk in the sprawling Sun City hotel and casino complex and taken to a nearby elephant wallow. An introductory lecture about the big beasts, a one-hour ride and transfers between the pickup point and the beginning of the elephant ride cost $133 per person. [an error occurred while processing this directive] If you're afraid of heights, opt for the elephant "interaction experience" in which you touch and feed the animals for $49 (www.gametrac.co.za).
For luxury elephant rides, head for the 130-sq-km Kapama private game reserve near Kruger National Park, five hours north of Johannesburg. The Kapama Lodge, one of only two in the park, charges $370 per person per night for accommodation, and $133 for a ride on a canvas-covered saddle. Good food when you stop, the chance to swim with elephants and lavish rooms make for a high-end ride.
For the ultimate experience, stay at the park's five-star Camp Jubalani ($880 per person per night). All elephant safaris here are free and include a four-hour trek, with a stop for a bush picnic as well as a magical nighttime ride; guests are armed with powerful spotlights to catch game from atop their lumbering pachyderms (www.kapama.co.za).