Ukraine is a beautiful but undiscovered country by tourists, especially one of its regions – Kherson. Kherson region is located on the South of Ukraine and straddles the Black and Azov Sea. Most of the land here is steppe, but don’t be deceived by this, since Kherson has many wonderful locations such as: Kherson Cliffs, Winery of Prince Trubetskoy, Dzharylgach island, Kinburska Split, Oleshky Sands, many natural fantastic pink lakes and of course, Askania-Nova, where you can go on safari.
Askania-Nova is a biosphere reserve that contains a dendrological garden, zoological park and an open territory of virgin steppe. The sanctuary was created in 1898 by Friedrich-Jacob Eduardovych Falz-Fein on the territory of German colony. Friedrich Falz-Fein decided to create on his land a reservation for ungulates that live in the steppe of Ukraine and other parts of the world and could instinct due to the man hand.
Saiga antelope, Przewalski’s horse and other species were saved and then bread again. Friedrich Falz-Fein wanted to prove that any ungulates animal would feel comfortable in the virgin steppes of Ukraine. So, he brought every animal he could to Askania-Nova.
There are few ways to get to Askania-Nova from Kherson. The first one and the easiest is just to book a tour through travel agency ХерсON that specializes on excursion through Kherson region. The tour costs 740 UAH ($27) per person and includes ride there and back, excursion through zoological and dendrological park and safari. Although you should mention that you want to have a safari and not just excursion through the zoo. The tour last 8-9 hours and you don’t need to be worried about anything, just follow the tour guide. Book the tour at least a few days before or better a week or two since the spots are limited.
The second option is by yourself. For this you would need to take a bus from Kherson to Askania-Nova or to Chaplynka, or to Chkalove (neighbourhood villages) and walk to the entrance of the sanctuary.
You can get on the bus at the bus station in Kherson. The bus ride will last around 2,5 hours and cost around 100-150 UAH ($3.6 – 5.4).
I must say that Cody and I really were looking forward to having a Safari at Askania-Nova and didn’t want anything to go wrong. Due to this reason we booked a tour through ХерсON.
We met at the old center if Kherson (8, Suvorova str.) at 7 AM got on the bus and drew to Askania-Nova for about two hours. The roads weren’t that bad in the part of Ukraine, so the ride was pleasant (Ukraine has really bad roads).
The tour guide was knowledgeable about the sanctuary and the family that created it. And all the way from Kherson to Askania-Nova she told us many interesting facts. Although, the group was mostly Ukrainians and the tour guide spoke Russian (in the East and West of Ukraine people speak more Russian than Ukrainian) and I had to translate a lot to Cody. For those who travel on your own without Ukrainian friends the tour company offers a translator for 350 UAH ($12.6) per hour. Unfortunately they don’t have English tours due to no foreigner tourists in this region.
We got to Askania-Nova around 9:15 AM and tour started at 9:30AM. There were two kinds of transport that takes you to the virgin wild steppes: a big car and excursion train. Of course, Cody and I got on the train on the first seat to see everything better, although I didn’t think that we are going to the steppe and it will be extremely dusty. So, because we were on the first seat all the dust went into our eyes and on our body (later I literally was scrubbing a layer of dirt from my face).
The Safari started and the train took us to the first animal that came close – Przewalski’s horses. These animals are amazingly beautiful. The Przewalski’s horses are shorter than normal horses and have distinguish color. However, don’t be deceived, Przewalski’s horses are still very strong and all their body is a collection of muscles that they can use. Plus, don’t forget that you are having safari and although all the animals in the steppe have seen people before, they are still WILD ANIMALS.
After horses we stopped next to the herd of zebras. Oh, they are amazing. There were two baby zebras that looked extremely cute. The zebras came to us since they already new that we have some treats for them. The train driver had a big bag of chopped carrots and gave us to feed the animals.
There are a few rules to how to feed the animals and how to behave next to them. You will find them down below.
Zebras were extremely nice to us; they took every slice of the carrot with their big soft lips. This activity made me so happy and excited, cannot even describe my feelings.
Next stops were all around the steppe. We have seen some animals more closely than the others that kept themselves further away from the people. For example, Saiga antelopes, wildebeests (Gnu antelope), buffalo, bison didn’t want people’s company, so we were watching them from afar. But donkeys (yap, there are wild donkeys and they are adorable), goats and other antelopes came really close that we could gave to some of them more carrots.
The whole safari lasted about two hours and besides the ungulates animals we also have seen many birds including white storks.
Remember that although Askania Nova is a sanctuary, the animals here are wild and have minimum communication with people.
Do not panic when an animal comes closer to you and don’t make any sudden moves! You can scare the animal and it can hurt you.
Never stay behind an animal! Their back legs are extremely strong, and they can kill you.
Watch your feet! If an animal will step on your foot, you can lose your toes and will need medical attention. Plus, you probably will start screaming and can be hurt even more.
When you feed an animal never hold food with your fingers or you will lose them. These animals have strong teeth and they can buy your fingers off. Put a slice of carrot on your open palm and keep your fingers together. In this way, zebras, horses or donkeys will grab food with their soft lips and not teeth.
Do not try to pet animals. Remember, these are wild animals and they are not used to been pet.
Don’t try to come closer to the baby animals! Be sure that their moms will protect them at any cost. Better stay from the babies away.
If an animal looks like it is getting more annoyed or aggressive, better leave it walking backwards and slow.
And the last one. If you are scared of the animals or very nerves and not sure that you won’t panic, better stay in the train!
After Safari we had around an hour for a break. There is a small café next to the sanctuary, where you can get a hot meal or just a hot-dog and cold drinks.
The next part of our tour was the dendrological garden. Our tour guide was explaining a lot about plants and why they were chosen by Friedrich-Jacob Eduardovych Falz-Fein and how he managed to grow up a forest in steppe where it is quite difficult to do.
One of the interesting facts were that Falz-Fein was trying to attract birds to this territory and that is why he made a few artificial lakes and plant nutrition trees for the birds in hope that they would come to his sanctuary. And that is actually what happened. Nowadays, thousand of birds coming every worm season to Askania Nova to make their nests and lay the eggs.
The tour through the dendrological garden took about 1 – 1,5 hour and we moved to the zoological park.
Why do I call it a zoological park and not just a zoo? Well, although there the animals are still in captivity, it doesn’t seem like a real zoo. The animals that are taken to the zoological park are usually “naughty” ones. For example, there was a deer that was too aggressive for his own herd and killed one of its own, the camel (male) that started to attack his own baby and other similar cases. The one thing that I hated was that there is a squirrel in a small cage and that is just sad and really mean. They should just let it go! And although it is not that bad as a real zoo, the place is still pretty sad.
The tour ended around 3 PM and we had some time to get souvenirs and to buy cold water, then we got back on the bus to Kherson.
It is better to wear comfortable sneakers or boots to Askania Nova.
If your skin is sun sensitive, use sunscreen and wear a shirt with long sleeves, and pants instead of shorts.
I do advise you to bring a hat since you will be in the sun quite often (if the weather is good).
Sunglasses (same reason).
Water and some snacks. Usually it is pretty hot in the steppe, so don’t forget to drink water!
Wet napkins. It can be dusty in the steppe and if you will feed the animals, your hands can be dirty and sticky after.
Camera. You can bring any camera you want for the safari. Do not bring a drone, it is prohibited to fly it around the sanctuary!
Price: 150 UAH ($5.5)
Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM
Location: Askania-Nova, Kherson region
Price: 740 UAH ($27)
Location of the office: Suvorova St, 8, Kherson, Kherson Oblast, 73000