This post is written by Claudia Plumley, Marketing Manager for Experience Columbus.

One of my bucket list items is going on an African safari and sleeping in a tent near the animals. After booking a night at a yurt at the Wilds, I feel like I can check that off the list – without leaving the state, let alone flying to Africa.The Wilds 1 (2)

Staying in one of the yurts truly felt like an exotic vacation – even though Cumberland is just 90 minutes from Columbus. After dark, it’s just you, the other guests and a concierge – along with all of the free-roaming wild animals. We drank wine by a roaring fire and visited with other guests, then fell asleep listening to the mating calls of the rare Pe’re David’s deer. We woke up to the sounds of hundreds of bird chirping in the trees around our yurt. Dozens of animals were drinking at the lake just outside of our door.

The Wilds 1 (3)And the yurt itself is far more than I’d imagined. It’s like a circular hotel room, just with canvas walls and bamboo floors. Overhead of our comfy bed was a circular window, where you could watch the stars in Southeast Ohio’s sky.

The Wilds 1 (4)Of course, the best part of being at the Wilds is seeing the animals. By staying in a yurt, we enjoyed a free open-air safari ride. More than 20 species of animals roam freely through huge pastures at the Wilds, one of the largest and most innovative wildlife conservation centers in the world.

The Wilds 1 (6)On the safari tour, you get up close to giraffes, zebras and rhinos – just to name a few of my favorites. The camels come right up to the open-air bus, often walking circles around the bus as if to personally welcome everyone to their home.

The Wilds 1 (5)We splurged and also went on a Wildside Tour, a 2.5 hour behind-the-scenes tour of the Wilds. By staying in a yurt, we received a discount on the regularly priced $125 tour – but truly, it’s the best money I’ve ever spent.

Our tour guide, Chris, was one of the animal caretakers. He took us through the pastures on the back of his comfy pickup truck. The animals knew Chris, so they came right up to him. One of the cheetahs purred as Chris talked to him. That made my heart melt.

But the best part of the Wildside Tour was getting to drive right up to rhinos, camels and giraffes so we could pet them. And, my favorite part – we fed the giraffes. I could have done that all day. The Wilds 1 (7)

The Wilds is open every year May through October, and the yurts are open all that time for guests 21 and over. I’m already planning a return trip to celebrate my wedding anniversary next spring. This is one bucket list item that’s going to be checked off multiple times – now that I can experience it in Ohio.