“Stylish trio of lodges offering some of the best malaria-free 'Big Five' safaris in South Africa; perfect for families and couples”
Flashes of bright-yellow weaver birds swoop across the wooden decking by day and roaring log fires keep you toasty at night. A spoiling welcoming committee gave us the hot towel and refreshing drinks routine, but we felt staff had a genuine desire to give us the most wonderful wild experience, too. It's a polished affair with great food and very knowledgeable guides, and this is balanced with a homely vibe we were loath to leave. Magical, with a great ‘sense of place’ and spirit of adventure, we felt it deserved to be on anyone's bucket list.
- Malaria-free reserve, home to the famous ‘Big Five’, as well as rare African Wild Dog and 300 bird species
- Convenient 4-hr drive from Jo’burg airport and less crowded than the Kruger
- Beautifully designed, well-run luxury lodges with huge rooms, each with a private plunge pool
- Lelapa is one of the best family-friendly safari lodges in Africa, with no age limit and lots of fun activities to keep youngsters busy
- Incredible views of the open plains from the adult-only Kopano and Dithaba lodges
- Lounging by Lelapa's swimming pool overlooking a waterhole, watching elephant, giraffe and zebra
- Not cheap, but when you consider what's included, the stunning setting and how well you're looked after, we thought it was good value and well worth it
- Rooms have thatched roofs and gaps underneath doorways so you may encounter insect life at night; mosquito nets are provided on request
- There can be up to 8 people sharing a safari vehicle, but we really enjoyed meeting other guests
- When the weather closes in, internal flights can get cancelled at short notice but you don't save a massive amount of time by flying here, so we'd recommend driving anyway (transfers can be arranged)
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Safari Lodge
- All meals included
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Outdoor Pool
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
There are 3 separate lodges, each with its own communal sitting-dining area and winding pathways leading to individual thatched suites. Lelapa is the best for families - 5 of its 12 suites have separate bunk rooms for children. Smaller Kopano is adult only, as is Dithaba (unless taken exclusively by a group of up to 8 guests). All are within a 5-10 minute walk of each other but Dithaba is more elevated so has the best views of bush and plain.
Whichever lodge you choose, all have bags of space and are similarly decorated in a natural organic style: semi-open plan with curved walls, earthy colours and rustic touches including thatch roofing and twig lamps that blend well with the surroundings. Kingsize beds are wonderfully comfortable and bunk beds for kids give a sense of fun. Indoor/outdoor showers, big bathtubs, wood-burning fireplaces, complimentary minibars and a wooden viewing deck plus your own plunge pool, they feel like a truly luxe sanctuary from the wilds.
We liked the novel details, too: ‘gym in a basket’ should you feel the need to burn off some calories, and a blackboard, which the charming housekeeper left us messages on!
- Air conditioning
- Coffee / tea making
- Mosquito net (on request)
- Plunge pool
- Safe box
It's a challenge to stop yourself over-indulging here! Tea, coffee and a snack are served before your morning game drive, then a hearty breakfast spread with lots of fresh fruit and hot options is laid on when you return. Then there's a light lunch with tasty salads, followed by afternoon tea, game-drive sundowners and finally a 3-course dinner. Everything is included in the rate, as are all drinks except premium brands.
Considering you're in the middle of nowhere, the quality of cuisine is excellent. Dishes which stood out for us were a perfectly cooked Kingclip fish and a melt-in-your-mouth Kudu fillet. The Boma (bbq) dinner outside was a favourite, too, sharing experiences with fellow guests and your guides under a carpet of stars.
Kids are well catered for, with special menus, and with advance notice staff do their level best to satisfy every whimsy, allergy or food foible.
- All meals included
- Children's meals
- Coffee / tea making
- Staff can tailor your day as you wish, but the typical routine includes sunrise and sunset game drives:
- 05h00 Wake-up call (06h30 in winter; May-Aug)
- 05h30 Tea/coffee and game drive departs (07h00 in winter)
- 09h00 Game drive returns, then breakfast is served (09h30 in winter)
- Time at leisure - bush walks, expert talks on local fauna and flora, bird watching, special photographic trips, relaxing by the pool, spa treatments (in your suite), browsing in the curio shop
- 16h00 High tea (15h00 in winter)
- 16h30 Game drive departs (15h30 in winter); sundowners are served out in the bush
- 19h30 Game drive returns and dinner follows (18h30 in winter)
Morning and evening game drives are in open safari vehicles with up to 8 people. Wildlife is awesome and not just confined to the 'Big Five' (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino). There are giraffe, wildebeest, hyena, zebra, hippo, warthogs, crocodiles, a variety of antelope, over 300 bird species, and so much more. Our hearts raced when we witnessed lions leap for rare wild dogs.
Activities on site or nearby include:
Lelapa Lodge is one of the best safari lodges in Africa for kids and all ages are welcome (which is unusual). In addition to large family rooms, they offer family safari drives for over 2s and a daily programme of kids' activities from baking cookies to football. Our daughter loved their Eco House with its live creatures (like tarantulas and scorpions) and fascinating display of animal skulls. Watching animals visit the waterhole from the pool was also a winner. Children up to 5 yrs stay free of charge and those aged 6-15 yrs pay 50%.
Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Family friendly accommodation:
Lelapa Lodge is the family-oriented lodge with 12 large suites - 5 of which have a children's bedroom with bunk beds. All rooms are large enough to take a baby cot or extra bed but Dithaba Lodge accepts children only if all 4 suites are booked on an exclusive use basis and Kopana Lodge is for 16 years and over.
Child-minding available on request during morning and afternoon game drives and during dinner
Free daily programme of kids activities which may include:
- Rock painting, drawing and game playing
- Baking and making pizzas or cookies in the kitchen
- Boma marshmallows
- Scavenger hunt
Menu planning can be discussed on arrival and staff do their best to accommodate requests. Kids' menus generally include simpler dishes like burgers and spaghetti but they can also make smaller portions of adult dishes. Food and snacks are wherever possible free of additives and preservatives, but during Boma dinners they may crack open the marshmallows for toasting on the open fire!
Kids Activities on site:
- Family Safari Drives for children age 2-5 yrs depart at 11am in winter and 10am in summer, and last approximately 2 hrs. Each family has its own vehicle (for safety they don't head for lions or elephants). Older children can go on the normal 3hr early morning and late-afternoon drives, usually sharing a jeep with another family
- Bush Orientation: identifying trees for different uses, how to make a toothbrush or find edible trees; how to find direction in the bush; how to make fire and how to find water
- Bug CSI: identifying the bugs, tracking, finding interesting plants and recording everything seen and identified
- Dung tracking: identifying the dung on drives and teaching children about the animals’ diets and certain behaviour patterns
- Spoor casting with Plaster of Paris, where kids make moulds of animal tracks
- Star gazing
Families Should Know:
No game drives are allowed for children under the age of 2 years, but children between 2 and 5 years are allowed on Family Safari Drives (no close sightings of lion and elephant). The lodges are fenced off from the game reserve but of course there are potential dangers in this wildlife reserve. The main pool is unfenced but has set times when it is supervised. Each room's plunge pool has a cover.
- Airport: 4 hours (Jo'burg)
- Hospital: 1.5 hours by car, quicker by air
Madikwe Safari Lodge is set in the Madikwe Game Reserve, about 4 hours' drive northwest of Johannesburg.
Fly into Johannesburg International Airport (also known as OR Tambo International Airport; 359km). From here, Federal Airlines operates a daily light aircraft shuttle to Madikwe landing strip (near the lodge). The flight takes 1 hour but is occasionally cancelled due to bad weather. You are met at the airfield for the 10-minute transfer to the lodge.
Our preferred option is to go overland. The lodge can arrange a private ground transfer from Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport - it's an easy drive which takes about 4 hours.
Alternatively, you can self-drive, although if you're not experienced in driving through elephant territory, we wouldn't recommend it. For car hire see our car rental recommendations
Detailed directions will be provided when you book through i-escape.
More on getting to South Africa and getting around
- Johannesburg Oliver Reginald Tambo International 359.0 km JNB
- Madikwe Landing Strip 4.0 km
- Beach 800.0 km
- Shops 150.0 km
- Restaurant 24.0 km