Madikwe Safari Lodge

Madikwe Game Reserve, Madikwe & Waterberg, South Africa
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Madikwe Safari Lodge

Madikwe Game Reserve, Madikwe & Waterberg, South Africa

Stylish trio of camps offering some of the best malaria-free 'Big Five' safaris in South Africa; perfect for families and couples

Stylish trio of camps offering some of the best malaria-free 'Big Five' safaris in South Africa; perfect for families and couples

Bordering Botswana and within easy reach of Jo'burg, Madikwe is one of South Africa’s largest game reserves and the best non-malarial safari area in Africa. Of its 30+lodges, Madikwe Safari Lodge is one of our favourites. Perched on a hillside, it's really a collection of 3 separate camps: Lelapa, with just 12 suites, is exceptionally good for families, while Dithaba and Kopano, with 4 suites apiece and a private 3-bedroom villa at the latter, are more intimate and best suited to couples and small groups. Whichever you choose, they're a cut above the rustic, giving stylish sanctuary from the beasts beyond. You're guaranteed a private plunge pool and curved stone walls that lead you out into open-plan sitting-dining areas with big squishy sofas you just want to flop on.

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
  • Straightforward 4-5hr drive from Jo’burg airport and less crowded than the Kruger
  • Beautifully designed, well-run luxury camps with huge rooms, each with a private plunge pool
  • Lelapa is one of the best family-friendly safari camps 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 camps
  • Cocktails during the evening drive and lounging by Lelapa's swimming pool overlooking a waterhole, watching elephant, giraffe and zebra, were among our highlights


  • 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 - hire a 4x4, or transfers can be arranged

Best time to go

Game viewing is good throughout the year, as the animals in Madikwe Game Reserve are non-migratory. The climate is typified by hot wet summers (September to April) and cool dry winters (May to August). Temperatures average around 25°C but can hit 40°C in mid-summer and drop to 3°C at night in mid-winter. Rain typically falls in short, sharp thunderstorms in the late afternoons or at night, between November and March. The best bird-watching is from October to April.

Our top tips

  • The guides all have binoculars, but we recommend bringing your own if you don’t want to wait for your turn. Don’t forget sturdy walking shoes, sun cream and a good camera!
  • Don't miss the unique Eco House with its fascinating array of skulls from the reserve. Here you'll find literature on the local flora and fauna, daily expert talks about the local environment, and a brilliant array of activities for kids.
  • Great for...

    Great Outdoors
    • Safari Lodge
    • 20 rooms + a villa for 6
    • All meals included
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • Beach Nearby
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Car not necessary
    • Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • WiFi
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym


    There are 3 separate camps, each with its own communal sitting-dining area and winding pathways leading to individual thatched suites. Lelapa is the best for families - 4 of its 12 suites have separate bunk rooms for children. The main pool here overlooks a watering hole, so you can watch nature in action without leaving your sunlounger.

    Smaller Kopano is adult-only and is made up of only 4 suites offering a more exclusive, intimate experience. Exceptional sunrises can be seen from these suites. Dithaba is also adult-only (unless taken exclusively by a group of up to 8 guests) but it’s the most secluded - it will feel like the whole reserve is yours. All camps are within a 5-10 minute walk of each other and have their own lounge areas and kitchens, but Dithaba is more elevated so has the best views of the bush and plain from above.

    At Kopano there's also the option of the 3-bedroom Elela Villa, ideal for a group of friends or families with teens (over 12's only) looking for the ultimate private safari experience. It has a private pool and firepit terrace overlooking the plains, plus all meals, activities and a private car are included in the nightly rate.

    Whichever camp 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, a personalised water bottle, bathrobes and a blackboard, which the charming housekeeper left us messages on every day!

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Coffee / tea making
    • Fan
    • Fireplace
    • Hairdryer
    • In-room treatments available
    • Minibar
    • Plunge pool
    • Safe box
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi


    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. Other than breakfast, where you take your meals is your choice: by the pool, in the lush gardens, on your private terrace or even in the bush. If you can't decide, let the staff surprise you!

    Considering you're in the middle of nowhere, the quality of cuisine is excellent and the menu changes daily. 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 (and healthy) menus, and with advance notice staff do their level best to satisfy every whimsy, allergy or food foible.

    Features include:

    • All meals included
    • Bar
    • Kids' meals
    • Restaurant


      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/pastries 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, 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. Only three vehicles are allowed in the reserve at a time so you’re more likely to get up close and personal, and capture uncrowded shots. 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, and we loved watching cheetahs bask in the sunshine.


    Lelapa is one of the best safari camps 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 identifying bugs. Our daughter loved their Eco House with its fascinating display of animal skulls and excellent eco-activities. 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%.

    Best for:

    Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Lelapa is the family-oriented camp with 12 large suites - 4 of which have a children's bedroom with bunk beds.

    Children's meals:

    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. 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
    • Film screenings and pizza-making in the evenings or bad weather

    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 camps 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: 4.5 hours (Jo'burg)
    • Hospital: 1.5 hours by car, quicker by air
    Kid Friendly:


    Madikwe Safari Lodge is set in the Madikwe Game Reserve, about 4.5 hours' drive northwest of Johannesburg.

    By Air:
    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.

    By Car
    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

    Our guests' ratings...

    Based on 3 independent reviews from i-escape guests


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