Makalali Private Game Reserve

near Hoedspruit, Kruger & Around, South Africa Book from Book from £629 per night

An extraordinary oasis of ethnic-chic adorning the banks of the Makhutswi river with breathtaking views of the Drakensbergs
Set in a 26,000-acre private reserve near the Kruger National Park and Drakensberg Mountains, Makalali offers a deliciously romantic bush retreat coupled with excellent game viewing. American owner Charles Smith and Italian architect Silvio Rech have created a striking juxtaposition of opulence and wilderness, while maintaining a strong commitment to protecting the local environment and wildlife.

Moody interiors blend with indigenous and modern design to offer a sumptuous haven far away from the crowds. Drawing upon tribal influences from across Africa (soaring uncut thatch roofs meet magical mud turrets), Makalali has been described as the most innovatively designed hotel in the world. After being greeted with iced tea at the entrance, a tortuous jeep ride takes you through the bush to your camp. Once you arrive the cosseting and pampering begins...


  • The décor is divine
  • Flickering candelight by night creates an atmospheric experience
  • Excellent food and service
  • Game drives seem purely incidental as the camp seduces you into wanting to stay forever


  • Currently closed until November 2017 for refurbishment
  • It’s pretty perfect. If we’re being picky it’s quite a long way from the main gate to the camp
  • A favourite with honeymooners, which is fine, unless you happen to be single
  • It's not cheap, but for a once-in-a-lifetime treat or special occasion it will be money well spent

Best time to go

Makalali can be visited all year round. The best game viewing is during their winter (March-August), when it's drier and colder - nights and early mornings can drop to 5-10C; days are typically 20-25C. In summer it's hotter and wetter - 17C (63F) to 37C (99F) - but the foliage makes it harder to spot game, and they don't congregate around water holes.

Our top tips

This is a malaria region and precautions need to be adhered to in the summer months in particular. Consult your doctor well in advance about malaria tablets.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • Safari Lodge
  • 24
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym


Three camps, a few kilometres apart, are situated on the banks of the Makhutswi river, each offering 6 fantasy mud, stone and thatch huts. It's pure bliss wallowing in the privacy of Makalali’s huge bedrooms. The décor is womb-like in its darkness and envelops you in a blanket of comfort. Candles and incense create moods to entrance you.

Everything is handcrafted - even the taps. The deep claw-footed bath is separated from the bedroom by a large metal screen with cut-out shapes of animals. Tribal masks, Kente clothes and Bushman murals adorn the walls. Attention to detail and quality makes you look, then look again. Indigenous materials have been used everywhere.

Each suite, perched high on stilts to protect you from marauding wildlife, has a fireplace, a wooden veranda and an open-air sala for your siesta and game viewing. Hairdryers, luxury toiletries in exquisite glass bottles, ethnic robes, built-in electric blankets, piles of soft towels, and insect repellent are provided for guests’ convenience. And for nature lovers, each has a cool outdoor shower made of red mud and mosaic.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi


Makalali has frequently been included in food critics' top selections in South Africa. Each camp has its own resident chef overseen by internationally renowned chef Geoffrey Murray. Ingredients are grown in Makalali’s organic garden or provided by local farmers. The exquisitely presented food is “Pan-African” (from Moroccan lamb with lemon and coriander to grilled kingklip in chermoula).

Guests usually eat together in one of the outdoor salas, or around the open-air boma (a large fenced in camp fire) where the chef proudly announces the daily menu. Private drinks and meals can be arranged on request. If on holiday with your partner make sure you request the romantic bush picnic - the perfect way to while away an African afternoon. All special diets can be catered for with prior notice.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children's meals
  • Communal dining
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Two game drives in open vehicles are provided daily -one in the early morning (you'll be woken with tea) and the other late in the afternoon. Refreshments are included. You're likely to be sharing the vehicles with other guests, but if required a private Land Rover can be arranged for an extra fee. Animals in the reserve include lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, white rhino, zebra, kudu and an array of other antelope and smaller mammals

  • If you’re on an evening game drive ask you guide about the stars; all guides are trained to recognise and explain the constellations, giving you a tour of the sky as well as the land

  • Educational walking trails will give you a better insight into the plantlife and smaller wildlife - this is a great location for bird watching

  • If the rugged game drives are taking it out of you, request a massage from the in-house therapist (this does cost extra)

  • Tribal dancing and drumming performances can be arranged for an extra cost

  • Off-site early morning balloon rides can be arranged, though they do clash with the morning game drive

  • Spend the afternoon rafting on the Olifants river

  • Learn about the local Shangaan culture at the tribal museum and visit the Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre

  • Go golfing. The Merensky Golf Course is next to the Kruger National Park and your camp manager can assist with booking

  • There is a Panorama/Enscarpment day trip that will take you around the rugged yet picturesque plateau of the Drakensberg Mountains and through the Lowveld plains. Alternatively, take a scenic small plane flight over the Drakensberg Mountains

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Private guided tours
  • Rafting
  • Safaris
  • Well being
  • Wildlife


Families with children are welcome at Makalali. Children are welcomed with a special Makalali colouring book and games, and each child will receive a "Brat Pack" on their game drive.

Children under the age of 6 are not allowed on adult game drives. However there are babysitters available; alternatively you can hire a vehicle and have a ranger take you on a private game drive - allowing you to dictate the time and duration of the drive (there is an extra charge for this service).

Children's rates apply when sharing with 2 adults (includes all meals). Children over 12 are considered adults and will be required to have their own room and pay the full adult rate.

Best for:

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

Family friendly accommodation:

The 3 camps are seperated, ensuring that romantic couples and excitable children aren't placed side by side. When booking, staff will use their discretion to place you in the most suitable camp available. Each camp has a swimming pool


Skilled babysitters from the local communities can be arranged for a fee, allowing parents to enjoy dinners and game viewing

Children's meals:

There's a kids menu on request, which includes burgers and pizzas, and special requests can be accommodated

Kids Activities on site:

  • Kiddies' walks and daytime game drives can be arranged specially.
  • Swimming pool at each camp
  • The reserve runs a 2-day 'Mini Ranger Course' for children between 6-15 years old. A ranger will teach them about the wildlife and survival skills as they fill out a workbook. When they have completed the course they take part in a graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate
  • There are also board games available.

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Hot air ballooning
    • Cheetah project

    Families Should Know:

    Staff are trained in basic first aid and Makalali is linked to MRI (Medical Rescue International), who assist with emergency evacuations and airlifts. Having your medical insurance details on hand will increase the efficiency of the above-mentioned emergency services. The Lodge is unfenced and the Big 5 are hereabouts


  • Airport: 1hr30min (Hoedspruit)
Kid Friendly:


Makalali Private Game Reserve sits along the Makhutswi river within a 25,000-acre private reserve near the Kruger National Park and Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa.

By Air
There are international flights to Johannesburg International Airport or Cape Town International Airport. From there take an internal flight to Hoedspruit Airport (65km), or from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.

From the Airport
From either of these airports Makalali offers an overland transfer to the lodge to coincide with flight arrival times (45-60 mins). Transfers from any other areas may be arranged at charter rates. Makalali has a gravel airstrip on the property for private charter flights.

By Car
It is a 4-5-hour drive from Johannesburg on reasonable, well signposted roads. For car hire see our car rental recommendations.

Driving distances:
From Johannesburg - 4.5 hours, Nelspruit - 2.5 hours, Sabi Sand Reserve - 2 hours, Hoedspruit/Eastgate - 45 mins, Phalaborwa - 60 mins

Detailed directions will be provided when booking is confirmed.

More on getting to South Africa and getting around


  • Hoedspruit 65.0 km HDS
  • Johannesburg Oliver Reginald Tambo International 506.0 km JNB


  • Beach 200.0 km
  • Shops 65.0 km
  • Restaurant 0.1 km

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