A Luxury Malaria-Free Safari at Madikwe Lodge with Kids under 6
Updated: Feb 22
Since our first visit to South Africa with our son, I have been experiencing a palpable excitement to take him on safari. The experience of being in the wild in the grasslands, driving in an open top safari vehicle, staying in an uber-luxurious game lodge, and seeing the Big 5 in their natural habitat, is just unreal and unparalleled.
South Africa is famed for its safari lodges. Many of the luxury reserves are in low-medium risk malaria locations where anti-malarials must be taken due to the risks imposed. However, anti-malarials are not recommended for under 5's due to the side effects which poses a limit on where to stay with kids under 5.
Enter Madikwe Game Reserve, a phenomenal 5-star reserve which is accessible by a 1 hour private flight or a 3.5 hour self or chaffeaur drive from Johannesburg. Situated close to the borders of Botswana and with multiple lodges, we visited the gorgeous Royal Madikwe and Madikwe Hills on our last visits, where I was blown away by the luxurious setting, impeccable service and decadent food.
Luxury on a Malaria-Free Safari
On this occasion, we stayed at the family-friendly Lelapa Lodge within Madikwe Lodge. Four of the camps suites are best suited for families with children and host a huge wooden terrace with outdoor shower and private pool overlooking the savannah, 2 bedrooms and bathroom within the unit - it couldn't be more perfect.
Each room has a gorgeous king size bed, stand alone bath, shower, in-room coffee/tea making facilities, nespresso machine and bar. The bathroom housed Anthrology products, a unique South African brand that smelt just divine. Extra touches were added like personalised water bottles that we could fill with still or sparkling water and delectable snacks whilst personalised notes on a little blackboard were left with a thoughtful tip or message on our bed every day.
Alexander was overly excited about having his own room and didn't want to leave. We believe that the bunk bed and the welcome attraction of the safari activity book, a kids torch and his own gown and slippers that Madike Lodge provided, helped make him feel at home, be fully entertained and fall in love with the place.
With something for everyone, Lelapa Lodge hosts a spa with amazing treatments on offer to spoil you during the day between the drives or when you would just like to relax and enjoy the facilities. The camp also has a larger pool with a huge lawn across from a watering hole.
Family Friendly Perfection
Lelapa Lodge is unique as it offers 2 game drives a day for adults and kids over 6 during the morning and afternoon, and additionally a bumble drive for kids under 6. This is to ensure the safety of kids under 6 who might distract a big cat or find the drives too disorienting.
It was an extreme thrill to take our son on his first fully blown safari drive, and the excitement was real. He couldn't wait and embraced every moment. What made the drives more special was the knowledge of our superb rangers who could answer practically any question we had and provided tons of fun facts to make the drive a real adventure for him.
A true distinctive gem at Lelapa Lodge is the Eco House where kids are treated to a special educational experience and learn more about conservation. They have the unique opportunity to hold and study skulls and horns of many animals, enjoy crafts including rock painting, and learn about the insects, bird, mammals and sea life in South Africa. The staff at the Eco House were so warm & accommodating and offered such a personalised service. Reassuringly, especially for younger kids, the same staff are available for babysitting during the day or evening, where we embraced this privilege and allowed our son to sleep in.
The food, oh yes, the food
Every morning at Madike Lodge, we did the adults game drive at 4.30 am and were treated to a morning coffee and little snacks before leaving - most morning it was these delicious cranberry treats that just hit the spot. At the end of the drive we were offered tea, coffee, hot chocolate and an array of liqueurs and snacks to welcome the day, whilst enjoying the views. When back at the lodge, breakfast was served which included buddha bowls, eggs florentine and egg white omelettes, amongst many other options. My favourite was the crumpet station which was offered with tons of toppings both sweet and savoury.
Then it was time to rest and relax before lunch at 12/1 pm, at our liking, served either in the main lodge or by the pool, where we could enjoy not just the gorgeous setting overlooking the grasslands, but watch loads animals come by to the waterhole to drink. Alex's favourite was watching the elephants splash.
Before our afternoon drive, afternoon tea was served with delicious juices, smoothies, an assemblage of teas and coffees, cakes and pastries. Then at the end of the drive, to welcome the sunset, we had an array of liqueurs & spirits or warm drinks, and snacks, whilst we watched the purple-orange skies fall over vast reserve and high mountains. It was just breathtakingly beautiful.
After our drive we had the most amazing dinners in the main lodge every night with tons of child friendly options, and in the Summer, when there are many guests at the Lodge, there is also the option to dine at the outdoor Boma.
Did I mention that we were not just spoilt with the number of meals and extensive options on offer - the food was just outstanding rivalling any Michelin-starred restaurant . On our last stay at Madikwe Hills, I remember asking the chef for the recipes, that's how good it was!
A superb experience
Our experience at Madikwe Lodge was surreal to say the least. From the superb food, to the extreme warmth and friendliness of every single member of staff, to having every need catered for, being accommodated and flexing little changes to make our trip personalised and special, and just the wariness and sensitivity of our son, everything truly appreciated.
There is absolutely nothing I can fault in our experience except to say that you would be missing a true gem if you don't Madikwe Lodge on your next trip to South Africa.
South Africa takes COVID-19 very serious and strict measures are in place including temperature checks, hand sanitising and face mask wearing whilst indoors, at the time of our stay.
The Kensington Diary