For our first trip back to South Africa in three years, we took off into the bush to visit Jaci’s Tree Lodge in Madikwe. While many think of Africa’s National Parks for safari, there are some tremendous private game reserves such as Madikwe that promise to deliver visitors and unforgettable safari. Madikwe is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa and a big five reserve with nearly 60 species of mammals and a population over 10,000.
One of the pioneers and original lodges in the reserve is the owner-operated safari lodge, Jaci’s Lodge along with the sister property Jaci’s Tree Lodge. It’s a tremendous lodge and we could not think of a better place to go on safari to welcome us back on the contitnent.
Jaci’s Tree Lodge
Madikwe is a tremendous reserve located in South Africa’ North West province home to 10,000 animals that are spread out over 60 species including the legendary Big Five. Jaci’s Lodges are two lodges set on the reserve and have serving guests for nearly three decades. Its outstanding service, unique accommodation, and game density reserve make it a fitting member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges.
We stayed at Jaci’s Tree lodge a collection of eight Treehouse suites that are stilted and connected by raised walkways. The separation from the ground and level walkways make it easier for safari-goers with limited mobility. The lodge itself was tastefully decorated in African artifacts, with luxurious touches, and plenty of pops of color. The result is a warm and enveloping hideaway deep in the bush.
We had not returned to South Africa is nearly three years, but it always held a special place in our hearts. After having been banned for an overstayed visa on our exit those three years ago we didn’t believe we could ever return. An immigration lawyer later and a very nervous trip into the back room at Johanessburg airport we made back into South Africa. Our first stop, Jaci’s Tree Lodge in Madikwe.
It turned out to be a tremendous safari for our return to Africa. On our first game drive, we witnessed a fiery sunset over the bushveld, saw the big five, and finished with a gin & tonic. After, all our time away it took the span of a couple of hours to pull at our heartstrings and remind us why we love safari.
The evening and the rest of the week only continued to impress us with the quality of our safari. A beautiful lodge, wonderful food, and great hospitality. Each day we’d start off with a light breakfast, then have a long morning game drive in search of wildlife, followed by a beautiful brunch, siesta, afternoon tea, evening game drive, sundowners, and then dinner. The whole experience was decadent yet retained all of its rustic charms we seek in a safari.
The big draw here is the game drives on the reserve. You can expect to find all of the classic safari animals such as the elephant, lion, hyena, buffalo, rhino, impala, kudu, eland, and leopard. It all takes place on rolling bushveld that borders on the Kalahari desert in Botswana.
A unique feature that is spectacular for photographers or elephant lovers is the submerged Terrapin Hide. We spent two afternoons in the hide when the elephants came around midday to escape the heat and grab a drink of water. At the low angle and surrounded by at least 60 elephants and multiples families was humbling.
On our last evening, we enjoyed the rare experience of a dinner in the bush. A fresh meal cooked over the fire enveloped in nature with wild animals was the perfect close to our days at Jaci’s Tree Lodge.
Rooms at Jaci’s Tree Lodge
The rooms at Jaci’s Tree Lodge are bush villas with an open layout, thatched roofs, and a wide series of windows that flood the room with light. The open bathroom features a large bathtub and outdoor shower so you can bathe under the stars.
Similar to the lodge the rooms are decorated with safari and African artifacts. When paired with the vibrant pops of color its attractive and feels right at home in South Africa.
If you want a truly unique experience you can book the star bed. The star bed is a bed on an elevated platform that overlooks the watering hole. It’s an amazing experience where you can sleep under the African stars and spend an evening with wildlife.
The Food at Jaci’s Tree lodge
Jaci’s Tree Lodge had some of the best food we’ve ever had on safari. Every meal came with multiple choices that rotated throughout the week so there was plenty of variety. Even breakfast had a specialty choice like french toast with stewed apples and bacon or avocado toast, which we’re still dreaming about to this day. It was a welcome surprise for a meal that can be pretty standard at many safari lodges.
Even the afternoon tea was a lovely spread of savory items like sliders, samosas, and salad combined with sweets like homemade lemonade, ginger tea, and a fresh-baked cake. You’re truly spoiled for food when staying here and you’ll struggle not to leave a little heavier.
Jaci’s Tree Lodge is about romance and each evening we enjoyed an intimate dinner together. The wait staff and chefs were all fantastic and took such tremendous care of us during the stay. Always greeted with a smile and enjoyed speaking with us.
Jaci’s Lodges are easily accessed via a short bush flight from Johannesburg or a 3½ hour drive. It’s a great place to safari for people with health concerns or children. In regards to children, Jaci’s Tree Lodge is adults only and Jaci’s Lodge allows all ages along who are welcome to stay in one of their family suites.
Guests can also relax as the reserve is not in a malaria zone and the lodge itself has an electric fence that provides potentially dangerous animals. This is all very understandable when you compare to other safari destinations in Southern Africa like Zambia, Namibia or Botswana where you can be many hours in the best-case scenario from a hospital.
Book A Safari in South Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
What to Pack For South Africa?
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem of buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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