TOP Safari Lodge in Timbavati: Makanyi Private Game Lodge

SA1227 JNB-HDS 12H15 – 13H20
South African flight SA1227 from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit.

After a few days of relaxing and eating (!) in Johannesburg, it’s time to continue out South African trip. For the next 9 nights, we have a well-planned itinerary that was put together by our travel agent at Giltedge Golf & Safari:

We fly from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit (about 1 hr) where we’re picked up by out driver who will take us to Makanyi Private Game Lodge in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. It takes about an hour to get there.

Elephans crossing the road
Elephants crossing the road in Timbavati, Kruger Park.

On the way to the lodge we already start seeing animals, including zebras, giraffes, warthogs and ELEPHANTS. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE elephants, so I’m over the moon. We first see a huge bull standing on the side of the road and two smaller elephants in the bush. About 10 min later, we stop to let a herd of about 23 elephants (in all shapes and sizes) cross the road. I am totally ecstatic – this is like a dream!

Around 3 pm, we arrive at Makanyi, a 5-star lodge with just 7 suites located in front of a dam (with hippos!) in the Timbavati part of the Kruger Park. We’re immediately greeted by a very nice and energetic man, who leads us to a small outdoor sitting area where we do the check-in and get some practical information.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The pool & outdoor terrace at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

He takes us down to our room, gives us a quick room tour and then leaves us to get settled, change clothes and get ready for our 1st game drive, which is at 4 pm. Every day there are 2 game drives – early morning (6 – 9 am) and late afternoon (4 – 7 pm). Each drive is 3 hours with a stop along the way for snacks and beverages.

The Room

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Our room at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

Our room is so big and beautiful! It’s like a mini apartment with a sitting area with a fire place in one end, the bedroom (with king bed) in the middle, a small desk area, a small “kitchen” area with mini fridge, coffee maker and snacks and a bathroom with shower and tub. Behind the bed there’s an open closet space and a safe.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Our bathroom at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

We have a long terrace overlooking the “garden” (it’s not really a garden) and the dam with an outdoor shower (!) and a table with chairs.

The room is incredibly elegant, but in a nature-rustic kind of way and it’s so comfortable.

High Tea & Game Drives

At 3:30 pm we meet on the deck of the restaurant for high tea, which is basically snacks and beverages served before we head out on our 1st game drive. We meet the other guests staying at the lodge, who are mostly people our own age – honeymooners from USA. After a few snacks and chatting, we head over to the reception area and the “parking lot” where our ranger (Alfred) and our tracker (Themba) are waiting for us.

Game drive at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Game drive at Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

Before we go out, we’re instructed to remain seated at all times and to not make any sudden or violent movements or shout at the animals.

We head out in an open safari truck with 3 rows of seats and space for 6 passengers. Alfred is driving and Themba is sitting on a seat on the hood of the truck, so he can look for tracks and guide us throughout the 8000 hectares of private game reserve that belongs to Makanyi.

Male elephant at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Male elephant at Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

As soon as we come out of the gate, we already see a male “5-legged” elephant (if you know what I mean!) by a waterhole and a few females nearby.

Male elephant at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Male elephant at Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

During the following days, we see lots of beautiful animals, including:

  • Male lions
  • Lionesses and cubs (so cute)
  • Rhinos (incl. a pooping rhino that then chases away 2 male lions)
  • Hippos (in the dam by the lodge)
  • Water buck
  • Hyena
  • Kudu
  • Impala (lots and lots of them)
  • Giraffe
  • Buffalo (incl. a calf that was wounded by a lion)
Male lions at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Male lions at Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

It’s an amazing experience, for sure. Especially because we’re right there and the wild animals are right there! We’re sitting in an open truck (without any protection), literally a few feet away from whatever animal we encounter – animals that can kill us in an instant if they want to.

Lionesses and cubs at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Lionesses and cubs at Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

Our ranger tells us that the animals are used to the trucks and they don’t feel threatened by them at all. This is why they really don’t seem to care about us whenever we’re around. They look at us (apparently, they can only see the shape of the truck and not the individual people in it), but they don’t react much.

A male rhino at Makanyi Private Game Reserve
A male rhino at Makanyi Private Game Reserve

And at no time during any of our game drives do we feel frightened or unsafe. Quite the opposite, actually. I think, I’m too fascinated by just seeing the animals and being so close to them. They’re so beautiful and it’s such an incredible experience.

Giraffes at sunset - Makanyi Private Game Reserve
Giraffes at sunset – Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

Why anyone would ever want to harm or shoot some of these animals e.g. for their horns or tusks, I simply cannot comprehend.

A herd of Water Buffalo - Makanyi Private Game Reserve
A herd of Buffalo – Makanyi Private Game Reserve.

Food & Drinks

All meals and drinks are included in our package. Every morning we get a 5:30 am wake-up call and have a light breakfast (yogurt, muffins, juice and coffee) before we head out at 6 am.

Breakfast is served as soon as we return at 9 am, and we enjoy a buffet (fruit, cheese, bread, croissant, yogurt, cereal, juice, coffee, etc.) and an a la carte meal (eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.) on the terrace together with Alfred and our fellow safari guests. We eat together all the time, but Themba never joins us. Such is the internal hierarchy, I guess.

Relaxing by the pool at Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Relaxing by the pool at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

Between the morning and afternoon game drives, we’re free to do whatever we want. I get a 90-minute massage one morning after breakfast, which is really good, and otherwise we just lounge by the swimming pool – which is not heated and very freezing!

We only eat lunch once during our stay, which is also served on the terrace. We both get a burger with yucca fries, and it’s delicious. Especially because we’re the only ones eating, so we have the place to ourselves and can enjoy the view and peacefulness.

Lunch at Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Lunch at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

Our first night we meet everyone at the bar for drinks, wine and snacks. Here we get the chance to chat about the day’s events and also talk to some of the other guests, who were in a different safari truck, as well as some of the staff.

Dinner is a 3-course meal served on the terrace, which is lit up by candles but otherwise dark. They’ve set up tables for each couple, so we enjoy a romantic candle light dinner to the evening sounds of the bush. I only take a picture of our main course (lamb with vegetables), so I don’t remember what we have for starters and I believe we have a watermelon (?) sorbet for dessert. But I may be wrong!

Dinner at Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Dinner at Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

Dinner on our 2nd (and last) evening is an African buffet served in an area next to the terrace, which is like a camp site with a fire pit in the center. This time we eat together with Alfred and 2 other guests. I don’t take any photos, because I’m honestly too tired that evening and it’s difficult too because the lighting is too low for my camera. But the meal is excellent and we enjoy our last dinner to the fullest.


Returning to Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Returning to Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

Makanyi is truly a wonderful place to stay. In my opinion, this has to be one of the top Safari Lodges in Timbavati. The quality of the rooms, the common areas, the food, the drinks is all TOP, and I cannot say anything bad about this place – except for the swimming pool, which was too cold!

Everyone who works at Makanyi is incredibly friendly, smiling and so nice. You really feel their passion for what they do and the knowledge that our ranger (and surely all the other rangers) has about every animal is just mind-blowing.

Our Ranger (Alfred, right) and Tracker (Themba, left) from Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Our Ranger (Alfred, right) and Tracker (Themba, left) from Makanyi Private Game Lodge.

The skills of the tracker are incredible! The fact that he can find e.g. a pride of lionesses and their cubs by spotting their prints on the ground and then tracking them to their exact location – it’s just incredible. And they know exactly when an animal has passed by a certain place, where it’s headed, if it’s wounded or whatever.

Would I go back and/or recommend Makanyi to others? YES! In a heartbeat and without any doubts.

For more about Makanyi Private Game Lodge, visit

Also, check out the YouTube video that I made of our stay:



We stayed at Makanyi from April 10 – 12, 2017.


  1. I’m drooling over this experience! I really, really, want to do a safari. I can’t believe how close you got to the animals! I’d love to see elephants and giraffes in the wild. I’m waiting until my kids are older so we can do this epic trip as a family 🙂


    1. Thank you. Everyone should do this – once at least. Drives are 3 hrs so def make sure your kids are into it and up for it…


  2. This. is. ahhh-mazing! What an adventure and that photo of the elephants are pure magic! What a unique and breathtaking experience all the way through. The food and room look spectacular as well. Definitely adding this to my must visits! Thank you for sharing!



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