In May this year we were lucky enough to spend one night at Jaci’s Tree Lodge – our second stay in a lodge within Madikwe Game Reserve. We were very excited to check it out, after having stayed a couple of times at one of their sister lodges Cheetah Plains in Sabi Sands game reserve. It was also the only place we managed to stay that was located in the east of Madikwe, where we had been told (perhaps controversially) the game viewing was slightly better. Whether that is actually true remains a mystery to us, but we can definitely provide an overview of our impressions of Jaci’s Tree Lodge. In three words, WE LOVED IT – but read through in greater detail below exactly why.
Jaci’s Tree Lodge Grounds and Rooms
Jaci’s Tree Lodge had a very artsy, bright feel to it – within the main areas and in the rooms (check out the photos below). You can see why it is called a ‘Tree’ lodge – it is extremely leafy and green – and the lodge is built on stilts so that you are amongst the trees. The downside in my opinion though is that the lodge is fully fenced. This means you aren’t going to spot elephants or leopards from your balcony, but you may be lucky enough to see some of the resident bushbuck.
The rooms were excellent – they included everything you need for an enjoyable stay. The lodge isn’t rated, and for that reason it lacks some of the ‘official’ five star elements of some lodges like mini bar and phone in the room – but personally we prefer that. The bed is comfortable, the room is very large and the bathroom has a nice big bath. It’s great for privacy with no visibility to any other rooms and you are far enough away so that you are not likely to hear any other guests either.
While we thought the rooms were in our top 5 for lodges, what REALLY sets Jaci’s apart from other top notch game lodges is the waterhole hide! Jaci’s has an amazing hide built in the CENTRE of their large waterhole out the front of the lodge. So you have to literally walk under water to get to the hide (via a well-built tunnel). From there you are eye-level with terrapins, herons, impala, elephants and whatever other wildlife decides to come and take a drink. It is a photographer’s wet dream, let me tell you. It is also an amazing option to extend your game viewing beyond the traditional morning and afternoon game drives. Simply take a book and spend a couple of hours at the hide after breakfast – you never know what you might see!
Jaci’s Tree Lodge Food and Hospitality
Another reason that Jaci’s became a fast favourite for us was the amazingly delicious food. It was definitely in our top three lodges for food that we have ever stayed at (and that is really saying something). I am writing this a few month’s after our stay and we are still dreaming of the banoffee pie we devoured during afternoon tea! The variety, quality and quantity of food is excellent, and they offer by far the best morning pre-game drive spread that we have ever come across. Not only do you get the standard tea, coffee and hot chocolate but you can eat porridge, muffins, energy bars, fruit and rusks. All before you go on your first game drive. When you return, there is a two-course brunch where you choose a cold and hot option, in contrast to most lodge’s buffet style breakfasts. I preferred this option because I’m not a fan of buffets, and the selection was excellent. The food was similarly excellent and there was A LOT of it – well enough to get you through to the very substantial high tea prior to the afternoon game drive. I truly can’t rave about the food enough.
Service was a standout here, and it’s clear that the employees enjoy working at Jaci’s – we have learnt to be able to tell these things! They are very attentive, and guides/managers host at night with a communal set up. At brunch you sit just with your own family/group, and high tea is communal again. A good mix – we enjoy having communal meals, but it’s also good to have some time to yourself as well. There is a self-serve bar available all day/night, however usually there is staff around to get you a drink anyway! We couldn’t fault the service.
Game viewing at Jaci’s Tree Lodge
Jaci’s Tree Lodge is located in the East of Madikwe Game Reserve (in the North of South Africa, right near the Botswana border). Madikwe is a Big 5 / Super 7 reserve where you can see Lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Buffalo, Elephants, Cheetah, Wild dogs and plenty of other African wildlife. The most prominent African mammal you won’t see here is hippos.
Jaci’s in particular is great for wild dog sightings, and we certainly had a quality wild dog sighting during our one night (two game drives). During our two game drives we saw three of the Big 5 – we missed buffalo and leopard. Leopard sightings are a bit rarer in general in Madikwe, although this is something that is starting to change a bit as more leopards become habituated to game vehicles.
On our second (and last) drive, we had a pride of lions right at the lodge itself – it was very cool to see their interaction (a male was trying unsuccessfully to mate with a female). We also got to sit next to a female while she was roaring – very cool.You can read more about the game viewing in Madikwe when I post my Madikwe article (coming soon) or by simply getting in touch via email.
Jaci’s Tree Lodge Pros and Cons
- The photographic hide is one of the key selling points of this lodge- it is the best hide we have seen, built in the middle of a large waterhole
- Large, comfortable and exquisitely decorated rooms with plenty of privacy
- Fantastic customer service and hospitality
- Amazing food (and plenty of it) – the best morning pre-game drive spread we have come across
- Jaci’s offers photographic safaris for an added cost, and you can also hire their photographic equipment
- Free wifi available in main areas – good enough quality to do emails, communicate with family and upload pictures to social media
- Your car gets cleaned if you are self-driving
- Exercise equipment is spread out along the river, so you can work out while you may get to see elephants or other wildlife coming for a drink (you are behind an electrified fence!)
- There is a ‘star bed’ at the waterhole, which you can opt to sleep in for a true wild experience and the potential to get awesome midnight game viewing experiences
- The rooms are a little on the darker side from a lighting perspective (both natural light and artificial light)
- Fenced camp means that there is not as much opportunity to see wildlife from the comfort of your room/balcony, although of course you can see plenty from the hide (this is not necessarily a con for many people, but I prefer unfenced camps)
- There is no mini bar in the room, so cold drinks are not as easily accessible compared to other lodges (not a major issue in my opinion)
- The pool is relatively small and has no view, so not much game viewing opportunity (it is still very nice and very private)
- There is no indoor shower in the rooms, just a large indoor bath and one outdoor shower – if you want to shower you have to do so outside
Should you stay at Jaci’s Tree Lodge?
We loved Jaci’s Tree Lodge for the excellent rooms, flawless hospitality and amazing food. The game viewing was fantastic during our two drives, with a quality wild dog sighting during our first drive and a quality lion sighting on the second drive (on top of lots of other sightings too). It was good to see that we weren’t rushed to leave sightings while staying here, which can be an issue in other Madikwe lodges (and indeed lodges in other reserves).
I feel pretty confident if you stayed three or four nights at Jaci’s that you would likely see the Big 5 and have a very good chance at the Super 7 (cheetah and wild dogs). Leopard and Cheetah are by no means a given, but it’s one of the better places to stay in South Africa for wild dog sightings.
Overall it’s one of our favourite lodges and offers a great place in particular for budding or professional photographers. It would also be suitable for honeymooners, given the luxury and privacy of the rooms.
Feel free to get in touch if you would like more info, have any questions or want a more detailed comparison to other Madikwe lodges like Tau, Rhulani, Impodimo or The Bush House. Or for more information and advice on any other South African game reserves, and/or if you would like us to help plan and book your safari, please get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging/calling on Skype: carapring. We can get the best price for your safari 🙂