South Africa’s Top Secret Luxury Safari Lodge | Marataba

Marataba Luxury Lodges, a child of the esteemed MORE Family Collection, is one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets and it’s luxurious glory is waiting to be discovered. Tucked away in the country’s lesser-traveled Marakele National Park, Marataba sits just a four hour drive or 45-minute private flight from Johannesburg. Most tourists and travelers tend to focus their game-viewing itineraries on Kruger National Park and its surrounding area, but those in the know head to Marakele. A comfortably luxurious and immersive experience, Marataba shines as an example of peace, relaxation and a place where you can get up close and personal with some of South Africa’s most iconic creatures.

I had heard about Marataba for a long time, but had never visited. MORE Family Collection also owns and operates the beautiful Lion Sands near Kruger National Park, but I was interested in something new. I decided to drive from Johannesburg, which was easier than I had imagined. The roads are good and easy to traverse – so off I went.

The camp gave me easy-to-follow directions and, in a snap, I was there. Marataba offers two lodges, Safari Lodge and Mountain Lodge. Safari Lodge is where I stayed and it offers 15 luxury tented suites. Both lodges are beautiful and chic, but Mountain Lodge is a bit smaller and caters to adults-only or groups that choose to book the entire venue. They are both phenomenally designed and architecturally interesting, but Safari Lodge offers a bit more of everything in terms of being easy-to-access and casual.

I was greeted at the gate of Marataba by my guide, Kim, who I immediately knew would be fabulous. Not only was she kind, but she was so confidant and knowledgeable about the area, the roads, wildlife and more. I arrived to the stunning welcome area and was led through the glass, wood and metal entry and onto the back veranda where I was offered a cocktail with views of the surrounding Waterberg Mountains. I was instantly in love with the red and pink sunsets bouncing off the mountain face and really was left with my jaw on the ground just from the sheer beauty of it all.

I was checked-in immediately and led to my tented suite. Marataba is not fenced so it was of utmost importance that the staff remind both myself and guests that having an escort in the evening hours is critical for safety purposes. This was not my first safari, so I understood the rule immediately and adhered to it throughout my three-night stay.

Marataba is set-up to make things very easy. I was impressed that, even in the bush, the staff and property set strict COVID-19 guidelines by separating tables, offering sanitizing products at nearly every corner and implemented temperature checks every morning before game drives. Masks were encouraged around others not in your party and staff made sure guests followed these instructions to ensure everyone’s safety. I was very impressed with my tented room by not only its design and beauty, but by the small details that make a luxury experience luxury. There were USB plug-ins by the bedsides, robes, slippers, converters and large suite-like bathrooms with full-sized products to use. The mini bar is offered complementary and includes wine openers, knives to cut lemons for gin and tonics and a beautiful coffee station. In fact, the coffee that is offered is branded from the MORE Family Collection in their elegant font, and a fresh press awaits your morning use. There were even homemade cookies to nibble on before breakfast while getting ready for a morning game drive.

My first game drive at Marataba was enchanting – oh how lucky I was. I was offered a private vehicle, which is always a plus on safari, and Kim led the charge with sightings of impala, warthogs, zebra, giraffe and the incredible rhino.

In fact, Marataba is known for their rhino population and what a thrill it is each time to see these endangered creatures.

We were led through ravines, into open plains and over hills – all in search of that morning’s game. Snacks are offered before the drive as well as coffee, but breakfast comes upon return from the first game drive around 10:00 am. And, breakfast is quite the event at Safari Lodge.

Elephant and lion sightings are usual and phenomenal.

Three sister lions made an appearance twice.

The rhino in the area are majestic and seeing them is something I equate to a religious experience.

Cuisine at Marataba is, quite literally, phenomenal. Over three days, I don’t think I had one bad meal. Breakfast is an affair with offerings like avocado toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs and bacon and much, much more.

I was usually too full after breakfast to indulge in lunch, but, when I did, it was incredible. The kitchen team here will modify anything based on your likes, allergies or preferences – so don’t be shy.

Dinner is usually on the terrace by candlelight and elegant lanterns hanging in the nearby trees. Expect menus to be gourmet in concept, but satisfying and hearty in delivery – which is perfect in my opinion. The wine selection is intense and, of course, you can indulge in some of South Africa’s most famous blends.

Marataba offers several special experiences for its guests. The camp is one of the only camps in South Africa that offer one of your game drives by water.

Their aptly named, “Miss Mara” is a beautiful boat that is usually set-up for a morning or afternoon game viewing experience with drinks and homemade snacks to welcome you.

As the boat leaves the shore, expect to spot hippo, birds, lizards, snakes and elephant along the shoreline. I had never had an experience like this and it is unique to Marataba. It added a completely different dimension to my time in Marakele National Park and I absolutely loved it.

Marataba also offers the ability for guests to sleep overnight in their treehouse. This is truly special.

I did not sleep there as I needed to depart very early in the morning, but the team set-up a stunning dinner in the space after a game drive.

I was driven to the elegant spot which was lit with lanterns and candles, and a set table was waiting for me.

Some might think a treehouse sounds rustic, but not at Marataba. Oh no.

There is a glassed-in bathroom outfitted with every convenience, the king-sized bed is like a cloud and USB chargers flank the sides. Here, you can indulge in a private dinner and watch the sunset, using a downloaded app to stargaze at night.

Three days at Marataba flew by too quickly. The staff here is a key component of the stay – as they are genuine, friendly and truly service-oriented. I found each and every one of them a delight and enjoyed evening conversations around the fire before dinner. They listen to your goals while at the property, and try their very best to make your dreams a reality. I have been fortunate enough to stay at countless camps throughout Africa, all unique and beautiful in their own right. But, Marataba is special. It feels like only you know about it and that there aren’t many who know to travel to this part of the country. I believe that with the bush at your doorstep, the mountains in the distance and the river being such a critical bloodline of this place – you get the best of everything. I truly cannot wait to return as, quite frankly, the experience left an imprint on my heart that I know won’t soon go away.