Malaria Free Safaris in Africa

A safari jeep in the African countryside.
Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Malaria-free safaris do exist in Africa; they can be found in several ecologically diverse regions of South Africa. If you want to see the Big Five without worrying about taking malaria pills (prophylactics) or other precautions, there are plenty of options available.

Why Choose a Malaria-Free Safari?

Malaria-free safaris are an excellent option if you're traveling with children, if you're elderly, if you're pregnant, or in any way unable to take anti-malaria medication. For some people, even the idea of catching malaria is enough to put them off a trip to Africa. If that's the case, you'll be happy to know you can enjoy an African safari without running a million miles upon seeing a mosquito.

Malaria Free Safaris in South Africa

There are many areas in South Africa that are malaria-free and can offer world-class safari experiences. While some of South Africa's best game parks are unfortunately not in the malaria-free zone (like Kruger National Park and others in the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal regions) many private game reserves have set up in the Eastern Cape area, Madwikwe, Pilanesberg, and the Waterberg area. These reserves have successfully relocated a large number of animals and besides the Big Five you can also see rare mammals like cheetah and wild dogs.

The Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape region is very popular since you can combine a safari with a visit to Cape Town. Some of the best Game Parks in this region are along the Garden Route and include:

  • Kwandwe Game Reserve -- Three lodges provide excellent accommodation in this large private game reserve near Grahamstown. Day and night drives are available to view the numerous lion, cheetah, rhino, elephant, hippo, and leopard in the park. Bush walks, canoeing and fishing are also activities you can enjoy. Children are welcome but the recommended age to enjoy a safari here is 6 and over.
  • Addo Elephant National Park -- Soon to be one of the largest national parks in South Africa, Addo offers the visitor not only the Big Five but sightings of whales and great white sharks as well. Situated just north of Port Elizabeth, Addo is home to several luxury lodges as well as the Addo Main Rest Camp which provides more budget style accommodation; chalets, tents, and rondavels. Hiking, horse riding are also popular activities besides safari drives (which you can do in your own vehicle). Children under 6 are not allowed on drives organized by the park.
  • Shamwari Game Reserve -- Situated along the Bushman's River, Shamwari is a private, family-owned game reserve which offers visitors a chance to see the Big Five and much more. Lodges are luxurious and game drives and meals are included with the package. You can enjoy a spa, daily game drives, bush walks and if you fall in love, you can come back and volunteer to help protect the parks' animals.
  • Amakhala Game Reserve -- Formerly farmland, the family-owned Amakhala game Reserve is now home to Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Cheetah, Giraffe, Zebra and numerous other antelope. Situated just east of Port Elizabeth, Amakhala offers game drives and a variety of very comfortable lodges. Day visits are easily accommodated as are children over the age of 6.
  • Kariega Game Reserve -- Situated along the Kariega River the game reserve offers canoeing safaris, fishing, a river cruise and more besides the excellent game drives. The wildlife is abundant and the lodges are luxurious with outdoor pools and decks. A minimum of least 2 nights are recommended at the Kariega Game Reserve to enjoy the activities on offer.

Because the Garden Route is so popular, many packages will combine a few days in a game park, with a visit to the beach and other highlights of the area.

Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe is in the north of South Africa's North West province on the edge of the great Kalahari Desert, bordering Botswana. Madikwe used to be private farmland but with the successful relocation of more than 8000 animals (Operation Phoenix) in the 1990's, Madikwe is now winning awards as a conservation success story.

The best way to get to Madikwe is either by charter flight or car from Johannesburg (3.5 hours) and Gaborone in Botswana (1 hour). A popular add-on for visitors to Madikwe includes a trip to Victoria Falls (but the Falls are not in a malaria-free zone!) and some of Botswana's fine National Parks.

Madikwe is home to some truly wonderful private lodges and camps, some of the best are listed below. Note that visitors cannot enter the park without staying at one of the lodges. The lodges are luxurious, but with favorable exchange rates you may be pleasantly surprised with what you can afford.

Best Lodging in Madiwke includes:

  • Jaci's Tree Lodge is a perfect choice for families since the 8 rooms are actually tree houses built around a giant Leadwood tree. There are outdoor jungle showers as well as en-suite bathrooms. Raised wooden walkways lead to a restaurant and bar.
  • Madikwe Safari Lodge is situated in the heart of the reserve and has nice sweeping views of the plains. The lodge is small, with 16 suites and is very family-friendly. A pizza oven and several plunge pools will certainly please the kids.
  • Madikwe River Lodge is beautifully situated on the Marico River in a riverine forest. There's a lodge with family rooms as well as 16 chalets. Children of all ages are welcome.
  • Thakadu River Camp is a community owned luxury tented camp that is very child-friendly. A lovely swimming pool overlooks the Marico River. Each tent has its own private viewing deck.
  • Etali Safari Lodge is very luxurious and intimate with just 8 suites available, each with its own private sundeck and whirlpool.

Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Pilanesberg is a beautiful Game Reserve situated on the remains of an extinct volcano crater near Sun City (a big holiday resort). Pilanesberg was created as a reserve in the late 1970's and now boasts the Big Five and many other animals courtesy of a vast wildlife relocation project. Just a 2-hour drive from Johannesburg, this park is very accessible and is popular with local South African families escaping the city.

Pilanesberg is an excellent option for day trips especially if you're enjoying Sun City. The park isn't huge, but the vegetation is incredibly varied and the landscape is lush and beautiful. You can choose from a traditional safari drive, hot air ballooning or walking safaris. Pilanesberg's lodges include the Ivory Tree Game LodgeTshukuduKwa Maritane Bush Lodge and the Bakubung Bush Lodge.

Pilanesberg is ideal for a self-drive safari; the roads aren't paved but they are in good condition. Just outside the park gates are a couple of options for less pricey accommodation with swimming pools and playgrounds for the children. They include the Bakgatala Resort which offers chalets and tents. The Manyane Resort also offers a variety of accommodation including campsites, chalets and caravan sites and is very family-friendly.

Recommended Safari Packages for Pilanesberg:

The Waterberg Area

The Waterberg area is in South Africa's Limpopo Province north of Johannesburg. Most of the parks and lodges listed below are no more than a 2-hour drive from Johannesburg. The Waterberg area is malaria-free and filled to the brim with private and national game parks. Most of the reserves in this area have been stocked full of game and offer beautiful mountainous landscapes as well as Big Five viewing and incredible birdlife.

Entabeni Game Reserve

Entabeni is a private reserve and boasts no less than 5 eco-systems including wetlands, craggy escarpments, grass plains and cliffs. In Entabeni you can enjoy guided game drives, bush walks, sunset cruises on the lake, horse riding and helicopter air safaris. Entabeni is an all-inclusive safari reserve, meals and game drives are included in the price, so you will not be driving your own car around once you're in the reserve. Children under 6 are not allowed on game drives.

Lodging includes Lakeside Lodge on the shores of Lake Entabeni and Wildside Safari Camp.

Welgevonden Game Reserve
Welgevonden is popular with weekenders from Johannesburg looking for some peace and tranquility in the beautiful South African bush. The Big Five are here as well as 30 more mammal species and over 250 species of birds. Welgevonden borders Marakele National Park and the two parks will soon remove their fences so game will be free to roam in a larger area. Accommodation is plentiful and varied inside the reserve. You can choose from the luxurious Sediba Game LodgeMakweti Safari Lodge, or the Nungubane Lodge to name a few.

Marakele National Park
Marakele is set in the middle of the Waterberg region with beautiful mountains as backdrop. Marakele means "sanctuary" in the local Tswana language, and it's certainly peaceful. All the large game species from elephant and rhino to the big cats as well as an amazing variety of birds can be seen here. Marakele is not going to provide you with a luxury safari experience; it's for the more intrepid safari goers. You need your own car and be warned that some of the roads are definitely only accessible to a four-wheel drive vehicle. Accommodation consists of two campsites, Tlopi Tented Camp which has furnished tents and Bontle camping site where you bring your own.

The Ant's Nest and Ant's Hill Private Game Lodges
The Ant's Nest and Ant's Hill offer very family friendly, luxurious accommodation. This private reserve is a real haven both for animals (over 40 species) and people looking for a wonderful vacation. Apart from game drives, there's horse riding, elephant safaris, curio shopping, swimming and more.

Mabalingwe Nature Reserve
Mabalingwe is home to the big 5, and also hippo, giraffe, hyena, and sable. There are many types of accommodation available including chalets, campsites, and bush lodges. The reserve is very family-friendly, and the rolling grasslands make game-viewing a breeze.

The luxurious Itaga Private Game Lodge offers five-star accommodations in 8 African themed chalets and fine dining. Game drives are organized in open 4x4 vehicles with an experienced ranger.

Kololo Game Reserve
Kololo is a small reserve with rolling grasslands supporting many species of antelope including impala, kudu, and wildebeest. You won't see the Big Five here, but it's easy to drive to the other parks nearby (Welgevonden for example) and see it all. Lodging includes a variety of chalets and camps.

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve - Northern Cape Province

Tswalu is situated in the Northern Cape Province and is home to more than 70 species of mammal. Privately owned and operated by a local mining family (the Oppenheimers) Tswalu is still a conservation work in progress, but what is there already can offer the visitor a really wonderful African safari experience. Accommodation is luxurious and you can choose from two lodges, the secluded Tarkuni and The Motse. Children of all ages are welcome. The best way to get to Tswalu is to fly in.

A note about malaria

Malaria's reputation as a killer disease is certainly earned, but the mortality figures are mainly a reflection of inadequate health care in Africa. The vast majority of tourists who get malaria recover completely since they have access to medicine and doctors, clean water and food. Malaria can also be avoided with the right precautions ... more about avoiding malaria.