While I was planning my trip to South Africa, I spent DAYS researching and looking for a safari that was in a non-malarial area, baby- friendly and budget-friendly. Almost every safari was a few thousand dollars, which was a bit much for us! Luckily I stumbled upon Bakubung Bush Lodge on Booking.com. We ended up booking 2 nights at the lodge for 9,261 Rand (~$675) total. This price included breakfast and dinner, which had lots of vegetarian options, on both days and free game drives every day. Usually game drives cost about $100 just by themselves, so this was a deal!
Bakubung Bush Lodge is located about 2 1/2 hours outside of Johannesburg. We opted to drive there and it was super easy to get to since the highways are very well paved and easy to navigate. The drive there was absolutely beautiful – the sky looked like it never ended with puffy white clouds dotting the sky.
The lodge is located inside Pilanesburg National Park which houses the Big 5 (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffalos). Most of the places with the Big 5 are in malarial areas and since Elara is too young to take anti-malarials, this location was ideal.
The room was clean, spacious and they had a crib for Elara set up with a blanket and sheets when we got there! But to be honest, we spent very little time in our rooms since there is so much to do at the lodge! There is a small kids playground and a pool on site. They also have board game rentals and a spa!
Another amazing service they have is the on-site spa. I ended up getting a 2 hour body exfoliation, body wrap and massage for $75! I actually fell asleep during my massage and snored at one point! It was exactly what this tired mama needed after dealing with a jet-lagged baby all night! Massages start at $40 and go up. They also have oxygen pools and beauty treatments.
They do 3 hours game drives twice a day at 5:30 AM and 4:30 PM. Unfortunately, kids under 2 are not allowed on them. However; they do offer babysitting services. Rhut and I opted to take turns doing the safari. I went in the evening and he went in the morning. I would suggest you bring a jacket and dress in layers since it can be very hot and then become very cold quickly. It rained every morning and night when we were there – luckily the game drive provided ponchos! They also take a 10 minute break in the middle and have drinks and vegetarian snacks for people to enjoy while they stretch their legs.
You can also do a self-drive safari with your car rental and bring baby along with you! It costs 20 Rand for entry and 80 Rand per adult (~$13 total). This fee is for your entire stay. This was nice because you can go out on a game drive and a self-drive safari every day of your stay, maximizing you animal sightings! The only down side is that you don’t have the network of game drivers helping you find the animals. Also you are lower to the ground so it’s hard to see past the tall brush. But if you do see an animal, it’s up close and personal and you can stay for as long as you like! There is a large network of roads and if you want to do all of them, I would suggest spending 2-3 days at the lodge. All the roads are taken care of and are accessible with any 4×4 vehicle. Our car rental, a KIA , managed just fine!
Other than the animals, the best part about Bakubung is the staff. They all treated Elara like she was a princess and greeted her everyday with smiles and waves. One morning, while Rhut was on a game drive, I was struggling to hold Elara and grab breakfast at the same time. One of the servers noticed me and offered to hold Elara while I got settled at my table. A receptionist, Faith, who Elara was obsessed with, offered to babysit Elara so that Rhut and I could go on a game drive together. At first I was a little nervous, but after watching her with Elara for over an hour, I felt comfortable. Sometimes you just know when someone is a good person. I was so right! She made Elara homemade baby food and her two kids entertained Elara and made her laugh the entire evening. She even updated us on how Elara was doing thru our game driver! When we finally got back from our game drive, Elara had two new friends and Rhut and I got to go out together alone for the second time since she’s been born! Although she didn’t ask us for payment, we paid her after a bit of convincing.
I loved that the staff were so helpful and understanding with the baby. It’s the little things that really made our stay there so memorable. If you do end up going to Bakubung, please tell Faith that we say hello!
Disclaimer: We paid for and stayed at Bakubung Bush Lodge ourselves. The above is my honest opinion and I received no compensation from the lodge.