The Blogitects Do Limpopo: Marakele National Park

by | Feb 8, 2024 | Joburg Weekend Getaways, Limpopo, Lodging, Parks/Nature Reserves | 12 comments

I am way behind in publishing this final installment of the Blogitects’ December Limpopo roadtrip. (Read the first three installments here, here, and here.) Marakele National Park was our last stop on the journey and Thorsten and I were both running out of steam at that point, so we spent most of our time at Marakele just sitting, reading, and staring at the view from our deck.

Marakele sunset
Sunset view from our deck at Marakele’s Tlopi Tented Camp.

But I want to write a quick post about Marakele anyway, as it’s a lovely national park that flies under the radar. Marakele is about four hours from Joburg, easily doable as a long-weekend, and the scenery is extraordinary and totally unique. If Marakele was a national park in America, it would be packed with tourists and booked months in advance. In South Africa, I booked a stay at Marakele about two weeks in advance (over Christmas). Our beautiful tent, with this beautiful view, cost R1750 (less than $100) per night.

A @TheThinking_Hand sketch of the view.

Since we only spent two nights in Marakele and definitely didn’t experience everything the park has to offer, I’ll to refer you once again to Roxanne Reid’s excellent and detailed blog post about Marakele National Park. Roxanne included all the activities and logistical details you’ll need to plan a trip and I see no reason to duplicate her efforts. But here’s a less detailed account of our brief stay.

Two Days in Marakele National Park

Logistical note: If you’re coming from Mapungubwe or northern Limpopo, do NOT undertake the R572 between Alldays and Swartwater. (If you’re coming from Joburg, you won’t face this issue.) The R572 might look faster on a map, but this 100-kilometer stretch of road is the worst I’ve ever travelled in South Africa. To call the R572 “potholed” is a drastic understatement; the entire road is like one giant pothole and even the mighty Greylene struggled (although Greylene survived the R572 without a single flat tire). I was near tears on multiple occasions.

Second (related) note: Be sure to fill up with petrol in Lephalale, about two hours from Marakele, if you’re coming from the north. We didn’t do this, unaware that there isn’t a single petrol station between Lephalale and Marakele. This mistake left us low on fuel and hesitant to drive around too much once we reached the park. (We could have driven an extra 10 minutes to fill up in the nearby town of Thabazimbi, but the dastardly R572 delayed us so much that we barely reached the park before closing time.)

None of this mattered once we reached Marakele and headed through the gates toward the Tlopi camp.

View at Marakele National Park
One of the beautiful views we enjoyed on the way to our camp.
I took 100 pictures of these rocks on the way to the camp, only to realize the best view of them was from our deck.

Marakele is a Big 5 park, meaning it has elephants and lions and all that jazz. But one half of the park has Big 5 and the other half doesn’t. When driving from the non-Big-5 part to the Big-5 part (Tlopi Camp is in the Big-5 part), you have to drive through this cool concrete tunnel that goes under the road.

Cement tunnel at Marakele
Cool concrete tunnel.

The Tlopi Tented Camp has about ten permanent tents with adjoining kitchens. We arrived at the camp just before dark and settled into our tent, the Dabchick.

Tlopi tent at the dam
One of the Tlopi tents.
Greylene parked in front of the Dabchick tent
Greylene in front of the Dabchick.

While not luxurious, the Tlopi tents have everything you need (except a decent frying pan, sharp knives, and a corkscrew — if those items are important to you, bring your own) and you don’t need to be an experienced camper to be comfortable there.

Front of Tlopi tent
Tent entrance.
Inside the Dabchick tent
Inside the tent. (I don’t know why they gave us that extra bed but it served as a useful suitcase shelf.) Each tent has its own comfortable bathroom with a shower. We needed the industrial-sized fan at night — it was hot as hell.
Tlopi kitchen tent
The adjoining kitchen tent — a bit tired but functional.
Braai with a view
Braai (barbecue) with a view.
View of the rocks at Marakele
The view that never gets old.

I had read and heard multiple accounts of Tlopi guests watching huge herds of elephants visiting the dam (lake) to drink. We never saw any elephants; in fact we saw very few animals at all during our time at Marakele, maybe because it was rainy season and animals don’t need to come out of hiding to find water. We did glimpse a couple of rhinos, though, including a mother and baby, and we watched a fish eagle hunt a snake right out of the water. Anyway, we weren’t complaining.

Visiting the Cape Vulture Colony

The one outing we did at Marakele was a drive to the Lenong Viewpoint to see the park’s famous colony of Cape Vultures. The drive up the mountain was stunning, albeit slightly harrowing, and it took us a while to actually find the vultures — we arrived early in the morning and vultures don’t start flying around until the sun gets high enough to heat up the air. With some help from another visitor we eventually spotted dozens of them, soaring through the sky on the air currents, and it was quite spectacular.

Views on the way up to the viewpoint.
Thorsten looking for vultures
Thorsten looking for the vultures, which were actually off to the left somewhere.
Heather at the Lenong viewpoint
It was a great view either way. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)
Thorsten sketch of the viewpoint
Thorsten’s sketch of the vulture viewpoint.

And that was our trip to Marakele. Highly recommend.

View of rocks at Marakele National Park
Last look at this amazing view.

Final note: The main roads in Marakele are a combination of dirt and paving, and are theoretically accessible in a normal car. A high-clearance vehicle is helpful though.

12 Comments

  1. dizzylexa

    Those views are amazing.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Greylene thanks you.

      Reply
  2. Sara

    Our car got stuck at the Lenong viewpoint after the harrowing drive and had to be taken away by a tow truck. 😀

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Oh my goodness! That must have been quite a day for you 😭

      Reply
      • saraessop

        It was quite an adventure. I’ve got the whole story on my blog. 😀

        Reply
        • 2summers

          I’ll bet I read that but just forgot. I will go back and find it now!

          Reply
  3. xavdum

    I like this park and Tlopi tented camp. I didn’t see elephants near the lake (but friends did see a lot !). We did amazing walking game safaris (with armed rangers !).
    The park is huge but with few roads given the size of the park so it’s not so easy to spot wildlife when driving your own vehicle. There are for sure lot of animals but they have tens of thousands of hectares to roam far away from the car tracks. You can see much more easily animals in the private part of the park (Welgevonden reserve) which is fantastic but more expensive as you have only rather upmarket lodges. Welgevonden is one of my favourite game reserve in South Africa.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Oh yes, I hadn’t thought of that. I also went to Welgevonden once and it was amazing.

      Reply
  4. Fiver

    I’m glad you finally made it to Marakele. It’s my favourite San park. I’m glad you weren’t harassed by the vervet monkeys they can be quite a nuisance in the open kitchen. Now I want to go back…
    Oh and the walking safaris are highly recommended. The rangers are shared with Welgevonden and highly knowledgable.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      The one monkey who came once a day was a little aggressive but he gave up quickly.

      Reply

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