Mapula is approached by a traditional log-piled bridge.
Mapula Lodge: Our full report
Mapula Lodge is situated in the private, game-rich Mapula Reserve within the northern Okavango Delta. The lodge occupies a stunning position on a large tree island at the edge of seasonal floodplains, overlooking a permanent lagoon complete with resident hippos.
Also known as “NG12", the Mapula Reserve is a private concession slightly north of the renowned Vumbura and Duba Plains concessions, on the northern side of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, in an environment that’s very similar to that found at Vumbura. We have always liked sending travellers to Mapula, in part because the game in the region is varied and there can be excellent sightings of big cats and large herbivores. On our last visit to the camp, in October 2012, we met a very excited group of travellers who had seen leopard, cheetah, lion and buffalo all on one game drive the evening before we arrived.
Unusually for a Botswana safari camp, Mapula is independently owned, something that we at Expert Africa have long supported. Following a change of ownership in 2011, however, we were disappointed with the general state of the lodge as well as with subsequent reports. However, we’re happy to report that by 2013, we were starting to be encouraged by the progress a new management team is making.
Mapula has nine roomy stone-and-thatch chalets which are reached along sandy pathways, and are well spaced and very private. They have been built on raised platforms amongst some lovely old trees, in harmony with their surroundings. The floors are constructed from old wooden beams, which extend to each chalet's private balcony, well shaded by ancient trees. The rooms have very large, almost floor-to-ceiling meshed windows, which allow for a through breeze and great views over the lagoon and its attendant birdlife. (The rooms do have fans but these work only when the generator is on, from about 7.00am to 10.30am in the morning and between 6.00pm and 8.30pm in the evening.)
Up a few steps, and through a solid wooden front door, you’ll find comfortable twin or double beds, their rustic headboards crafted from gnarled old logs, and with good reading lights on twin bedside cabinets. In the evenings, box-shaped mosquito nets are lowered around the beds and lights to protect you from creepy-crawlies. Each chalet also has a living area, with a small wicker sofa scattered with cushions, a footstool, and a coffee table created from an old log. On our most recent visit we were disappointed to find a few holes in our mosquito net. This was quite typical of the general standard of accommodation at Mapula, which fell short of the standard of other lodges in the Okavango Delta.
The main area of Mapula Lodge is a lovely traditional thatched building, open plan with a comfortable lounge and dining area, small library, and curio shop, and a large deck where you can sit in the shade of an ancient African ebony. On a lower deck is a small pool with sunloungers and shady spots, ideal for an afternoon nap. Nearby, the bush bar is a gathering point for pre-dinner drinks and recounting the day’s safari tales.
Activities at Mapula focus on day and night game drives, mokoro (dug-out canoe) trips, boat trips and guided walks. The young guide on our last visit, although good and clearly very knowledgeable, would have benefited from an older mentor rather than being left to learn ‘on the job’. The open-sided game vehicles had certainly been upgraded since our previous visit and were in good shape. Each seats a maximum of nine people and in the hotter summer months (September to April) is usually fitted with a canvas roof to block out some of the sun’s heat.
The Okavango’s main ‘buffalo fence’ runs through part of the Mapula Reserve. Although this can detract from the aesthetics of some views, the game largely ignores it, easily passing from one side to the other through its many gaps. Game drives operate on both sides of the fence, and the range which these can cover varies depending on flood levels. On our most recent visit, the wildlife on both sides of the buffalo fence was very varied: we saw red lechwe, impala, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, steenbok, waterbuck, reedbuck, porcupine, hyena, jackal, genet, caracal and lion! Buffalo and elephant are also permanent residents in this reserve. The birding was also excellent.
Our viewHaving loved it in the past, we had been disappointed to see standards slip in recent years – and are now pleased to report that the camp is improving. The staff are generally doing a great job, but on our most recent visit clearly greater investment in the furnishings and other cosmetic elements of the camp was needed. We now cautiously recommend Mapula to travellers seeking a good-value Botswana safari in in a great game area – who are willing to overlook a few blemishes here and there.
Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a stay of two or three nights at Mapula Lodge.
Directions: Mapula Lodge is a 40-minute light aircraft flight from Maun, followed by a game drive of approximately 30 minutes depending on the wildlife you see on the way and how high the water levels around camp are.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: In past visits we have found the food at Mapula variable. All dishes were perfectly edible but the average standard was a step down from the quality of meal we have experienced in most other lodges in Botswana. Whilst meals here are certainly still not gourmet, more recently we have found the standard to be much improved and enjoyed tasty, wholesome fare.
Early-morning breakfast before your first activity of the day is a basic buffet of cereals and muesli, yoghurt and fruit salad. Toast with jam and other spreads is also on offer, along with coffee and tea.
On your return, an early lunch is served. We enjoyed a hearty meal of meatballs with couscous and kidney bean salad, followed by cheese, biscuits and fruit.
Before your afternoon game drive, tea usually includes a savoury snack and a freshly baked cake, along with rooibos iced tea, or hot tea and coffee.
Dinner is a full three-course occasion when, as with all meals here, everyone eats together. When we visited in October 2012, we enjoyed a ‘traditional evening’, when dinner is served around the campfire. Our meal included papa (maize – the local staple food) and seswa (shredded beef), as well as a variety of relishes and salads.
On another occasion we were served a starter of butternut soup with a fresh bread roll, then roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables for our main course, and pecan pie with lemon cream for pudding.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Soft drinks, bottled water, spirits, local beers and a selection of (generally) South African wines are included. Imported wines and spirits and champagne cost extra – and need to be requested in advance.
Birdwatching: Birdwatching at Mapula Lodge is excellent, even from your balcony. We saw African paradise flycatcher, wattled crane, saddle-billed stork, brown snake eagle, wattled starling, Meyer’s parrot and lesser grey shrike.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Botswana
Wildlife safaris: There is plenty of plains game in the Mapula Reserve, including zebra, buffalo, lechwe and giraffe, as well as elephant and predators such as lion and leopard. On our recent visit to Mapula Lodge we came across a pack of wild dogs with their pups – and we were also lucky to see a porcupine on a night drive.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana
Attitude towards children: The camp welcomes children aged 8 years and above. Younger children may be accommodated on special request, although families would be required to take a private game-drive vehicle at an additional cost.
Property’s age restrictions: Children under 12 may join mokoro excursions at the manager's discretion, but we wouldn't recommend this. Only children aged 16 years and over may join the usual walking safaris however, shorter walks in the vicinity of Mapula Lodge may be arranged with the manager for younger children.
Special activities & services: Shorter walks in the vicinity of Mapula Lodge may be arranged with the manager for younger children.
Equipment: No special equipment is available.
Generally recommended for children: Recommended for older children only, who will be very sensible given the obvious and constant danager posed by the big game here.
Notes: Mapula Lodge is very open with dangerous wildlife walking through the camp, so children will need constant and close supervision by a parent or other adult.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: For most purposes, consider yourself out of contact here. There is no cellphone reception and no email. Satellite phone contact can be made with Maun in an emergency.
TV & radio: No radio or television!
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is a first-aid kit kept at camp. The nearest doctor is in Maun, a 40-minute flight away. Please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Because of the Okavango Delta’s large population of dangerous game, and the fact that Mapula Lodge is unfenced, guests are escorted to their rooms after dark.
Fire safety: You will find fire extinguishers on the balconies of all the rooms.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included (including underwear, as washing is done by machines).
Money: No exchange facilities are offered.
Accepted payment on location: No credit cards are accepted. Cash payments for any extras may be made in South African rand, GB sterling, US dollars, euros and Botswanan pula.