We arrived at Palala Boutique Game Reserve in the heat of the day, our backsides sore from a long drive from Jo'burg.
Met with friendly smiles and cool, wet towelettes, the staff took our dust-covered bags and hustled us through their lush African decor of wood and animal skins to a late lunch and finally checking into our rooms.
It was chaotic, but we were a massive group of media people gathered for the launch of Limpopo's Marula Festival, and the lack of 5-star experience can be chalked up to the mismanaged organising and lack of WiFi due to a thunderstorm the previous night - the staff at the lodge was just trying to manage as best they could.
The reception area at Palala. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Left mostly to our own devices, my first mission was to book my spa treatment that was mentioned on the itinerary (never happened due to changes in schedule, but that's another story), and I have never been so blown away by a gorgeous bush spa.
Sparkly mannequins that look like ethereal beings make their presence known, succulents arranged in patterns and geometric lines tell your brain that you've stepped into a calm sanctuary, and you just instantly become relaxed.
You can get that typical Limpopo wildlife experience in almost every corner in the province, but the Sediko Bush Spa is the main drawcard for Palala, and even though I only ended up having a 15-minute foot massage with champagne, that short taster was absolute heaven.
Their menu also includes other extravagant spa treatments, like flotation therapy, body wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures and even a Merlot bath for two, which you can upgrade to a Billionaire's Bath for Two - a deep tissue massage with grape seed oil, a Merlot bath, cheese platter and Merlot wine to drink.
The spa pool. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Beyond the spa, the other amazing experience at Palala is their swimming pools - specifically the poolside service and stupidly comfortable cabanas. The delightful yellow-and-white-striped towels are thick and soft, and after your dip you can relax with a book and a drink from one of the waiters that are always hovering around.
They do pounce whenever they see a seemingly unattended used towel, but it does mean you'll always have a dry one throughout your pool lounging. There are three pools to choose from - a big one away from the restaurant and bar, a smaller but much cooler one next to the breakfast area perfect for watching the sunset (my favourite one) and one at the spa if you're looking for some peace and quiet.
The smaller, cooler pool by the bar and restaurant. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Unfortunately, we never got to experience the other activities at Palala, like a game drive, river cruise, picnic or guided walk, and in terms of food, its blandness seemed more like the organisers' doing than what you would expect from a 5-star place.
In terms of the rooms, mine was very plain, but I do believe this was the conferencing rooms, and the suites looked much more extravagant where other attendees stayed. I had bugs all over my bed though, attracted to the bedside lights, but this is something you just have to deal with when in the bush.
Despite the limited experience and chaotic event organising, if you're looking for a super chill spa weekend surrounded by the tranquillity of the bush, Palala is definitely worth the drive out.
The beautiful river next to my room. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
*Disclaimer: Gabi Zietsman from Traveller24 was hosted by the Limpopo Tourism Agency at Palala Boutique Game Lodge and Spa.
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