​Expert Reviews – MalaMala GR

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Anthony Ham   –  
Australia AU
Visited: November-December

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

6 people found this review helpful.

MalaMala: The Legend of Leopards
Overall rating

Imagine Kruger without the crowds, with some of the best guides on the continent and almost guaranteed sightings of lions and leopards. MalaMala and the contiguous Sabi Sand reserves are rightly famed for their leopard sightings – the 2001 National Geographic documentary Stalking Leopards was filmed here – not least because the riverine woodland that snakes through the reserve is perfect leopard habitat. The guides here know their leopards, with which they are generally on first-name terms, and the lion prides, too, are well-known and routinely found. MalaMala’s fame means that its accommodation is both pricey and often booked out well in advance. But once here, the reward is one of Africa’s better wildlife-watching experiences.

Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

14 people found this review helpful.

Easily one of Africa’s best Big Five safari destinations
Overall rating

For top-notch wildlife-watching in beautiful, pristine surroundings, I think MalaMala, immediately west of Kruger National Park, is very hard to beat. The MalaMala team make the classic luxury safari experience seem effortless, with minimal fuss and absolutely no gimmicks. Don’t expect cutting-edge décor – the lodges here are reassuringly conservative – but do get ready for some astonishing encounters with leopards and other charismatic animals.

At 135 square kilometres, this is by far the largest private concession in the Sabi Sands Reserve, but visitor numbers are strictly limited – MalaMala’s vehicles have exclusive access. The Sand River, which slices through the western edge of the reserve, flows all year round; the unspoilt expanses east suppport a terrific variety of species. It’s a formula which draws well-off wildlife lovers from all over the world, including celebrities, photographers and film-makers. Together, they have made the place world famous, and in my opinion it really does live up to the hype.

There are three places to stay, all in superb riverside locations. MalaMala Main Camp is really a lodge rather than a camp, and might feel too much like a hotel for some, but is relatively affordable; Sable Camp (again, a lodge) is a mini variation on the same theme, and Rattray’s, named after owner Michael Rattray, has the feel of an elegant homestead.

Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

16 people found this review helpful.

South Africa’s top private reserve
Overall rating

My favorite wildlife destination in South Africa, legendary MalaMala pioneered the modern private reserve experience when it opened its gates to paying clients in the 1960s. For many years it was the ultimate safari destination for the rich and famous. Superficially, the formula here is similar to other upmarket lodges in the neighboring Sabi Sand Game Reserve. However, MalaMala offers a far more exclusive and rewarding wildlife-viewing experience. This is because it is much larger in area than any of the component reserves that comprise Sabi Sand. It extends over a total of 130km2/50mi2, and no traversing rights are granted to other reserves. As a result, the vehicle density is very low compared to other most private reserves. Also, the 4x4s tend to be far less crammed (typically, around four people per vehicle as opposed to eight or more in most neighboring reserves). MalaMala is also distinguished by boasting more than 20km/12mi of frontage on both banks of the near-perennial (flowing year-round) Sand River. This wide forest-fringed watercourse forms a magnet for wildlife, especially in the Dry season (May–October). Overall, the wildlife here is truly superb. All the Big Five are typically recorded on more than 350 days of the year, with an incredible average of four separate leopard sightings per day. I love the relatively unpretentious lodges, and I have always been impressive by the high standard of guiding. MalaMala isn’t cheap, but those with a genuine passion for wildlife and a suitable budget are unlikely to regret the expenditure.

Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

18 people found this review helpful.

Simplicity in MalaMala
Overall rating

MalaMala is my favorite private reserve in South Africa. Wedged between Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park, and with more than 20km of river frontage, MalaMala’s wildlife viewing is phenomenal. There are several factors that make me favor MalaMala above the cluster of nearby Sabi Sand reserves. At 130km2 it is relatively large, and more importantly, MalaMala doesn’t offer traversing rights to other reserves. This makes for a more exclusive experience. It also means that there is less pressure to make way for other vehicles at sightings – the time you are allowed to stay at good sightings is often limited to 10 to 15 minutes in other private reserves. Furthermore, game drive vehicles are never filled to capacity, and the guiding is always superb.

There is a high focus on spotting the Big Five and you would be very unlucky not to see all of them in a two-day stay. The leopard sightings are unparalleled in MalaMala, and I’ve taken some of my best pictures here of this notoriously shy cat.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.8/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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