Expert Reviews – MalaMala GR

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Easily one of Africa’s best Big Five safari destinations
Overall rating
5/5

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.

South Africa’s top private reserve
Overall rating
5/5

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.

Simplicity in MalaMala
Overall rating
5/5

Having visited many of the private game reserves in Sabi Sands, MalaMala is my first choice. MalaMala is in fact not part of the managed area of Sabi Sands anymore, but it is still part of the general cluster of parks. This park is much bigger than any of the other parks in Sabi Sands, which means less vehicle traffic. This is even more true because they don’t give out any traversing rights to neighboring properties, like most of the other parks do, which makes for less vehicles and a more exclusive experience. As is the case in the rest of Sabi Sands, drives are centered on the Big Five and sightings are excellent. They seem to take things to extremes when they hand over a Big Five certificate. The lodge is very simple compared to many of the extremely fancy establishments in most of the private game reserves. Although, I like luxury as much as the next woman, I like the idea that the emphasis is still on game viewing and not shifting too much towards fine dining and home décor.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.6/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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