Expert Reviews – MalaMala GR

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MalaMala – the glamorous grand-daddy of game reserves
Overall rating

Sandwiched between the Sabi Sand Private Reserve and Kruger National Park, 13 300 ha (33 000 acres) MalaMala has been a private game reserve since 1927. One of the oldest luxury lodges in Africa it has welcomed filmstars, the jetset and wildlife filmmakers since the 1960s, earning itself a global A-lister reputation.

With a 19 km (12 mile) unfenced border along the national park and the Sand River running through the property, it is extraordinarily game-rich. And unlike the rest of the Sabi Sand area, this is not shared – MalaMala keeps their huge area exclusively for their own guests so there are never more than three vehicles at any sighting.
Everything here is very slick and glossy. You are assigned a ranger on arrival and he not only takes you on all your drives but eats with you and as host and concierge throughout your stay. Meals are taken in discrete groups not country house style so if you want the camaraderie of travellers’ tales and lion kills around the campfire, this may fall short of expectations. For me, on my own, it wasn’t ideal – but then if you are on your honeymoon and want to gaze into your beloved’s eyes, it might be perfect. The main camp, MalaMala Camp, has an excellent kids’ programme that teaches them basic bushcraft, how to use a radio, cook in the bush – and about wildlife! And you can get pampered to your hearts content. On the down side, MalaMala still doesn’t seem to have any visible community outreach programme when so many of their neighbours are pouring money and resources into local development.

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.

Average Expert Rating

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

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