User Reviews – MalaMala GR

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Bush Paradise
Overall rating

We have just returned from our third visit to Mala Mala & as usual, cannot speak highly enough of of our experience. Special mention must be made of Leon, ranger Adi ( previous Rangers Jonno & Paul) & indeed the entire staff who were courteous & friendly. The accommodation is clean, comfortable & attractive, the food is good & lots of it! Only wish was that the orange juice could be freshly squeezed & alcoholic drinks could be complimentary till say 8 pm!!

Mala Mala Game Reserves definately delivers the wildlife experiences you are looking for.
Overall rating

The Mala Mala Game Reserve is privately owned, nestled between the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the Kruger National Park. The reserve is about 133 sq kms and only accessible to Mala Mala guests. This is a major point as lodges in the Sabi Sands Reserve share traversing rights with other lodges resulting in increased vehicle and human presence.

Mala Mala is renowned for the wildlife. On my trip I was lucky enough to see the rare pangolin (actually 2 of them), leopards, elephants and an array of other animals and birds. You can see why many documentary makers and professional photographers are drawn to Mala Mala.

The accommodation is good, but a little tired. There are 2 properties on the reserve - Mala Mala Main Camp which houses Sable Camp and Rattrays. Rattray's is more upmarket than Main Camp. All the properties have the concept of "his" and "hers" bathrooms which to me is overkill and I would prefer more space in the bedroom/living area. The bathrooms need an update as well. Accommodation at Main camp is affordable and fine, especially compared to other camps in the Sabi Sands. You'd choose Mala Mala for the wildlife opportunities, not the accommodation.

Mala Mala has its own airstrip so recommend people fly in rather than transfer from Nelspruit or Hoedspruit. This can be done through Fedair. The drive from Nelspruit to the Sabi Sands gate takes a little over an hour then it is another hour to get to Mala Mala Main Camp. Normally transfers are done by an external company so bouncing around in a transit van is uncomfortable, whereas the flight will take you from Johannesburg airport directly to the Mala Mala airstrip.

The guides are great and have a great love of the bush. My guide Ross even has a Masters of Zoology so the depth of knowledge is incredible. The open vehicles are comfortable and reliable. The rangers are allowed to go off road in certain cases, which adds to the excitement. We followed a leopard stalking a rock python which we couldn't do unless we were off road. This is why you pay the extra money to be a private lodge.

Game viewing = 10 out of 10
accommodation = 7 out of 10

Put your camera down for a while and let your senses soak it in!
Overall rating

We enjoyed a very informative guide who was very accommodating of guest's preferences. The animals were awesome and provided great photo opportunities. The accommodations, food and service were fabulous. I highly recommend that you make the trip.

A Luxurious Bush Hotel
Overall rating

Mala Mala is obviously geared towards the high market, with most visitors arriving by plane. As such, it is important to review Mala Mala in this context.

Yes, the rooms are luxurious and contain everything you could need, but there are other lodges that just add that touch of style which give them an edge in the luxury department. More specifically, the rooms felt like a 5-star hotel rather than a bush lodge - there was little viewing to be done from the room which was in near proximity to other rooms and therefore wasnt as open as it could have been. The view from the balcony was less than spectacular, rather dull even, but the occasional animal did walk by. In short - very comfortable, but didnt integrate you into the bush, or even really 'Africa'.

The communal areas were much more succesful in this regard, tastefully decorated, also with large trophies and plenty of space. Eating is done on a large deck with a great view over the river Sands, where the occasional elephant of hippo walks. There were many stories of animals coming into the lodge, but I didnt witness any of this. Further, there is a large and beautiful pool, as well as gym and entertainment room for kids with DVDs. The food was fantastic.

All the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. No complaints here. Especially the guides are extremely knowledgeable and willing to adjust to your wishes. They also eat every meal with you, providing great conversation.

The wildlife is what Mala Mala is famous for and there is no shortage of it. Within my first hour I had seen 2 cheetahs, a leopard and an attempted lion kill. We visited these animals repeatedly, and saw some more great interactions. The one thing I will add is that they are a little obsessed with the 'big five' and even provide a certificate at the end. Although the wildlife is great, and the game drives are lovely, the lodge lacks anything to really get you into the bush; the walk was 20min long and followed a road with the car trailing us, ready to pick us up. Further Ive heard some negative things about their conservation record, perhaps unfounded, but now with the fence to Kruger removed this should be fine.

In summary, a very comfortable and luxurious experience. You will see a lot of spectacular wildlife. Perfect if you want to visit Africa for a short time in comfort and tick your animal checklist. If you really want to explore Africa and experience the bush - go elsewhere.

Emiel de Lange

Top quality and intimate wildlife viewing - luxury done well without going over the top
Overall rating

Being one of the largest privately-owned game reserves in South Africa with an unfenced eastern border with Kruger National Park and the still flowing (late August) Sand River going through the length of the reserve, it should not have come as a surprise that we had seen the big five and much more in the first 24 hours at Mala Mala. The quality of the sightings was exceptional.
Wildlife viewing at Mala Mala is as intimate as it could ever get. The accommodation was beyond expectations - it was luxurious but without pretence. The quality of food was top draw, but served with a delicate simplicity. The gentle professionalism of the camp staff was welcome and the passion, knowledge and professionalism of our wonderful Ranger, Nic Nel, capped it all off.
With Nick’s invaluable expertise the wildlife viewing over the four days provided us a truly unforgettable experience that included:
― daily leopard sightings, including the Nkoveni female making a kill and the Island bend female and cub sharing a kill;
― several prides of lion, including the four inquisitive three-month old cubs of the Kambula pride as well as the rare sighting of two females in a tree fighting over a leopard-kill of an Impala;
― daily sightings of white rhino, including young;
― numerous elephants, including an incredible half an hour in the middle of a 20+ herd and the unforgettable antics of the young ones showing off;
― spending time at a spotted hyena den with curious and ungainly pups playing around, but being totally alert scampering into the den at the slightest sound or shadows cast by birds flying overhead;
― buffalo, kudu, a honey-badger, ostrich, hippo, owls, eagles, voyages of giraffe, baboons, saddle-bill storks with young, the unusual hamerkop heron, kingfishers and much more.
We cannot see how the wonderful Mala Mala experience can be bettered. The one negative of this place - saying goodbye. What was to be our ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ safari is not so! We are already planning our next visit. Totsiens for now.

Just keeps getting better!
Overall rating

This was my second visit to MalaMala (lucky I know!) so I had very high expectations - especially as on my previous stay we ticked off all the Big 5 just between the airport and Main Camp and saw both a lion and leopard kill on our first game drive! This time however it was the accommodation that totally knocked my socks off. Sable Camp has been transformed into a modern, fresh, chic safaris lodge whilst maintaining its authentic character. I loved that the his and hers bathrooms have been knocked into one big bathroom with both a bath and shower. Its had a real injection of "wow" factor so please ignore the rating saying it looked tired and in need of a refurb! Main Camp was busy being done up in May and the team said it should be for the most part complete in July (think they said they would do the last few rooms on the one end of camp at the end of the year). The decks, lounges, bar etc all look fabulous.

The game viewing again was amazing and a real highlight was watching two leopards mating right in front of us as well as seeing loads of different lion with our guide Lucky, who grew up in the reserve. It far exceeded all expectations and I cannot wait to go back again.

Larger resort style with excellent facilities and game viewing
Overall rating

Mala Mala is the largest private game reserve located in the in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and adjoins the Kruger National Park on its western side. There is no fence between the two and , consequently, game can move freely between the two areas. This is certainly reflected both in the density of the game and the number of sightings ; during the two full days we spent there, we were rewarded with plenty of Big 5 sightings and recorded some 20 other animal species , including the African Hunting Dogs, which are no longer found in many parts of southern Africa. Since this is a private reserve, night safaris are also offered , which provide a unique opportunity to see some of the nocturnal animals. Mala Mala is also an excellent place for birding.

We stayed in the lower Sable section of the lodge, which is separated from the main lodge and therefore quieter and with fewer people. The accommodation was excellent,more than spacious, and the meals were of a high standard; in fact in many aspects Mala Mala feels more like a resort than a safari lodge (with pool, gym etc).. The guide was excellent, knowledgeable and only too happy to try and accommodate individual wishes for the keen photographers. They try to keep animal disturbance to a minimum by allowing only 3 vehicles at any sighting at one time and, because the reserve is large (130 square Km), there is still a feeling of not being too crowded.

In sum, Mala Mala offers great game viewing , resort style accommodation and is easily accessible from Johannesburg (as are all of the lodges in the area). We have been to many different lodges in southern Africa and for us the more intimate feeling of the smaller game lodges was missing. This is not a criticism, rather a personal preference.

A dream come true
Overall rating

I am still on cloud 9, having just returned from the holiday of my dreams. Everyone is very welcoming and nothing is too much trouble, all the rangers answer questions with such knowledge and enthusiasm. On the first drive my group saw the big five and there was a friendly rivalry between the rangers which in turn passed to us clients. As we set off, our ranger,Aymer asked us all what we would most like to see so he was able to tailor our desires and hopes. As it was so dry we were able to clearly see leopards stalking, saw twin baby leopards and many other sights at other times would have been impossible. As no more than three trucks view the animals together you can get really close and the animals ignore you, although when a lion cub sharpened it`s claws on our wheels we were a little concerned! Being able to go off road made the experience mega exciting, you never knew what we would see, elephants,rhino, hippo, cheetahs, baboons, the list goes on.
The accommodation was very comfortable and clean, with the animals able to wander round as they please you felt at one with them. The food was excellent and the service was second to none with the cheerful and happy ladies. To sum up, if you want a holiday of a lifetime Mala Mala came up with it!

An Exceptional Experience
Overall rating

Mala Mala was a 5 star experience all around. Game viewing exceeded expectations. We saw the Big 5 in the first day of our four day trip. But each day had its own highlights -- lions stalking, leopards mating, giraffes necking, a leopard munching on an impala snack, elephants drinking at the river, and cheetahs walking along as cool as you please. Admittedly, we were lucky but both rangers talented at finding game and the dry weather which caused the game to hang near the river, helped. At Mala Mala, the guests spend most of day with their assigned ranger. You are with them not only for game drives but also for meals and drinks at the bar beforehand. So you need to get along with these guys to make it an enjoyable experience. However, I saw no one that wasn't enjoying interacting with the rangers, that includes my group who enjoyed hanging with Daniel over the four days. The time and social pressure on the rangers is large, but they all seemed handle it with aplomb. Daniel not only knew where to look, he was very knowledgeable about all the animals we saw (including numerous birds), but was also good at explaining their behavior, or, more to the point, the reason for their behavior. One other ranger-positive remark: the game drives take place very early and late in the day and with the sun low in the sky, back lighting and shadows make for tough photographs. These guys were particularly adept, when possible, at maneuvering the truck around to get a good, close, well lit shot. Now, they can't drive over logs or cross rivers to do this, but if they could achieve a good position, they would. Our rooms were spacious and well cared for. They have complimentary laundry service, a very important feature when you can only carry 20 kilos of luggage for an 11 day trip. The food was tasty and well prepared. Meals were buffets which was helpful in controlling quantities. Final point: work with your travel agent in getting to the camp. Mala Mala has a airstrip 15 minutes from the main lodge. Make sure you can access the camp via this airstrip as opposed to the two hour drive from Nelspruit that we experienced!

Overall rating

The crown jewel of Southern Africa's Nature Reserves

Average User Rating

  • 4.9/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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