• I couldn't be happier than I was with MalaMala. Also in speaking with other folks that had been on safaris, we had by far the most spottings of a large variety of animals. Even when my little plane picked up couples from camp like 20 miles away, as we compared notes on what we saw, they were amazed by what I shared. Same days, same region and I saw 5x more and much more variety. For instance they saw no tigers, no leopards, no cheetahs, no dogs.
• MalaMala is largest in the serve and property is divided by river so long stretch of river that attracts wildlife
• Borders Krueger park so another big advantage since there is no fence separating park from reserve.
• Also varied terrain so have all types of species
• Bring variety of clothing for safari. I prefer convertible pants so can zip off if hot and re-attach legs if/when gets cold. But wear light weight long sleeve shirt and bring windbreaker. I was surprised to use my windbreaker everyday during safari because you’re out early morning, day and night so need to be ready for different temperatures, even in summer.
• Also bring hat because sun is incredibly strong.
• Binoculars are a must to really see detail of the animals. Even though you will be remarkably close to them, sometimes as close as 4 feet, bring binoculars so can see all the detail from how a cheetah scans the plain for its prey to watching lion cubs feed on mom and water buffalo staring you down. Best thing I brought. If you are buying binoculars before your trip, make sure magnification and lens size is divisible by factor of 4 or more so don’t have a shaky view. For instance 8x32 or 10x40. If you do 10x32, it will be very shaky!!!
• You don't need any cash at MalaMala during stay. All is included except booze. If you want beer from bar or at dinner, they will add to your tab and you can pay at checkout. Reasonable and cheapest beer I had in south Africa. 16ZAR per beer.
• You can then tip you ranger and back staff before you leave via cash with receptionist or by credit card. Don't forget the back staff. I paid $100 to ranger for 2 days because he was awesome and about $30 to back staff. But you choose if you want to tip and how much.
• Federal air. Expensive but worth it bc goes from • Johannesburg to MalaMala strip directly or with one small stop. It's a Sesna 220. Holds 7 passengers in back plus one in cockpit. Go for the cockpit seat. Amazing!
• To find federal air at airport, it's a bit tricky. Don't bother asking around because no one one knows. Follow signs to car hire area which is across street alongside parking garage on far right end. Enter and pass by all the major car rental companies that you recognize. Once you get to the second tier companies, look for door on right that takes you to the bus terminal. That's where you'll find the federal air desk. Easy.
• Once you check in at the desk, they'll then call a driver to take you to the small federal air terminal alongside the airport. Nice tiny little place with one gate of course. But also have fresh coffee, water, juice, colas, muffins all for free. So don't make the mistake I made to stock up on your dime before you go as it's all there for you before you board. Check weight limits for luggage. I think it’s 40 kilos.
• When you arrive at the MalaMala airstrip, you will be met by a ranger whom will transport you and your bags to the camp, about 10 minutes away.
• Facility is stunning. I stayed at Rattrays which is their most exclusive. 8 luxury villas each with own dipping pool and outdoor shower. Villa has one large room that encompasses a bedroom, living room, dining area and study. There are bathrooms and changing areas on either side of the villa so couples can get ready at the same time. Each villa has its own private deck that overlooks the river. Stunning!
• Another advantage of Rattrays is that no kids under 16 are allowed. So not only do you have an immaculate villa, but it is very quiet.
• There’s no connection to Main Camp or Sable. There’s no need to fret that as the main building here at Rattrays has a sitting area, gift shop, terrace, dining area and bar. So you have everything you need.
• Rangers live on site and work 8-10 weeks on and 2 weeks off. They will be your personal guide throughout your stay. From the moment you wake up, to all meals and all drives and even a rink at the bar afterwards, they will be with you. They even walk you back to your villa at night. So all feels very personal and special. Remember they work530am til 1030pm when the day typically ends. Wow. So tip accordingly.
• They are highly trained and have to pass an exam. They really know what they are doing. They will do a terrific job tracking down animals via foot prints, sounds, smells and other means. They also know the environments where each type of animal likes to be at different parts of the day so they will get you to the right spot at the right time.
• Then once you spot an animal, they will share so much knowledge about them. How the feed, how they interact, etc. Amazing experience.
• My ranger was Nick. Young guy but has grown up close to the profession since his father and grandfather did similar work. His knowledge is remarkable and I think he’s the best from my experience and from speaking to others at camp.
• Every day, same schedule.
• When you arrive in morning, you’ll have some time to rest, eat and get situated before going on your first drive at 4pm
• Each day, you’ll get a wakeup call provided at 530am by your ranger. 6am you’ll meet for coffee, tea and snack then head out. You’ll be back by about 10am for breakfast but sometimes stay out longer if good sightings. Then lunch is at 130pm and next safari meet at 4pm so you’ll have time to relax. You’ll return at about 8pm but again, may stay out a bit later if great sightings. Then dinner and drinks at bar if you wish. All the food is terrific. Lots of local and international cuisine and made in small dishes buffet style so can ask that they serve you a little of each. The best food I had on my trip!
• When you leave the camp, most flights depart after lunch. So you’ll have time to enjoy the morning safari drive and lunch before departing.
THE SAFARI DRIVES
• First of all, you will be amazed to the number of sightings and how close you will get to the animals. I envisioned that you’d spot a lion 300 yards away and keep your distance enjoying the distant view via binoculars. But no, you will be literally 6 feet from these animals so you can see even the faintest of details! Amazing! I questioned how we can get so close to these wild animals and was told that is due to 2 factors. First, they are accustomed to these vehicles being around and have been trained by their parents not to worry about them as they have never harmed any of the animals. Also, I learned that they see the vehicle as one square box and don’t see a vehicle carrying people. They consider us part of that box. Would be very different if you were foolish enough to step out of the vehicle. Dinner served…..
• All drives are conducted in open top Land Rovers with a rifle mounted on front for safety. No roof so great for enjoying the full views during the safari. But no cover in extreme sun or rain so bring the appropriate things to protect you. In the rare case of rain, they will provide you with poncho.
• These trucks are amazing. They really can go through anything. You’ll be amazed when your ranger pulls off the dirt paths and drives through the bush. Over trees and anything else in the way. You’ll even cross the river in this vehicle. I wish I had one of these!
• Rattrays, being more exclusive, has a maximum of four guests per truck whereas Main Camp and Sable have a max of 6 or 7 which makes a huge difference for the experience and view, etc. I would have never guessed the difference but can attest that it is the way to go! I felt like I was on individual tour since he called me by name, I could ask any question without wait, ask to see anything I want.
• Whenever there is a sighting by any of the rangers, they report it on radio. This is important for 2 reasons. First the office logs every single sighting and location so they can keep tabs of animal movements and key events such as deaths, births, etc. This is a great system and aids rangers in knowing where to go each day. It also serves as an alert to the other rangers so they can proceed to locations of key spottings.
• That said, they have a great rule of a maximum of 3 vehicles per sighting but most often you’ll be the only one or perhaps one more. This is nice since you get a more personal experience and don’t crowd the animals. If it’s a big sighting, like rare cape hunting dogs, you’ll have 2 or 3 vehicles. You’ll enjoy the sighting for a while and if there are others enroute, you will depart before they get there.