Imagine basking in intimate, African luxury camps tucked away in pristine wilderness. Add to that bespoke safaris tailored to your wildlife dreams and you’ve stumbled upon Mala Mala Game Reserve.

One of the largest and oldest private Big Five game reserves in South Africa, Mala Mala offers a wildlife experience unlike any other. The reserve is famous for intimate wildlife encounters and photographic safaris.

Discover riverine forests, wooded thickets, savanna grasslands, and the thriving fauna that exist in this reserve. Leave behind the maddening crowds and self-drive safaris for one of the most exclusive experiences in southern Africa.

Here you’ll find a complete safari guide to the spectacular Mala Mala reserve and it’ll be difficult to stop dreaming about it.

Where is MalaMala?

Typical bush scenery at sunset, Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa

Mala Mala private game reserve stretches over 13 000 hectares of pristine, flourishing bushveld and diverse landscapes.

The reserve is in Mpumalanga province in South Africa and is one of eighteen reserves that make up the Greater Kruger National Park.

It benefits from being a private reserve with unfenced borders with Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve and Kruger Park. This allows wildlife to move through the expanse of all three reserves.

The powerful Sand River meanders through the reserve. And the diverse landscape supports thriving wildlife populations.

Getting to Mala Mala

Mala Mala reserve is an accessible reserve while still feeling remote and wild.

You can choose to drive from Johannesburg to the reserve. The journey is 436 km from OR Tambo International Airport and takes between 5 to 6 hours.

Alternatively, the nearest airport is Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit which is 105 km from the reserve.

To begin your exclusive safari holiday in style you can choose to fly with Federal Airlines to the Mala Mala private airstrip. There are two flights per day with Federal Air from OR Tambo directly to MalaMala.

The Best Time to Visit Mala Mala Reserve

Lone bushbuck portrait, Mala Mala

As with all safari destinations in southern Africa, the best time to visit is during the dry season (May-September). With low rainfall and mild temperatures, wildlife viewings are more frequent at this time.

This is because the vegetation is thinner, making it easier to see animals. Additionally, wildlife gather at waterholes and move around in search of water. The temperatures are much more comfortable than in the summer months and the risk of malaria is lower.

However, birding opportunities are better in the summer months when migratory birds are moving through the reserve and rain transforms the dry landscape into a lush paradise.

Why You Should Visit Mala Mala, South Africa

MalaMala Game Reserve is one of the oldest safari destinations in South Africa. If you’re looking for an unrivalled safari experience with a dash of African luxury, there are few better places.

Here are just a couple of amazing reasons to put Mala Mala on the top of your safari bucket list.

A unique Mala Mala safari

Close encounter with African wild dogs at Mala Mala Game Reserve

There is undeniable magic in being a silent observer of the creatures of the bush. Whether witnessing a pack of wild dogs on the hunt as the sun rises, or spotting the vibrant colors of a lilac-breasted roller perched on a branch.

These sorts of experiences are most enjoyable without hordes of vehicles trying to push in for the best viewing spot. And the addition of an expert guide who will explain the spoor (animal track) on the ground, or the methods that dung beetles use to navigate.

A Mala Mala safari is entirely exclusive. Regardless of the camp that you stay in, you will have a private ranger for the duration of your stay and will only share the park with the other, minimal, Mala Mala guests. You can expect quiet sightings where your viewing vehicle will often be the only one.

Personalized tours are a specialty at Mala Mala and your ranger will encourage you to share your preferences. Are you on the ‘hunt’ for the Big Five, interested in spotting the elusive creatures of the night, or a keen twitcher? You’ll have a tailored safari experience.

The spectacular reserve also boasts one of the best destinations in southern Africa for photographic safaris. The exclusivity and location make for a fantastic photographic opportunity.

Combine these with specialized game vehicles, with features such as sliding camera mounts and under-seat lighting, and you’ve got a world-class experience. To top it all off, a ranger with keen photographic knowledge and experience will be there to guide you.

Fun for junior wildlife enthusiasts

The luxurious offerings of Mala Mala’s accommodation may not seem suitable for children. There are certain age policies and restrictions, such as children younger than six not permitted on open vehicles. However, the camps go above and beyond to provide an amazing experience for kids.

Rangers organize a host of activities that will introduce the wonders of the wild to your children.

From bush survival skills to learning how to track spoor markings and wildlife movie nights, there is no end to the entertainment.

It’s the perfect environment to inspire a love for the bushveld in young children.

This means that you will have the opportunity to spend quality time with your family while everyone enjoys their bespoke safari experience.

Unparalleled wildlife viewings

Cute lion family portrait in the South African bush

The reserve prides itself on unique, exciting, and up-close wildlife viewings. Over the years rangers have worked to acclimatize large mammals to the presence of viewing vehicles. So the presence of your game vehicle will not disrupt or disturb the activities of the animals, nor spook them too much.

Mala Mala is well-known for prolific sightings of leopards and the entire Big Five. If you’re after a safari that will satisfy an appetite for Big Five viewings, there are few places that rival Mala Mala Game Reserve.

But with diverse landscapes and a variety of habitats, there are hundreds of species to look out for.

There are almost 150 mammal species inhabiting the reserve. Try to spot some of these incredible animals on your Mala Mala safari:

For keen birders, you’ll delight in the 300+ bird species that call the reserve home, as well as the migratory species present from November to April.

Keep your eyes trained on the trees and sky for some of these special birds:

  • Saddle-billed stork
  • Gorgeous bushshrike
  • African green pigeon
  • Lesser-spotted eagle
  • Rufous-crowned roller
  • Stierling’s wren-warbler

Apart from mammals and birds, there are plenty of amphibian, reptile, and insect species that make up the thriving ecosystem at Mala Mala. Your private ranger will introduce to you the area’s inhabitants, from tiny insects to the giants on the plains.

Mala Mala Lodge Accommodation

Main camps at MalaMala Game Reserve - official website screenshot

Guests at Mala Mala Reserve have the option of three camps. These range from safari sleek to African opulence and luxury.

MalaMala Main Camp

Eight luxury suites sit on the banks of the Sand River and ten grand rooms make up the rest of the camp. You can enjoy bird and game viewing from the expansive wooden deck that looks out over the river and feast on dinner underneath the African sky.

This camp is an embodiment of understated elegance, with a stocked wine cellar and even a library.

MalaMala Sable Camp

For guests who are looking for an exclusive safari experience, this small and intimate camp will give you just that. The camp only sleeps 14 people in 7 suites. Families can choose the Lion’s Den Suite with two bedrooms and a living room.

The surrounding bush is beautiful and the private outdoor deck is the perfect place to admire the surroundings.

MalaMala Rattray’s Camp

Situated in a lush, riverside setting each of the eight luxury suites have expansive views over the river and bushveld.

There is a pool, a large viewing platform, and a fully-equipped gym on-site.

A stay at this camp ensures an exclusive safari experience. Game viewing vehicles have a limit of four guests and a private professional ranger who will guide for the entirety of the stay.

Tick Off Mala Mala Safari From Your Bucket List

Lone giraffe in fading light, Mala Mala

For those looking to enjoy the luxurious comforts of an elegant yet ‘wild’ lodge coupled with a one-of-a-kind safari experience, Mala Mala Game Reserve is one of the best destinations. You’ll have the opportunity to dive deep into the wilderness with incredible animal encounters and expert guides.

The limited number of people in the camps will have you feeling like the surrounding bushveld is solely yours to enjoy. And you’ll no doubt go home with unforgettable memories and phenomenal photographs.

What are you waiting for? Book your exclusive safari, pack your camera and khaki best and get ready for a trip of a lifetime.