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Mala Mala

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just starting my research on South Africa. A Travel Agent suggested that we stay in Kruger at Mala Mala. Does anyone know anything about this? The more I read the more confused I get. I usually plan my own trips but this seems overwhelming! Want to spend about 10 days in Sept-Nov. any thoughts on this timing? Definitely want to spend time in Cape Town, maybe three days at two parks unless that doesn't make sense. . Is it worth another couple days at a beach resort area bringing the total to 14 days? Or maybe using those days in another way. Don't "sunbathe" anymore but who doesn't enjoy water, sun and atmosphere?! I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed, please help!

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    You have a smart agent. I doubt many people on this forum will argue with me in saying MalaMala offers the best odds of seeing the big five on any given day in Southern Africa. It is also located in as natural of an ecosystem as possible in South Africa when compared to any other property. The excellent animal viewing has to do with many factors not limited to its position on private land adjacent to the Kruger National Park to which MalaMala shares its 14 mile N/S Eastern border. It also has to do with the Sand River which cuts across the property from the NW to the SE and is one of the few sources for water in the area in Sep/Oct which is late in the dry season. The Sand River valley is one of the best leopard habitats in Southern Africa. The “people/guests” at MalaMala stay in a small nook on the west side of the river and the animals “have the place to themselves” for 16 hours a day. I have been to Africa over 35 times and when my kids were old enough to go on safari this is the first place I took them in 2008.

    Based info above, I suggest 6-7 nights of animal viewing. The second safari should be far away from the Kruger ecosystem so perhaps consider Phinda Vlei, Tswalu, or Mashatu. Mashatu is a sister property to MalaMala and connected with a scheduled air shuttle twice per week. You can get to Phinda or Tswalu from MalaMala every day with scheduled air shuttles. All three pair will with MalaMala and give you incredible diversity in terrain, flora, fauna, and service. You should leave Africa fully satisfied with your safari. Tswalu has stay4/fly-free so if you stay four nights they will pick you up in Jo’burg and drop you in Cape Town. Mashatu has an air shuttle to Jo’burg several times per week from where you can fly to Cape Town after your last morning game drive. From Phinda you can fly to Cape Town from Richards Bay (via JNB) or non-stop from Durban.

    I suggest the 6-7 day safari first. All the options I suggested above will allow you to go to Cape Town after your last morning game drive and be there in the afternoon. Spend 3-4 days in Cape Town and then you can head to the beach from there. To get to the beach from Cape Town I suggest an early morning flight from Cape Town/CPT to Jo’burg/JNB on SAA. Then, several times per week you can fly SA Airlink from JNB-Vilanculos/VNX. From VNX it is a quick hop or road/boat transfer to Villa Santorini, &Beyond Benguerra Island, or Azura Vamizi. All three would be excellent. If you choose Phinda to pair with MalaMala you may choose &Beyond Benguerra to get a long stay 25% discount on both properties. The other two beach properties also have stand-alone promotions.

    This should be enough to get you started. I am heading to the beach myself now. I am going on vacation tonight and leaving my computer and phone at home! I will tell my office to watch this thread and reply if you have further questions. Our safari consultants post under the name TravelBeyond and just about all of our consultants have been to every safari lodge I mentioned above so they can render personal opinions to help you choose your ultimate plan.

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

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    Are you a solo traveler? What year? 2015 might be tough to get availability, so try to be flexible.

    I agree with most of SafariCraig's advice (have a great holiday, Craig!). Here is an overview of the Mala Mala - Mashatu combo. It's a fantastic option! MM is huge and has the river, Mashatu is just spectacular, with the opportunity for horseback safaris, specialized game drives and game walks. Check out their website for all the activities available.

    http://mashatu.com/combination-holidays/

    I prefer safari last - it's the highlight, so spending time in Cape Town, although a beautiful city, is anti-climactic. Do it first.

    If you want to add Phinda in KwaZulu Natal, I would combine it with Kirkmans Kamp as you can get a combo rate - usually pay three, get four with &Beyond and Kirkmans is wonderful. I have a favorite reserve near Phinda - Zululand Rhino Reserve that is a MUCH better value. We stay at Rhino River Lodge and just love everything about it. Tembe Elephant Park is in the same area, and they just upgraded their lodge. It looks beautiful. Tembe is a community owned and run lodge and it provides employment and pride in a community that lacks jobs. If the beaches of Cape Town aren't enough for you, head over to St Lucia, also in the same area. It is a very fun town with lots of activities on the water - hippo/croc cruises, hippo/croc kayaking!, whale watching in season, surfing, scuba, snorkel, so much more! Some of the best snorkel/scuba in the world is available at nearby Sodwana Bay. They have horseback riding on the beach or with zebras and Impala. It's just a fun town and has gorgeous beaches and a game reserve that is surprisingly great. It is in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, if you want to check it out.

    Flying in/out of Kirkmans is also easier now that Skukuza airstrip is open. You can fly direct to/from CT. Not sure about getting to the Phinda area (KZN).

    My big rules - stay in each safari camp for three nights minimum, pack less stuff, don't try to do too much, sleep when you get home.

    June - Sept is the best wildlife viewing and it's not too hot. It starts to rain the end of Sept and warms up. The early part of your option - September - is better than later.

    I don't think 10 nights is enough to do it all, but is good for the CT, Mala Mala, Mashatu combo. If you add a few nights, CT, Kirkmans, St Lucia, Phinda (or Rhino River Lodge/Tembe) would work. I think for my first trip, I'd choose CT, MM, Mashatu combo and stay 4 nights at each lodge, if possible. 3 minimum. You can go to a beach just about anywhere - no place else to hang out with lions, rhino and ellies.

    Have fun planning. Don't sweat it too much - you'll love it and be planning your return before you land at your home airport.

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    Thanks so much for your help. I like the idea of two parks. Now I'm thinking about driving the Garden Route to get another aspect of the country instead of the beach. . What are your thoughts on this? Craig, I thought travel agents weren't allowed to post. Is this your business ? 35 times in Africa, amazing! Christabr, how did you manage to visit a native village. I would love to do something like that. How do I arrange it?

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    Hi soods!

    I agree with Christabir. You definitely want to do Cape Town first and save safari for last. Four nights in CT and 6 in the bush is 10 and so if you want to add beach time after the safari portion, then perhaps you should consider adding another 3 nights for that.

    When you go on safari, it's ideal to see two different parks/reserves as well as lodges. Part of the beauty of Africa is the diversity in eco-habitats. Splitting your stay between lodges keeps it fresh and exciting as you get to experience different people, food, style of lodging etc.

    I like the idea of the MalaMala - Mashatu connection. It will give you two different experiences in the bush as Craig describes.

    Another option, as Christabir notes, is to consider Kirkman's Kamp (one of the AndBeyond lodges) and then go to one of AB's lodges in the Phinda Reserve. Again, this will give you great diversity because Sabi Sand and Phinda are different.

    Phinda is a pretty amazing reserve in and of itself. It has 7 distinct eco habitats of its own ranging from evergreen to sub tropical. It's pretty fascinating. The most interesting aspect is that it has one of the last sand forests in the world and one of their lodges (Forest Lodge) is in it. Phinda is also close to the St Lucia wetlands area (a World Heritage Site) as is Sodwana Bay which is so spectacular. Miles and miles of untouched coastline with only a handful of jeeps allowed per day to drive the area. The only place where huge sand dunes border an evergreen forest on the beach..

    Since AndBeyond has their long stay discount, staying at KK and Phinda could work very well for you. Traveling between KK and Phinda would either be from SKU to Phinda via JNB or Phinda also offers a direct flight between SKU and their airstrip. It costs more but it does save time rather than having to go thru JNB.... Phinda could also be where you do your entire safari and split it between 2 of their incredible lodges. Again, you'd benefit by their long stay discount. Just a thought...

    If you're interested in a village experience, Phinda works closely with a village and when we stayed there as a family, we toured the village, visited their nursery school and learned about how the Reserve is supporting these people. My children loved it. Seeing the women walk a mile for water and repair their dung/mud homes was very eye-opening. At the nursery school, the children giggled when they saw the digital pictures of themselves in the display of my husband's camera and they eagerly lined up to touch the hair of my father-in-law's very hairy arms which was something completely foreign to them.. These are the incredible experiences that resonate with you when you travel to Africa ..

    If adding beach time is important to you, then you probably would want to consider adding a few days to your trip because your itinerary is already at about 10 nights already (4 in Cape Town followed by 6 in the bush - split between 2 lodges). You could end your trip with 3 nights either, as Craig describes, off the coast of Mozambique or, if considering seriously Phinda, then closer at a place like Sodwana Bay or St Lucia area. Thonga Beach Resort would be one place to consider. Great place!

    Having said that, a trip including Cape Town - Kirkmans (Sabi Sand) - Phinda (or Phinda for your entire stay) - Coastline/Beach option like Thonga would be amazing.

    If you want to see any of our incredible pictures from Phinda, the local village, the beaches of Sodwana Bay and the incredible dunes, you can contact me via my profile and I'll send you the link. For privacy reasons, I don't post my pictures publicly.

    It'll be a wonderful trip and so exciting to plan! Keep asking questions as everyone is happy to help!

    Best
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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    Thanks Diane. So much to consider! I like the 2 camp idea. My husband and I were thinking about staying at one camp in a lodge and another in a tent. Thought that might add to the variety. Any thoughts or tent ideas? I do think we'd like to drive the coast on the Garden Route instead of sit at a beach. Any favorite towns or hotels? You are all very knowledgable and I appreciate the help!

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    Hi Soods!

    When you stay in 2 lodges/camps, it's great when you can switch up the style of lodging as well. Ngala has both their luxury tented camp as well as their lodge. So that could be a nice option for you too. Ngala is located in Timbavati Reserve which is north of Sabi Sand and abuts Kruger as well. The rare white lions are in Timbavati. Flights there go into Hoedspruit Airport. Tanda Tula Safari Camp is also another beautiful tented camp in Timbavati.

    As you can see there are many options out there and I just named a couple options that are favorites with our clients.

    As for driving the Garden Route, that's another trip itinerary to ponder! If you were to spend 4 nights in Cape Town, you could then drive the Garden Route. Four hours from Cape Town, you could stop at Mossel Bay. A great place to stay is African Oceans Manor on the Beach. You could then meander your way to Plettenberg Bay and stay at Trogon House and Forest Spa. Plet is just under 2 hours from Mossel Bay. I would then drive to Port Elizabeth Airport (about 2.5 hours from Plet), leave the rental car, and fly to Durban. From Durban, I would either drive or arrange transfer to Phinda and do 6 nights on safari. So it really does depend on how you want to spend your days between Cape Town and Safari. Driving the Garden Route is lovely and a great way to explore the area. You can do it in a couple days or take your time in 3-4 days. Up to you. Really depends on how much you like to drive and explore.

    There are some reserves other than Phinda that wouldn't have to fly to and are closer to Port Elizabeth but they won't give you the diversity of eco-habitats that I think you are looking for.

    I think you can see why people plan repeated trips back to Africa. There is a lot to see and do!

    I advise clients to think deeply about what they want to see and how they want to see it. Once you have those decisions established as well as your number of days and your budget, a trip comes together rather easily. If you are considering Sept - Nov, I recommend that you start checking availability. That could drive some of the decisions as to what you do because it's not that far away.

    Happy to help!

    Best
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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    Fodors changed the rules a few years back and allows professionals to post. I'm the only non-pro to respond. But Craig and Dianne are cool. They don't hide that they are pros.

    You didn't answer my questions about when and how many. Also, do you have a budget? I was checking air rates yesterday (I'm always dreaming of going back!) and there are great rates from NYC. Under $1000 through Sept. The exchange rate is the best in a decade. Such a bummer it's not in the cards for me this year. Factor these into your budget.

    Mala Mala and Mashatu Tented would work for me.

    For tented campsaround Kruger try:
    Shindzela is a nice, casual, small locally owned camp. Not the service level of MM, but fun. nDzuti is high on my list for next time.

    Tembe in KZN is tented, and community owned and run.

    Why would you want to add ANOTHER area and do the Garden Route? It is too tempting to do too much, but SA is a big, very varied country! To add the Garden Route, you'll just do drive-bys and still it takes four days both ways. We gave you great options - and if you want to do self drive, St Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland park is perfect. So much to do and see. You just don't have enough time to do everything - Keep It Simple! We enjoy driving from the southern Kruger area to KZN (St Lucia) with a stopover in Swaziland. That's a great passport stamp!

    In 14 days (although this breaks the rule of doing too much) you could do (3 nts each):
    Cape Town
    Mashatu Tented (my second favorite lodge)
    Mala Mala or another lodge near Kruger
    Drive to St Lucia through Swaziland

    That's three passport stamps (SA, Botswana, Swaziland)! Although I would skip KZN on this trip and stick to Cape Town, Mashatu Tented and Mala Mala.

    Not sure where you heard I visited a "native village". We do drive through the country and meet people while shopping and eating out. We stay in community run safari lodges (Tembe and Outpost) to support their local economy. We try to stay at some smaller, locally owned lodges instead of only the big international lodges. We did a private township tour in Cape Town and met some nice people that our guide was friendly with. We brought books for the local kids near Zululand Rhino Reserve (we used our baggage allowance for books and did carry-on for our stuff). We also did a rhino conservation project at ZRR that may have been our most fun day ever. Rhino River Lodge can arrange to visit a local community in Zululand. There are a lot of cultural experiences you can arrange, but those "native villages" are just not for me. Also, make an effort to talk to the staff at the lodges. They have very interesting experiences and are usually very happy to tell you about their lives a bit. One of the most surprising and interesting conversations I ever had was about condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS with a young man who worked at one of the lodges. Amazing.

    Have fun planning. If you click on my name, I posted a couple of trip reports you might be interested in. I can't believe I didn't do a trip report for our last one, but it was fantastic, too. Don't try to do too much.

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    Christabr, sorry. I thought that my original post said the it was my husband and myself next September. I've talked to so many people it's hard to keep straight. My husband and I are pretty accomplished travelers. We've done too much in too short of time all over the world. It's like an appetizer trip so we know where we want to go back and stay longer. I was thinking 3-4 days in Cape Town, drive the GR for three, and did two camps for 3 nights each. You may be right that it's too much. Much research ahead. I appreciate all the input!!

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