Mala Mala vs simbambili....which to choose?

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Jan 6th, 2006, 02:35 PM
  #1
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Mala Mala vs simbambili....which to choose?

I thought I had it narrowed down to Mala Mala. Simbambili has come up and it looks really good. Price is some lower that Mala Mala (which is really excellent) and I've read some really great reviews on this board. But looking up the location - although it's still in Sabi Sands, it appears to have a very small property compared with Mala Mala. How would that affect the game viewing, which is the number one reason we pay all this money.
Do the accomodations compare equally as they appear?

Does anyone know the baggage weight allowance on the inter So Africa flights?

Opinions and suggestions all welcome. I'll make up my mind soon.....I promise. You guys are wonderful!
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Jan 6th, 2006, 05:20 PM
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Rosebrook,

While Simbambili's own property is very small, game drives are conducted in a common traversing area with Elephant Plains, Chitwa Chitwa and a couple other nearby properties. I spent three nights there last September, and I never felt like the traversing area was too small.

I really enjoyed my time at Simbambili. The accomodations were great...a smaller version of Singita, but still a very sizeable room with private plunge pool, a day bed outside on the deck, a very nice bathtub and a great shower.

The food at Simbambili was out of this world. I especially enjoyed the breakfasts at Simbambili, but the dinners were also great, as were the desserts (always a choice of three or four different main courses and three or four different desserts).

I enjoyed incredible leopard viewing while at Simbambili, but the overall diversity of wildlife did seem to be lacking. Even so, the Big Five was spotted within the first couple game drives, and we had very close encounters with rhinos, and even tracked rhinos on foot.

One of the highlights of the stay was as I was wrapping up my final game drive prior to catching my flight back to Joburg. We heard word on the radio from another ranger about a cheetah in the area. We went to the general area that we heard that the cheetah was in, but then it was like finding a needle in a haystack. However, the Simbambili guide theorized on where a cheetah may prefer to be in the area and he invited all of the guests down from the vehicle, got his rifle out, and we attempted to track the cheetah on foot. Wouldn't you know it, a couple hundred yards into the bush we spotted a cheetah! I don't know if it was the same one or not, but since this was the only cheetah I saw on this particular safari (that included 12 nights in Zambia and 3 nights in the Sabi Sand), it was a major thrill.

Mala Mala likely has better gameviewing, but with the overall experience that you will have at Simbambili, I do think you are wise to strongly consider Simbambili. I would go back to Simbambili in a heartbeat.

Here are some photos from my time at Simbambili (many of the leopard shots are from Simbambili but some of them are from Zambia).

www.kodakgallery.com/rocco/2005_favorites

Good luck.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 06:06 PM
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Rocco,

You stated, "the overall diversity of wildlife did seem to be lacking" in regards to Simbambili. Can you elaborate or explain how it is better elsewhere? Thank you.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 06:15 PM
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atravelynn,

Birds, for one. Probably because there is not a river as prevalent as the Zambezi or the Luangwa River, there seemed to be both far fewer birds and far fewer species of birds.

Also, I did feel that you go longer stretches without seeing something in the Sabi Sand, although when you do see something, it may very well be lions, leopards or rhinos. However, there are not antelope of different kinds all over the place as is the case, for example, in South Luangwa.

However, even then, because the wildlife is so habituated to the vehicles and off-roading is allowed, the Sabi Sand remains a tremendous safari destination. It does boast one of the highest predator densities in all of Africa. If my guide at Simbambili is correct, only the Ngorongoro Crater and the Mombo concession in Botswana have a higher predator density (although I think he meant to single out big cats as his definition of predator).
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Jan 6th, 2006, 06:26 PM
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Rocco, so your comments apply to the Sabi Sands in general. It is not that Simbambili has less diversity than Mala Mala or elsewhere. Have I got that right?
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Jan 6th, 2006, 06:33 PM
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atravelynn,

I have not visited Mala Mala, but, unless I am being overly nostalgic, it does seem that there was greater diversity at Singita than at Simbambili, but that diversity comes at a heavy price...twice the rate of Simbambili.

The only other Sabi Sand camp I have visited other than Singita and Simbambili, was Djuma Vuyatela. Vuyatela is not too far from Simbambili. It does seem that this area is not so great for elephants, but it is very good for leopards. Rhinos are also well represented in this area.

I do think Mala Mala, given its location, would have a better diversity and better overall gameviewing. But, even so, I would still advise people to strongly consider Simbambili for the overall experience. However, keep in mind that accomodations and food are very important to me, and for someone not requiring great food and over the top accomodations, Mala Mala would be the hands down winner. I am not saying that Mala Mala's food isn't great...I don't know, but the accomodations are not as luxurious at Mala Mala as at Simbambili.
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Jan 6th, 2006, 06:56 PM
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Thanks for the clarification Rocco. Probably helped Rosebrook too.
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Jan 7th, 2006, 08:41 AM
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Thank you Rocco. You are a wealth of information. They both sound wonderful! I'm surprized that you say Simbambili is more luxurious than Mala Mala since it's about $150 night (double) less than Mala Mala. And I do love to come home to a nice place. Gives me pause for thought. Game viewing is most important, but cost is right up there too. Perhaps availability will choose for me. Londolozi was my 1st choice and it was sold out.

Rocco, how did they compare in ease and cost of flying in? Mala Mala has a nonstop from JNB right to Mala Mala for about $500 pp round trip. Would Simbambili be any cheaper?

Thanks heaps
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Jan 7th, 2006, 09:02 AM
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Rosebrook,

If you schedule correctly, you can get to the Sabi Sand for a more moderate price by flying Kulula Air to Mpumalanga/Nelspruit, and then getting either a light air transfer or road transfer to Simbambili. A road transfer may take 90+ minutes, not exactly sure, but a light air transfer will have you to Elephant Plains airstrip (a five minute drive from Simbambili) within about 20 minutes. The costs for two people will not be much different to fly rather than drive.

I did make some good contacts at Simbambili while I was there, so let me know if I can be of any assistance.

About the pricing, at Mala Mala, you are paying for their central location within the Sabi Sand, as well as their very large land holding, but be advised that with Ratray's, Mala Mala will likely be accomodating 70 people at a time. While the concentration will not be any higher than the Simbambili/Elephant Plains/Chitwa Chitwa area, it will not be any more exclusive either.

I do think that you would be extremely pleased with the gameviewing at Simbambili. Considering that it is less expensive than Mala Mala, as well as being more luxurious, all while boasting very good gameviewing and close encounters with leopards & lions, I would choose Simbambili. The rooms are really beautiful and they do feature their own private plunge pools which would be a huge plus anytime between about October - April, before it gets too cold.
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Jan 7th, 2006, 09:07 AM
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Hello,

In the Sabi Sands, price usually reflects guiding and game-viewing, not luxury -- a lot of the newer lodges are more luxurious than Mala Mala but don't have the same quality of game-vieiwng. Mala Mala has exclusive access to a very large parcel of prime game-viewing land, which is reflected in their pricing. Their guiding also has an excellent reputation.

Note that even Rocco (who loves Simbambili) says that for pure game-viewing, Mala Mala is a better destination if super-luxurious accommodation is not a priority. Mala Mala's rooms are still very nice, and if you spend as little time in your room as most people do on safari it won't make much of a difference.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 7th, 2006, 09:15 AM
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Julian,

I do think Rosebrook would do well to also consider Londolozi Bateleur. Perhaps she can pick it up on a special and pay for three nights and stay for four nights? This would make it the same cost as Mala Mala but she would have her own private plunge pool and enjoy similarly strong gameviewing as Mala Mala?

Rosebrook, go to this website and search for their specials:

www.ccafrica.com
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Jan 7th, 2006, 10:05 AM
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Hi Rocco,

Rosebrook already tried Londoz (it was her first choice) and all the camps are booked solid for the whole time she's in SA

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 7th, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Rosebrook,

Just a correction...my trusted sources have told me that the road transfer from KMIA to Simbambili is 3+ hours and not a fun drive. The light air transfer from KMIA to Simbambili is the much better choice.

Also, one thing that needs to be pointed out relative to the game, is that it is very unlikely to have an area that is strong in lions and strong in leopards, as they are competitors and will seek out their own areas. So, while lions will come in and out of Simbambili, the leopards are stationed there. Simbambili is one of the strongest areas anywhere for its leopards and this is largely because there are not too many lions in this area.

For me, however, if given a choice, leopards are much more interesting to watch, as they are more active, climb trees and, at least to my eyes, are more beautiful than lions.
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Jan 7th, 2006, 09:50 PM
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Leopards are much more active than lions during the day. While lions are napping in the shade, leopards are eating kill in a tree, walking down to the water for a drink and watching out for lions. But at night there is nothing like a pride of lions setting out for hunting and walking right by you.
Regards - Tom
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Jan 8th, 2006, 02:04 AM
  #15
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When faced with a similar decision, I dedcided to do both. two nights at each. I really wanted the better game viewing, but the intimacy of Simbambili appealed to me. Regarding transfers, I am starting at Simbambili, as I can arrive at JNB in the morning, and still make the afternoon game drive there. I am using light air all the way, alhtough I am still thinking of changing the final transfer from Mala Mala to the air port by road so I can actually see what exists outside SSGR.

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Jan 8th, 2006, 08:05 AM
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Mala Mala does not lose anything to other reserves in terms of Leopards, the denisty thanks to the riverine terrain is very high.

Game diversity - the number of antelope species is not as high as in Botswana. Lots of Giraffe, Zebra, up to a thousand Buffalo in one herd, thirty or more Elephants at a time in the river. More and more serval sightings.

Birds - not as many species as Zambia, but I have seen over 200 at Mala Mala with 162 in five days on one trip, so I wouldn't think there are many people out there who would consider that an issue.

Accomodations - Mala Mala is not as new and fancy as some, they are very much about gameviewing.

I love Mala Mala, Julian loves Londoz, Rocco loves Simbambili, to me that sums it up pretty well.
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Jan 8th, 2006, 08:18 AM
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Thank you everyone for your knowledge, experiences and opinions. I'll probably come down to what is available. I know Londolozi is sold out for my dates (unfortunately they are firm dates). So, I'll check it out. Your idea of splitting between the two......two days each place - Mala Mala and Simbambili. Since they are so close to each other, we wouldn't waste that much time and effort transfering between them. Or is that a logical thought that, in truth, be harder than I think? That way we would have both experiences. Although, staying at one lodge for 4 nights would give us a chance to get to know the guides, lodge personnel etc. which we like to do.
Thanks for all your input.
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Jan 8th, 2006, 10:00 AM
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Napamatt,

And Rocco loves Singita but does not think it is worth double the price of Simbambili or 50% more than Mala Mala.
Singita is a great place but a little more than I am willing to pay for the Sabi Sand. May as well go to Mombo for the same price. With the South African Rand currently at 6.07 to 1 U.S. Dollar, Singita may actually be MORE expensive than Mombo at the moment.

Best bargains in Southern Africa for luxury lodges/camps?

My votes would be:

1. Chiawa Camp, Lower Zambezi www.chiawa.com While this may be the most expensive camp in Zambia, its location is incredible and the luxury tents are top notch.
2. Luangwa River Lodge, South Luangwa www.luangwariverlodge.com This place is so nice that you would think that you were in the Sabi Sand at a brand new lodge. Food, hosting, game activities and guiding are all excellent.
3. Chongwe River Camp, Lower Zambezi www.chongwe-river.com Wow, what a beautiful location and an incredible camp enjoying 270 degree river frontage. Game activities are really individually tailored to the guests and three game activities per day are available, if requested (early afternoon canoeing or tiger fishing in addition to the morning and evening game activity).
4. Kasaka River Lodge, Lower Zambezi www.kasakariverlodge.com A perfect location for river gameviewing activities and fishing. Would rate higher but it is a 30 minute drive from the entrance to the park for game drives. Lowest priced of the luxury camps in Lower Zambezi yet food, wine, game vehicles, boats, accomodations and hosting are all first class.
5. Makalolo Plains and Chikwenya, Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwean Lodge (they could very well be the best value in Southern Africa, but until I visit I am hesitant to list them higher). www.wilderness-safaris.com
6. Simbambili, Sabi Sand (best luxury value in the Sabi Sand that I know of) www.thornybush.co.za
7. Tafika, South Luangwa (for a camp that receives the rave reviews that this place does, $450 pppns in high season is a very good deal). www.remoteafrica.com
8. Kutandala, North Luangwa (just read the guest comments...at $400 per person per night for the smallest owner operated camp in Southern Africa, this is a great value) www.kutandala.com
9. Kwando, Botswana (only slightly less expensive than Wilderness Safaris camps, but there is no single supplement and that is great for single travelers or trios).
10. Sausage Tree Camp (reputed to be an excellent camp, in the center of Lower Zambezi National Park, away from the higher density of lodges around Chongwe & Kasaka...again, because I have not yet visited, I cannot rate it higher, but the prices are great...if it is anything like the experience at Chiawa, then it would rank much higher) www.sausagetreecamp.com

Other great values, but not sure they belong in the luxury department, are Kafunta Safaris in South Luangwa, Elephant Plains and Nkhoro Bush Lodge (each in the Sabi Sand and sharing the same traversing area as Simbambili).
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Jan 8th, 2006, 10:24 AM
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My understanding is that it is asimple air transfer from and air strip very close to Simbambilli to an air strip right at Mala Mala. Since luggage is so limited, I am anticipating and hoping it will be painless. Will report back, as I am going next week.
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Jan 11th, 2006, 11:45 AM
  #20
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Yipee! They have availability at Simbambili, so that's what we'll do. African Travel (who's helping me with this) has suggested we fly into HDS and take a road transfer from there. She said 1 -1 1/2 hr at $75.00 pp round trip. Everyone agree?

Rocco, should we request a special guide while we're there? Anything else I should request?

Thanks everyone! You've been great helping me through this decision-making process.
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