Two Amazing Safari Lodges in South Africa: Greater Kruger National Park

Advisor - Emily Tirjan
Curated By

Emily Tirjan

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  • South Africa

  • Adventure Travel

  • Safari

  • Nature Escapes

  • National Park

  • Wildlife

  • Outdoors

Elephants on their way home.
Curator’s statement

I was fortunate enough to explore the beauty and nature that South Africa has to offer. Because I am an animal lover, I’ve always wanted to go on safari, but I truly had no idea how much this trip would mean to me. This is an itinerary of my amazing experience. I explored the historic Mala Mala Game Reserve, then trekked over to elephant lover’s paradise, Jabulani Safari. This trip took place in January/February 2023, which was South Africa’s summertime.

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Where to stay

MalaMala Game Reserve

A luxurious tented camp in the heart of the Savannah primed for wildlife sightings, with breathtaking landscapes and unparalleled safari experiences.

Fora Perks
  • Complimentary round-trip private airport transfers.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Extended check-in/out whenever possible.

Jabulani Safari

Luxury safari lounge with unforgettable wildlife experiences.

InterContinental Johannesburg O.R.Tambo Airport, an IHG Hotel

InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport offers luxurious accommodations and convenience for travelers at South Africa's busiest international airport.

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Day 1: Land in Johannesburg

Quills Restaurant in Kempton Park, Johannesburg at InterContinental O.R. Tambo Airport.

If you’re coming from the United States, it will likely be nighttime when you land and you will be tired! Check into the InterContinental Johannesburg hotel, located steps from the airport. Grab a bite to eat and a cold South African beer at Quills Restaurant, the restaurant located inside the hotel. Then it’s time to relax and get some sleep because you will have to catch a flight into Skukuza the next morning.

Day 2 – 4: Mala Mala Game Reserve

Mala Mala Game Reserve is a national park in South Africa

After a quick 45-minute flight from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport to Skukuza Airport, you’ll be greeted with a guide and an open air Land Rover. I had no idea that this would be the first part of my safari adventure. It’s about 45-minutes from the airport to Mala Mala, and we saw so many animals along the way.

Mala Mala is a five-star property, that consists of three different camps located in the Sabi Sand game reserve. At Mala Mala, they will assign you to a guide that will take you on all your game drives for the duration of your stay. A game drive is truly a one-of-a-kind experience; every safari will be different. You will likely see animals of the Big 5 – which consists of the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. We were lucky enough to see the Big 5 multiple times during our stay. During the game drive, your guide will set up a coffee bar if it's a morning game drive or a happy hour if it’s an evening game drive.

Here is what a typical (full) day would be like at Mala Mala during the summer months:

5:00am - Wake up call.

5:30am - Meet at Safari deck for early morning game drive – light snacks and hot/cold beverages provided.

5:30 – 9:30am – Safari #1: Morning game drive with coffee break.

9:30am – Brunch in the dining room or on the safari deck.

10:00am – 3:00pm – Downtime; take a nap, go to the pool, do a walking safari, explore the lodge etc.

3:30pm – Meet at Safari deck for evening game drive – light snacks and hot/cold beverages provided.

3:30pm – 7:30pm – Safari #2: Evening game drive with happy hour.

8:00pm – Freshen up then head to the safari bar for drinks before dinner.

8:30pm (or whenever you want) – Dinner in a reed-enclosed boma under a jackal berry tree or on the safari deck overlooking Sand River.

Mala Mala has a traditional African safari feel; everything was very rustic. There are no fences around the property, so animals will be roaming around literally everywhere. Because of this, you are not allowed to walk around at night unless you are being escorted by a staff member. Don’t be surprised if you have monkeys jumping on your roof, antelope running around the back deck to your room or you are watching elephants take baths in the river while you’re eating breakfast.

The food is amazing here! Typically, you would eat brunch after the first game drive, snacks before the second game drive, light bites during happy hour, followed by a unique three course dinner in the boma or outside on the deck that overlooks the sand river.

On the last day, make sure you get up early so you can head out for your last game drive. Once you’re back on property, make sure you get a full meal in because you’ll be traveling for a bit to get to your next destination. You can either get a private vehicle, which takes about 2.5 - 3 hours, or you can charter a plane. Don’t forget to say goodbye to all the wonderful staff you’ve met along the way.

If you want to go on an authentic South African safari with amazing guides in an open-air vehicle, Mala Mala is the place to go. You will not be disappointed!

Day 5 – 8: Jabulani Safari

Jabulani Safari is one of the best places to be able to experience African elephants.

Once you arrive at Jabulani, continue to be blown away. This five-star hotel is located on the Kapama Private Game Reserve, just outside Hoedspruit. Jabulani has a very intimate, luxurious but laid-back feeling because there are only six suites and two villas. Just like Mala Mala, you will also have a dedicated guide for the duration of your stay. You’ll likely see the Big 5 again, but you may also see the Little 5, which include: leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, red-billed buffalo weaver, rhino beetle and ant lion.

Here is what a typical (full) day would be like at Jabulani during the summer months:

6:00am – Wake up call.

6:30am – Coffee at the main lodge then morning game drive.

6:30 – 10am – Safari #1: morning game drive with coffee break.

10:00am – Breakfast either by the watering hole or prepared and taken to your room.

11:00 – 3:30pm – Leisure time; get a massage, take a nap, relax in the plunge pool in your suite, bush walk and hopping in the boutique.

1:30pm – Lunch at the main lodge or prepared and taken to your room.

4:00 – 8:00pm – Safari #2: Evening game drive and/or elephant experience, elephant walk and happy hour.

8:00pm – Freshen up then head to the main lodge for a five-course dinner either in the dining room or on the deck overlooking the watering hole.

The most unique, soulful and magical part about Jabulani is the elephant experience. Jabulani is home to the Jabulani herd, which is a herd of orphaned or injured elephants that have been rehabilitated and are now living a wonderful life. Fun fact: this is South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage. During your experience, you’ll be educated and then able to interact with three of the bulls of the herd. This was a one-of-a-kind experience and probably the most memorable part of my trip. You’ll also be able to watch the elephants swim during the hottest part of the day and at sundown, you’ll be able to attend a happy hour while watching the elephants pass by on their way back to the stable.

Jabulani prides themselves on the gastronomy experience. Every day there is a new menu created by the chefs, and they will personally talk to you before making some of the most amazing food you will have in South Africa. If you’re hungry in between meals, don’t worry! The chefs will also come up with a unique snack plate that will be delivered to your room within minutes. You’ll be able to try many items of local cuisine, but honestly, the chefs will make you anything they want if they have the proper ingredients.

On the last day, you’ll also be able to do the morning game drive, followed by breakfast. If you leave yourself enough time, check out the boutique for some last-minute shopping. You will be so sad to leave this place! Then you’ll head to your next destination. From Hoedspruit Airport, you’ll be able to fly to Cape Town or back to Johannesburg. I suggest tagging on 4-5 extra days to explore Cape Town.

If you want an unforgettable experience that includes feeding and playing with elephants, a (basically) personal chef, exhilarating game drives and luxury in the middle of the bush, Jabulani is the place to go.

Need to Know

The staff works long hours and so hard to make your stay perfect, so tipping is greatly appreciated! Bird watching is amazing in South Africa during the summertime! You’ll be able to see tons of species as they are migrating.

Advisor - Emily Tirjan

Travel Advisor

Emily Tirjan

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to South Africa.