Our South Africa tour—which also includes a slice of neighboring Botswana—begins on arrival in Johannesburg, where we gather for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader. An orientation this evening provides a preview of the many wildlife adventures that lie ahead on this exclusive safari itinerary.
Days 2–4: Mashatu Private Reserve, Botswana
Transfer this morning to the Johannesburg airport for our short flight to Polokwane, the small South African city formerly known as Pietersburg and capital of Limpopo Province. From Polokwane, we travel by road to the private Mashatu Game Reserve just over the border on the far-eastern edge of Botswana. Mashatu, meaning “Land of Giants,” takes its name from the huge Mashatu trees that dominate these environs, as well as the big animals that roam its terrain. The Limpopo River, which Rudyard Kipling made famous in his Just-So Stories, crosses into South Africa near here. More than 700 elephants live on the reserve, the largest single population on privately owned land in Africa, as well as impressive numbers of lion and cheetah. Along the river, Mashatu trees provide shade for wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and eland, while at night, bat-eared fox, honey badger, African wild cat and leopard search for prey. We explore this unspoiled wilderness on exciting game drives, discovering Mashatu's ecological diversity as we traverse savanna, forest, marshland and sandstone outcrops. And at the end of each day, we stay in the center of it all at Mashatu Tent Camp, an intimate accommodation offering unexpected amenities in such a remote and secluded locale.
Days 5 & 6: Marataba Private Reserve, South Africa
A half-day's drive, with a picnic lunch en route, takes us to Marataba Private Reserve. Lying within Marakele National Park, this 57,000-acre mosaic of plains, mountains and valleys is home to predators, primates, antelope, small carnivores and more than 400 bird species. Marataba is a less-discovered gem, and while it doesn't have the name cachet of Kruger or Sabi Sand, it delivers one of the most scenic and impressive safari experiences in South Africa. Walking safaris are the focus here, and we seek out black and white rhinos in the company of specialist walking guides. Lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo round out the Big Five, with other abundant species on display, too, including greater kudu, eland, impala, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, spotted hyena, bat-eared fox, jackal, chacma baboon and vervet monkey. Bird highlights include yellow-billed hornbill, African Scops owl, fiery-necked night jar and lilac-breasted roller. And since we are on a private reserve, we can search for nocturnal species after dusk and drive off-road to find more elusive animals. The camp's boat is also available for water safaris on the Matlabas River, where elephants snorkel and waterbirds abound.
Each evening, tuck into the comforts of Marataba Mountain Lodge, which enjoys an unparalleled setting. With just five chalets, the intimate, solar-powered camp is set into the hillside at the base of Waterfall Valley, surrounded by mountain streams and the source of the Matlabas River. Views over the valley are spectacular, with wide-angle vistas of the Waterberg escarpment merging into acacia savanna. Each individual accommodation has a glass door and wall of panoramic windows, lending a sense of being one with the wild environment beyond.
Days 7–9: Sabi Sand—MalaMala Private Reserve
Depart early this morning for the Johannesburg airport to meet our direct flight to MalaMala Game Reserve, one of the oldest and largest private wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa. Covering 33,000 acres and sharing a 12-mile unfenced border with world-renowned Kruger National Park, MalaMala lies in the heart of the legendary Sabi Sand region, the country's premier safari destination. Historic MalaMala was one of the first reserves to transition from hunting to wildlife-viewing safaris. Today it is renowned for some of the best Big Five viewing in Africa. These famous five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo—were once favorite hunting targets, and while many were hunted nearly to extinction, reserves like this one have made inspiring strides in bringing them back. Enjoy the exclusivity of MalaMala Main Camp, situated along the Sand River where wildlife regularly wanders in to drink. MalaMala is famous for its leopard viewing, and night drives are a highlight here, with an array of nocturnal species on view, including predators on the hunt. As the largest private game reserve in South Africa, safari tourism from MalaMala directly supports many individuals in neighboring communities.
Day 10: MalaMala / Johannesburg / Depart
After breakfast and a morning activity, fly back to Johannesburg early this afternoon to connect with onward flights or extensions.
Click here to view the seasonal variations of weather and wildlife viewing in Botswana.