There are a few ways you can get to Royal Malewane, one is to fly into Hoedspruit (HDS) airport through Johannesburg (JNB). It’s a short flight, about an hour or so. You can also fly from Cape Town via South Africa airways to HDS as well. Then you have about a 30-minute drive to the hotel (they’ll come pick you up for a reasonable fee). Or if you happened to be a total baller (think Justin Bieber or Elton John) you can take a private plane from JNB to Royal Malewane’s private airstrip located on their game reserve. Travelingpanties and company aren’t quite there yet so we chose the first option and were transferred to the hotel by our guide.
You have never had a warmer welcome than at Royal Malewane. When you pull into the hotel, practically the entire staff waits for you in the driveway. They are eager to meet, hug and spoil you! I wasn’t sure if this was just because they knew I was a blogger (big head I know) or if they do this for all their guests. I am happy to report that after some research (aka spying on new guest arrivals) that I am just full of myself—in fact they do welcome every guest this way! There is not a check-in desk, instead they sit you down in the lobby with the staff and discuss the experience and your preferences. The head of the spa, the resort’s chef, the resort’s manager—you get them all. I felt like I was in Annie when she first moved into Daddy Warbucks mansion and had a full staff trying to make her every wish come true. “I think I’m gonna like it here”
What to Expect
Planning a safari brings up many questions, first and foremost, what is included? After all, if you’re dropping a couple thousand for a night, so you’re probably hoping to get your money’s worth—and you are! Even though I paid a significantly reduced press rate (see disclosure at the end), I can tell you that the safari experience at Royal Malewane is the most luxurious, romantic and inspiring travel experience I have ever had in my entire life (and you know Travelingpanties isn’t so easy to please, people). So while it is expensive, your room rate is inclusive of your luxury accommodation, three meals each day (and any snacks you could dream of), all drinks, including premium liquor (Grey Goose, etc.), wines (excluding champagne but including sparkling South African bubbly), and liqueurs. The main thing it includes, though is two safaris each day with an expert guide and tracker in a luxury safari vehicle. Room rates also include nearly a private chef and butler because the ratio of staff to guests is skewed in guests favor.
It may be difficult to imagine luxury in the wild but the expert guides really make the experience both luxe and intimate, which is seemingly impossible in the vast great outdoors. The hotel is quite secluded from other hotels so unlike Kruger itself, this private game reserve is miles away from other people. Here is a typical schedule, though you can of course alter it if you prefer. (Times vary slightly during summer):
5:30 AM Wakeup Call
6:00 AM Light Breakfast and Coffees
6:15 AM Depart for Morning Safari
8:30 AM Coffee and Snacks are served in the bush during your safari.
9:30 AM-11:00 AM Return from your safari (times vary depending on where you go/what you see)
Breakfast. Upon your return you have a gigantic full breakfast in their outdoor dining room overlooking the bush. There is a delightful buffet filled with pastries, yogurts, homemade granola, almost a half dozen homemade jams, tropical fruits, cheeses, candied goodies and of course breakfast cocktails. You can then order a hot breakfast like eggs, pancakes, etc. I highly recommend the Eggs Florentine, which were TO.DIE.FOR.
Lunch. After breakfast you’re free to roam the property, nap, get a massage, check your emails, whatever you would like. Then before you know it, it’s time for lunch. Just another full 3-course meal—get used to eating your heart out!
3:30 PM Meet in the lobby for tea, coffee and light snacks if you’d like. When you’re finished, leave for evening game drive.
6:00 PM Sundowners (sunset cocktails) out in the bush. Enjoy the sunset and some light snacks along the way. However, if you would prefer to continue on your drive you can skip this. One night we were on the trail of a leopard so we opted to continue after him.
7:30-8:00 PM Return to Lodge or head to dinner. You are now free to enjoy a few cocktails at the bar or freshen up back in your room before heading to dinner.
Dinner: We were at the property for two nights. The first evening we had a special Braai Barbecue. It’s served buffet-style and was delicious. There were plenty of candles and some of the best BBQ I’ve ever tasted—and heaters to keep us warm. The next evening we had a dinner in the middle of the bush after our evening safari. It was the best Indian food I’ve ever had (swear! Even beats Curry Hill in NYC). They change up the themes regularly and pick the perfect wines to pair with each course. This dinner was served in a Five Star fort in the middle of the bush. We had cocktails around a fire, stargazed a little and even got to see a couple of planets (because of course they brought guests a telescope). Then we dined at a long table and got to hang out with our guide and talk about life in the bush. This was a magical and unforgettable evening.
Royal Malewane is set on the Thornybush Private Game reserve, which is located in Kruger Park. Royal Malewane is truly one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever been to. It’s extremely service-oriented, secluded and simply gorgeous. It only sleeps around 20 guests so your stay is extremely personalized to each guest’s taste. The hotel, unlike Singita Lebombo is not as contemporary, but not one bit less posh. The property is decorated in an extravagant colonial style and features antique furniture and lavish touches.
Potential guests also often wonder about the wildlife and what animals they are likely to see. Namely, will they see the “Big Five,” which are African lion, elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhinoceros. The name was coined back in the day by big-game hunters and refers to the most difficult animals to hunt. I personally saw each of these animals and was only at the hotel for two nights. While of course the hotel cannot guarantee which animals you see, their expert guides and trackers are pretty much the best in the biz (on par with Singita) so if the animals are there, then you are likely to find them. The hotel and surrounding reserve really has spectacular scenery and plenty of wildlife. In addition to the Big Five we also saw plenty of giraffes, wildebeests, impala and zebras. The guides are also really experts with birds. We had an amazing guide, Ryan Jack (he has also been Elton John’s guide many times—and if you can make the greatest diva of all time happy then how could I have one bad word to say). Our guide (and many others) are also experts at birding and photography and give great advice to help you get mind-blowing photos. Terrence was our tracker. He and Ryan have worked together for a while and they are quite the team! I highly recommend them! Please call Elton John for references.
The main building of Royal Malewane features an inviting open-air lobby, Persian rugs, African artifacts and interesting artwork.
There are 8 suites (six luxury suites, one Royal suite and one Malewane Suite) in total. Keeping with the colonial theme, each suite features canopied king beds, oversized Victorian bathtubs, fireplaces and ornately designed antique furniture. But it ain’t all old-fashioned: rooms feature state-of-the-art amenities like a walk-in rain shower, mini-fridge, air-conditioning and an inclusive minibar. Each room also features an outdoor shower, private deck, seating in the sun as well as the shade and (drumroll please), a private infinity pool overlooking the bush. It isn’t unheard of to have elephants walk by or even come and try and drink from your pool.
If you had been a fly on the wall when the staff left us in our room, it would have sounded like this—“Oh my gosh, look at this!” “Did you see this!” “Wait, Wow, you have to come look.”
Charging Situation? The hotel has adapters if you forget yours. Cause they’re awesome like that.
Bottled Water? Complimentary and there is as much as you want because you are not to drink the water out of the tap. The hotel is all about being eco-friendly so they give you reuseable bottles for game drives (instead of plastic ones) and fill them with purified water—still or sparkling—or you can take something spiked along if that’s more your speed.
Mini Bar? Yes with anything you could want, including fresh lemons, limes and fresh milk. All inclusive too, by the way.
Reading Material in the Room? Yes, lovely little lounge area with plenty of magazines and cards. There was also sherry and a fireplace to curl up by in the winter. They’ll set the fire up for you at a moment’s notice of course!
White Glove Inspection: Not one thing was out of place.
Oh, and in case you’re curious what Elton John’s room where he stays looks like–the one he always stays in, here it is! Check out this tub! Oh, and the view!
And I can totally picture him belting out his tunes in this insanely huge shower that’s the size of my Manhattan kitchen.
Then check out these beautiful rooms in Africa House, a six-bedroom complex situated apart from the main property. It is a self-contained paradise with a private chef, butler, housekeeper, safari guide and tracker (and private vehicle). If I could decorate my house like this I would. Each room was more beautiful than the next. Here were a few of my favorite shots.
The bathroom was lovely. His and her sinks and good lighting to boot. Tub? Open indoor shower as well as outdoor shower and magnificent oversized bathtub as I mentioned above—it even has a little reading caddy on it. The bathroom walls facing the bush were entirely glass, which meant that our safaris started as soon as we opened our eyes in the morning.
Makeup Mirror? Yes
Designer Toiletries? Molton Brown
Towel quality? Amazing.
Robes? Yes, and robes and also dressing gowns (silk robes)
Amenities? Q tips, Cotton Swabs, Shower cap,
Extras? Underfloor heating, heated towel rails. Oh and the toilet was in a private closet—yes! Keeping the romance alive!
The spa is lovely and is situated around a courtyard, which features a long pool at its center. There is also a gym, steam room, hot and cold African baths as well as a Jacuzzi. Treatment rooms look out onto the bush and doors can be open or close at guest’s preferences. We had a couple’s massage here (which we actually paid for FYI) and every minute of it was heaven. The spa treatment menu was actually surprisingly affordable and if I was here for longer, I would have done a treatment each day and then relaxed after at the lovely pool.
The Food & Drink
After safari-ing (yep, I’m making it a verb) the next best thing to do is eat, eat, and eat some more. And we’re not talking typical hotel food. The chef here serves up fine cuisine with impressive presentation. I pack on a cool 3-4 pounds and don’t blink an eye. I tell myself I’m on vacation. Even when you’re served dinner outside under the stars though, don’t expect anything less than silver service and expertly chosen wine pairings.
Classy Hotel Bar? Guests gather in the lobby after the evening game drive and staff will make literally any drink you can imagine. This was one of my favorite parts of the day—go figure.
Specialty Cocktails? My favorite drink was Amarula—a delicious, creamy liquor made in South Africa from the Amarula tree. I loved having this before dinner and spiking my coffee with it.
Amazing breakfast buffet, in addition to hot made-to-order options.
The best Eggs Florentine Ever!
Our Bush dinner was one of my favorite nights.
This Five Star tent, if you can call it that, is where the Bush dinner was held.
The Little Things
Did I feel truly welcome by the staff? Yes—from the moment they ALL greeted us when we arrived until we were walked to our car for our departure. Staffers are friendly and we immensely enjoyed spending time with them and becoming part of the Royal Malewane family. Again I cried my eyes out like a baby when we left.
Wi-Fi? Yes, complimentary throughout the property.
Mini-Bar? Yes, all inclusive. Also a large well-equipped bar in the lobby with anything you could imagine.
Cocktail Quality? They’re old-school here and they know how to mix any cocktail you can imagine.
Safety Concerns? You need to be escorted to your room after dark because you are on a game reserve and you could run into any number of creatures. You also need to be careful to close and lock your doors because of monkeys and baboons, which have learned to open them (totally crazy, right?). You also need to remember no feeding of any animals–AT ALL. That said, you can leave your keys outside the room because everyone is on the honor system. This took some getting used to! The New Yorker in me didn’t understand how this was possible but hey, I don’t expect someone like Bono to go rooting around in my things so…That said, you should still lock your valuables in the safe.
Health Concerns? The area has low malaria risk but to be safe you should pack some pills—see a doctor before your trip.
Flowers: When we checked in our room was covered in tiny wildflowers on every surface I could imagine. This was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen in any check-in.
Turndown & Laundry: Yes, they left behind little treats and hot water bottles in the bed to keep the covers warm for your toesies. They also come throughout the day to tidy up. They also do laundry for free. If you give it to them in the AM it will be back later that evening so you really need not bring many clothes.
Farewell Gifts: They send you off with a DVD of photos you have seen (taken by your guide) on your trip. I thought this was such a lovely touch. They also give guests copies of their favorite recipes to take home with them. They gave me the pea soup and I have it stuck on my fridge for the next time I cook. I can’t wait.
Welcome Champagne served with actual crystal glasses!
Packing: The rooms have plenty of bugspray and sunscreen available around the hotel if you need it. However, be sure to bring practical shoes, a hat and sunglasses. Also—a decent camera is a must! I would even think of renting a zoom lens for your camera because the photo opps are incredible. I hate to say it but, size does matter! Don’t worry about packing fancy clothes as you (at least in the winter) spend your time in your safari clothes for most of the day—and in the evening it’s a bit chilly so you’ll be wearing a coat and dining outside. That said—do bring lots of layers because the weather changes quickly from hot to cold as the sun comes up or down. I had a couple thing jackets that I would wear early in the morning and late at night. I also loved my Uggs in the winter
Tipping: It’s always hard figuring out how much to tip staff in a place like this so the hotel makes a few recommendations when we asked (though of course gratuities are entirely at your discretion
Guide & Tracker: About $20 USD per person per night
Lodge staff: About $20 USD per guest per night.
We did a bit more than this because we thought the staff was outstanding but at least this at least gave us a place to start.
The Wow Factor(s):
The private pools overlooking the bush, the gourmet dinners under the stars, the game-viewing—I don’t quite know what to choose because the entire experience is INCREDIBLE. Oh and a personal favorite–they draw bubble baths for guests at night. I returned from our magical dinner in the bush under the stars and there was a warm bubble bath waiting for me. #Perfection
The Bottom Line: Would I recommend it? Am I coming Back?
This hotel makes you feel like you’re family–from the moment you step onto the property you’re treated like royalty. Maybe that’s why guests like Bono, John Cusack, Elton John, Alyssa Milano, and Justin Bieber love this place! Royal Malewane is entirely unstuffy and unpretentious so all guests feel comfortable at all times but at the same time they spoil you to death. Royal Malewane’s ambience, decor and dining options do a perfect job capturing the essence of South Africa’s bush. The staff is incredible. I have never felt so special in my life.
While I was in the Bush I also had a chance to visit Singita Lebombo—Royal Malewane’s main competitor. Guests often visit both of these resorts for a change of scenery and game-viewing as the concessions are a bit different. They are equally as wonderful—just different. Singita is a bit more modern whereas Royal Malewane is more traditional. In my opinion, they are perfect the complements to one another and if you’re a luxe traveler or honeymooner these are the top picks for sure for a Kruger Park safari. A close second is Tintswalo, which I will be writing a review of as soon as I find the time!
The last night of my stay I told my husband that I wanted to move here and work for the hotel in some sort of hosting capacity—and I meant it. If you know me at all, then you know my distaste for traditional camping and pretty much all things outdoors—so to evoke these feelings from me speaks volumes.
I would definitely come back and many of their guests agree—like Elton John who returned many times.
I loved it here and can’t wait to return! Travelingpanties approved!
Royal Malewane Hotel Information
Cost: Rooms start at about $1300 USD per person per night.
Address: P.O. Box 1542
Telephone: +27 (0)15 793 0150
*Disclaimer* As is common in the travel industry, writers are provided with complimentary services for review purposes. In this case I did pay a minimal press rate. However, I planned this trip entirely on my own and chose the hotel after much extensive research–in other words, I found them, they didn’t find me. As always, all opinions herein are my own. You can’t buy the love here, people! Just ask my husband!