AT A GLANCE
This unforgettable 12-Day Malawi and Zambia Wildlife safari explores the best that Malawi and South Luangwa has to offer. It’s breathtaking scenery, incredible wildlife and birding makes it one of the top African destinations for any wildlife enthusiast
Start of safari in Lilongwe, transfer to Liwonde National Park
Welcome to Malawi, the “warm heart of Africa”! Your fantastic Malawi and Zambia wildlife safari will start today at Kamuzu International Airport situated north of the capital city of Lilongwe. You will be picked up by your expert Nature Travel guide who will, after a quick meet-and-greet, load your bags into our comfortable vehicle. We will then set off southwards through the city of Lilongwe.
While Blantyre is the commercial hotpot of Malawi, Lilongwe is the seat of the governmental and public institutions. It has a population of about 1 million people and is located along the Lilongwe river, at an altitude of 1,050 m (3,440 ft) above sea level, on a plateau in the centre of the country, forming part of the East African Rift Valley. Lilongwe feels like a miniature of Malawi itself – chaotic but colourful, filled with friendly people, and full of contrasts.
We will travel south after navigating Lilongwe’s surprisingly smooth traffic and reach our destination, Liwonde National Park, after about 4 hours. On the way you will see why Malawi is such a beautiful place, because despite the subsistence farming practices, there are still stunning landscapes and patches of green untouched bush throughout. The drive will also give us a chance to get to know each other and learn a bit about each other’s previous travels in Africa and all over the world. We will also get each person’s “target list” for fauna and flora species on the trip, to ensure everyone has a great time.
We will not see the famous Lake Malawi during our way down, but it is not too far west of where we will be driving. No other country is so dominated by a single natural feature like Malawi; in fact, the country is also known as ‘the land of the lake”. The lake is 580 km (360 mi) long and 75 km (47 mi) wide in places, and covers more than 15% of Malawi’s surface. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful of all of Africa’s lakes and the focal point of Malawi’s tourism industry.
We will arrive at the car park next to the Shire river, which dominates the landscape of Liwonde National Park, meet our expert local ranger, and pack our luggage into one of the boats named after famous birds of the area, like Pel’s (for Pel’s Fishing Owl). In fact, on a recent trip our clients actually saw a Pel’s Fishing Owl as they boarded their vessel! We will then cross the river and arrive at our home for the next three nights, Mvuu Lodge.
Mvuu Lodge (Mvuu means “hippopotamus” in one of the local languages) nestles discreetly on the banks of a lagoon just off the Shire river on the western boundary of the park. This is a beautiful spot that you will definitely fall in love with over the next few days. We will check in, meet the friendly and knowledgeable local staff and relax in our rooms (very luxurious tented homes actually) for a while. Depending on our arrival time we might have a late lunch or a snack in the beautiful dining area.
Later in the afternoon we will go out on our first boat cruise on the river. No Liwonde safari is complete without experiencing the beauty of the Shire and its incredible wildlife by boat. It is the perfect introduction to Liwonde! The river boats are specifically designed to ensure each passenger can take in the magnificent views in complete comfort from anywhere on the boat, as well as being ideal for keen wildlife photographers, with ample space for equipment and the freedom to photograph from any angle.
The game viewing while on a river safari in Liwonde is unsurpassed anywhere in Malawi, and each tranquil boat trip is an unforgettable experience. African Elephant line the water’s edge, hundreds of (very calm) Hippopotamus congregate in the lagoons, Nile Crocodiles chill on the mud and many species of antelope and birds make their way to the water’s edge.
As the sun sets we will either have sundowner drinks on board the boat or jump off at a scenic spot to enjoy the sunset fully and take some photographs. Cruising back to the lodge we will see hundreds of African Skimmers hunting over the water; a lifetime highlight for any wildlife enthusiast.
We will get together for our first dinner together and then settle in for a first night under African skies.
DAY 2: Liwonde National Park
Today we have a full day to enjoy Liwonde and all its beauty.
We will get together for breakfast and then set off on a morning game drive in comfortable, open-sided safari vehicles. Our ranger will tell us a bit more about Liwonde during our drives, as well as show us some of the fantastic fauna and flora species of this fantastic little park.
Speaking of little, Liwonde only covers about 580 km2 (223 sq mi), and yet supports a wide range of habitats, including Mopane woodland, marshlands and swamps, floodplain grassland, grassy savannah and riverine forest. There are numerous huge Baobab tree, the quintessential African safari tree for many people. The main feature of Liwonde, though, is the 30 km (18 mi) long section of the sluggish Shire river that runs through the park, including a section of the shore of Lake Malombe, 20 km (12 mi) south of famous Lake Malawi.
We will return to the lodge after our drive for a scrumptious lunch and a siesta. There is also a fantastic swimming pool if you would rather have a splash than a nap. We will get together for coffee or a soda in the mid-afternoon and then set off on our afternoon game drive again, this time targeting a different part of the park.
Liwonde was established in 1973, and has been managed by the non-profit conservation organisation African Parks since August 2015. Their first priority was to build an electric fence around the perimeter of the park to help mitigate the human-wildlife conflict that had plagued the park before. This fence is monitored 24 hours a day to ensure animals stay in and poachers stay out. Fencing the park cost US$1.6 million and took approximately 18 months to complete. Liwonde has been very active in conservation efforts and animal relocation programs, and has made quite a name for itself in this regard, especially when it comes to African Elephant, Black Rhinoceros and even big cats like Lion and Cheetah.
We will return to Mvuu in the early evening and freshen up in our tents. Then we will then socialise and have dinner again, after which we will get a good night’s rest.
*Please note: during your time at Liwonde there is an option for a Nature Walk instead of a game drive on one of the days. This activity allows you to get even closer to the fantastic fauna and flora of Liwonde with an experienced guide. On one of the evenings there is also an optional Night Drive, where you will go in search of the varied nocturnal wildlife that makes Liwonde their home.
DAY 3: Liwonde National Park
Today we have another full day to enjoy all that Liwonde has to offer.
We will start with an early breakfast and then set off on the boat again on the Shire river. The landscape changes quite a bit when you cruise the river in the morning, and the light is just wonderful for photography. We hope to see many species of fauna on our boat trip this morning.
There are many mammal species in the park, with a total population of about 12,000 individuals. Specific species that we will target include some of the 800 African Elephant, African Buffalo, Black Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Common Eland, Waterbuck, the endangered Roan and Sable Antelope, the lichtensteinii subspecies of Hartebeest, Impala, Bushbuck, Common Warthog, Greater Kudu, Vervet and Yellow Baboon. If we are very lucky we might even see one of the introduced predators, and smaller ones like Serval and Side-striped Jackal could be ticked too.
Liwonde also boasts more than 1,000 vascular plant species, with many colourful ones blooming at different times of the year. The orchid, Microcoelia ornithocephala, is nearly endemic to the park, and there are also acacias, miombo, fever trees, palms and sausage trees.
Apart from the fantastic mammals and plants, Liwonde is also a must-visit destination for birders. The park boasts more than 400 species, and some of them are fairly range-restricted and difficult to see elsewhere. During our time here we will look for specials like Pel’s Fishing Owl, Palm-nut Vulture, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Red-necked Falcon, Bat Hawk, Dickonson’s Kestrel, White-backed Night Heron, Goliath, Black and Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Spur-winged Lapwing, Gull-billed Tern, African Openbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, Brown-breasted Barbet, Böhm’s Bee-eater, Lilian’s Lovebird, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Pale Batis, Black-eared Seedeater, Collared Palm Thrush, Green Twinspot, Racket-tailed Roller, Pale-billed Hornbill and many more!
We will once again return to Mvuu for lunch and some down time, and then go out again this afternoon on another game viewing excursion. This will either take the form of another game drive, or a sunset boat cruise again. We will make this decision based on which species of bird and mammal we still need to see here in Liwonde.
We will return to camp after our activity and enjoy our last excellent dinner here. We will then walk to our tents, listening for the sounds of frogs, Hippopotamus and perhaps even Spotted Hyaenas calling, before settling in for the night. Tomorrow the next part of our adventure starts!
DAY 4: Liwonde National Park to Nyika National Park
We will pack our bags and have them transported to the jetty, after which we will enjoy a quick breakfast. We will then say goodbye to the wonderful staff at Mvuu and cross back over the Shire river to the car park. We will pack the vehicle and set off north.
Today is a long drive that will take us most of the day. We are heading for Malawi’s other famous reserve, Nyika National Park, way off in the north of the country.
*Please note: there is also an option to take a private charter flight from the airstrip in Liwonde National Park to the airstrip in Nyika National Park via Lilongwe. This will obviously cut down on travel time dramatically, and will allow you to fit another game drive/walking activity into your schedule at Nyika this afternoon.
The drive will take us all of today, but looking out of the window of the vehicle you will still see why Malawi has such a special place in our hearts here at the Nature Travel group. We will stop several times to stretch our legs, as well as make a lunch stop in one of the bigger towns en route.
We will skirt beautiful Lake Malawi’s western shore and hopefully there is time for a quick stop at one of the idyllic beaches. The last big town we drive through will be Mzuzu, located in a gap in the Viphya mountains, and surrounded by tea, rubber, and coffee cultivation areas. The Viphya pine plantation south of Mzuzu is the largest man-made forest in Africa!
When we get closer to our destination, the road will deteriorate but the scenery will become spectacular. We will rise and rise up to the Nyika plateau, a beautiful grassy highland area in the far north of Malawi, that sits at elevations of between 2,100 and 2,200 m (6,900 and 7,200 ft) above sea level.
We will reach our destination, the brilliantly located Chelinda Lodge, with hopefully some natural light left, meet the friendly staff and check in.
Chelinda Lodge offers a luxurious highland experience in, and stunning views of, Nyika’s rolling grasslands, which are often dotted with large herds of rare antelope. A pocket of Hagenia woodland and a forest backdrop perfectly shelters this idyllic, upland stone-and-timber lodge.
We will get together after a tiring day in the vehicle, stand on the beautiful deck for a while, and then enjoy some of the excellent cuisine the Chelinda team always serve up. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep; tomorrow we explore Nyika!
DAY 5: Nyika National Park
We will have a full day to enjoy Nyika today.
We will enjoy an early breakfast and then set off to explore the park in the vehicle on a morning game drive. As we leave the lodge our expert local guide will keep us interested with some facts about this beautiful park.
A large area of the Nyika plateau, around 3,134 km2 (1,210 sq mi), makes up the wonderful montane Nyika National Park, the largest area of mountain grassland left on the continent. It was proclaimed in 1966 and is Malawi’s largest conservation area. The name Nyika means “where the water comes from”, as the plateau’s elevation makes it wetter than the surrounding areas. In fact, there is simply no place like Nyika in all of Malawi – rolling grasslands, often covered in mist, not another person in sight… This is heaven!
Nyika is deeply loved by every single person that visits here, and there are many reasons for this. Apart from the obvious beautiful landscape, Nyika offers something for every nature lover, from botanists to birders to general wildlife naturalists.
From a flora perspective, the persistent moisture on the plateau (and in the park) results in many different species of prolific wild flowers in the park. The flora of the park include gladioli, delphiniums, lobelia, and ‘red hot pokers’. The plateau is also home to around 200 species of orchids (that flower in January and February), and groves of dense montane forests also dot the undulating montane scenery.
After hopefully seeing some local and special “Nyika species”, we will return to Chelinda for a wonderful lunch and some time to chill. We will go on another game drive in the afternoon, to a different portion of the park. If there are enough birders in the group, we will also take some walks into the forest patches, and not just use the vehicle.
Luckily for big game chasers, Nyika is not only about plants! From a mammal point of view, the park attracts large numbers of special antelopes and ungulates, including Common Eland, Roan Antelope, the crawshayi subspecies of Plains Zebra, Bushbuck, Klipspringer, altitude-loving African Elephant, and apparently the highest concentration of Leopard in all of central Africa! Smaller mammals include Common Warthog, Bushpig, small cats and even porcupine. We will certainly hope to see some of the 100+ species that have been recorded in the park. It is super easy to spot mammals in Nyika due to the open nature of the plateau, although if we venture into one of the thicket or forest areas it might be more difficult.
After our exciting drive we will return the lodge to freshen up. We will then get together on the viewing deck for sundowner drinks, followed by another top class dinner. Then we are off to our cabins for a good night’s rest. Remember to stand on your deck outside your room tonight and just take in the landscape around you… Also, look up! The night sky in northern Malawi is truly spectacular.
DAY 6: Nyika National Park
We will have another full day to enjoy Nyika’s beauty and fauna and flora today.
We will once again enjoy breakfast in the lodge dining room and then set off on our morning game drive. We will return for lunch and a short siesta, and then go on another drive in the afternoon.
Nyika is not only about beautiful landscapes and interesting mammals, the park also boasts a bird list of more than 400 species. However this figure includes many species only found on the lower slopes of the park where Brachystegia dominates, an area inaccessible to tourists. We will still pick up some very special and range-restricted species on our drives. This could include Denham’s Bustard, Wattled Crane, Secretarybird, Pallid Harrier, Long-crested Eagle, Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl, Red-winged Francolin, Montane Widowbird, Sharpe’s Akalat, Bar-tailed Trogon, Montane Nightjar, Olive-flanked Ground Robin, White-breasted Alethe, Sharpe’s Greenbul, Moustached Tinkerbird, African Hill Babbler, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Slender-billed Starling, Dusky Turtle Dove, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Black-lored and Churring Cisticola and Baglafecht Weaver, Blue Swallow and Malachite Sunbird along with many other species.
Other attractions inside the park include waterfalls, the most impressive being Chisanga Falls where the North Rukuru river falls off the plateau, neolithic rock shelters, trout pools and even a “magic lake”. There are also mountain bike trails and fly-fishing for the active among us.
After another great day on safari we will return to the lodge of our final dinner here in magical Malawi. You will have realised by now why we love this country and its parks so much; it really is a special place that deserves to be much higher on every nature lovers’ list of countries to visit.
*Please note: once again, on one of the evenings there is an optional Night Drive, where you will go in search of the varied nocturnal wildlife that live around Chelinda.
DAY 7: Nyika National Park to South Luangwa National Park (Mfuwe Lodge)
Today we have another long day of travel ahead of us.
We will have breakfast at the lodge and say our goodbyes to the friendly staff that have looked after us so well. Then we are off, this time heading south as we plummet down the plateau and head for the second country of our itinerary, Zambia, and the world renowned South Luangwa National Park.
*Please note: there is also an option to take a private charter flight from the airstrip in Nyika National Park to the airport in Lilongwe, from where you will continue your road transfer. This will obviously cut down on travel time dramatically, and will allow you to fit another game drive/walking activity into your schedule at Mfuwe Lodge this afternoon.
We will head south, turning west onto the T4 highway close to the town of Mchinji. We will cross the border into Zambia at the Mwami Border Crossing, after which we will have about another 3 hours to go. We will definitely stop to stretch our legs a few times and pick a nice spot for lunch, or even enjoy one of Chelinda’s famous packed lunches en route.
We will reach our destination, Mfuwe Lodge, late in the afternoon just in time for a well-deserved sundowner drink and some time to take in our surroundings. You have just arrived in South Luangwa! Set inside the park, just five minutes from the main gate, the lodge’s allure is instantly obvious. Nestled beneath a canopy of ebony and mahogany trees, its chalets are arranged around the banks of two lagoons where an endless stream of wildlife will keep you enthralled as you lounge on the open deck or take a dip in the swimming pool. The airy interior of the lodge is an exquisite complement to its natural surroundings. Welcome to quintessential Africa!
We will get together in the dining area for dinner and some relaxation time, and then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest; tomorrow we go in search of South Luangwa’s big game!
DAY 8: South Luangwa National Park (Mfuwe Lodge)
We have a full day to explore this area of South Luangwa today.
We will get together for breakfast and then we are off on our first game drive. Our expert local guide will tell us more about this world famous and wonderful park as we go in search of the local fauna and flora.
South Luangwa, known to locals as simply “the South park”, is actually the southernmost of three national parks that lie in Zambia’s Luangwa river valley, and is famous the world over for the intense concentrations of game along the river and its lagoons. The butterfly-shaped 9,050 km2 (3,490 sq mi) park supports over 60 species of mammals and more than 400 bird species, and unfenced, bordered to the west by the steep Muchinga escarpment and to the east by the Luangwa river. It was a reserve as far back as 1904, but officially became a national park in 1972.
The focus in South Luangwa is undoubtedly the meandering Luangwa river, whose intermittent flooding alters its course, creating floodplains and many tranquil oxbow lakes. The habitat of the park is mostly that of woodland savannah, with Miombo and Mopane the dominating species. Within these woodland savannah swathes are larger patches of grassland, as well as floodplains closer to the river. We will cover much of these diverse habitats in search of animals, birds and all sorts of smaller creatures.
The region of the park are we will be traversing during our time at Mfuwe is renowned for its prolific game – the thornicrofti subspecies of Giraffe, Hippopotamus, African Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, cooksoni subspecies of the Common Wildebeest, Puku, the crawshayi subspecies of Plains Zebra, and Nile Crocodile are constant visitors to the area around the river and lagoons, whilst in November the local African Elephants regularly wander right through the lobby, lured by a nearby Wild Mango tree! It is not just the diversity of species that makes South Luangwa special, but the sheer numbers of them. It is not uncommon to see herds of hundreds of buffalo or elephant across the grasslands.
We will return to the lodge for one of their famous lunches and then have some down time. You could take a lazy splash in the pool, or even go for a massage or treatment in the excellent Bush Spa. This award-winning spa offers a contemporary range of eastern and western treatments, each one adapted to suit the surroundings and leave you feeling revitalised.
We will get together again for a refreshing drink in the afternoon and another game drive. We hope to see not only four of Africa’s Big Five (the South park has no rhinos), but also African Wild Dog, 14 different species of antelope and much more!
There is also an option to swop one or more of our game drives in South Luangwa for a walking safari. This amazingly intimate way of experiencing the African bush originated in this very park. Many years later it is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand. Traveling through the park’s lush landscapes on foot also means that you have time to stop and appreciate the smaller things in nature, from exotic insects to animal tracks and beautiful flora. It is truly an unforgettable experience that you will treasure forever.
After our exciting full day in this part of South Luangwa we will return to the lodge to freshen up. We will then have dinner and sit around the fire at our lodge, and enjoy a good night’s rest under the stars. Remember to listen for the sounds of the African night. We might hear hyaenas calling or even a nightjar!
DAY 9: South Luangwa National Park (Mfuwe Lodge to Bilimungwe Bush Camp)
We will start our day with an early breakfast and maybe a short game drive or even a bush walk.
Then it’s time for the final part of our Malawi & Zambia adventure, when we move camp to another section of South Luangwa National Park.
We are heading for the Bilimungwe Bush Camp, about 2 hours to the southwest, in the remote southern part of the park. This will be our home for the next 3 nights.
We will reach the camp in time for lunch and some relaxation time to get used to our stunning surroundings. Overlooking 3 waterholes with many herds of resident African Elephant, Bilimungwe is a hidden gem hiding under huge mahogany trees. Each of the large thatched and grass chalets sits on stilts and has magnificent views of the three watering holes, and there is also a big deck perfect for game viewing. The camp also boasts a boma for surprise outdoor dinners under the stars!
We will once again go out in the afternoon for a game viewing activity and return to freshen up and have another fabulous dinner under African skies.
DAY 10: South Luangwa National Park (Bilimungwe Bush Camp)
We will start our day with breakfast in Bilimungwe’s secret breakfast spot on the edge of Luangwa valley; perfect to watch the sun rise over the Chindeni hills. Don’t tell anyone!
Then we will have a game drive in this remote area of South Luangwa. The river is close by, so we should see many African Elephant, African Buffalo and Hippopotamus, along with some huge Nile Crocodiles. The surrounding savannah plains also holds good number of antelope, of course, their pursuing predators. We’ll look for Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyaena, African Wild Dog and many of the smaller carnivores. Some people claim that the Luangwa valley is the best place to see Leopard on the entire continent!
We will return to camp for lunch and some time to relax. It is sometimes very rewarding to sit on the deck with a cold drink in one hand and a camera or pair of binoculars in the other, wating for the animals and birds to come to us! There have been some National Geographic-type wildlife interactions seen right from the deck over the years.
After each game walk or drive, gourmet meals will be served by the resident chef – a cornerstone of the Bilimungwe experience – varying from authentic bush barbecues to a make-your-own-pizza lunch. Something else to look forward to!
In the late afternoon we will go out again for a game activity, either a drive or a walk with the local expert ranger.
Once again we will return to camp to enjoy the African cuisine and surroundings, reminiscing about our time so far and why it took us so long to come on this trip! Then we will retire to our rooms for a good night’s rest.
DAY 11: South Luangwa National Park (Bilimungwe Bush Camp)
We have another full day in this part of South Luangwa today, our final full day of the safari. As a result, we will make sure we pick up all the species that we still might need for our trip and target lists.
We will start with breakfast once again and then a game activity. We will return for a great lunch and some relaxation time, and the set off again into the bush in the afternoon.
One of the reasons you will fall in love with South Luangwa like we have, is that this is still “old” Africa. Little has changed since explorer David Livingstone walked here in the late 1800s. It is without doubt one of the most scenic and spectacular wildlife areas on the African continent.
South Luangwa is not all about big game and range-restricted mammal species though, as the park also hosts over 400 different bird species. It holds some very special species that serious birders travel from all over the world to see, including 39 birds of prey and a further 47 migrant species. Avian highlights include Pel’s Fishing Owl, Lappet-faced, Hooded and White-headed Vulture, Southern Ground Hornbill, African Skimmer, Goliath Heron, 5 species of kingfisher, Western Osprey, African Spoonbill, Great White Pelican, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Stork, Allen’s Gallinule, Dwarf Bittern, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Lilian’s Lovebird, Narina Trogon, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Racket-tailed Roller, Babbling Starling, Shelley’s Sunbird, Dusky Lark, Red-winged Prinia, Cardinal Quelea, Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetail, and large colourful flocks of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters.
We will return to camp and enjoy a last dinner together in breathtaking Zambia tonight.
DAY 12: South Luangwa to Lilongwe and Departure
And so an amazing Malawi and Zambia wildlife safari unfortunately comes an end.
After breakfast we will say our goodbyes to the wonderful staff at Bilimungwe and head north. We have a bit of driving ahead of us today, but the journey will obviously be very scenic. It will take about 6 and a half hours to reach Kamuzu International Airport outside Lilongwe.
*Please note: there is also an option to drive to Mfuwe International Airport, about 2 hours away, and then take a private charter flight from there to Kamuzu International Airport outside Lilongwe. You can also fly from Mfuwe to the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, from where you can catch your onward or homeward flight.
Wherever we part ways, we will say our final goodbyes after an amazing African safari of these two awesome landlocked countries. We will wish each other well and you will continue on your onward journey or homeward flight. Hope we see you again soon!
*Please note: extensions to Lake Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana or Namibia can easily be arranged. Please contact us and we will gladly assist.
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