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Liwonde – The perfect safari you have always dreamed about?

Originally from Malawi, Gabi grew up around the world as the daughter of a diplomat, but The Warm Heart of Africa soon called her home. She now lives in Lilongwe with her husband, three dogs, a cat, a tortoise, and six guinea fowl. She spends as much time in the bush or on Lake Malawi as she possibly can, enjoying life on the water or photographing the Big 5.

Liwonde – the perfect safari you have always dreamed about?

What comes to mind when you think of the perfect safari? Incredible animal and bird sightings? Private vehicles and guides? Or perhaps seeing the landscapes and its inhabitants from the land, by boat and by air! Perhaps you’d like your own private concession with limited numbers of other guests in the complete wilderness – the true ‘off the beaten track’ feel. Let’s throw in a beautiful yet small lodge with great staff and food. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The perfect safari destination doesn’t exist…

Liwonde National Park is all of the above. With only 3 lodges in the park and less than 40 beds in total, this is where is it’s all at and combines perfectly with the rest of Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique.

Liwonde has always had the charm of its surroundings and beauty, the birds (over 450 species), the palm trees, the incredible sunsets and sunrises, lots of elephants, and a fair share of antelope, zebra, buffalo, etc. However, unfortunately, it fell victim to years of poaching due to a demand for bushmeat, which destroyed the park and the ecosystems… Then came African Parks to the rescue!

African Parks has moved mountains and made magic happen in Liwonde. With a small population of black rhino introduced to start with and many more thereafter, followed by cheetah who have thrived, going from seven to eighteen in the last few years, with new litters of cubs each year. Lions were reintroduced and are doing well, and a large portion of the ever-growing elephant population was relocated to Nkhotakota. This is not new and you would have read all about this on the news… and maybe even in our newsletters!


However, the real results in Liwonde are what only you can experience yourselves in the park. The numbers of kudu, sable, waterbuck, and impala have quadrupled and are a direct result of the 40,000 snares wire traps removed from the park. Side striped jackal and hyenas are more common thanks to the increase in predators and the birdlife seems to be better and better, even the vultures have returned. From Mvuu Lodge I spotted 4 different kinds of kingfishers at one time and a flurry of other beautiful feathered friends, as well as many mammals…

As I looked out from the beautiful deck at Mvuu Lodge, overlooking the lagoon, I could see all of the below at one moment in time.

4 species of Kingfishers (1 Malachite, 1 Pied, 1 woodland, 1 brown hooded)

* Oh and for the record, there are another 3 species that we saw during our stay in Liwonde (Giant, Striped & Grey Headed).

From that very deck, without having to move an inch, we saw African fish eagles, cormorants, monkeys, baboons, various bee-eaters, lilac-breasted rollers, swallows, egrets, ibises, weavers, hippos, crocs, elephant, kudu, bushbuck, waterbuck, warthog and much more. It is not uncommon to see kills here, from this very deck I have seen a croc take a terrapin and a baboon bully a baby bushbuck for dinner. There was also a recent sighting of the local resident crocs taking an impala for dinner off the banks of the marsh into a death roll and cheetah take down an impala in the car park.

kingfisher malawi

The game drives were, as expected, fantastic with sightings of lion and cheetah and of course an abundance of plains game including various antelope, warthog, buffalo, zebra, and much more. Nocturnally we enjoyed various species of mongoose, civets, genets, serval, owls, … but with this was the breathtaking beauty of Liwonde and the diversity of flora and fauna in the park, especially the scenically beautiful sun setting in the distance over Chinguni Hills reflecting over the Shire River and bursting through the palm trees. The diversity of landscapes from open savannah and wet marshlands to thick forests allow for a huge diversity of game and birds.

We were fortunate to enjoy Liwonde by air and did the sunset helicopter flight with African Parks. It is breathtaking to see Liwonde from the air especially with the perfect golden light as the sun was setting behind the hills. But the highlight of this flight was learning about what African parks have achieved, below are a few examples of a long list:

  • Removed 40,000 snares from the park and showing us all the projects from the air.
  • Reintroduced cheetah/lion/black rhino and translocating 500 elephants.
  • Managing community/wildlife conflict by funding chilli and honey plantations (bees and chilies deter elephants raiding crops) and creating as many jobs as possible for locals within their sector. AP then buy back these commodities and sell on, essentially creating demand and encouraging a better economic climate in the area….

So if you want an amazing helicopter flight and a feel-good factor, knowing that the money you spend on this experience is helping conservation and communities as the funds go directly back into the cost recovery of the helicopter, which is used for anti-poaching, etc. Contact us to add it to your next trip.

On this trip, we not only wanted to have a good time in Liwonde, learn as much as we could, and try to make a short video but also wanted to touch on projects/ small businesses in and around Liwonde that you should consider when visiting the park.

Obviously, it goes without saying that if you are coming internationally you should definitely consider the below to combine with Liwonde:

  • Mount Mulanje: If you are into adventure and natural beauty, but don’t fancy the commercialised Kilimanjaro, and are looking for a more off the beaten track and budget-friendly option, then Mulanje might just be for you which summits at 10000ft. Mulanje is about a 3hr drive from Liwonde so we would recommend stopping off at the Satemwa Tea Estates/Zomba en-route.
  • Satemwa Tea Estates: Not far from Mulanje and widely regarded as one of the most scenically beautiful spots in the country. Old school Huntingdon House (another small business that we love) is a beautiful old house converted into a beautiful boutique lodge with huge bedrooms, lush green gardens, and wonderful scenery and birdlife. Learn about tea production and join the tea tasting… or cycle around the estates. Roughly about 2hrs from Liwonde but worth considering stopping in Zomba on the way.
  • Zomba Plateau: Halfway between Mulanje and Liwonde, Zomba is the perfect spot to break up the journey. Zomba market is hugely popular on the way up the plateau. Zomba Forest Lodge is a favourite of ours, another small owner-managed property with fantastic service and cuisine. Make the most of the walks/ horse-riding/ bike rides and venture out to Zomba Dam or Williams Waterfall. About 1hr drive from Liwonde.
  • Lake Malawi: Over 800 species of cichlid fish endemic to the lake, and complimented with crystal clear blue water, incredible birdlife, sandy beaches, and picturesque photography opportunities. The closest part of Lake Malawi is about a 2hr drive from Liwonde. Some of our favorite hot spots on this part of the lake are Makokola Retreat, Mumbo Island and Blue Zebra Island Retreat…. Or jump on a flight to Kaya Mawa on the Northern Lake Shore. 2 – 3 hrs drive from Liwonde depending on who’s driving…! 😉
  • Balaka: The Art House is a small guesthouse, boasting incredible décor, design and impressive gardens, and a very tasty Italian restaurant. This is a great place to stop for a delicious Italian lunch (or overnight). Only about an hour’s drive from Liwonde en route to Lilongwe.
  • Dedza Pottery Lodge: Another great pitstop for a delicious lunch on the way in or out of Lilongwe. They also have incredible pottery and can design and tailor-make pretty much ANYTHING. However, they do take a long time to make so if you do want anything tailor-made you may want to order 4-6 weeks in advance by visiting their website.
  • Lilongwe: If you want a night or two in the city to do some touring, visit local markets, go to the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (which rehabilitates either orphaned animals, who have been rescued from illegal trade or who have been injured in the city and will be released in the wild), or visit Four Seasons and the beautiful gardens and interesting projects. We recommend staying at Kumbali Country Lodge or Latitude 13.

If you would like to visit Liwonde National Park, contact us!


About the author

Originally from Malawi, Gabi grew up around the world as the daughter of a diplomat, but The Warm Heart of Africa soon called her home. She now lives in Lilongwe with her husband, three dogs, a cat, a tortoise, and six guinea fowl. She spends as much time in the bush or on Lake Malawi as she possibly can, enjoying life on the water or photographing the Big 5.

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