Dream safari to plan – Pick and Mix in Zambia and Lake Malawi
Zambia tops the list of many safari specialists’ favourite southern African countries. The woodlands, the rivers, the elephants, the bright red sausage tree flowers, the Zambezi valley escarpment, walking safaris, boating, excellent wild dog and leopard sightings, and exceptional guiding make it a first-class safari destination. On top of that, the camps and lodges are wonderfully authentic, built with locally sourced natural materials, so you can feel at one with the landscape you are exploring. It also combines wonderfully with some R&R on the shores of Lake Malawi – regular flights meaning you can get from one to the other in the space of half a day. This classic combination of wildlife by the bucket load in Zambia and exquisite beaches on Lake Malawi is one of our favourite dream safari ‘pick-and-mix’ bush and beach options.
Zambia – Here’s what to expect:
Lower Zambezi – delightfully pretty and one of the premier national parks in Zambia, it offers a wide range of activities including canoeing, walking, and fishing. The wildlife viewing is excellent and there’s accommodation to suit everyone, from luxury lodges to simpler tented options.
South Luangwa – a true gem of a national park with incredible wildlife viewing, super guiding and accommodation options from luxury bush camps to sleep-outs under the stars. Nicknamed ‘Valley of the Leopard’, this is as good a place as any in Africa to see these elusive cats. Night drives and walking safaris offer a different perspective into the wilderness. Hippos abound, with the Luangwa boasting one of the densest populations in all of Africa.
Victoria Falls – The headline sight at Livingstone is, of course, Victoria Falls. Strewn with rainbows and dancing with spray, Mosi-oa-Tunya, (translated as the Smoke that Thunders), is more than a sight: it’s an experience. Admire the view from the air (light aircraft, microlight, helicopter all available) or on a guided walk. Adrenaline junkies can bungee jump into the gorge or white-water raft down the rapids. Picnics on private islands and sunset river cruises are among the gentler activities. It’s a great place for a few days at the start or finish of a safari.
Kafue – Zambia’s largest national park has a diversity of wildlife that is perhaps the widest in all of Africa, with some large prides of lion, cheetah and leopard. Wild dog range through the park and there are more antelope species here than anywhere else on the continent. The Kafue River matches the Zambezi in scale and its tributaries offer canoeing and boat safaris, complete with crocodile and hippo. The northern sector of the park is dominated by the Busanga Plains, a rich habitat home to plentiful wildlife and some of the best birdlife in Zambia. The small number of intimate bush camps in Kafue are packed with character and run by skilled professionals who live and breathe the bush.
North Luangwa – smaller than its southern counterpart, this pretty and little visited national park is heavily supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society and home to the only population of black rhino in Zambia. Walking safaris are particularly good here, while drives offer the chance to see some of the larger wildlife at closer quarters. The small handful of authentic safari camps are home to superb guides who delight in showing visitors this remote wilderness. It’s a great addition to a safari for anyone who wants to feel totally immersed in Africa.
Liuwa Plain – Away from the Victoria Falls, much of Zambia would be considered off the beaten track. Liuwa Plains, however, takes out of the way to a new level. Gloriously remote, it’s a magnificent wilderness of seasonally flooded grass plains and wooded islands – likened by some as ‘the Masai Mara meets Okavango Delta’. It is home to Africa’s ‘other’ wildebeest migration, carpets of wildflowers, and prolific birdlife. The lion and cheetah populations are burgeoning, and, unusually, hyena are the top predator with some clans numbering 50.
Lake Malawi – Here’s what to expect
Africa’s third largest lake, 360 miles from tip to toe, has a charm of its own and is paradise for kayaking, diving, snorkelling, wind and kite surfing, sailing and water-skiing. Clear water, generally calm weather and a number of gorgeous places to stay (families are particularly well catered for) all add to the appeal. It is an ideal choice for a ‘pick and mix’ safari combining Zambia and Malawi. Among our much-loved accommodation choices is quirky Mumbo Island, entirely off grid with a Robinson Crusoe atmosphere of rustic charm. For a more sophisticated air head to Pumulani, a stylish spot nestled into the hills at the southern end of the lake. Then there is Kaya Mawa, set on an island in the middle of the lake, which easily lives up to its reputation as one of Africa’s best beach lodges.
Safari suggestions in Zambia and Lake Malawi
The ‘Classic Safari’
Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa deliver a captivating safari experience with day and night wildlife drives, boating and walking safaris, plus fly camping and star beds for those who wish to try them. As good for first timers as for experienced safari goers you can’t go wrong with this combination. You will see plenty of lion, elephant, hyena, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and have excellent chances of seeing leopard and wild dog, all in the company of guides whose knowledge is exceptional. You’ll feel comfortable seeing the bush on foot or by boat, and magical sightings of elephants crossing a river or hyenas stealing a kill from a pack of wild dog are not uncommon. Try Tusk and Mane and Nkonzi for a super-authentic safari, or Old Mondoro and Puku Ridge for a little more luxury in the bush.
The ‘Victoria Falls and Safari’
This is a great itinerary if you want a few days on safari plus time to unwind, but do not necessarily want to just lie on the beach. Victoria Falls is choc-a-block full of adventures for all ages. Highlights include seeing the falls, a picnic lunch on Livingstone Island, a sundowner boat cruise on the Zambezi, white water rafting, walking with rhinos, canoe safaris, helicopter and microlight flights. A safari in South Luangwa, on the other hand, offers total wilderness, outstanding wildlife, expert guiding enjoyed on day and night drives, walking and fly camping. Try Chundukwa River Lodge or Tongabezi for the falls, and Flatdogs Camp, Tafika or Lion Camp for safari.
The ‘Next Level’
With just two tiny camps in 1,800 square miles, you would be hard pressed to call the North Luangwa busy, and enjoying walking safaris at Mwaleshi Camp and day and night vehicle safaris at Takwela Camp would be a fantastic way to experience this wonderful reserve. Further north, the vast Bangweulu swamps, some 3,800 square miles of marshes, lakes, waterways, and grasslands, form one of the most important wetlands in the world. While probably best known as a great place to see the bizarre shoebill, guests staying at the eponymous camp can also catch sight of the black lechwe that thrive in the swamps during boat trips and walks, as well as significant numbers of sitatunga, hippos, wattled cranes, great white pelicans, and plenty of mammals. An optional extra would be to visit the Kasanka Forest which lies at southern edge of this vast wilderness, and is the site of the planet’s largest mammal migration when up to ten million straw coloured fruit bats arrive each October from the forests of the Congo basin, to feed on the fruiting trees before leaving at the end of December.
The ‘Safari and Beach’
Zambia and Malawi work beautifully for those wanting an adventurous safari and beach combination (it is a particularly good option for families travelling with teens). You’ll find warm hosting and safari guides who go the extra mile to ensure you have a great time, plus enough variety to keep you entertained at every step of the journey. Combine two properties in South Luangwa, perhaps Time + Tide Kakuli and Time + Tide Nsolo – you can walk between the two – before flying to Lake Malawi for a touch of barefoot luxury where Nkwichi or Kaya Mawa would be great choices.
If you’ve still got the safari bug after a beach stint in on the lake, Malawi’s Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve are starting to rival those of their more famous neighbours and are well worth a visit.
Malawi’s national parks – what to expect:
Liwonde National Park – With assistance from African Parks over the last few years, this once lawless and snare-riddled park has been transformed into a remarkable wildlife haven. Cheetah and lion have been reintroduced, and over 300 elephant have been translocated to reduce pressure on the natural habitat. Today, it’s a first-class safari location teeming with wildlife and, with the Shire River flowing along its western border, offers superb river based elephant, crocodile and hippo viewing. With only a handful of safari camps it’s a peaceful spot too, and along with boating safaris visitors can enjoy exploration on foot or in 4x4s. Camps to stay at include Kuthengo and Mvuu Lodge.
Majete Wildlife Reserve – Another to have benefitted from African Parks’ input, this previously near empty forest has been turned into a flourishing wildlife destination with thriving animal populations and plentiful birdlife. Black rhino, elephant and lion have all been reintroduced in the last 15 years and it is now Malawi’s only Big 5 reserve. Truly off the beaten track – only three camps, one of those Robin Pope’s Mkulumadzi Lodge – wildlife connoisseurs will enjoy remarkable sightings in near isolation on foot and on wildlife drives.
We would be delighted to help you plan a dream safari in Zambia and Malawi. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.