Luangwa Valley: A Safari Adventure for Two!

A Safari Adventure for two!

Having found myself a partner to adventure with we packed our bags and embarked on my latest journey! Lotte, also in the industry who runs Safari Design, joined me after a romance that was marketed heavily from my own team (she got more approval than I did)! I invited her on a FAM trip to see if she wanted to get to know me and Malawi a little better! From a country known as the warm heart of Africa I took a lesson from Malawi and decided to be a warm heart myself.

Flights were booked, a last minute 3 week FAM trip was on the cards. As it went quite well, my blog is going to be focused on this from a honeymoon angle and humour everyone who thought this day would never come!

An introduction to Malawi… and my Mom

So, I had already planned to meet my Mom at the lake for a weekend and ironically this would be the weekend Lotte would arrive and meet my Old Queen on day 2… no pressure! We blitzed the best of the lake properties in the south (read more here) and then headed further south to see Huntingdon and the Tea Estates (read more here) and hike Malawi’s answer to Kilimanjaro without the crowds (read more here). And so, our blog begins after a quick stop in Lilongwe and, with a lot of excited friends talking about the lovely lady on my arm, we set off for Zambia.

We were lucky enough to have dinner with the legendary owners of Ulendo who are friends of us both.  Ulendo, who we frequently use to fly our clients in style around Malawi and between Malawi and Zambia. They very kindly, after a few (or many) vinos agreed to fly us to Zambia the next day (don’t worry they aren’t the pilots!).

baboon on safari vehicle, chinzombo

First stop: Classy Chinzombo

We woke up at sparrows, headed to Lilongwe and boarded our quick 1hr flight from Lilongwe to Mfuwe, Zambia (for the record the drive would have been a rough 5hrs). Our man Charles, from Time + Tide was at the airport ready to meet us and to escort us to Chinzombo for our first night in the bush…

Getting acquainted with camp

A quick 45 min drive into camp, we were right on time for a late lunch and some quality time in our new (and extremely luxurious) private villa overlooking the Luangwa River.

We had a few visitors pop in to say hi, including warthog, baboon, banded mongoose and some great birdlife. We both finished off any last-minute work, as we were aware most of the places on this itinerary would be Wi-Fi free and a great digital detox. We headed for the highest of teas, crossed the river into the park and enjoyed our first game drive.

Safari Time

In true ‘Malawi Mike’ fashion I had my camera but forgot to pack a battery (maybe I did this strategically so I didn’t spend our whole trip behind the camera lens). I guess I would appreciate the sounds of nature and scenery and just paint a picture in my memory!  Charles was a fantastic guide, and as always, the Time + Tide vehicles were in great condition.

We had a great sighting of 13 Wild Dogs and a fantastic sunset, before heading back to luxury for a delicious dinner and a nightcap in our incredible villa.

giraffe spotted on game drive

A truly fantastic camp

Chinzombo really is classy and a perfect honeymoon location.

For concerns about Chinzombo being in a busy part of the park I would consider the following:

1) Time + Tide guides are fantastic and do their best to avoid busy sightings, but obviously do not want their guests to miss out either. So, whilst you will get many sightings yourself you may have to share some of the more unique ones!

2) Chinzombo is such a beautiful camp that if it is at the end of your trip you may just want to enjoy camp itself, plunge pools, surroundings and appreciate all the wildlife in and around camp. In this case I suggest enjoying the wilder Time + Tide bush camps (where we went next) for a wilder Zambia, deep into the park and finish in style at Chinzombo.

3) Chinzombo has a 12-month season and during the ‘green’ and ‘shoulder’ seasons (Nov – May) there are fewer vehicles around, more baby animals, more greenery for some striking photography, and off-peak pricing means you get more bang for your buck.

All in all, everything about our short time at Chinzombo was incredible. Great guiding with Charles, Gloria was a fantastic host (I had met her once before at Time + Tide Nsolo) amazing lodge and rooms (with WiFi for those of you who cannot live without it), complimented with exceptional food and service. 12/10.

luwi chill

Lazy Luwi

Next stop we would be heading to the one Time + Tide bush camp I had not been to previously, and also testing out the wild side with a sleepout. I had been to the other 3 Time + Tide bush camps (Nsolo, Mchenja and Kakuli) at the end of 2018 and they were all fantastic with great wildlife experiences (even had lions in camp at Nsolo eating the cushions!). Sad not to be going back to any of them but excited to see Luwi.

After a delicious breakfast, and chasing the baboons off the vehicle we started making our way to Luwi, roughly a 1.5hr game-drive through the park (with camera batteries this time!).  A warm welcome from team Luwi and we instantly felt at home.

Discovering the camp

We settled in to our cute thatched chalet overlooking the vlei and respectfully avoided the elephants in camp. Lunch was delicious – I am always super impressed at the quality of the bush camp meals that are often cooked from an underground oven.

We popped by the hippo hide over lunch, which is about 200metres from the camp. Loads of hippos, a few crocs and a wide variety of birds… before we knew it, it was time to eat again… delicious cake! (I may have had 3 pieces but I had just hiked 46km up Mulanje so no guilt here).

lion luwi

The circle of life!

Off on another drive. An ellie had been taken down by some lions so we headed in that direction, and shortly before the sighting the smell gave the game away – the lions were still there, as were hyenas on the outskirts and the trees packed with vultures. As soon as the lions were done the hyenas and vultures were ready to pounce (by the time we came back here a week later the elephant was gone).  A slow drive back to camp for another tasty bush meal under the stars, and off to bed.

Feeding Time at Luwi

A delicious bush breakfast helped to wake us up, watching the smoke rise above the fire and the sunrise in the distance… and a couple of hippos very close by still munching away at their nightly 70kg grass intake (and FYI they can walk up to 40km over night but I am pretty sure these ones only walked 200m from the hippos lagoon)

An eventful morning drive, another delicious lunch, more tea and cake… Maybe it was day two that I ate so much cake… or maybe both – I hope nobody was counting but at least there is more of me to love, I am hardly a man of modesty after all! Anyway, I managed to walk some of it off en-route to the sleepout.

luwi sleepout

Sleeping under the stars in the Luwi riverbed

Nothing was too much to ask as Lawrence (the Luwi camp manager) looked after us like rock stars, while Annette (Luwi’s head chef) cooked us another incredible meal, and the scout guarded us from everything wild.

We left Luwi at 4pm and walked the 4km along the dry Luwi Riverbed, which was an incredible walk with great light as the sun was descending in the distance. Some great birdlife en-route, and roughly 1.5hrs later we arrived in time for sundowners!

The sleepout really took us back to nature with just a square mosquito net between us and the stars. Dinner again was exceptional. A couple of nightcaps later and we headed for our romantic star-bed, it’s quite an experience to be out in the open, falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas whooping and lions roaring in the distance…!

Exceptional experience

Sunrise and a hot coffee woke us in the morning, and yes, ANOTHER incredible bush breakfast!! What an unforgettable experience. It was time to head to our next destination so we said a sad good bye to team Luwi and went on our way.

chikunto

Charming Chikunto

Roughly a 1.5hr drive from Luwi lies Chikunto, a lodge I am familiar with as I have been there before and is in an area I know very well.

Chikunto is a relatively new upmarket lodge with German precision and design and solar everything.

Great location, great product

Set in a great location almost half way between Lion Camp and Mfuwe, it gets the best of both worlds in terms of great wildlife and very little congestion. Chikunto is a fantastic camp with 5 spacious tented chalets (one of which is a family chalet so the camp’s max occupancy is 12), delicious food, fantastic staff, good vehicles, good Wi-Fi (by bush standards) and an awesome infinity pool. It is an all-round great product at a good price point.

elephant at chikunto

Elephants and exclusivity

I had prearranged to have the lodge all to ourselves (ok this may have just been coincidence but shhh, I think Lotte still thinks I arranged this!). We were treated like gold and had some great wildlife sightings (and some GoPro fun with the elephants… such smart beasts, it was truly amazing how they knew the camera was there and did not step on it!). All in all, a great few days, and I have to say, the food here is arguably the best in the valley, this chef knows her stuff!

Quick trip to Lion Camp

Whilst at Chikunto we did a game drive to Lion Camp to show this stunning rebuild to Lotte. Lion Camp was completely rebuilt in 2017 and reopened in 2018. It is luxury at its best and in a similar league to Chinzombo (without the plunge pools). Where it loses on plunge pools it gains by being in the best wildlife part of the park and also a remote location with very few other vehicles.

A visit to Shenton Safaris

We had also pre-arranged to go check out Shenton Safaris camps – Kaingo and Mwamba bush camp, which is where Josephat (Chikunto head guide) dropped us off. I am a huge fan of Shenton Safaris. They are also in an exceptional part of the park for wildlife (the next camp south of Lion Camp and north of Mchenja).

a trip to kaingo

Shenton have a very homemade recipe that works, comfortable well decorated camps but not pretentious. Very tasty meals, fantastic well-kept vehicles with all the specialist photography vehicle equipment and they have excellent photographic hides and options to sleep out (above ground in decks with luxurious mattresses).

The Shenton guides are also very good and have been there a while so know the area like the back of their hands. We had elephants in camp blocking us from our vehicles and when we eventually did get out to go to Mwamba, we came across a fresh leopard kill.  Not a bad morning, and always great to catch-up with one of the Safari Sisters and Agata’s boyfriend Paul, who are both good friends of mine from Malawi.

The adventure continues: Tena Tena

Next stop was Tena Tena across the river in the Nsefu sector. Agata kindly dropped us at the crossing point, which is about an hour game drive through the park and very close to Time + Tide’s Kakuli (note only certain companies have access to crossing points, RPS being one of them).

game drive tena tena

Robin Pope Safaris were waiting for us. A quick canoe ride across the river, onto the Robin Pope vehicle and a 15-minute road transfer through the park to Tena Tena (another of my favorite camps).

It had been too long since I had been to Tena Tena so I was very excited to get back here and had a lovely surprise to see that Shannon was now managing Tena Tena. Shannon previously worked at Anabezi in the Lower Zambezi, another one of our favorites.

Bush luxury & great guiding

Tena Tena is a perfect blend of a luxury and bush feel built into the mahogany wood and it is perfect for honeymooners. The luxury safari tent feel is fantastic. There are only 5 units that are spread out enough to make you feel like you are the only people in the bush.

hyena pup

Our guide John was also very impressive. As we all know a guide can make or break your bush experience. To be fair Robin Pope do not mess around and all their guides are exceptional, and set the bar. The Robin Pope model is not pretentious but focus on the “back to basics” approach of an incredible bush experience while being accommodated in comfort. The experience they offer is arguably the best in the valley with exceptional guiding, comfortable well-decorated camps, tasty fresh food and well maintained vehicles.

Robin Pope Safaris Camps

We also popped by Nsefu (where I had visited in the green season, read more here). It was great to have a quick catch-up and coffee with Katherine and see the new photography hide they have added to the camp.

We are big fans of all the RPS camps but for honeymooners I think Tena Tena and Luangwa River Camp are the best as they are spacious and the rooms are set far apart.

giraffe calf

Nkwali and Nsefu the rooms are closer together, this is because they were two of the first camps in the park and the rooms were built close together for safety reasons, so better for small groups or friends that know each other and do not mind this.

Robin’s House and Luangwa Safari House are also perfect for those small groups or families wanting more exclusivity. Don’t forget all the fantastic RPS combos with Malawi, Zimbabwe and other Zambia product (and watch this space for some Mozambique combos too).

From Tena Tena we took a 1.5hr drive to Luambe (located in between North and South Luangwa).

Laid back Luambe

Huge respect to Mario and team Luambe for what they have done in the region. A lovely small remote camp in the heart of Luambe. Once again, I arranged a private camp (again, Lotte still thinks this is the case as there were no other guests in camp).

luambe bird

Wildlife returning

Luambe was a previously targeted area by poachers, but having a new camp, more roads and presence in the park, this security is already being felt with lots of wildlife coming back. The wildlife still has a long way to go and is quite skittish but with time this will become a huge conservation success story, especially with the exciting news that Luambe are adding a new small bush camp in a beautiful location.

A truly wild bush camp

Luambe is a great choice for clients looking for a wilder bush camp experience at a fraction of the price of what wild bush camps cost in South Luangwa.

Make sure to combine this with South Luangwa to guarantee some great wildlife sightings, as Luambe can be slower on this front but with that you have the park to yourselves and have a private concession feel.

Ernest was a fantastic guide and the vehicles are in good condition. The camp is basic but comfortable and the food is typical homemade cuisine. Nothing fancy but very tasty.

lion luambe

A good safari experience

In our time in Luambe we did see a wide range of bush babies, a male lion, a hyena, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, what felt like thousands of hippos (very dense population with pods of up to 400), a few crocs, elephants and some fantastic birdlife.

Apparently wild dogs are also very common. Carmine season is between Aug – Sept and is a fantastic time to visit (but maybe avoid the heat of October!). We really enjoyed a pleasant few days in laid back Luambe.

Wild walking in North Luangwa

So, from Luambe we took the 1.5hr drive to the Tafika Airstrip to fly to North Luangwa where we met Captain Rory. Rory is a pleasant young lad and a pleasure to fly with. We met In July 2018, I had travelled to the magical Tafika (also part of the Remote Africa portfolio of camps) and their wild bush camps Chikoko and Crocodile Camp (which can only be reached on foot), both are breathtaking with incredible wildlife.

zebra on walking safari

No vehicles here – everything here is carried in by foot… the only sounds are those of nature. Huge effort had been put in there and the food was very impressive I might add. I loved this.

I also spent some time at Tafika, in the Nsefu sector where they do have vehicles and fantastic wildlife, so more chance of spotting the big stuff and the cats. I loved both, and the combos, especially being surrounded by buffalo and mock charged by elle’s. The wild off the beaten track and unspoiled Africa.

Mwaleshi Camp

Back again in 2019 to learn about their highly rated Mwaleshi in North Luangwa and highly anticipated opening of the new camp, Takwela. We bumped into repeat guests from last year-which was a nice surprise (and a credit to Remote Africa Safaris and their products), and we were off on our scenic 25-minute flight over South Luangwa, Luambe and North Luangwa. Stunning views from the air of all the hippos, the odd elephant, antelope etc.

Our man “Special” (who is the driver, and transfers folk back and forth from the lodge) met us at the airstrip and transferred us to the crossing point of the Mwaleshi River, where we would walk across to Mwaleshi Camp.  Similar to the Kapamba River in South Luangwa this river is very shallow and crystal clear so there are no fish, crocs or hippos, and is safe to walk across or swim in.

Safari simplicity

Mwaleshi is a basic but comfortable bush camp with 4 rooms (2 permanent twins and 2 permanent king size beds). Steven is the in-house specialized (not trained by Special) guide and was fantastic, with great knowledge and a witty sense of humor. The food was delicious and the views spectacular.  We had one night here before walking to the much-anticipated new camp, Takwela.

hippo at Takwela

Takwela: worth walking for!

Takwela is about 10km up-river on the confluence of the Luangwa and the Mwaleshi, so the best of both worlds as there is a lot more action in the Luangwa River.

The walk was interesting and very clear the closer we got to Takwela the more the wildlife started showing face. After ANOTHER 10km walk I was excited to see the camp and justify some more cake.

Takwela is a good mix between Mwaleshi and Tafika, with bigger thatched chalets (currently three twins, but double twins so very spacious, even after all my cake I would only need 1!) Such a beautiful spot, with the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, huge diversity in vegetation with various natural hot springs, palm trees, lush bush and many resident hippos around the corner from camp.

Spots at sunset

This is where we had our first sunset, welcomed by some celebratory champagne for the opening of Takwela and being the first guests. Even the hippos were excited and there was a yawn and a grunt a minute. On the second evening while watching the sunset and the hippo’s activity, our guide Alex spotted a leopard in a tree across the river. Awesome sighting. Alex was another fantastic guide, and was a pleasure to spend time with.

hippo at sunset

The new kitchen and chefs passed with flying colors as the food was as delicious as all the other camps. All in all, we loved this experience and think if anybody wants a real remote, wild but classy experience they need to get to Takwela.

Till we meet again!

Sadly, this was the end of an amazing adventure. We were transferred back to the airstrip, where our man Rory was waiting to fly us back to Mfuwe Airstrip, which is a short 40-minute flight.

Kevin, from Fly Ulendo met us in Mfuwe (another long drive saved by Fly Ulendo) and we connected back to Lilongwe, Malawi (1hr flight) for Lotte’s last night in Malawi after a 3-week trip in Africa.  The old ‘Dugga Boy’ had finally found a beautiful companion and found himself somewhat tamed.

We stayed at several incredible lodges on this trip if you would like to stay at all or one of these, please get in touch!

game drive in south luangwa

Discover the lodges of the Luangwa Valley