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Lovely Liwonde | One of Malawi’s Real Treasures

Liwonde National Park: A Treasure of Malawi

Liwonde National Park is one of Malawi’s most beautiful parks. Located on the southern tip of Lake Malombe, just south of Lake Malawi and near the Mozambique border, Liwonde with its incredible wildlife reintroductions and translocations, has become a haven for wildlife.

A Story of Transformation

Liwonde is a story of a park rescued from destruction and catapulted towards a bright future as a Big-5 safari destination and one of Malawi’s key protected areas. Founded in 1973, when tourism to Malawi was at a low point, the 350 square miles park fell into disrepair. Poaching and human-wildlife conflict escalated. There were more wire snares in the park than large animals and the predators had vanished. Liwonde was a park in terminal decline.

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Bolstered by the incredible success of nearby Majete Wildlife Reserve, a forward-thinking partnership was formed between Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the non-profit organisation African Parks. In 2015 African Parks assumed management responsibility for Liwonde and embarked on the painstaking process of transforming the park into a viable ecosystem and a promising safari destination. What was equally important was building good relationships between the surrounding communities and the park, as no protected area can flourish without benefiting its human neighbours.

Revitalisation and Conservation Efforts

In the intervening years, Liwonde has been reinvented and revitalised. After implementing some of the most effective conservation law enforcement measures and training in southern Africa, utilising advanced technology to protect and monitor wildlife, and removing more than 40,000 wire snares, it was time to bring the animals back.

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While elephant numbers in Liwonde were historically stable, other wildlife had not been quite as fortunate. In 2017, African Parks began re-establishing Liwonde’s predator population by bringing back cheetah, which had been absent from the park for a century. This was followed in 2018 by a founder population of 10 lions. In 2021, after a 60 year absence, Liwonde was set to receive a pack of 8 endangered African Wild Dogs. But as luck would have it one of the females was pregnant, and the pack welcomed nine pups six weeks later, the first litter of wild dogs born in Malawi in decades! In 2019, 17 black rhinos were relocated from South Africa to Liwonde, in one of the largest international black rhino translocations in history. The now thriving Liwonde ecosystem also supports massive herds of over a thousand buffalo, and the park is also one of the best places in Africa to see the endangered sable antelope. Wildlife translocations and reintroductions have transformed Liwonde into a real sanctuary for Malawi’s wildlife.

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Challenges and Triumphs

Sadly, in November 2022, tragedy struck in Liwonde. The GPS collars on the adult wild dogs went quiet. After searching for the dogs, the monitoring team found the entire pack of 18 dead. Poisoned. A disaster.

But in some recent exciting news, African Wild Dogs are back in Liwonde! On 26th February a new pack of wild dogs arrived in Liwonde from South Africa. After keeping them for some time in a holding boma for acclimatisation, the dogs have this month been released into the bush and are roaming free in the park.

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A Bird Watcher’s Paradise

One bonus of increasing the predator numbers in Liwonde was the return of aerial scavengers. When African Parks took over the park in 2015, vultures were absent. Today hundreds of sightings, of at least six vulture species, have been recorded. Vultures aside, birding in Liwonde is exceptional all year round, with over 460 species recorded, including some birding specials like Lillian’s love birds, Pel’s fishing owls, Boehm’s bee-eaters, and Livingstone’s flycatchers.

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When to Visit Liwonde

The best time to visit Liwonde is during the dry season, from April to October. As the park is dry, wildlife clusters around the remaining water of the river systems. However, the rainy season offers its advantages. When the first thunderstorms darken the November nights, the bushveld transforms from a veritable dustbowl to an emerald-green paradise.

5 Reasons To Visit Liwonde

1. Some of the best river-based elephant, crocodile, hippo and general wildlife viewing in Africa.

2. Home to the rare and critically endangered black rhino.

3. Fabulous cathedral-like woodlands with good populations of buffalo and sable antelope.

4. The amazing views of palm-studded floodplains.

5. A bird watcher’s haven with easy viewing of Pel’s fishing owl, Boehm’s bee-eaters, Lilian’s lovebirds, and Livingstone’s flycatcher.

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Where To Stay in Liwonde

As one of Africa’s better-kept secrets, the Liwonde experience is incredible value for money, with budget to high-end accommodation options available.

Kuthengo Camp

Located on a large open plain stretching towards the Shire River in Liwonde National Park, Malawi, you’ll find Kuthengo Camp, with four spacious, en-suite safari tents, each with a bathtub an outdoor shower, nestled among fever trees and baobabs. From adventurous game drives and walking safaris to tranquil boat cruises along the grand Shire River or cooling off in the plunge pool, there is something for everyone.

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Mvuu Lodge and Mvuu Camp

Hidden amongst the iconic fever trees of the magnificent Shire, Mvuu Lodge overlooks Namagogodo lagoon, as it flows from the park interior out towards the river. 5 comfy tented chalets with private viewing decks, 3 spectacular secluded suites with plunge pools and outdoor showers in every room. This is the perfect spot for early morning bush walks, slow sailing on the Shire, thrilling game drives or meaningful community engagements.

Mvuu Camp has a spectacular vantage point on the banks of the Shire River. The river is a magnet for wildlife and draws an abundance of fauna to its banks. The camp, comprising 14 units, is a mix of spacious stone and canvas chalets and specially designed family tents. An impressive thatched dining and lounge area offers a magnificent river vista that is framed by two large baobab trees. Dinners are sometimes held under the stars in a specially constructed boma. Mvuu Camp is a perfect option for family travel and is best suited for families with smaller children as it offers a two-bedroom chalet designed for this purpose.

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Chimwala Bush Camp

Chimwala Bush Camp is a self-catering camp featuring four ensuite canvas tented suites with stone walls and a stone family cottage that is separate from the main camp. The elevated thatched central area – lounge, dining area, bar and swimming pool – overlooks the Shire River and floodplain below. The camp is tucked up against Chinguni Hill in the shade of mopane and miombo woodland. Chimwala has a perimeter fence. The camp is deep within the park near the most productive game viewing areas. Chimwala Bush Camp will be converted into a fully catered camp in 2024, while the family cottage will remain self-catering. The camp is operated by African Parks and 100% of tourism revenue earned by African Parks goes to conservation and local communities.

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Stories From Sarah Kingdom