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Explore Magnificent Southern Malawi

"Why I love Malawi in January"

by Jordan Price

From Ethiopia to South Africa, a long chain of interrupted mountains rise and fall alongside the iconic Great Rift Valley. Savannas, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and canyons fill the gaps. Halfway between this long ribbon of mountains lies Malawi, a democratic and English-speaking country. I lived in Africa over five years and have traveled in nine different African countries. Malawi is my favorite. The people haven't been ruined by the masses of tourists common in East Africa and the wildlife and birds are fantastic. Malawi has distinct seasons, each bringing different joys. I lived in Malawi for three years and January is one of my favorite months. Baby animals are everywhere, tourists are few, and the country assumes a park-like appearance. The parched and dusty dry season has concluded and the earth is adorned with fresh grasses and flowers. Baby elephants, unable to control their trunks, chase butterflies and humorously charge little acacias. Tiny newborn warthogs, vervet monkeys, and yellow baboons are an endless source of entertainment.

From a birders perspective, January is a wonderful month to go on safari in Malawi. At the start of the year, mammals and birds give birth in anticipation of the abundance of food that will soon arrive. Once the intermittent rains do arrive, every living creature is overjoyed and relieved. January is smack in the middle of bird migration season. Situated between southern and eastern Africa, Malawi has a diverse set of ecotones. The rich bird life is one of the better documented in Africa, with 650 species recorded. Over half of these species have been seen by guests of Mvuu Camp & Lodge, the only lodging inside Liwonde National Park and where we will spend nearly six days. The park protects critical habitat, including the languid Shire River, lush forests, seasonal wetlands, wooded hills, and savannas. As the only outlet of the 2,300' deep and 360 mile long Lake Malawi, the Shire joins the mighty Zambezi River before reaching the Indian Ocean. The famous Dr. Livingstone (of, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume") traversed the park and we can visit an enormous baobab tree he recorded in his journals.

I have deliberately crafted our 10-day Southern Malawi Safari for bird lovers as well as anyone interested in Africa's incredible wildlife and culture. Given the very affordable price, the January 2018 trip is expected to sell out quickly. On the first day of our safari, we will arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city. That evening, we will meet with researchers from the African Bat Conservation Project. They’ll teach us about the bats we will expect to see during the safari, and we may join them while they monitor urban bat populations.

The next morning, we will head south to the colorful riverside town of Liwonde. As we thread our way between mountains and farmland, you'll immediately notice an odd geologic feature of the country, inselbergs. Inselbergs are isolated granite mountains that look like enormous boulders. From Liwonde, we will travel 20 miles by boat to Mvuu Camp & Lodge. We will see many birds and mammals on the journey. Our cabins are located on bend of the Shire River, surrounded by indigenous trees. On the opposite bank, thick reed banks and groves of borassus palms and greenish/yellow trunked fever trees often shelter herds of elephants.

Our accommodation in Liwonde National Park consists of canvas and thatched cabins (with electricity, hot and cold running water, showers, and toilets). Each cabin has a veranda where you can relax and listen to the sounds of the wild. In the late afternoon, we will board open Land Rovers and Land Cruisers to explore the flooded plains, and drier savannas and forests. As darkness grows near, our guide will select the perfect place for a sundowner. A sundowner is a longstanding safari tradition! It is a special ritual intended to deliberately mark the transition between day and night by relaxing at a scenic location and enjoying a beverage.

Once the sun completely sets, we will continue the safari in search of nocturnal animals. You will observe immediate changes in the park’s herbivores. No longer happy to prance and scamper on the open plains, they transition to furtive and cautious creatures. Our guide will use a tinted spotlight to identify nocturnal wildlife while sensitively protecting the eyes of each animal. We will end the day back at the lodge with a delicious meal. Later in the evening, hippos and elephants will serenade us to sleep.

We will spend five nights at this lodge, gaining thorough knowledge of this special part of Africa. Our daily activities in Liwonde National Park are always optional. They consist of an early morning bush walk, a boat safari after breakfast, and a late afternoon/evening game drive. If you decide to opt out of any activities, you may relax at camp, read, nap, or swim in the pool. Safari life along the Shire River is quite relaxing and evokes every notion of authentic Africa. 

Depending on the interests of our group, we may spend one morning visiting a local elementary school near the park. This is an unscripted opportunity to meet rural elementary school students. You can collect school and/or medical supplies to donate.  

After our last breakfast inside the park, we will board speedboats for our 20 mile journey down the Shire River to Liwonde town. Our next destination is the Zomba Plateau, where we will spend two nights. This mist-shrouded granite shelf rises above the leafy former capital of British Central Africa and Nyasaland. Our lodge, Ku Chawe Inn, is perched on the plateau’s edge. Queen Elizabeth visited in 1957. While gazing at the distant horizon, she said, “It offers the best view in the whole of the British Empire.” While on the plateau, we are free to hike in the forests or explore the town below.

On the morning of our second to last day in Malawi, we will travel to Blantyre and Game Haven Lodge. It will take us about two hours, though we may stop along the way to visit the National Museum, Mandala House, Central Africana Bookstore, or other areas of interest. This lodge is situated within the private Chimwenya Game Park and has an assortment of antelope and giraffe. Here we will relax and share stories about our safari adventure. The next day, our final day in Malawi, we will depart for Blantyre’s Chileka Airport for our flights back to the US.

The safari includes all meals, accommodations, tips, guiding, national park fees, group airport transfers, transportation between destinations, and emergency medical evacuation insurance. Jordan Price will lead the safari. For more information about the safari, the day to day itinerary, and other details, please contact Nancy Hamer at travelwachiska@gmail.com. Due to the affordability of this trip, we expect it to sell out quickly.

Here are some brochures to learn more about the safari:

BirdLife Liwonde

Maliawi Safari - Wachiska

 

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