Liwonde National Park – Four-star luxury

We are heading up the Shire River to Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi. It is early afternoon and the sun is warm and bright.
Elephants on the riverbank in Liwonge National Park
Elephants on the riverbank in Liwonge National Park

– Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park

”My name is Danger” 

We straighten up and focus on the man in the back of the boat. “I am your guide and captain today,” he continues with a bright smile. It won’t be dangerous, as long as you keep your hands inside the boat and sit quietly in your seats”.

We are heading up the Shire River to Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi. It is early afternoon and the sun is warm and bright. In the distance, we see the mountains on the border to Mozambique and along the river, lush savannah spreads out from the shores. Soon we discover the hippos. They are absolutely everywhere. Large flocks enjoy themselves in the water and one or two are grazing along the riverbank. After a while we also discover elephants and Danger slow down the speed of the boat and drive quietly nearer to the riverbank. We are able to get a closer look at the majestic animals. The boat is fast and small and the drive up the river to Mvuu Lodge takes approx. 45 minutes.

Hippos along the river bank in Liwonge National Park.
Hippos along the riverbank in Liwonge National Park.
Utsikt mot fjellene på grensen til Mosambique. Vi er på vei opp Shire elven i Liwonde nasjonalpark.
View of the mountains on the border with Mozambique. We are heading up the Shire River in Liwonde National Park.

We love traveling in Africa

And would like to visit every country on this fabulous continent. But not all countries are as harmless and easy to travel to as Malawi. However, we have already visited a number of countries in Africa over the last ten years and we have traveled in many different ways.

We have lived in mud huts without any comfort other than friendly people who share the little they have. Last year we rented a hous and did our own arrangements in South Africa and we have lived in simple guesthouses. We have also stayed luxuriously as at Mvuu Lodge, where we will stay for the next 5 nights. Luxury lodges are often the only living option in many national parks. And we cannot deny that the luxury and service of many African lodges is so great that you become dependent. Personally, I can’t imagine a more fantastic holiday than at a lodge in an African national park with wildlife, fauna and not least, people who have a strong interest in taking care of their country with all the variety it can offer.

Trying to be a responsible tourist!

Of course, we do think about the difference between us as “rich” tourists and many of the Africans we meet who live under completely different conditions. But tourism can contribute to jobs and improved conditions for many in the immediate area. Mvuu Lodge employs more than 100 people and Liwonde National Park run by African Parks, also have a need for a big staff. Tourism in this area is based on creating the least possible footsteps and contributing to the development of surrounding villages as well as taking care of the important nature and wildlife on every level.

Grace, Per and David on the pier at Mvuu Lodge enjoy the sunset in Liwonde National Park. Grace and David are both employed at Mvuu Lodge.
Grace, Per and David on the pier at Mvuu Lodge enjoy the sunset in Liwonde National Park. Grace and David are both employed at Mvuu Lodge.

A good intention, even if things can be even better. But we hope that we can contribute to a continued positive development by being willing to pay well for the services we use and by communicating our experiences of Africa, which is far more than war and poverty. When traveling, it is important to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of tourism and to familiarize yourself well with the conditions in the country you choose to travel to.

We have almost reached Mvuu Lodge and we can see huge termite mounds extending towards the blue sky 

Hippos and tall termite mounds on land, Liwonde National Park
Hippos and tall termite mounds on land, Liwonde National Park

Two large crocodiles with large open mouths are enjoying the warmth of the sun on the nearest sandbank. Scarlet birds flutter around and some brave one land on a crocodile back. The boat slides slowly through a layer of aquatic plants with violet flowers and gentle and friendly employees assist us on land. They offer cold drinks and cold damp cloths for sweaty hands and face. Bags and suitcases are taken care of and we can enjoy the view of the river and the atmosphere of Mvuu Lodge and Camp.

The river bay at Mvuu Lodge is full of beautiful water plants.
The river bay at Mvuu Lodge is full of beautiful water plants.

The bar and dining area have no walls but have a roof for sun protection. Here we get our first information about the rules of the place and what is important to keep in mind. The area is not fenced and with wild animals everywhere, it is important not to walk on your own in the dark. After dinner, guards follow you back to the cabin. And if you are late for dinner and the dark has come, you will be picked up. So you are well taken care of.

Mvuu Lodge consists of two facilities, Mvuu Camp and Mvuu Lodge

We stay at Mvuu Lodge with 8 residential units and it is time for us to be installed in our unit. Each unit is well spaced around a plain where the river has many branches inward, almost like a lagoon. Tents functions as accommodation units and can be dismantled and moved. Actually, it is misleading to call it a tent, even though the walls are canvas and the windows are in thick transparent plastic. The tent stands on a platter well above ground level and has fixed ceilings and large sliding glass doors out onto the porch. 

View from the dining area towards the Shire river.
View from the dining area towards the Shire river.

The view from the porch is great and we can enjoy a relaxed hippo grassing

We are reminded that the large bulky animal can run up to 45 km per hour. So here it is important not to come between the hippo and its way back to the river. At the edge of the plain towards the forest, the baboons play. It is a large family group with members of all sizes and ages. They scream and run back and forth while two antelopes continue to graze without worrying the least. We observe all of this in five minutes and from our very own private porch!

The tent interior impresses us so much. A huge double bed with mosquito nets, beautiful linens and a large fan across, dominates in one part. But in our tent, there is great space, certainly 80-90 km including a separate shower room and toilet. We have a seating area, bookshelves, and cabinets and on the veranda, there are of course good chairs.

The day at Mvuu Lodge starts early

Per has ordered coffee at 5 AM and is looking forward to enjoying the sunrise on the porch with animal and bird life close by. In most places in Africa, it is common for lodges in the national parks to have a full board. That is, the price includes accommodation, all meals, and all activities. The activities at Mvuu Lodge are safaris in open safari car, boat safari on the river and guided walking safaris. You can fill your day with experiences from early morning to evening.

Morning on the porch in Liwonge National Park.
Morning on the porch in Liwonge National Park.

The first day we choose to go on a safari by car in the morning. Then we had a few hours of relaxation at the lodge and a boat safari on the river with sunset before dinner. We have our own guide, Justin throughout our stay at Mvuu Lodge. Our regular driver and guide Abasi who is with us for the three weeks we are in Malawi will also join us on safari today.

I’ve stacked myself up in the safari car with all my photo equipment 

The intention is to film this time and I hope for some good views. Per has acquired new binoculars and is looking forward to trying it out. We drive on bumpy roads through scrub and high grass away from the river. Occasionally the forest is dense and the jasmine smell that comes with a light gust of wind is wonderful.

It doesn’t take long before we see the warthogs. Many people think they are ugly, but I would rather claim that they are fun and charming. The thin tail stands straight up as they run and they crawl on the front legs when they are grazing. Getting up close and studying them in detail is exciting. But the warthog mother with two kids run away. Her mother instinct makes her shy and she wants to protect and hide the kids.

Liwonde National Park can offer many species of antelopes

Waterbucks are quite large and easy to recognize because they have an almost perfect white circle on their bottom. We see small flocks that stop and follow us with ears and eyes. Impala antelopes are smaller and grasses in larger herds. The bull has elegant horns that can be 90 cm. long. We also see Eland, which is the world’s largest antelope species. It can be two meters high. The Kudu antelope is characterized by its white, thin stripes running down from the back. A kudu bull has majestic twisted horns and poses proudly in front of the car. The rest of the family, several females and some small calves, stands at the edge of the forest.

Apart from a large number of hippos, Liwonde National Park is a great place to watch elephants up close

In Liwonde National Park you can see a lot of elephants
In Liwonde National Park you can see a lot of elephants

Liwonde National Park also provides elephants to other national parks in Malawi, most recently to Nyika in 2017. On all our trips around Liwonde National Park we see elephants, both single large males, and flocks with a matriarch and small cubs, the youngest, certainly not older than 2 weeks. As long as we sit in the car we can get quite close, but if we are on a walking safari, we must take some detours if we see a single male elephant or a larger herd.

For us, the highlight of Liwonde National Park was when we saw two southern-grounded hornbills. This is a large bird that can grow up to a meter high. It lives on beetles, scorpions, termites, snakes, and lizards. We heard the bird first, a deep bass sound that carried well across the forest. When we saw the first one, it had a snake in its mouth and the whole bird shook when it swallowed the snake.

Red Southern-grounded hornbill.
Red Southern-grounded hornbill.

Walking safari is my absolute favorite

Although one has to keep a distance from the large animals when walking, it is still very exciting. So much more of the little things are discovered when moving into a dense forest. Our guard walks first; he has a rifle and watches the surroundings carefully so we can concentrate on flowers and insects. Justin talks about everything people used as natural medicine in older days. As he is scratching the bark of a tree, we can see a bright red color underneath the yellow bark. In older days, it was used as malaria medicine, Justin tells us.

We stayed 5 nights at Mvuu Lodge so we had time to try out all the activities without the hassle. One day we spent the whole afternoon on our own porch and discovered varied wildlife just a few yards from us.

A turtle came along

It had a much faster speed than I thought it was capable of. Luminous through the shrubbery came an iridescent snake curving. It had no interest in getting close to us. The small birds chirp and flirt with each other, but seldom sat still long enough for me to get nice pictures. They jumped from three to three. A large tree stands close to our porch and down the trunk comes a colorful lizard. It stops and looks at us, then runs back up and we never see it again.

An arm of the river bends right below the porch and a large crocodile swims slowly and silently inwardly between the grassland and the woodland. I follow it with my eyes and wonder if it is a baboon it is looking for. But then it lifts its entire length, opens the gap and we hear it snatching its mouth as a gunshot. It was a heron it would have for dinner today.

We eat all meals around the same table in the common areas in company with the other guests and the management at the lodge. The food is lovely every single day and we entertain each other with stories from around the world. After a long day with many impressions, we plunge into bed long before midnight longing to wake up with the sun and to experience new adventures.

One evening, a grumpy male elephant visited us

We first discovered him on the grassland grassing together with a hippo. He was only 30-40 meters away and we could admire him while having dinner. After a while, he was content and wanted to move on. Then he broke his way through the dense vegetation between two of the cabins and ran towards the employees’ living quarters. A large elephant through the forest makes a lot of noise. But it is fun to experience the wild wildlife at such close range.

Lunch out in the bush with our guides and a Spanish family. Tiny little velvet monkeys tried to steal our food.
Lunch out in the bush with our guides and a Spanish family. Tiny little velvet monkeys tried to steal our food.

Boat safaris on the Shire River are part of the many activities at Mvuu Lodge

Varied bird life along the banks of the Shire river.
Varied bird life along the banks of the Shire river.

You can choose when you want to go on a boat. We chose the boat safari in the evening so we could enjoy the sunset from the boat. The Shire River has a very large population of hippos and crocodiles and a very diverse bird life. It is peaceful to drive slowly down the river and stop right along the riverbank with some drinks and delicious snacks from the kitchen. Nothing can get better than a sunset on the Shire River south of Malawi.

Sunset in Liwonde National Park
Sunset in Liwonde National Park

Malawi is a poor country, but it felt very safe to travel around and people were incredibly nice. You can still go on a safari in Malawi without driving in line in the national parks as you often do in Tanzania and Kenya. We traveled to Malawi during the rainy season without any problems. But the area, like Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was exposed to devastating storms and typhoons just a few weeks after our stay.

View from the common areas of Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park.
View from the common areas of Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park.

Facts about Liwonde National Park:

The park was established in 1973 and covers 548 kilometers of forest and savannah. Shire River runs through the park. The nearest town is Liwonde.

You can read more about our many safaris in Africa on:

Mountain safari in Nyika National Park

Ngoro Ngoro Conservation Area

Bwindi National Park

Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda

Ethiopian Air and KLM fly to Lilongwe, but you have to count on two stops along the way from Oslo. We spent 3 weeks in Malawi and the trip was planned in collaboration with Central African Wilderness Safari. After we made a list of the places we wanted to visit in Malawi, they made a suggestion for an itinerary and booked all the accommodations. We ordered the car and the driver/guide throughout the whole period, from the same company. The scheme was perfect. We want to emphasize that they didn’t sponsor us in any way. We did not tell that we have a travel blog and we paid the whole trip ourselves.

A movie from our entire stay in Malawi can be viewed on our YouTube channel:

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