One of Malawi’s smaller national parks, Liwonde is nevertheless the closest thing the country has to a classic big game reserve. Dominated by the broad Shire River that drains Lake Malawi, this wilderness area is a mix of mopane woodlands and marshy floodplains and boasts a rich and colourful birdlife.
The river acts as a magnet for larger animals, and the best game viewing is often experienced while on a boat safari, gliding past pods of hippos, herds of elephant and the many antelope species gathered on the palm-lined shores. Game drives explore the park's expansive floodplains - the grazing grounds for sable and roan antelope, buffalo and impala - while night drives offer the chance of seeing jackal, hyena and serval cats.
Visitors can also go on guided walking safaris in the separate rhino sanctuary contained within the reserve – part of the Rhino Tracking Experience which contributes to the conservation of this highly endangered species.
Since the recent reintroduction of black rhino, Liwonde has become a Big 5 reserve but bear in mind that sightings of the big cats – leopard and lion – are rare: this is not a destination to come with a big game checklist. Instead, a Liwonde safari will appeal to adventure travellers who want to go game viewing in a very off-the-beaten-path environment with excellent guides who focus not only on the larger animals but on smaller creatures too. The bird watching, with a crossover between Southern and East Africa species, is said to be among the best and most accessible in Central Africa.
Our top picks for accommodation in Liwonde are the luxurious and intimate Mvuu Lodge and the comfortable walk-in tents at Mvuu Camp – the latter better suited to families or those on a budget. Both of these camps have a phenomenal riverside setting and guests wake up to a soundtrack of bird song and hippos harrumphing in the river below.