Home to all the Big Five, Liwonde National Park is Malawi’s most established safari destination. Its defining feature is the wide Shire River as it meanders through a compelling tropical landscape of raffia palms, giant baobabs and lush fig trees. Always rewarding, Liwonde seriously upped its game when a dynamic NGO called Africa Parks took over management in 2015. Since then, many thousands of snares have been removed, a ranger training center has opened, cheetah and lion have been reintroduced, and the genetic pool of the park’s black rhino was boosted by the relocation of 17 individuals from South Africa.
Discover Liwonde National Park
Motorboat safaris, dodging between the 2,000-odd hippos, that inhabit this stretch of the on the Shire, are genuinely thrilling. Large crocodiles bask on the sandbanks, herds of elephant emerge from riverside reedbeds to slate their thirst, and a dazzling aquatic birdlife includes saddle-billed stork, palm-nut vulture and white-backed night heron.
If it’s the Big Five you’re after, elephant and buffalo are encountered on most game drives. Lion and black rhino are also likely over the course a few days, but leopard sightings are rare. Other large mammals include hippo, impala, waterbuck, sable antelope, bushbuck, warthog, vervet monkey and yellow baboon.
Liwonde’s riverside camps are magic at night. A white noise of frogs and insects is regularly interrupted by grunting hippos, whooping hyenas and roaring lions. Keep an eye open for Pel’s fishing owl, a massive nocturnal raptor that hawks over the river after dusk.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded; guided walks offer your best chance of ticking localized woodland specials such as brown-breasted barbet, Boehm’s bee-eater, Lilian’s lovebird and Livingstone’s flycatcher.