Liwonde National Park
(Entrance gate: early-18.00 daily, USD10 for international visitors, USD7 for international residents, USD1 for Malawians per 24hrs, and free entry for accompanied children under 12. Daily fee for private vehicles USD3 to USD15 depending on weight)
Liwonde National Park is situated south of Lake Malawi, about 160km (100 miles) north of Blantyre. Although the reserve covers only 548 sq km (212 sq miles), Liwonde National Park is the top destination and the most popular game parks in Malawi. The park has a vibrant landscape of dense cathedral mopane woodlands, lagoons and fertile floodplains dotted with ancient baobab trees and Borassus palms. The game viewing is enhanced because the Shire River flows along its western border and making it ideal spot of boat safaris as well as the usual ones on foot or in 4x4s.
The park is managed by African Parks since August 2015. African Parks has greatly impacted the park’s conservation. Poaching has been brought under control and more than 36,000 wire snares have been removed since 2015, and the construction of a new 117km electrical perimeter fence has decreased human-wildlife conflict, resulting in zero human fatalities since July 2016. As a result of their efforts and reintroductions of animals, the number of tourists has increased by 25 per cent and revenue has increased by 70 per cent since 2016.
Liwonde has a variety of accommodation options to suit everyone’s budget and style. The upmarket Mvuu Camp and Lodge lies on the banks of a lagoon just off the Shire River, while the more southerly Liwonde Safari Camp and Bushman’s Baobabs lodge are suite to budget travellers. It is possible to drive around several tourist roads, some of which are only accessible during the dry season. There are also community guides to guide you around the park for hire at the main gate.
Liwonde National Park is said to have a population of approximately 12,000 large mammals, including African buffalo, antelope (including Common eland, the endangered sable antelope, and waterbuck), baboons, bushbuck, impala, kudu, hyena, monkeys, and warthogs. The Shire River is home to a population of approximately 2,000 hippos and 2,000 crocodiles. According to CNN, about 800 elephants are found in the park as of 2017.
In addition to this, black rhinos were introduced to Liwonde and the population has grown to fourteen in 2015. Seven cheetahs were reintroduced, and the population has already doubled with the birth of eight cubs in 2017. Ten lions were also introduced from Majete Wild Reserve and South Africa in 2018.
The combination of rich riverine, mopane and glass land habitats means that birdlife here is very varied – 400 of Malawi’s 650 species are found here including Pel’s fishing owl, African skimmer, brown-breasted barbet, Lilian’s lovebird and Livingstone’s flycatcher. October to January brings Bohm’s bee-eater to the park.
Liwonde was at the epicentre of one of the largest elephant translocations in history, where a total of 336 elephants were relocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to help restore that reserve in 2016 and 2017.
Getting there and away
The main park gate is 6km east of Liwonde town. There’s no public transport beyond here, though you might find a matola to take you as far as Bushman’s Baobabs. From the gate to Mvuu Camp is 28km along the park track (closed in the wet season); a 4WD vehicle is recommended for this route.
Another way in for vehicles is via the dirt road (open all year) from Ulongwe (not Lilongwe)., a village between Liwonde town and Mangochi. This leads for 14km through local villages to the western boundary. A few kilometres inside the park is a car park and boat jetty, where a watchman hoists a flag to arrange a boat from Mvuu Camp to come and collect you. This service is free if you’re staying at the camp.
Alternatively, if you make a booking in advance for Mvuu Camp through Wilderness Safaris in Lilongwe the camp through Wilderness Safaris in Lilongwe the camp can arrange a boat transfer from Liwonde town.
For those without wheels, the best option is to get any bus or minibus between Liwonde town and Mangochi and get off a Ulongwe. In Ulongwe locals wait by the bus stop and will sometimes take you by bicycle to the park (this take about an hour).