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Untouched Africa: Malawi and Zambia

January 27, 2018

For more than two decades, Kafunta Safaris has specialized in

providing visitors to the region with extraordinary jungle adventures in Zambia.

 

From the African bush to the crystal blue waters of Lake Malawi and Victoria Falls, Sub-Saharan Africa is a destination many dream of visiting but find intimating because of its geographical distance and perceived lack of comfort, safety and activities for younger family members. The reality is, it’s a big continent with plenty of offerings for everyone.

 

For those travelers looking for a transformative experience without having to compromise on luxury, the less frequently visited Malawi and Zambia are your ticket to digital disconnection and reconnection with yourself and your loved ones. Both countries contain some of the most breathtaking and pristine regions of Africa, ranging from deep within the bush where you can view the big five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and cape buffalo) to the crystal blue waters of Lake Malawi and mighty Victoria Falls. Their plethora of barefoot luxury accommodations and life-changing experiences won’t break the bank.

 

While Liwonde is one of Malawi’s smaller parks (540 square kilometers), it is the perfect introduction to Africa’s sensitive conservation ecosystem. Sadly, the park was nearly poached out on a commercial scale by 1972, when Liwonde was officially given national park status. While there were significant efforts to return endangered species, such as the black rhino, without proper governance the poaching problem rapidly increased. Even so, Liwonde boasts the highest density of elephants. Five hundred currently roam the park. 

 

Malawi’s successful restoration of Majete Wildlife Reserve, a national park farther south, within seven years of taking over its management proved pivotal. In 2015, Malawi brought in Africa Parks to manage Liwonde, then described as being in “terminal decline.” Among the many sobering statistics shared by Craig Reed, Manager of Africa Parks, was the following: “In 2015, when we came on board to manage the park, 26,000 wire snares were found, and only 10,000 large mammals remained. Do the math: the animals didn’t stand a chance.”

 

Within two years, Africa Parks successfully reintroduced several of the native species into the sanctuary, including the cheetah and rhino. Now is the time to start booking your travel to Liwonde, as Africa Parks will be reintroducing the lion and leopard in early 2018 and all of the big five and other native species will be returned to their previous populations by the end of that year.

 

Travelers can stay at the rustic luxury Mvuu Lodge situated on the Shire River with ample elephant, rhino, crocodile and bird viewing. Mvuu Lodge has some of the most knowledgeable guides in the park for both game drives and walking safaris. Guests can enjoy sunrise or sunset river cruises down the Shire River. In addition to the work being done to protect the wildlife, Mvuu supports up to 50 children at a time from the Mtendere Orphan Care (shelter and schooling) in the surrounding Njobvu Village. Village and school visits or donations from guests are welcome and can be arranged through Mvuu Lodge or Malawian Style (www.MalawianStyle.com). With the return of the wild, two new lodges will be opening. In 1859, David Livingstone first stumbled upon the ninth-largest (600 km long x 80 km wide) and fourth-deepest lake (740 km) in the world, known as Lake Malawi. This spectacular body of water is bordered by three countries (Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi) and contains the largest number of fish species of any lake on the planet.

 

The Kaingo Camp overlooks the Luangwa River, giving guests the view of a lifetime. 

 

After a few days in the safari dust, explore the resort town of Cape Maclear located on the southern shore of Lake Malawi surrounded by mountains and set in Lake Malawi National Park. Although five-star luxury accommodations are lacking on the mainland, the plentitude of things to see before heading over to the remote, private and sustainable Mumbo Island more than compensates.

 

On the mainland, Cape Maclear offers sunrise hikes overlooking the beaches and Lake Malawi’s beautiful blue waters, windsurfing, kayaking, swimming and local village visits. For local immersion experiences, Malawian Style can arrange custom village jaunts to shop, meet with the local tailor, enjoy sunset visits to a fishing village and tour inspiring community-development projects.

 

There is great economic need in the communities of Cape Maclear. Some of the stand-out projects under way that make for eye-opening experiences are by Sustainable Cape Maclear, which works to create sustainable jobs for locals and gives travelers the opportunity for authentic connection through private drumming lessons, learning to create local arts and crafts, and dinners and cooking lessons with a family. Visitors also can learn about the Cape Maclear Recycling Center. Nine locals are employed to collect rubbage from the hotels and recycle items such as wine bottles into beautiful hand-etched glasses for resale in shops. Additionally, Sustainable Cape Maclear supports Paper for the People, training residents to recycle paper, create stationery and sell the stationery at local hotels and markets.

 

To learn more about education initiatives in the community, visit Sinthana (the translation means exchange), started by local resident Brighten Ndawala in 2006. Sinthana is a learning center for nursery-school children to adults and offers a library, nursery for children ages three to five, a permaculture program and a computer center which teaches participants Excel, Word and Publisher. Sinthana has more than 120 children in its Keepod program who learn about research and the Internet. The program is in need of primary and secondary school books, and although the center has more than 30 donated computers, these are quite old.

 

Immersing himself in the development of the surrounding community, Brighten also collects clothes for an annual sale to raise money for the programs. Sinthana is 80 percent self-sustained by the local community, with a goal of 100 percent by the end of the year. Contact Malawian Style to arrange a visit with Brighten.

 

Cape Maclear might be right on the shore of Lake Malawi, but droughts and water are still an issue. The area has rain only for a few months a year (typically November to March), and without purification the water is unsafe for drinking. The Ulimi Irrigation Project is an irrigation pump built to fight the rampant famine in the area by creating co-oped farmland. The goal is to provide 74 farming families with a plot of land, allowing for the introduction of nutrient-rich vegetables to the surrounding communities’ diets. Over the past six months, Ulimi has had success growing maize, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, chili, pumpkin, radish, chard, carrots, green beans and herbs. Schedule a visit through Malawian Style to learn how you can be part of the solution.

 

After a full day of immersion in and learning about the local community, the most popular place for sundowners on the mainland and kid-friendly food is hands-down the lively Funky’s. For accommodation on the mainland, you could consider the honeymoon suites at Mgoza Lodge or, a 30-minute drive away, the five-star Pumulani.

 

Located in Lake Malawi National Park, Mumbo Island is only one

kilometer long and considered one of Africa’s top sustainable lodges. 

 

Cape Maclear is the launching point to the private, pristine, remote and award-winning (for its commitment to sustainability) Mumbo Island. The tiny spot offers some of the best freshwater scuba diving in the world and the finest snorkeling on the lake. The eco solar-powered lodge has only five units (two twin tents and three reed chalets) and a family unit tucked away in the forest off the main beach. Besides fisherman, guests have the island all to themselves for snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, diving and cruising around the island at sunset. Ample reptile and bird viewing is to be had. 

 

After enjoying a few restful days on the lake, explore a bit deeper into Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Bordering the Luangwa River, the southern part of the park contains some of the most breathtaking and untouched wilderness in Africa, in large part due to the park’s successful anti-poaching campaigns. South Luangwa National Park is renowned for its walking safari, which allows visitors to view elephant, hippo and even lions up close under the supervision of professional and knowledgeable armed guides.

 

Given the size of the park, it is suggested that travelers spend a couple of days exploring different areas and their unique offerings. Kafunta River Lodge is a great option for families. It’s located away from the park’s busy Mfuwe gate and has one of the most scenic views of the flood plains of the South Luangwa River. Here animals, including elephants and hippo, come to drink. Great game and bird viewing is guaranteed. The lodge offers a spa, pool and the only natural hot-spring tub in Luangwa Valley.

 

If being at one with nature while not compromising on the finer things in life is more your travel style, check out the rustic and remote Nkonzi Bush Camp deep inside South Luangwa National Park. Nkonzi is the definition of glamping with walk-in safari tents with en-suite bathrooms set beside the dry Mushilashi River sandy bed and surrounded by indigenous woodlands and grassy plains.

 

The camp owner and lead guide Gavin Opie is a proper bushman with extensive knowledge of the park’s bird and wildlife. He’s also good for a story or two of his adventures living in the bush as you relax around the camp’s open-air bush bar or campfire in the evening.

 

Thorntree River Lodge offers guests luxurious experiences

including a trip to Victoria Falls, sunset river cruises on the Zambezi River and rhino tracking. 

 

Kaingo Camp overlooks the Luangwa River within the prime area of South Luangwa National Park and offers lodge style accommodations with a communal dinner table. Unique to Kaingo and its bush camp, Mwamba (approximately four miles deeper into the bush), features several “animal hides”: spots along the river and watering holes where guests can get up close and personal to the wildlife without being noticed. Kaingo also has a star bed in which two lucky guests can stay overnight in a tree under the African sky, unimpeded by light pollution and culminating in sunrise over the river.

 

South Luangwa National Park is world renowned for the walking safaris. All three camps offer them with trained and armed guides. A reasonable level of fitness is required as are sturdy, closed-toe walking shoes.

 

Believe it or not, there is some amazing shopping in and just outside South Luangwa National Park, and purchases sustainably support the local community and wildlife.

 

Mulberry Mongoose’s motto is “Beauty from Brutality.” Founder Kate Wilson and her local team take snare wires used in the park to poach wild animals and create beautiful statement jewelry. In addition to the snare-wire line, they use local designs and materials such as Zambian coins and guinea fowl feathers to create gorgeous pieces. If you are going to shop, why not also support animal conservation? A portion of the proceeds goes back to conservation of the park.

 

Just outside the perimeter, visitors can learn how Tribal Textiles sustainably employs the local community through jobs supporting traditional Zambian art and design with a modern twist, as well as shop many local Zambian designers. Also nearby is Project Luangwa. This might look like merely a colorful shop, but inquire within to learn about how the crafts sold inside support the community through education, gender-equality initiatives and employment of local women to teach business skills and crafts.

 

Located in Malawi, Lake Maclear (top) is deemed a

UNESCO Heritage Site and is one of Africa’s most popular travel destinations. 

 

No trip to Zambia is complete without exploring the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambezi along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is the world’s largest sheet of falling water, with a width of 5,604 feet and a height of 354 feet. The newest luxury accommodation is Thorntree River Lodge. Environmentally friendly, it is set in the heart of the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park on the banks of the great Zambezi River and a stone’s throw away from awe-inspiring Victoria Falls. You can enjoy plenty of adventure from hikes above or along the falls, crocodile cage diving and even a swing right off the top.

 

Please note that all lodges and camps mentioned in this article provide safe drinking water and cuisine that caters to an international audience. For more information on how to book your trip to Malawi or Zambia, contact Malawian Style at www.MalawianStyle.com.

 

 

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