After spending almost half the year hibernating in one environment, it was exciting to look forward to a new experience in one of the wildest areas in Zambia, Mfuwe. Mfuwe is the gateway to the South Luangwa National Park, which is one of the the world’s most diverse and unspoiled wildlife sanctuaries, so it only felt right to get back on the travel bandwagon and hit the reset buzzer from here. Planning for this particular travel adventure was different from my other trips, as I was going to travel with a few friends who also wanted to experience the valley. As with any group excursions, we planned for the trip by ascertaining and later budgeting for transportation, accommodation, activities, meals and beverages for a four day trip.
We hired a quantum bus that could sit 12 people and gassed up for the trip. The drive from Lusaka to Mfuwe took roughly about 10 – 11 hours with a few stops along the way. We got some scenic views of the Muchinga Escarpment as we drove through the Manenenkela area and our descent from the hills brought us to the Luangwa bridge where we got to see the meandering Luangwa river which partly forms the border between Zambia and Mozambique. There were a few other notable sights that we saw on the road to Chipata like the fresh fruit markets in Nyimba and the unusually coloured mosque in Katete. We eventually got to Chipata to grab lunch and some supplies before heading to Mfuwe.
Mfuwe has quite the rural setting which, I suppose, fits well into the unspoiled wilderness vibe that is meant to attract visitors. Mfuwe town does not have many amenities but you will get access to a bank atm and some local grocery and bottle stores that stock up essential items and regional food and beverage brands. However, Mfuwe has an international airport so, if you don’t want to drive to Mfuwe, you can actually grab an hour long flight from Lusaka on Proflight Zambia or check with regional airlines that fly to this destination.
The are a range of establishments dotted in and around the South Luangwa National park which offer different standards and experiences. You have the high end lodges like Kafunta, Lion Camp, Luangwa River Camp, Chichele, Puku Ridge, Time and Tide Chinzombo, FlatDogs and the Mfuwe Lodge, then you have lodges like Croc Valley, Marula, Thornicroft and Wildlife Camp that are easier on the pocket and also offer camping options. It is not hard to notice that the general options in the area are not necessarily tailored to cater to the average Zambian, as inferred by the costs, but that is a whole different conversation for another day and platform.
We were able to get a good group rate with Croc Valley Lodge for our accommodation and our activities were tailored to keep the trip easy going with a good balance of laissez-faire and coordinated options to allow people to not be busybodies, it was a vacation after all. Croc valley has such an inviting pool and deck area overlooking the Luangwa river basin. We spent some of our time here having a swim, enjoying some drinks and just lounging.
We also got into town and learned a bit about initiatives being used to empower local communities through tourism, while we grabbed a bite and some souvenirs at Project Luangwa. We visited a local Comaco store to grab one of my favourite snacks; dried fruit, and spent some meal times at Tinta’s, which is one of the more decent eating spots in the area other than Dorphils, which was still closed due to COVID-19. As my buddies grabbed snacks and supplies, I also got a chance to steal a moment to go to the Tribe café which houses ethnic inspired home goods from Tribal Textiles in such an aesthetically pleasing environment.
We had an evening game drive on our second day and a morning game drive on our third day, both of which covered enough ground around the 9,059 square kilometre park. I relished the epic sunset of the evening drive and appreciated the variance in animal sightings in both game drives. I highly recommend taking at least one morning and evening drive to be fully immersed the circle of life experience.
The park offers a multitude of game that will satisfy most animal-sighting bucket lists. I especially appreciate that one can see four of Africa’s big five in the park. I was fortunate enough to have sighting of four leopards, one of which was on the hunt for its supper. I saw the lazy lion after it had finished chewing down a hearty lunch and once again got to experience the graceful but unmistaken presence of the Ndhlovu (elephants). I barely got a glimpse of the buffalo taking a morning drink by the Luangwa river banks but perhaps I’ll see the herd on my next visit. The park also has other notable animals that are normally highlighted in wildlife documentaries; wild dogs, warthog, zebra, hyenas, crocodiles, hippo and the Thornicroft giraffe which are unique to this park. Boasting over 300 species of birds with about 39 of these being birds of prey, the South Luangwa National Park is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. I finally got to see a colony of carmine bee-eaters that provided a splash of colour to the sun-scorched river banks.
Being able to unplug from the bustle of the big city and experience nature in a different setting was so rewarding. I hope you are inspired to see this side of Zambia soon. I am available to give you extra info if you reach out to me.
- The drive from Lusaka to Mfuwe drive is approximately 9 – 10 hours. The road gets a bit bumpy as you head into the Muchinga escarpment area but it is pretty neat once you cross the Luangwa river all the way into Chipata. The Chipata – Mfuwe road is mostly tarred with occasional potholes so, drive at a moderate speed.
- As you descend from the escarpment, before you head down to the bridge, there is a pit stop which offers an assortment of woven goods, dried fish and some local crafts.
- There are about three toll gates on the entire journey from Lusaka to Mfuwe so ensure you carry some cash and your identity document.
- Flights to Mfuwe can be accessed from Proflight Zambia, they normally have discounted fares every other week.
- I can recommend Croc Valley and Marula Lodge as relatively affordable accommodation options and they are actually in close proximity with each other.
- Marula lodge is quiet, open spaced, has more lawn and sit down spots than Croc Valley. They normally have antelope, zebra, ellies and hippos that pass through their grounds regularly as they head to and from the river at different times of the day.
- Croc Valley is a more youthful option with a larger pool, gym, apartment with bunk beds and a unique viewing deck that has grown to be a watering hole for locals to enjoy some sundowners and conversation. It is much bushier than Marula and has common occurrence of monkeys so be careful not to leave stuff lying around.
- Joseph – 0974 407 277 is an honest, reasonable and reliable cabbie that can shuttle you to an from Mfuwe airport or even shuttle your movements within town.
- Most lodges have tour guides and agents for game drives but if you do not intend to pay the steep fees for that activity, you could contact Ackim – 0974 315 225 / 0961 196 619 who is an independent safari guide that provides the game drive experience for a fraction of the cost.
- Mfuwe is hot! Average day time temperatures do not normally dip below 20 degrees Celsius so it is advisable for you to carry light, neutral and earthy coloured clothes so you blend into the environment.
- There are local grocers who provide most basics. I preferred buying most of my supplies from Mayana’s which has a little more variety.
- Ensure you carry inspect repellent as the valley is ridden with tse tse flies which have a nasty bite. Most tour operators provide some on the game drives but its recommended you have one too, even for other activities.
- The Luangwa River full of crocs and hippos and is therefore, dangerous, do not attempt to swim or have canoe activities.
- As with all other travels, when you get to these beautiful sites, be responsible and do your part to preserve them.