The Heart of Africa: Luxury Luangwa Safari & Lake Malawi

A 12 day trip to Zambia 
4.25 out of 5 stars
4 reviews

Uncover the heart of Africa, combining two exquisite and untouched destinations. First explore South Luangwa National Park, a seductive paradise that connects the highlights of big-game safari. See the predators and follow the trails around the Luangwa River for three days, then disappear into the remote bush for some thrilling safari under canvas where there is a new activity every day. Finally, you will escape to Lake Malawi and enjoy five days of revitalization beside sandy beaches and fresh water.

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Lusaka, South Luangwa National Park, Luangwa River, Lilongwe, Lake Malawi, Cape Maclear

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Lusaka to South Luangwa National Park – Big Safari Introductions in the Heart of the Park

The journey to South Luangwa is a thrill, soaring into the north of Zambia, touching down in a park that is many hundreds of miles from the nearest city. You are greeted and assisted at Lusaka Airport, transferring onto a light aircraft that follows the lines of the Great Rift Valley, crossing swathes of forest and long stretches of open plains. You touch down beside Thornicroft’s giraffes, just one of the species that are endemic to the park. Elephants are close by, and it is not long before you spot a herd of these boisterous characters that amble in and out of the trees. It is a short drive to the camp, and you start to see more of the wildlife cast, like large herds of buffalos, and the peculiar white spots that distinguish bushbuck from their antelope cousins.

Standing on the banks of the Luangwa River in the heart of the park, Luangwa River Camp is a luxurious property that is ideal for a safari introduction. There are only five suites, hidden beneath a canopy of ebony trees, gazing over the hippos that play in the water. Your suite is stylishly furnished, with a veranda and sunken stone bath offering prime vantage points over the river, great places to continue the safari after each activity. Enjoy a complimentary massage upon arrival, then spend the afternoon on an introductory game drive in the surrounding area, before a relaxed evening of private dining on your deck.

You may wish to read some of our travelers' Zambia safari trip reviews to learn more about this exciting tour.

What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation at Luangwa River Camp, domestic flight, massage, safari, dinner

Day 2: South Luangwa National Park – Lounging on the Luangwa River as the Safari Continues

Wake up to the sound of hippos, their voracious jaws chomping on the grass beside the river. As you enjoy breakfast on the veranda, a herd of puku scampers past, coming for a drink along the shores. Before you have even started the game drive, you have also seen a herd of roan antelope beneath the veranda, plus a herd of eland, imposing in size even though they are on the far bank. Luangwa River Camp is situated in the heart of the park, and the drive can go in many directions depending on your preference. Each activity is flexible, so you might choose to spend the whole day driving, exploring the northern section of Zambia’s flagship safari destination. Or you could drive for a two to three hours closer to the lodge, returning for lunch and an afternoon activity.

This first full day is all about diversity. Impalas gather in huge herds, joined on the plains by Crawshay’s zebras, another endemic species. Elephants are as common as the ebony trees, the giants of a landscape that is nearly devoid of people and vehicles. Spotted hyenas scurry past the vehicle, and you follow their snarls towards the shores of the river. They are the first of many predators that you will see here. Lions are easy to spot, with a large pride basking on the open plains, or roaming along the edges of the forest. Serval and African wild cats are regularly seen on nighttime drives, an activity which is possible on all nights of your safari. But the most memorable of predatory safaris sights are provided by leopards and wild dogs. These are usually elusive animals, but in South Luangwa, they are found in abundance.

What’s Included: accommodation at Luangwa River Camp, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: South Luangwa National Park – Continuing the Relaxed Safari Experience with Drives and Walks

With this South Luangwa safari, the daily itinerary is fully flexible. Set off at dawn with a flask of coffee and a snack, seeking out leopards and lions completing their nighttime hunts. Jaws crunch into black and white limbs and you hear the grunting roar of a large male lion warding off scavengers. Stop for a picnic breakfast, the sun rising above the trees as a sundry of animals dot the plains below. Or you could spend the morning on a walking safari, learning how to track different antelopes while standing amongst the herds. Between November and April, you can also safari by boat, the morning hours an ideal time to admire wildlife coming for a drink.

Stay out in the bush with a picnic lunch, or return to the lodge for lunch and a siesta accompanied by the antics of the hippos down below. An afternoon activity follows, each drive or walk takes you to a different part of the park. Along the river, you find drama, with predators setting traps for the ungulates that come to drink. In the forest, you get closer, the dense foliage making wildlife harder to spot but easier to approach. On the open savannah areas, you will see more animals. Discover huge herds of antelope, and within the first three days, you will have learned how to identify sable antelope from roan antelope, puku from reedbuck, and impala from oribi and hartebeest. After returning to the lodge for a snack and a quick drink, the safari can continue with a nighttime drive, the best time to find predators on the prowl.

What’s Included: accommodation at Luangwa River Camp, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: South Luangwa National Park – Luxury Safari under Canvas in a Remote Part of South Luangwa

During the first three days, you are in the heart of the park, a great introduction to Africa’s different animals and safari activities. The intimacy of the experience is enhanced as you follow the Luangwa River into the south of the park. Very few people come out here, and although it’s not a private concession, it feels like a private safari playground. There are no fences, and Mchenja Bushcamp positions you in the middle of the wild, with luxurious canvas suites overlooking the river and surrounding plains. Shower beneath the stars in open-air en-suite bathrooms, watch baboons playing in the clearing, and listen to the soundtrack of nature from your huge bed. Although it is a camp, it is not camping. The suites have polished wooden floors and elegant furniture, feeling like what you would expect in a hotel. However, the canvas walls help provide a deeper connection with nature.

The flexible approach to safari continues, with a wide range of activities on offer. This southern section of the park is great for tracking wild dogs. They move in packs, majestic creatures with strange fur coats. Silent and stealthy, they scamper across the savannah, following the spoor left by small antelope like impala and oribi. Then they explode into life, tracking their prey with real venom. Wild dogs do not have the power of lions or leopards, nor the speed of cheetahs, but like hyenas, their strength comes from their stamina. After separating an impala or a zebra from a herd, they start the chase. At first, the prey gets away, but the wild dogs keep running, splitting up to cut off any escape routes, pushing the prey onwards, sometimes running for over an hour, waiting for their victim to tire. This is not an everyday sight, but South Luangwa is one of the best places in Africa for witnessing these rare dramas.

What’s Included: accommodation at Mchenja Bushcamp, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 5 – 6: South Luangwa National Park – Exploring the Best of the Bush on Foot and by Vehicle

Spend the day on foot, expert trackers leading you across the open plains. An armed ranger accompanies you but is needed only on the rarest occasions; such is the skill of the trackers in keeping you away from the predators. With a walking safari, you follow the ungulates, like Crawshay’s zebra, Cookson’s wildebeest, herds of eland and kudu, and nimble grysbok and duiker. These animals usually run from the noise and size of a safari vehicle, but they are less frightened by anyone on foot. Trackers show how you can move slowly and silently, approaching the animals until you are within just a few meters. The true size of the animals can be appreciated from this perspective, particularly the impressive eland and hartebeest. Other giants might be encountered from a distance, including elephants, giraffes, and buffalos, three species that will get your heart racing.

Walks in this part of the park can be a few hours, or you can spend the full day exploring areas that are completely inaccessible to vehicles. Another option is to combine walks and drives, with a vehicle picking you up after a three-hour walk across a remote trail. Over these two days, the flexible safari continues, and the focus is on the intimacy of the experience. Three days at Luangwa River Camp provides a great overview of the different animals and landscapes. Three days at Mchenja Bushcamp is all about the immersion in the wild, a chance to savor the atmosphere and authenticity of a big-game landscape. When the sun sets, the adventure can always continue with another game drive.

What’s Included: accommodation at Mchenja Bushcamp, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7: Lilongwe to Cape Maclear – A Glimpse of Color and Culture En Route to Lake Malawi

Today is the only significant day of travel on your trip. First, drive through South Luangwa, a game drive that provides a farewell to the area’s mammals. There is a direct flight connection from the park’s Mfuwe Airstrip to Lilongwe, Malawi’s vibrant capital. You are picked up by a local guide for the three to four-hour drive to Cape Maclear, a remote village on the southern shores of Africa’s most beautiful lake. This drive gives you a great glimpse into Malawi, an incredible array of color and enthusiasm can be found along the remote roads. Check into Pumulani Lodge, and settle into the escapism of the lake, with your luxurious suite perched above the water.

What’s Included: accommodation at Pumulani Lodge, international flight, transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8: Cape Maclear – Relaxing on Africa’s Most Beautiful Lake

The water glistens, and the morning sun reflects off soft waves created by the breeze. It is remarkably blue and absolutely pristine, a body of water that always encourages you to take a dip. The beach is mostly deserted, a curve of soft yellow sand for lounging the day away. Rugged cliffs and hills provide the backdrop, and mango trees rise randomly all around you.  Your suite is vast and has a chic style, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering lake views, double monsoon showers and roll-top baths, and sitting rooms with comfy wooden furniture. These days are yours, and a number of activities are included, though on this first full day at the lake, you will probably want to kick back and do nothing.

What’s Included: accommodation at Pumulani Lodge, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Cape Maclear – Exploring Rural Malawi on Foot and Mountain Bikes

You have five days at this lodge on the southern lakeshore, and it is easy to slip into the escapism. Non-motorized activities on the water are included, as are trips into the surroundings on foot and bike. You can peddle to traditional villages, where you feel the “warm heart of Africa,” and explore the beauty of simplicity. Malawi is arguably Africa’s most welcoming country, and there will usually be a crowd of children following your journey through a village. Guides can arrange visits to local schools and homes, should you wish to see more local life. This activity is just a suggestion though, and you can also simply relax at the lodge.

What’s Included: accommodation at Pumulani Lodge, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Cape Maclear – Adventures on the Water: Sailing Lake Malawi by Private Yacht

A dhow, a traditional wooden boat, sets sail, using wind-power to take you silently across the water. In the West, it would be called a yacht, but it is more appropriate to call it a dhow, a vessel that is also common on the eastern coast of Africa. It is spacious and serene, the sail extending from the bow, the stern of the dhow perfect for sitting back and relaxing. Guides take the dhow out every afternoon for uninterrupted sunset views on the lake. But you can also explore the water during other parts of the day, just one of the non-motorized water activities included in your stay. One exhilarating option is to take the dhow to a snorkeling point on the water.

What’s Included: accommodation at Pumulani Lodge, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 11: Cape Maclear – Free Day on the Water

Spend five days in Cape Maclear, and you completely succumb to the rhythm. Malawi is probably Africa’s most laid-back nation, the ambiance dictated by the tranquility of the lake that runs almost the full length of the country. Everything is done slowly here, which is great when you want to get away into nature and reenergize the batteries. Lounge beneath the mango trees, watch pied kingfishers swoop onto the water each morning, take sundowners onto the dhow, dine beneath the stars, and appreciate the remoteness of this getaway on the water.

What’s Included: accommodation at Pumulani Lodge, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 12: Cape Maclear to Lilongwe – Departure

You depart Africa from Lilongwe, following the three to four-hour drive back to the capital city. But you will enjoy a relaxed final morning at the lodge before your departure.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast



Your custom trip package will include accommodations, transportation within the country, guided tours and activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24X7 support during your trip. 

Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates!