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From Malawi to Zambia on a Solo Safari in South Luangwa

I found myself with a few days to spare at the end of my last trip to Africa. I’d been working in Zambia and Malawi for a while, but the time to go home was fast approaching. I wanted to step into the wild one last time, but I was on my own. Was a solo safari possible?

South Luangwa National Park Zambia (61)

Having only had a couple of days off in two months, I was ready for some rest and relaxation. I arrived in Lilongwe in the evening and checked into a little guesthouse. My plan was to lounge in a hammock until my flight. But I’m not very good at ‘lounging’, so somewhere between arriving and breakfast the next day, I’d decided that I wanted to squeeze in one last safari. So I got up early and took a little walk into town to see what I could find.

I headed for the Kiboko Town Hotel, because not only did they do safaris, they also did breakfast and I was a hungry lady. With stomach full, I popped into the office upstairs and explained that I had a flight to catch in 4 days and asked about the safaris they had. They had a 4 day safari to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia departing the very next day, and there was one space left. But I only had 3 days. I couldn’t risk getting back late on the fourth day and missing my flight, so after some discussion, we came to the conclusion that I would make my own way back… but that’s another story.

The following morning I made my way down to the Kiboko office, where I met 5 of the group, the van der Wal family from Holland. The eldest daughter Shanna and her friend Marit, had been volunteering in Africa for a little while, and the rest of the family had come over to visit. We were to pick up our sixth and final group member en route. So off we headed towards the Zambian border. In Chipata, on the Zambian side, we picked up Rapha, a very fun, Swiss guy, before stopping at Mama-Rulas Bed and Breakfast for a spot of lunch. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to Mama-Rulas as it happened. The first time had been 3 years before, when I was hanging out with the Zambian president, you know, as you do.

We continued on in our comfortable safari vehicle all the way, arriving in South Luangwa in the late afternoon. It was here, in this park, that I’d had my favourite ever travel day. I was more than happy to return.

South Luangwa National Park Zambia Solo Travel

South Luangwa National Park Zambia (2)

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South Luangwa National Park Zambia (6)It was early to bed after a hearty dinner by the river. The night watchman walked us to the bathroom and back, checking for animals as we went. The camp has no fences, so the animals can come and go as they please.

I went to sleep that night listening to the sound of hippos grunting in the river below. I couldn’t wait for morning.

South Luangwa National Park Zambia (3)  South Luangwa National Park Zambia (49)We were woken at sunrise. I got dressed and ventured out. Sitting on my porch, I smiled. Baby monkeys wrestled each other playfully on the grass and the day held the promise of adventure. I felt as though I were the only person in the world and I loved it.

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After breakfast, we hopped in our safari vehicle and headed out for our early game drive. Baboons gathered around the entrance, entertaining us as we waited our turn to pass over the bridge and into the park. I’d been on safari many times before, in fact this was my third time in as many weeks, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of the wind in your hair and the hope of seeing an exotic animal in the wild, so the excited feeling was always the same. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long before we had our first encounter. First up was a couple of giraffes, buffalo and an impala.

South Luangwa National Park Zambia (24)  South Luangwa National Park Zambia (20)

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South Luangwa

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South Luangwa National Park Zambia (40)  South Luangwa National Park Zambia (25)We continued on spotting a lilac breasted roller, (my second favourite bird in the world), a Pumba (warthog), another giraffe and and a zebra! Then it was time for a tea break and we got out to stretch our legs. There’s something very cool about leaving the safety of your vehicle in the middle of a national park. Even though you’re in little danger, venturing onto the turf of lions and leopards is a pretty thrilling.

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After tea, we came across a gorgeous herd of elephants, including some very tiny and shy baby elephants. Mama kept a close eye on us, but she seemed relaxed and we kept to a respectful distance.

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South Luangwa

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We headed back to camp for lunch and a rest, as we had another game drive in the afternoon. Over lunch we spotted a yellow billed stork and my favourite of all winged things, the African fish eagle, which happens to be the national bird of Zambia. Crocs and hippos mulled about, in and around the river, keeping cool in the midday sun.

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Back on the road in the afternoon, we spotted some kudu, sporting a few hitchhikers and the cutest baby zebra, well camouflaged in the long grass. Now I’ did something embarrassing that I am totally not embarrassed about! Aside from my ‘safari selfie’ (the downside of solo travel – not wanting to ask your new companions to take “just one more”, so you can hide the double chin, blink, weird angle), I also popped in my iPod and guess what I listened to? Go, on, guess (tell me in the comments if you think you know)!

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Our driver pulled over and turned the engine off. He pointed out into the bush. He could see lions. I spotted them quickly. They were the same colour as the surrounding landscape and you might have missed them, had for it not been for the flickering of black tip of their tails.

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As the sun started to set, we started to make our way back to camp. But not before running into another herd of elephants.

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We finished off the evening with wine and cards in the bar. Another wonderful day in the African bush.

Essential Info:

  • I travelled with Kiboko Safaris, starting in Lilongwe, Malawi.
  • Accommodation was very comfortable safari tents in a great camp next to the Luangwa River.
  • All food was provided.
  • The staff were great and super friendly.
  • The trip between Lilongwe and South Luangwa takes approximately 7 hours (it took me 12 on public transport on the way back).
  • A 3 day safari costs from $415 (price correct as of August 2014).
  • A Zambian visa can be obtained at the border. I had bought a double entry visa when I arrived at Livingstone airport a couple of months before. If you think you may be coming into Zambia twice, consider this option.
  • For more information on what to do or see in Zambia, see my Ultimate Guide to Livingstone or my recent post in National Geographic.
  • Take a good camera with a good lens. I just had a point and shoot here, but the zoom is great! I was lucky and we were up really close to the animals, but some are in the distance, so it’s good to be prepared.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    August 22, 2014 at 6:20 am

    looks amazing, still never been on a safari. I’m not a bird person at all , but that colorful one looks so pretty!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted…Why Don’t Americans Travel? (answered)My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Safaris are amazing! I was never much of a bird watcher before, but an Africa safari sure turns you into one! The lilac breasted roller is always a good one to spot! They’re tiny, so when you spot one it’s always a little triumph!

  • Reply
    Debbie
    August 22, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Into the wild!!!!! I love your photos and you are so brave! I wish I could go there one day myself!
    Kisses

    debsbug.blogspot.com
    Debbie recently posted…Photo of the day: Beautiful WarsawMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks Debbie, I love to get into the wild. It’s where I feel most at peace. You will get there! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jo
    August 22, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Wow, these photos are awesome. I was going to ask what zoom lens you were using, so I was surprised to hear you got such great photos from a point and shoot! This safari looks great. The Zambian tourist board should just go ahead and hire you, because all your posts are making me want to go there so badly!
    Jo recently posted…Confessions of a rubbish backpackerMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Jo,

      Yes, just a Sony bridge camera, but it did have an amazing zoom!

      Ha ha, yes, do you hear that Zambian Tourist Board? What Jo said! 🙂

  • Reply
    Family Affairs
    August 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    OMG they look a little like the same elephants that are on the top of my blog – also South Luangwa!! Amazing experience and loved all your photos – nearly all the same as mine!

    Lx
    Family Affairs recently posted…I MISS MY CHILDRENMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      It could be the same elephants – you never know! 🙂

      South Luangwa is one of my favourites! Those animals are just beautiful. No posing required!

      I just had a read of your blog and spotted my mate Becki on your Greece pics! The digital world is small! Happy travels!

      ps. Love that elephant selfie on your blog! Amazing!

  • Reply
    Michelle - Very Hungry Explorer
    August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Fantastic post.
    I’m trying to decide if you went with The Circle of Life or The Lion Sleeps Tonight or maybe both!
    Michelle – Very Hungry Explorer recently posted…VHE Eats: Ribs and Ramen in BrusselsMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 26, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Michelle! Glad you liked it!

      Ha ha – it was the Circle of Life! Bingo! 🙂

  • Reply
    rebecca
    December 23, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Fantastic story as always! My favourite … with the president.. as you do! haha. The pics also look so apealing.
    rebecca recently posted…Teaching English in the Black Forest with EnglischhausenMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 26, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks Rebecca!! This was a really lovely trip! And meeting the president was probably the most random thing to happen on my travels!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sam
    December 26, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Hi Helen. Your blog is amazing. We are trying to pin down just how to do this very thing, get from Lilongwe to South Luangwa NP without too much hassle. Your information on Malawi has been very great!

    However, I do have a question: When you crossed from Malawi to Zambia, or vice-versa, did you need to show the border guards your yellow fever card? Out of the borders we’re crossing, that’s the one that I’m worried about. I don’t want to get the jab unless it’s totally necessary.

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for reading!!!

      I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to show my certificate and I think (but don’t hold me to this) that both Zambia and Malawi are both Yellow Fever free, so neither country poses a risk to the other. However, where else are you going on your trip? If they are Yellow Fever risks, you may need it.

      To be honest, Yellow Fever jabs now last a lifetime, so no reason not to get it, as if you then decide to go to Tanzania etc, you’re covered!

      I just got public mini buses between South Luangwa and Lilongwe and was fine! And I was alone. The police looked in my bag at every check point but I smiled and was polite so no problems!

      Enjoy your trip!!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Angela
    February 8, 2018 at 2:41 am

    Hi Helen, Great site. Do you have any info on doing a 3-4 day safari, solo, leaving from lusaka? I have a few days, just like you did here, and would like to travel on one.

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 14, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      You can try Kiboko! I think they go from Lusaka too!

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