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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?

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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

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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.

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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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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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