My name is Lauren and I am one of the volunteers at Malawian Style. I am from the USA, I love giraffes and epic African dance parties. In October 2015, I stayed 3 nights and 4 days at the Croc Valley Camp in South Luangwa, Zambia. This unbelievable national park offered more wildlife viewing opportunities than I ever could have imagined! Here is a rundown of my stay so that you can plan appropriately for your trip!
We left early in the morning from Lilongwe, Malawi to prepare for the 5 hour drive to Zambia. There are often delays at the border or on the road – so five hours is likely the minimum distance for the trip. The border crossing was informal in typical Africa fashion. You could exchange Malawian for Zambian kwacha for a fee from people on the road; buy electrical appliances or new Nike shoes – although there is no guarantee as to the quality of these items. Once inside we were immediately asked for the $50 USD visa fee and our yellow fever certificates. Since we had a small group we were able to clear this process quickly and continue into Zambia without much hassle.
We arrived at the Croc Valley lodge in the early afternoon. We had a welcome drink with time to relax and watch the cheeky monkeys run around the lodge before our first game drive. Herbert, the Zambian manager of Croc Valley explained the safari experience to us. Here in South Luangwa there is a regular schedule with set meal and tea times. Post drive, a delicious 3-course dinner at 8:30pm is served. Morning breakfast at 5:30am with 6am drive departures – tea and snacks in between with brunch to follow at 11:30am. Needless to say, we were never left hungry and the constant eating could only be accomplished because everything was so tasty!
As our safari was at the end of the driest season, visibility was spectacular and our first game drive was truly unbelievable. As soon as we entered the park, we had barely crossed the bridge when we saw an elephant and a huge pod of at least 30 hippos. South Luangwa has one of the highest crocodile and hippo concentrations in all of Africa – and they were everywhere! Within 30 minutes we had seen a family of elephants at a few meters distance, closely followed by a pride of lions crossing the road to find water. Our guide ‘Botha’ has been working in the park for 17 years and was an incredible resource to answer all our questions and drive us through the most scenic areas. This first drive we saw zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, puku, warthog and buffalo. The sunsets by 6pm and we took our tea in the orange ambiance while looking over a river full of even more hippos! We quickly realized our luck during these first hours as we saw next to nothing during the following night drive. However, it was refreshing to know that these animals are truly wild and it was exciting to anticipate what may be around the next corner.
Of the five game drives, my personal highlights included a leopard at night with an impala kill and a flock of colorful Carmine bee-eaters surrounding us during afternoon tea. The night sky and stars were unlike anything I’ve ever seen – the entire environment felt so wild. The three days really felt like something out of a dream!
In Swahili, the word “safari” means journey and has been adapted into the wildlife viewing experience that it is today. I was surprised at how much of a luxury this full experience felt. It felt like a proper vacation as most of the short trip included sitting, viewing and eating. I left feeling refreshed, in awe-of nature and ready for some serious exercise. Every drive felt new and exciting, as we never knew exactly what you would see – or what we may find. South Luangwa was an unforgettable place to have my first journey into the African bush and I’m thankful to Malawian Style for providing this experience!
Tip: most safari-goers wear neutral colors and as long as you don’t wear neon or red you are fine. The reality is that unless you are doing some serious tracking on-foot…this should be no issue at all. You just may look at little silly.
Come back next week for tips on what to pack!