reviewer joseph hammond
If Kruger National Park is all about self-drive safaris and the Serengeti offers massive animal congregations, then Zambia’s South Lungawa National Park is about walking safaris, which were first pioneered there in the 1960s by the British conservationist Norman Carr (when he wasn’t posing with big cats or helping to establish nature reserves across Southern Africa). For those seeking adrenaline, South Lunagawa is also one of the few parks in Africa that allows walking safaris in lion territory—although it can be just as rewarding to see smaller animals.
Privatized in the 1990s, Mfuwe Lodge has the service to match any luxury resort hotel. All of its chalets have porches, which offer views of a lily-filled hippo pool or lush watercourses during the rainy season (during the dry season, one riverbed becomes a corridor for big game). You don't even need to go on a walking safari to see game—at Mfuwe Lodge, I saw a leopard, a pride of lions, and an elephant, who pulled at the branches of the tree next to my chalet at night, shaking the roof.
hotel name & website: Mfuwe Lodge
who: That trinity of serenity: me, myself, and I. The weekend that I visited, there was only one other guest at the lodge, an editor from National Geographic Traveler.
why: Searching for the spirit of Norman Carr.
when: A weekend in May 2015.
stay: Just eighteen rooms, which include rustic charm and full lodge and laundry services.
location: South Lunagawa National Park is one of the few big game parks in Africa that can be reached via public transportation. Once you’ve taken a bridge across the hippo-filled Lunagawa River, you're only a mile from the lodge. Although the lodge is just within the Park gates, the presence of water means that there are superb game-viewing opportunities. When I left the Park, I took a private taxi to the Malawian border for fifty dollars. The driver played “California Love” on repeat for an hour, and it was a good way to pass the time.
rooms: Eighteen different chalets. Some are meant for two guests only, but others could fit up to six with a combination of cots. The furniture is wooden or thatched, and the bathrooms are open-air. I took a warm bath, had a cigar, and read a week-old copy of the Financial Times before twilight, when I took a break to gaze at the game passing by outside my window.
pool/gym/beach status: Yes, no and no. There is no gym but if rising at 6 a.m. for a safari doesn’t get the heart rate up, then try a "swimming safari"—while enjoying the Mfuwe Lodge pool, I watched impalas and zebras grazing nearby.
Side note: Many safari lodges do offer a pool, but it's often meant more for tadpoles than for humans. The Mfuwe Lodge has a proper pool with clean, turquoise blue water. Metal bar chairs are bolted to the side of pool, allowing one to enjoy a cool drink while gazing at the animals passing by. Fresh towels were on hand.
food situation (mini bar, breakfast, restaurant): Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included. Breakfast is designed to be enjoyed quickly before a safari. The lunches are delicious. For dinner, I enjoyed a chicken dish with various chilly sauces and a cup of warm butternut soup. I was surprised to be joined at the table by one of the lodge’s game guides, whose knowledge of game was simply encyclopedic.
vibes: This is a place to unplug, read a book, and swim in the pool between game drives. You spend a large part of day at the hotel, as the early morning and late afternoon hours are the best times for game drives. A lot of visitors spend a night or two here before heading to more remote game lodges deeper in the park. For holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, the Mfuwe is in a festive mood and surprise meals in the bush can be arranged any time of the year.
kiddie agreeable: Breakfasts and food options are very kid-friendly. The hotel staff are happy to provide cots for kids.
price scale: Safari lodges are not cheap, but South Lunagawa National Park is budget traveler-friendly. Your money will go to more than just the conservation of the region’s wildlife because "every serious lodge in Africa is involved in responsible tourism," according to Mansan Banda, a school teacher who I met by chance during my trip. Banda's university fees and those of many of his students are sponsored by Mfuwe Lodge. In fact, their financial support provides an education to 350 students and a daily meal for some 1,500 students.