More remote and considerably more quiet than South Luangwa, the North Luangwa National Park is a haven for walking – it has very few roads, a handful of small bush camps, and acres and acres of space which has barely been touched. Mwaleshi is a proper, walking-only bush camp situated on the perennial Mwaleshi River, and the recent opening of its sister camp Takwela, which has a beautiful position overlooking the confluence of the Mwaleshi and Luangwa rivers 9kms to the south, means that you can now enjoy a more varied safari in this wonderful area – Takwela offers both game drives and walks. Both camps are operated by a highly respected, family-run safari outfit that do things well; expect a high standard of guiding and camp hosting, authentic bushcamp living with just the right levels of comfort, and revel in the feeling of being in a wild environment that’s miles from anywhere.
- Combine two authentic “grass, wood and reed” camps in the unspoiled North Luangwa National Park
- Focus on walking, but enjoy a varied safari experience with some game drives at Takwela
- Mwaleshi is surrounded vast tracts of pristine bush – its superb for walking
- Takwela has a wonderful position overlooking the confluence of the Luangwa and Mwaleshi rivers
- Transfer between the two camps on foot, a beautiful 9km walk along the Mwaleshi River
- Bush sleep-outs are possible from Mwaleshi – these must be pre-booked on a “whole camp” basis
- Barely anyone else up here, with just 3 operational camps serving the park, all far apart
- Excellent guiding and hosting, and wholesome, fresh and imaginative food from bush kitchens
North Luangwa walking safari in detail
The North Luangwa National Park is more remote than South Luangwa and feels so – its off the radar of most safari goers. It’s considerably less developed with minimal infrastructure and, at last count, there are only three camps operating up here, all set a good 10kms apart – it’s much less visited, but well worth ‘visiting’. When out walking, you can roam freely and be certain that you are not going to bump into anyone – there’s something magical about knowing that you and your companions comprise one of no more than perhaps two or three groups venturing out into a 4,600 sq.km park at any one point in time!
Although it is a national park, public access is extremely restricted, and only adventurous over-landers make it up here anyway, often with the intent of crossing the park to the Muchinga side along the main transit road. The key activity up here is walking, enjoying the vast tracks of terrain that are free of man-made tracks and the life that is drawn to the beautiful Mwaleshi River and its confluence with the Luangwa. Wildlife is good and on the up; the park is extremely well administered by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, working in conjunction with Zambian National Parks, and it’s home to a successful black rhino breeding programme. With the exception of the small, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park at Victoria Falls, where a group of very habituated white rhino are carefully protected and monitored within a “zoo like” area which receives a continuous stream of tourists, this is the only place in Zambia where rhino exist. The chances of seeing rhino are admittedly very slim, but you may be one of the lucky ones to be rewarded with a sighting (as we were when we visited!).
Access to North Luangwa is by Cessna which shuttles guests between the private airstrip at Tafika Camp in South Luangwa and a small airstrip close to Mwaleshi, a scenic 30-minute hop that follows the meandering course of the Luangwa river. Alternatively, the aircraft can also pick you up at Mfuwe and fly you direct.
If you care who the camp interior designer is or who has their name of the shampoo bottles, and are seeking a spa, plunge pool and in-room Swarovski binoculars, then neither Mwaleshi nor Takwela are going to be for you. Conversely, if you place value on authenticity, an emphasis on nature, wholesome bush food, off-the-grid living with essential, but not over-the-top comforts, and see these elements as your luxuries, then look no further than these two camps in North Luangwa. This is the sort of place where you can walk around barefoot and not feel that others are going to “tut”.
Originally set up in 1989 as a Wilderness Trails camp, Mwaleshi is the simplest of the two camps and is 100% focussed on walking; other than the camp itself there’s no man-made infrastructure save for the single track that leads in from the rough airstrip and a handful of oblique vehicle impressions where the camp vehicle has ventured into the bush to drop off or pick up walking parties – it’s a quintessential bush camp located in a true wilderness location, a place of peace and simplicity, contrasted with stunning wildlife action which enriches the soul and quickens the senses; the excitement of watching hyaenas hunting puku in front of camp or observing huge herds of buffalo and the endemic Cookson’s wildebeest on foot are just some of the typical experiences that might draw you here.
The camp itself accommodates just 8 guests in charming elephant and sorghum grass thatched chalets crafted around trees fronting the river. These and the central camp gazebo, which accommodates a small dining table, seating area and bar, all face east across the water – it’s a particularly glorious place to be at sunrise, when you take breakfast around the campfire before setting out for your morning adventure on foot. The camp manager is both your guide and host, assisted on walks by an armed national parks’ scout and a tea bearer; behind the scenes a competent kitchen team assemble high quality fresh fare from a bush kitchen.
You can head out on walks in any direction from camp, exploring deep into the bush on both sides of the river, which can be forded in many places, or choosing to follow the river itself, which provides a strong draw to wildlife. The walk to the Luangwa confluence is a must, and this route can also be followed when transferring between Takwela and Mwaleshi. The camp vehicle is often used to enable linear walks, or to take you out to areas that lie a little further afield.
Takwela was opened in July 2019 and is positioned on the eastern bank on the Luangwa river, overlooking its confluence with the Mwaleshi – it’s a wonderful site. The camp technically lies just outside the North Luangwa Park, whose boundary is the Luangwa river, but it’s on private land within the Game Management Area and it’s a prime area for wildlife. Walks are offered, on both sides of the river, but a key difference to Mwaleshi is the ability to do game drives within the game management area – as there are no other camps here, there’s almost exclusive access to 50kms of Luangwa river frontage!
The camp is built along similar lines to Mwaleshi, with 4 rustic elephant and sorghum grass thatched chalets which are positioned directly overlooking the river and which are open-fronted. Unlike Mwaleshi, the open-air bathrooms at Takwela are positioned to the side, so that you can gaze out over the Luangwa whilst you shower or brush your teeth.
A wake-up call will be given at around first light and a jug of hot water will be put through the small hatch next to your wash basin. A relaxed breakfast is taken around the mopane wood campfire, enjoying the sun rise over the river. You’ll then set out on your morning safari activity, which is always a walk at Mwaleshi or a choice of walk or game drive at Takwela. Morning walks and drives usually last for around 4 hours, with a break for tea in the middle, in a shady spot. Return for a 3-course lunch before relaxing in camp, with most safari-goers opting for a well-deserved siesta. Afternoon safari activities follow tea, either a walk which ends at sundown, or, at Takwela, a game drive that continues into the early evening when nocturnal animals can be spotted. Hot bucket showers are usually taken just before dinner, but hot water can also be requested at other times.
Both Mwaleshi and Takwela can be visited on their own, in which case a minimum of 3 nights is recommended for each, but we recommend that you combine these two camps, spending over 5 or 6 nights in total up in North Luangwa. Many also combine these North Luangwa camps with Tafika and Chikoko Trails in South Luangwa.
When moving from Takwela to Mwaleshi, a good option is to walk between the two, a 9-10km saunter along the Mwaleshi river which takes around 4 hours. It’s a beautiful walk and likely to be very productive on the game front. You can also transfer between the camps by vehicle if you prefer. In both instances, you need to cross the Luangwa river by canoe first.
Bush sleep-outs or “fly-camping” is offered from Mwaleshi (at no extra cost), provided all those in camp agree to do this activity. It must be pre-booked and works best when a private group takes over the whole camp (6 required to ensure the camp booking is “private”). This is a simple, wild camp that’s erected for the night and removed the next morning, leaving no trace. You sleep on a thick camper mattress tucked beneath a rectangular mosquito net – you’ll be able to look at the stars as you drift off to sleep and will be conscious of the night calls from the surrounding bush. A fire is kept going through-out the night and watched on a rotation basis. It’s a wonderful opportunity to really get close to nature deep in the African bush in a beautiful location chosen by your guide, usually on the sandy apex of a remote bend in the Mwaleshi river. The camp is set up for you and serviced, with food prepared for you over a fire, but it is otherwise a relatively adventurous, back-to-nature experience which is always exhilarating.
A plan is in the pipeline to offer fly-camping to those moving between Takwela and Mwaleshi, but this will depend upon how bookings grow for the two camps now that Takwela has opened. An additional guide will be required in order to be able to offer this opportunity – watch this space or ask us about this.
Mwaleshi and Takwela Camps are seasonally operated between 15th June and 31st October. June and July are cooler, which generally means that you can walk for a bit longer and the air is clearer (you can see the Muchinga escarpment in the distance). At the start of the dry season game is usually more spread out as water can still be found across the reserve in waterholes and lagoons, but further into the dry season, animals become increasingly more reliant on the rivers for water. August and September are considered the prime months for seeing wildlife. October is also very good, but it gets very hot.