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Liwonde National Park/Malawi

Introducing Liwonde National Park

Liwonde National Park spills with more than 545 elephants, 1900 hippos, 500 water buffaloes and 1800 crocs. It's a comparatively small reserve set in dry savannah and forest over 584 sq km, and you can walk, drive and putter along the serene Shire River to make the best of it. Lions are being reintroduced in 2013, so by the time you read this there should be an established pride of apex hunters; following which cheetah and hyena will also be added to the carnviore's league table.

The Shire River dominates the park – a wide, meandering stretch lined by palms and surrounding flood plains, woodland and parched scrub. Unsurprising then, that the park is prime hippo- and croc-spotting territory (midday sun is the best time to see crocs sunning themselves, and late afternoon to see the hippos rising from the river). Waterbucks are also common, while beautiful sable and roan antelopes, zebras and elands populate the flood plains in the east. Night drives can reveal spotted genets, bushbabies, scrub hares, side-striped jackals and even spotted hyenas. The main event here though is the elephants, and you'll get very close indeed.

The combination of rich riverine, mopane and grassland habitats means that birdlife here is very varied – 400 of Malawi’s 650 species are found here including Pel’s fishing owl, African skimmer, brown-breasted barbet, and Lillian’s lovebird. October to January brings Böhm’s bee-eater to the park.