Mwamba Bushcamp is a small, traditional camp which blends into the bush of South Luangwa
Mwamba Bushcamp: Our full report
Mwamba Bushcamp is set beneath the shade of tall ebony trees overlooking a waterhole in the usually dry bed of the seasonal Mwamba River. Owned by Derek and Jules Shenton, it is a very natural yet comfortable camp: small, intimate and very remote.
Mwamba is the smaller sister camp of the Shentons Kaingo Camp, which lies a morning's walk away, or a short game drive.
The open chitenge (main area) at Mwamba is very simple and natural, with sandy floors and a low reed wall, and is lit at night by a combination of solar-powered lights, candles and paraffin lanterns. The wooden bar here is a real feature: built around a huge ebony tree entwined with python vines that support the drinks shelf. It's a great spot for a social drink before meals!
There are also some cushioned chairs and a sofa, plenty of reading material and a few board games to keep you entertained. Meals are usually served at the large wooden dining table (which Derek made), although lunch can also be set up under a thatched gazebo overlooking the Mwamba River.
The three thatched chalets at Mwamba Bushcamp are equally simple, with reed walls and mud-packed floors. Neutral, earthy colours are offset by African print fabrics, wall hangings and grass mats on the floors. One of the chalets has twin beds, whilst the others have king-sized beds; one of these, with a four-poster bed and situated furthest from the chitenge, is designated as the ‘honeymoon suite’. Above each bed are a solar-powered light, a mosquito net, and a large gauze skylight – designed to give the feeling of sleeping under the stars. There are wooden cupboards and shelves for storage (with African print dressing gowns for your comfort), bedside tables, and a little wooden box to lock away your valuables. Outside each chalet is a shaded veranda with a wooden table and chairs overlooking the riverbed.
Behind each chalet is a large open-air en-suite bathroom, enclosed by a tall reed wall and with a real bush feel. Built around enormous ebony trees for shade, they have sandy floors covered with grass mats, yet although simple, they have all the comforts: flushing toilets, natural stone basins with hot and cold running water, and hot bucket showers which are filled for guests after their game drives (or on request). Cold water is available all day, and the hot water is provided in its own bucket, so you’ll have plenty of water – not your traditional bucket shower!
Like Kaingo, Mwamba Bushcamp also has a couple of stunning photographic hides, both overlooking perennial waterholes. One lies within the camp itself and the other is just outside the perimeter. Guests at Mwamba can also make use of the carmine bee-eater hide which is shared with Kaingo, and is best in September and October. For those really interested in hides, the ideal is to combine a stay at Mwamba with Kaingo, which also has the hippo hide, dug into the side of the riverbank beside a deep hippo-filled pool; and the elephant hide, a platform in a tall, riverside tree – where elephants often cross the river. With advance notice, guests can even enjoy a magical night’s sleep-out in the elephant hide.
These hides have been used by the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel and many independent film makers and photographers, including François d'Elbée.
Unusually for most safari camps, Mwamba – like Kaingo – operates three activities per day. These include walking safaris, game drives (day and night) and visits to the hides, all led by excellent guides.
On a typical day you’ll be woken to the sound of drums, followed by tea/coffee and biscuits around the campfire, before setting off on an early-morning game drive or walking safari. Later in the morning you return to a large breakfast, after which there's the opportunity to head out to one of the hides. A light lunch and a siesta are followed in the late afternoon by tea and cakes before heading off on a third activity. When we were last at Mwamba in September 2012, we saw a leopard up a tree with a kill, as well as a lion pride with cubs, all in one evening!
Some guests choose to venture further afield on a full-day excursion. A half-day drive from Mwamba Bushcamp is a stunning open plain where you will find hundreds of 200–300-year-old baobab trees. Here there is also a good chance of seeing some of the more elusive antelope such as eland, roan and hartebeest.
If you'd like to end off your day in camp – rather than out on an afternoon or full-day activity – then Mwamba has a great spot for sundowners! Just behind the camp Derek and his team have created a comfortable thatched seating area on top of a termite mound, with wide views over the bush.
Adventurous guests at Mwamba can also experience the exhilarating Mwamba Camp-out, which is one of the truest wilderness experiences in the South Luangwa. After heading deep into the bush on an afternoon walk with a senior guide and armed scout, you’ll camp out for the night under the stars, with your bedroll set under a mosquito net beside the fire.
Like Kaingo, the Mwamba area a very good diversity of game and birdlife. There are wide open plains, mopane woodlands, waterholes, lagoons, thick riverine bush and the Mwamba River itself. Expect to see plenty of zebras, Cookson's wildebeest (it's probably the best place in South Luangwa for these endemic animals), puku, impala, elephant, giraffe, waterbuck and bushbuck. On a night drive you'll also have a good chance of seeing leopards, porcupines, civets and the white-tailed mongoose. The local pride of lions, known as the 'Mwamba pride' also frequents the area, and often turns up at one of the waterholes overlooked by hides.
Whilst only a novice bird-watcher, I counted many kingfishers (including pied and grey-hooded), fish eagles, lilac-breasted rollers, white-browed coucals, giant eagle owls, lovebirds and weavers amongst my sightings in a recent short stay.
Our viewWe've visited Mwamba often since about 1995, most recently in September 2012, and although it has been described as a ‘basic bushcamp’ in the past, we now beg to disagree. We found the rooms spacious, the beds very comfortable, and the en-suite bathroom excellent. The food was great – and we loved the flexibility of the activities (especially the hides!) and the obvious passion of the guides.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend a minimum of three nights at Mwamba Bushcamp, or 5–8 nights for a combined stay of Mwamba with its sister camp Kaingo.
Directions: Fly to Mfuwe airport, then transfer by road to camp. The drive, partly through villages, partly through the national park, takes approximately three hours.
Owner: Derek & Jules Shenton
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The team at Mwamba know how to keep both your days and your stomachs full! On our last trip to Mwamba Bushcamp, in September 2012, the food was very good. We are always amazed by the quality of food that the chefs can produce in their bush kitchens.
Meals are announced with the banging of drums. After your morning activity, there's a very relaxed buffet breakfast with cereals, fruit, muffins and yoghurt – as well as toast and a full English breakfast cooked to order.
A few hours later, after a visit to one of the hides, a light buffet lunch is often served under the thatched gazebo, near the edge of the river. On previous visits, one such lunch was a freshly baked pizza and green salad, followed by fruit salad, while most recently we had a delicious lasagne and salad.
Afternoon tea is served at around 4.00pm, before your evening game activity – with cake and biscuits on offer, as well as drinks. On our most recent visit this consisted of homemade brownies.
Dinner is a three course plated meal, accompanied by your choice of red or white wine. This may be something like ravioli or soup for starter, followed by stuffed chicken or peppercorn steak and vegetables, and a lovely dessert.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Soft drinks, house wine and local spirits are included at Mwamba, but note that fine wines, champagne and imported spirits and liqueurs are charged as extras.
Birdwatching: The two hides at Mwamba Camp, or even your own private veranda outside your chalet, are great spots from which to view some of the many bird species found around the camp. Guests staying here are also able to visit the carmine bee-eater hide, located below a riverbank where these colourful birds nest in their thousands between September and October.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Zambia
Photographic: Mwamba Bushcamp has two hides for general wildlife, plus the carmine bee-eater hide. These are great for photographers, attracting the caliber of Frans Lanting and Andy Rouse. In addition, all Mwamba’s 4WD vehicles have bean bags, camera covers and extra camera rests – and their guides are acutely aware of what photographers want.See more ideas for Photographic in Zambia
Walking safaris: Mwamba lies in a game-rich area which suits safari walks, and the guides here are some of the more experienced in the valley. Guests who combine a stay at Mwamba with its sister camp Kaingo usually walk from camp to camp.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Zambia
Wildlife safaris: One of Mwamba Bushcamp's main draw cards is their game hides. When most camps offer a siesta time, Mwamba will take you to one of their hides where you can spend as much or as little time as you like. Their area has a high density of game and birdlife and guiding is of a very high standard.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zambia
Attitude towards children: Mwamba is happy to take children over the age of 8 who are sensible and well-behaved. However, families with children aged 9–10 years are required to book a private vehicle, unless the family has sole use of the camp. This can make Kaingo Camp an expensive option for a family of just three or four.
Equipment: An extra bed can be put in the parent's room for a child to share. This will be a bit of a squash as the rooms are not big.
Generally recommended for children: Expert Africa does not recommend Mwamba Bushcamp for children under 12 – which is the minimum age to take part in the walking activities – unless the camp is being taken over exclusively by an Africa-wise family.
Notes: Parents need to be aware that this camp is not fenced and animals do walk through the camp. On previous visits here we have had an elephant in camp and a lion walk past our chalet. Children must never be left unsupervised.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: This is a bush camp, without a direct phone line or cellphone reception, so you should consider yourself out of communication for the duration of your stay. However, Mwamba does have a radio and keeps in touch with Kaingo and other camps in the park.
TV & radio: There are no radios or TV's here.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: The closest doctor is in Mfuwe (1¼ hours’ fast drive away). For emergencies, Mwamba has links to a flying-doctor service.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are not allowed to walk around alone after dark, and will be escorted to their chalets at night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers at every chalet and around the camp.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A complimentary laundry service is included, except for ladies’ underwear, for which washing powder is provided in the bathrooms.
Money: No exchange facilities offered.