Bua River Lodge is a little paradise along the Bua River, within the Nkotakota Wildlife Reserve. Don't go to this place for guaranteed wildlife viewing. No dams, no luring of the animals towards the camp (which is a good thing, even the baboons don't steal your food). Go there to relax in a quiet private spot with a beautiful view over the river, surrounded by lively forest with crocodiles in the river, baboons around, an occasional herd of elephants and lots and lots of birds.
Bua River Lodge's staff is from the surrounding villages and they appear to be very proud working there. The manager/owner has a clear vision of how he wants the place (luxurious, private, correct, atmospheric, sound, clean, tasty food, respectful), and a way with (these) people. This combination results in friendly and polite service of high quality. Due to cultural differences (p.e. language, cutlery) it is not flawless (it ìs charming however), but the idea is there and even in the four days we were there, we have seen improvement.
There are three kinds of lodges and a camp-ground. A lodge, in this case, consists of a large windowed tent on a wooden plateau under a thatched shelter. Size depends on type of accommodation. The hill-side lodges use the camp-ground ablution block, the others have their own outdoor bathroom with private donkey-boiler. Laundry service and all meals are included with all lodges. In the Island Lodges, everything is en-suite (they actually walk your food & drinks over a rope-bridge) and more services are included (such as an evening walk with a sunset drink ón the river bed).
we first stayed one night in the Hill-side lodge. As we arrived late (in the dark), we mainly wanted a bed. It was our first really good bed in a few weeks, we slept well. The rising sun woke us up the next morning and the idyll was completed by birds and squirrels playing around our plateau. That was probably what I liked most about this room. What I liked least was having to walk downhill to go to the toilet and then back up in the dark even though there are lights along the path.
Next day we moved to Island Lodge B, the most luxurious one. Costs a bit more, but is very much worth it. Very suitable as a honeymoon suite. We had all our meals on our very private mini-island and drinks were brought there as well. The tent was huge (bigger than our living room at home) and well furnished. Part of service with this lodge is that pretty much everything is done fór you and that pretty much everything (at least everything wé thought of asking) you ask will be arranged. We actually had to get used to being treated as king & queen of our island a bit (we had been backpacking before), but the staff does it very nicely and polite, without being submissive. What I liked most was the notion of having our very own piece of paradise for a while. Sitting in a couch on our veranda with a Malawian Gin-tonic, watching birds was also nice. As was taking a shower in the open air while a baboon walks by... What I liked least was the eco-friendly toilet in the evening. After dark it started being smelly for a few hours. Also in the afternoon there was no cold water, only hot and lastly, there is no way of communicating with the main lodge (where the cool drinks are) yet, other than to walk up there. Oh, and in the dry season, the Island is not really an island, because the water is so low. Minor details in an otherwise wonderful experience.
The reserve is very bushy, Bua River Lodge lies at the Bua riverbank and the views over the river are beautiful. The Lodge buildings are very atmospheric, constructed out of wood and reed mostly and built by owner and locals. It is a multi-level veranda-like building and this is the only place in Malawi where I found books about birds, mammals and tracks & traces at my disposal. I used them a lot. There is no network, no internet and no electricity. I didn't miss any of them. The main lodge/restaurant/lounge and (paths towards) occupied lodges are lit by hundreds of paraffin lamps every evening, which is very very charming. Only drawback is that the owner actually has no mobile phone-reception or internet either, so you cannot always reach him directly.
Food & Beverage:
Staff is strict on hygiene and product quality is good. We did not hesitate to eat salads, medium raw meat, or actually anything they served us. The cook is a local, who apparently has a talent for European style cooking. There is no menu, if there are things you cannot eat, you should mention it (they ask) beforehand. We didn't mind the lack of choice at all. In fact, in Malawi we usually experienced lack of choice, only they didn't tell us beforehand. The food was good, breakfast is full English breakfast, lunch is light and salad based and dinner is three courses. Drinks were always available, cold and served with grace. What I liked best was being served good healthy luxurious food whilst sitting on our paraffin lamp-lit private island, overlooking the moonlit river. What I liked least... ehm, can't think of anything.
Activities were still in development, when we were there. We did a walking safari, which was nice, but about half way our ranger became a bit quiet. Apparently he was not used to doing the long trip and was a bit out of text. We did however have the exiting experience of hunting some poachers. We found their fish trap, which we took back to the lodge as a mascot. Also exiting, was tracking elephant by its dung and torn-off leaves, even if we didn't see the elephant. The other day, we did a shorter evening walk with a local whose father had been a hunter. He told us some local history and was very knowledgeable about the surroundings. We finished this walk with a sunset drink on the river bed. Nice. What I liked most in terms of activity was actually the fact that you can walk around a bit for yourself. There are a few marked trails that you are allowed on without guide (at your own risk of course). Sitting on your private Island with a bird book (which is available from the lodge!), binoculars and a drink was also very nice, if you can still call that activity. In short: the organized activities are yet in development, the place does seem very suitable for all planned activities which are mentioned on the Lodge's web site. As an independent traveller, you can probably make individual arrangements anyway.
The worst: temporarily smelly toilet.
The best: tranquillity of the place and nobody spoiling it.
Conclusion: All in all this is a wonderful place with wonderful service. Not yet as perfect as they want it to be and in some regards still in development, but nevertheless outstanding.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Bua River Lodge is a small and unique, owner-managed lodge, where you are sure to feel at home and guaranteed to relax. We are receiving very favourable reviews, commenting on the beauty of the location, excellence of service, friendliness of the staff, comfort of the rooms and quality of the food.The lodge is located just two kilometres inside the eastern boundary of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, making access by saloon car, even during the rains, quite straightforward. The reserve, covering 1,800,000 Hectares, is the third largest protected area in Malawi and one of the least known. Largely miombo woodland, the reserve falls from around 1,000 m. above sea level to just 600 metres in the east. The beautiful Bua River, the second longest in the country, on whose banks Bua River Lodge is located, bisects the Reserve.The reserve is very much a wilderness area. Apart from the main M18 road, which runs through the reserve, only one motorable track exists. North of the river, there are no tracks at all.There is a considerable diversity of wildlife, including a healthy elephant population, buffalo, lion and leopard, as well as roan, sable, zebra and many smaller mammals, although it must be said that the wildlife is difficult to observe. Over 200 species of birds are listed, including Finfoot, Palm Nut Vulture and Black Stork. It is likely that Pel’s Fishing Owl also occurs.Bua River Lodge offers high quality tented accommodation at moderate prices, with three categories, Island, Riverside and Hillside, priced to suit most budgets. Currently, six units are available, consisting of purpose-made canvas safari tents, pitched on extensive wooden decks, shaded by thatched roofs. Each tent is pitched well away from the others, providing a degree of seclusion found in few other lodges in Malawi. On your own private deck you neither overlook your neighbours, nor are you overlooked. All you can see is the wilderness and the river! The Island tents, offering even more seclusion, are reached by a bridge and you have the option of breakfast on your deck and a personalized “butler” service.The accommodation comprises two luxury Island tents, measuring 6.5 x 4.5 metres, one twin-bedded, one with a queen size bed; two Riverside tents, 4.5 x 3.5 metres, one double, one twin; and two Hillside tents, 3.5 x 3.2 metres, also double and twin. All tents are well appointed with cane armchairs and occasional tables on the extensive decks, bedside tables and shelves. Bed linen is of high quality cotton and quilts will keep you warm on cool winter nights. All tents have open-air, but very private, en-suite facilities, with waterless toilet, wash basins and hot showers.The main camp site is serviced with hot showers and flushing toilets, a shaded deck with eating area, a barbecue, dishwashing facilities and a laundry area. Recently opened, a “wild” camp site less than a kilometre upstream from the main lodge offers a wilderness camping experience, with basic facilities. Overlooking a quiet, forest-fringed pool in the river, it is situated on the edge of a major elephant track.Two rooms near the camp site offer comfortable, clean, budget accommodation for backpackers.The main lodge, housing the restaurant, bar, reading and reception areas, is unique in Malawi. Built entirely of timber and thatch, right on the banks of the river, it has three main levels for dining and relaxation, as well as an upper viewing deck. Completely open sided, it provides shade and a cool breeze during the heat of the day, but you can dine under the stars in the evening on the open lower deck, or sit around the fire in the boma on cool, winter nights.Three delicious meals per day are provided within the price: a full breakfast, with fruit salad and cereal; a salad-based lunch; and a three-course dinner, with a vegetarian alternative. There is a well stocked bar offering beers and minerals, spirits and wines. A small selection of bottled South African wines is available.Lighting throughout relies primarily on paraffin lanterns although small solar powered LED lamps are used to provide illumination in the bathrooms and front decks of the tents and the Island and Riverside tents now have bright solar powered lamps inside. Taking the path back to your room after dinner, lit by the flickering flames of the lanterns is a magical experience. But bring a torch!Given the nature of the terrain and the density of the vegetation, vehicle-based wildlife viewing is generally unrewarding. Walking safaris are offered, with a trained and armed game ranger. Walks are tailored to the wishes of the guests, varying from short strolls along the river to a nearby waterfall, to all-day hikes, a combined vehicle safari and ascent of Chipata Mountain in the west of the reserve and, eventually, overnight safaris with fly camps. Sundowners at strategic points along the river are a particular highlight for many of our guests. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Bua River Lodge Malawi/Nkhotakota