South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

South Luangwa: Home of the Walking Safari

big herd of African Bush Elephant at waterhole, Loxodonta africana, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, Africa
••• Juergen Ritterbach/The Image Bank/Getty Images

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is one of Africa's best safari destinations. The concentration of wildlife that lives around the Luangwa River is one of the highest in Africa. Pods of hippos number in the hundreds, there are lions, leopard, elephant, African wild dogs, unique species of zebra and giraffe, as well as over 400 species of birds. The South Luangwa National Park is a wild and beautiful place and should not be missed when visiting southern Africa.

Where is South Luangwa National Park?

South Luangwa National Park lies in eastern Zambia, in the Luangwa Valley at the tail end of Africa's great rift valley. The Luangwa River runs through the middle of this 3,475 square mile (9050 sq km) park. On its way to the Zambezi, the Luangwa River has carved out its own path in this valley, creating a spectacular escarpment and leaving plenty of lagoons and ox-bows filled with fish and hippo.

What Wildlife Can I Expect to See?

South Luangwa is famous for its large pods of hippos living easy in the Luangwa River and its lagoons. There are also huge herds of buffalo, and lots of lions and leopards. South Luangwa is one of the few national parks that allow night drives, and this is when you're most likely to spot a leopard.

The Thornicroft giraffe, the Crawshay's zebra, and the Cookson's wildebeest are all unique to the Luangwa Valley. The extremely endangered African Wild Dog also lives in the valley.

The Luangwa Valley used to be incredibly dense with elephants, but poachers put a dent in their numbers during the 1970's and 1980's. Regardless, you can still easily spot large herds sauntering around. The rhino was unfortunately poached to extinction.

South Luangwa is a birders paradise, more than 400 species have been recorded here.

Even if you're not very knowledgeable about birds, you will be by the time you leave. Like zebra, warthog and some other animals, birds are the little "cherry on top" of a safari. You generally don't plan a safari with them in mind, but they add huge value to your experience.

Click here to find a checklist of all the birds and mammals found in South Luangwa.

Walking Safaris and Other Activities in South Luangwa

The "Walking Safari" was pioneered in the Luangwa Valley, it's considered by many to be the ultimate way to experience a safari. Personally I get a little nervous on a walking safari, but Luangwa is without a doubt, home to some of the best trained safari guides in Africa. And it's a good guide that will really make or break your safari experience. All walking safaris in Luangwa will have an armed scout as well as a guide leading the way. Walks are exciting but not too strenuous, so you don't have to be super fit. Walks can last from 4 hours to 5 days. Children under 12 are not allowed to go on a walking safari.

Walking safaris are offered at every camp and lodge in South Luangwa. Norman Carr safaris were the first to offer walking safaris in the Luangwa Valley 50 years ago, and they still operate some of the best.

Robin Pope was the first operator to offer mobile walking safaris that last up to 5 days.

Your time in South Luangwa is likely to be split with safaris on foot, as well as traditional game drives where you're spotting animals from the back of a 4x4.

Birding Safaris
Birding safaris in South Luangwa are excellent and the best time to enjoy them are in the "green season", from November to February. This is when the local birds mingle with their migrating friends from up north. Norman Carr safaris offers excellent itineraries, guided by one of the best guides in the valley, Kapani Lodge Manager Abraham Banda.

Safaris by Boat
During the "green season" (see below) when the the Luangwa River is full, some of the safari companies offer boat trips on the river. An excellent opportunity to view birds, float through groves of ebony trees, and get a close look at the ubiquitous crocs and hippos.

Just don't jump in for a swim.

Best Time to Go?

South Luangwa is open year round. In general, the dry season from April to October is the best time to go because the animals tend to congregate around available water sources. The "green season" (November - March) is beautiful though and offers visitors a chance to see animals with their young. If you're a birder, the end of the dry season and November when the migrating birds come down this way, are best.

How Long Should I Spend in South Luangwa?

You should spend at least 3 nights in South Luangwa, up to a week is ideal if you're keen on walking from camp to camp. This is not a "rush around in 2 days to see the " Big 5" type of safari. This is the real deal and you should savor it.

What's Around South Luangwa?

South Luangwa is beautiful in part because it is so remote. To get to Zambia's other parks and of course to visit the mighty Victoria Falls, it's best to opt for a short flight. North Luangwa National Park shares much of the beauty of South Luangwa, and is even more remote, so you also have to fly in.

Recommended Safari Operators in South Luangwa

South Luangwa is blessed with several operators who are pioneer conservationists and many have spent decades in this valley (see page 2 for a list of their camps and lodges). These operators are also involved with local community projects. They include:

Getting to South Luangwa

Most people fly in to Mfuwe Airport and the lodge or camp you're staying at will pick you up from there. There are regular scheduled flights on Proflight to Mfuwe from Lusaka and Livingstone (Victoria Falls). You can also take Nyassa Air a charter airline from Lilongwe ( Malawi).

You can reach South Luangwa by road, but it's a long day's drive from Lusaka, via Chipata. It's best to avoid driving at night.

 

Accommodations in South Luangwa National Park - Lodges and Campsites

Sources and More about the South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is one of Africa's finest safari destinations and there are plenty of lodges and camps to base your safari from.

Where to Stay in South Luangwa

There is plenty of accommodation in South Luangwa to suit all budgets. Lodges and camps are mostly located on the eastern banks of the Luangwa River. You can organize your walking safaris, driving safaris and all other activities with each individual lodge/camp.

Great Value Camps/Lodges

 

  • For backpackers, campers and self-caterers, Flatdogs Camp is very popular option. Great for families and anyone else who finds the regular cost of a luxury safari prohibitive. (You get to see the same animals after all). You can choose from comfortable chalets, permanent tents, or set up camp yourself. There's a pool, a bar and you can have your meals any time you want. Flatdogs have also gone a little upmarket (but still reasonably priced) with their Jackalberry Treehouse.

     

  • Track and Trail River Camp - Owned by a Dutch couple, this intimate, family-friendly lodge is located close to the entrance of the national park. It's chalets all overlook the Luangwa River, and it's modest price makes this one of the best options in South Luangwa. The lodge has a lovely pool that's raised so you can watch the hippos cool themselves in the river while you cool yourself down after a long safari walk. They also have a campsite for those who arrive with their own vehicle.

     

  • Croc Valley Camp offers lovely chalets and tented chalets with or without board and game drives. They also have a camp site that caters to campers and overlanders. Their bar and restaurant offers great food at good prices. It's a relaxed, friendly camp with hammocks hanging in the shady trees by the pool.

     

  • Wildlife Camp is a small, friendly and affordable camp whose owners live on site. There are 9 rustic, comfortable chalets, as well as an en-suite tented camp. Their popular Bush Camp offers guests a chance to experience an over night walking safari, complete with bucket showers and meals cooked on an open fire.

     

  • Marula Lodge - a nice, comfortable lodge with very reasonable prices, located on the banks of the Luangwa River. There's a bar, restaurant and pool on the premises and rates can include full board with game drives, or just board.

     

  • It's Wild Bushcamps have 3 simple community run bush camps in the South Luangwa area: Chifunda, Chikwa and Mwanya. Local communities share the profits and help manage and protect the wildlife on their traditional land. If you support community-based conservation, this is a good place to see it happening on the ground.

Classic Camps and Luxury Lodges

  • Robin Pope Safaris are legendary in South Luangwa. Robin Pope is considered the "father of Zambian conservation". The company now owns and runs three excellent camps, Tena Tena, Nkwali and Nsefu. Tena Tena is the most luxurious of the three, but they're all excellent camps run by excellent staff.

     

  • Norman Carr Safaris, have operated in the Luangwa Valley for 60 years. They own and run Kapani, an established comfortable lodge, as well as four bush camps: Luwi (seasonal, more rustic, 4 chalets); Kakuli (5 traditional luxury safari tents under thatch); Mchenja (ultra-luxurious tented camp) and Nsolo (4 luxury thatched chalets, raised platforms). All camps are expertly run and beautifully situated.

     

  • The Bushcamp company runs 6 exclusive bush camps in South Luangwa each accommodating a maximum of six guests. The camps are all unique, some more rustic than others, but each one is beautifully situated either along a river or lagoon. Every camp has its own highly trained guide to lead safaris. Camps include: Kapamba, Kuyenda and Chindeni. The Bush Camp Company also owns Mfuwe Lodge (see below).

     

  • Shenton Safaris, owned by the Shenton family, also have a long conservation history in the Luangwa valley. Their two camps are very well situated, deep in the park and well away from any human settlement. Current owner, Derek Shenton built and runs two camps: Mwamba Bush Camp which can accommodate 6 people in 3 reed and thatch bungalows, and Kaingo, a small luxury lodge inside the park.

     

  • Kafunta Safaris own the Kafunta River Camp, a luxurious lodge on the banks of the Luangwa River complete with a hot tub fed by natural springs. They also run the more rustic Island Bush Camp which consists of 5 grass/reed chalets with their own verandahs.

     

  • Remote Africa Safaris has four intimate camps in the Luangwa valley, each accommodating 6 to 12 guests. Tafika Camp is the owners base camp base camp. Each camp is built entirely from natural materials using the skills of local villagers, these comfortable camps blend harmoniously with the environment.

More Lodges and Camps...

  • Luangwa River Lodge - an exclusive lodge catering to just 5 couples at one time, situated under a grove of ebony trees on the banks of the Luangwa River and overlooking an ox bow lagoon. The lodge is elevated for great views, the pool has two levels joined by a waterfall. The bush and thatch suites each have their own verandahs.

     

  • Mfuwe Lodge recently won a Zambia Tourism Award for "best Lodge", Mfuwe is comprised of 18 chalets with en suite bathrooms. This is really an excellent lodge owned by The Bushcamp Company (see above), so easy to combine with a little luxury camping.

     

  • Chichele Presidential Lodge - opulent, colonial style-luxury lodge, built for Zambia's former President Kenneth Kaunda. The same company that runs Chichele, also owns Piku Ridge Camp, a luxury tented safari camp made up of 7 spacious tents, each with their own hot tub.

     

  • Mushroom Lodge, another lodge that started life as a quiet refuge for former President, Kenneth Kaunda. The main house is being refurbished but the lodge also has 12 double chalets you can stay at.

     

  • Chimfule Lodge - close to the airport, offers mid-range prices for 7 chalets, two bars and a swimming pool on sight.

More About: South Luangwa National Park