South Luangwe NP
Experts have dubbed South Luangwa as one of the greatest
wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration
of game around the Luangwa river and it’s ox bow lagoons is among the most
intense in Africa.
The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system
in Africa and is the life blood of the park's 9050km2.
The Park hosts a wide variety of wildlife birds and vegetation. The now
famous ‘walking safari’ originated in this park and is still one of the
finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness first hand.
The changing seasons add to the Park’s richness ranging
from dry, bare bushveld in the winter to a lush green wonderland in the
summer months. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different
bird species. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to
If you’re staying at one of the Valley’s lodges, the guides
will ensure you have every opportunity to see all that the valley has to
offer of its wildlife, birds and varying vegetation and habitats. If you’re
in your own vehicle, be sure to get a map of the park from the Crocodile
Farm at the park entrance and follow the loop roads graded in the park,
past dambos bursting with hippos, crowned cranes, grazing antelope and
scurrying baboons. Further out on the plains you’re bound to see the large
elephant herds, reaching up to 70 in number. Buffalo are abundant and spread
throughout the valley.
The hippopotamus is one animal you won’t miss. As you
cross over the bridge into the park there are usually between 30 and 70
hippos lounging in the river below and most of the dambos and lagoons will
reveal many. There is estimated to be at least 50 hippos per kilometre
of the Luangwa River!
Zebra can be seen running in small herds of about a dozen.
The difference between Zambia’s zebras and those in the south and east
of Africa are in the stripes. Here they are evenly spaced as opposed to
broad light stripes with a faint shadow stripe in-between.
Thornicroft’s Giraffe, unique to Luangwa Valley should
be easily spotted.
The park has 14 different antelope species, most of which
are easily seen on game and night drives. Watch out for the elusive bushbuck,
preferring to inhabit densely covered areas. The common duiker is not that
common near the Luangwa river but inhabits the back country of the Luangwa
Valley. The largest of the antelope is the eland, usually near the Nsefu
sector of the park. The most numerous antelope is the impala, these gregarious
animals can be seen in herds all over the park. Not to be confused with
the Puku, of similar size but a much fluffier buck with a rich orange coat
and also prolific. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Kudu, with its majestic
spiral horns and delicate face. Although fairly common, they’re not always
easy to find due to their retiring habits and preference for dense bush..
Reedbuck, roan, sable, hartebeest, grysbok, klipspringer and oribi are
all here but not prolific in the central tourist area of the Park. They
tend to stay deeper in the remote parts towards the Muchinga escarpment.
Of the primates, baboons and vervet monkeys are prolific.
More scarce is Maloney’s monkey. Present, but unlikely to be seen except
on night drives is the night ape, and the nocturnal bushbaby.
Hyenas are fairly common throughout the valley and their
plaintive, eerie cry, so characteristic of the African bush can be heard
on most nights.
South Luangwa has a good population of leopard but they
are not that easy to spot and tend to retreat when they hear vehicles.
Many of the Lodge’s game trackers are skilled in finding leopards on night
drives however, and often visitors are rewarded with a full view of a kill.
Lions are as plentiful in the Luangwa as anywhere else
in Africa, but when a kill is made away from the central tourist area,
the pride may stay away for several days and may not be seen by visitors
on a short stay. Very often they roam in prides of up to thirty.
Of the other carnivores present but not often seen is
the caracal, wild dog, serval and side striped jackal.
The Luangwa river also has an extraordinarily high number
of crocodiles. It is not uncommon to see several basking on the riverbanks
or even floating down the river tearing at a dead animal.
Night drives are fascinating in the Luangwa. Not only
for the chance of seeing a leopard but for the many interesting animals
that only come to life at night. Genets, civets, servals, hyenas, and bushbabies
as well as owls, nightjars, the foraging hippos, honey badgers and lion.
Birdwatching is superb in the Valley. Near the end of
the dry season, when the river and oxbow lagoons begin to recede, hundreds
of large waterbirds can be seen wading through the shallows. The red faced
yellow billed storks move along with their beaks open underwater, disturbing
the muddy liquid with their feet until the fish flop into their mouths.
The pelicans tend to operate in lines abreast, driving the fish before
them into shallows before scooping them up into their beak pouches. The
striking 1.6m saddle bill stork makes quick darting movements into the
water. Then there’s the marabou stork, great white egrets, black headed
herons, open billed storks and the stately goliath heron that can stand
in the same position for hours before pouncing. Of the most beautiful are
the elegant crowned cranes, with their golden tufts congregating in large
flocks at the salt pans.
Around the same time, just before the rains set in, in
November, the palearctic migrants from Northern Europe and the intra-African
migrants arrive to exploit the feeding opportunities that the warm rainy
season brings. These include the red chested cuckoo, white storks, European
swallows. Swifts, hobbies and bee-eaters, as well as birds of prey such
as the Steppe eagles and Steppe buzzards that come all the way from Russia.
A special sight is the hundreds of brightly coloured carmine bee-eaters
nesting in the steep sandy banks of the river.
The ever-present sounds of the birds in the Valley takes
some getting used to. An early caller is the ground hornbill, looking like
a well-dressed turkey, but emitting the sound of a deep base drum. The
melodious Heuglin’s robin, the shrill cry of the fish eagle and the background
cooing of doves and larks.
With about 400 of Zambia’s 732 species of birds appearing
in the Valley, including 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species, there
is plenty for the birdwatcher to spot, whatever the season.
For an enhanced experience of the bush, one would do well
to develop an interest in the varying vegetation in Zambia. Some magnificent
trees grow in the Valley and it certainly adds to the richness of one’s
experience to begin to recognise different tree species and figure out
the implications of them growing in that particular area.
Among the more common trees in the valley are the mopane,
leadwood, winterthorn, some beautiful specimens of baobab, large ebony
forests, the tall vegetable ivory palm, marula and the magnificent tamarind
Mfuwe Airport recently achieved international status and
various airlines were looking at scheduled flights from abroad.
Domestic flights operate about ten times a week in peak
season (June-Oct) from Lusaka. Check with any travel agent for schedules.
Charter planes from outside the country can now fly direct
without clearing customs at Lusaka and there are a number of charter companies
in Zambia, that can fly to and from Zambia’s top destinations. All lodges
do transfers to and from the airport. Zambian Airways has scheduled flights
from Lusaka to Mfuwe. Air Malawi has scheduled flights from Lilongwe to
While you await your flight or before you head off to
the bush, don't miss a visit to Jake's Moondog Cafe just outside the airport.
An excellent bush bar with ice cold beers and great food. Next door is
the famous Magenge Crafts Shop with an impressive collection of fine arts
and crafts made by the local artists and craftsmen in the valley.
Driving, one can approach from three sides. The usual
route is from Chipata. This is a good road if a little corrugated and the
123km drive takes about two hours to Mfuwe, just outside the Park. If travelling
in a robust 4x4 from Lusaka, it is possible to take a short cut from the
Great East Road at Petauke, up alongside the Luangwa River to Mfuwe. Only
to be attempted well into the dry season. A good overnight stop along the
way is at the Luangwa River Bridge at Bridge Camp.
The Northern access is from Mpika on the Great North Road
or Lundazi, near Zambia’s eastern border with Malawi. Just below Mpika,
there is a road running down the Munyamadzi Corridor between North and
South Luangwa Parks. It is passable but only in 4WD and preferably with
two vehicles as help is a long way away. The mountain pass down the escarpment
is quite formidable, very rocky and bumpy but the view over this, the tail
end of the Great Rift Valley, is quite spectacular.
Seasonal changes are very pronounced in Luangwa. The dry
season begins in April and intensifies through to October, the hottest
month when game concentrations are at their height. Warm sunny days and
chilly nights typify the dry winter months of May to August. The wet season
begins in November as the leaves turn green, and the dry bleak terrain
becomes a lush jungle. The rainy season lasts up until the end of March
and the migrant birds arrive in droves. Each lodge stays open for as long
as access is possible, depending on its location in the area. See below
There are many varied places to stay in the Valley ranging
from luxurious safari camps to budget chalets and camping. Most of the
lodges are spread along the east bank of the Luangwa River, in the adjoining
Game Management Area, conducting game drives and walking safaris along
the west bank, in the Park itself. Some of the Lodges have bush camps deep
in the Park for remote walking safaris.
Track and Trail River camp is a lodge that opened in 2006.
Track and Trail River camp is located on the banks of the Luangwa River
overlooking the South Luangwa National Park, the park’s main entrance only 5
minutes away, Track & Trail River Camp is as enchanting as its surroundings.
The comfortable chalets reflect the rustic theme of ‘Simply safari escape’.
Discover the campsite at a prime spot on the Luangwa River, each camping spot
ensures sufficient privacy, offering. Track and Trail River camp has it's own
price range with a great price/quality.
Kaingo is a small, very comfortable lodge, one of the
few inside the Park itself, with an emphasis on personalised walking safaris
and game drives. Mwamba Bush Camp is three hours walk north of Kaingo set
under shady ebony trees along the Mwamba River. The emphasis here is mainly
on Walking Safaris; it is an excellent game area. An ideal safari includes
three nights at Kaingo and three at Mwamba Camp. Both camps are owned and
operated by Derek Shenton, son of former Park Warden and prominent conservationist,
Barry Shenton. (Open: 20 May - 31 Oct)
One of the more well known and established lodges is Kapani,
built by Norman Carr, the ‘father’ of conservation in Zambia. It has comfortable
brick and tile chalets and top quality catering. (All year). Kapani runs
three bush camps in the Park during the dry season; Luwi, Kakuli and Nsolo
with the emphasis on walking safaris. (June to October) RUn by Norman Carr
Mfuwe Lodge is a fine luxury lodge in one of the South
Luangwa's prime locations, built between busy lagoons within the Park iteself.
They have two Trail Camps, for walking safaris operating from July
to October. Otherwise the main lodge is open all year round.
Chinzombo, part-owned by another of the Valley’s forefathers
Phil Berry is a comfortable shady lodge with a pool and excellent cuisine,
offering game drives and walking safaris.. (All year)
Tena Tena is a luxurious tented camp under a shad mahogany
grove in the northern section run by Robin Pope, a well-known safari expert.
(June to October). The Popes also own the picturesque Nkwali Camp further
south, which boasts the ‘best bar in the Valley.’ (April to December) and
Nsefu, the oldest camp with a spectacular view across the Luangwa River.
The Bush Camp Company has walking Trails through
the Park staying at their four very comfortable bush camps along the Luangwa
Chibembe is a thatched grass and reed 12 bedded lodge
at the confluence of the Chibembe and Luangwa Rivers. All rooms are shaded
by massive mahogany and acacia trees, with en-suite bathrooms. Chibembe
has two walking safari camps in the Park.
Another well-known wildlife expert, John Coppinger has
a small exclusive camp called Tafika, just north of the Nsefu Sector of
the Park. Their specialities, apart from the usual Game drives and walks,
are microlighting over the surrounding Game Management Area and river safaris
down the Luangwa at high water in February and March (June - Oct) just
north of the Nsefu Sector of the Park. Their specialities, apart from the
usual Game drives and walks, are microlighting over the surrounding Game
Management Area and river safaris down the Luangwa at high water in February
and March (June - Oct).
The newest Lodge in the Valley is Kafunta. Each spacious
log cabin is made from natural material with a splendid view over the winding
About 23km south of Mfuwe is Tundwe, perfectly sited under
an enormous canopy of evergreen trees with large A-frame thatch chalets
overlooking the river. (May - Nov)
Luamfwa is another of the Valley’s oldest lodges, recently
refurbished and nestling in a very remote section of the park itself. Its
wooden chalets overlook a busy lagoon. (June - Oct).
Other camps are Kapamba Trails Camp on the Kapamba River
in the southern section of the Park. (June - Oct). Muchenje Camp, run by
Savannah Trails. (June to Oct).
For the budget traveller, Jake’s Flatdogs has four very
comfortable and airy, self catering chalets for rent as well as a fully
serviced camping site with excellent ablution facilities, a fully equipped
kitchen with a cook on hand, a bar and a take away restaurant. This you’ll
find at the Crocodile Farm near the entrance to the Park. Walks, night
drives and game drives in open vehicles are available. (All year)
The Wildlife Camp also has self catering chalets for hire
a camp site and a good bar/restaurant with a great view. They also offer
game drives and walking safaris. (All year)
Backpackers could also try Ulendo Rest House in Mfuwe
village, just outside the Park on the main road - it offers simple accommodation
and traditional food. (All year)
All the bigger lodges offer game drives, night drives
and walking safaris as part of the package. Budget lodges charge separately
for these services.
Mobile Walking Safaris are run in the wild and remote
sections of the park. Camps are set up ahead of you and moved on to the
next site while guests take a slow and adventurous walk through the bush.
Robin Pope Safaris (June to September)