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)
Lower Zambezi NP
This is Zambia’s newest Park and as such is still relatively
undeveloped, but it’s beauty lies in it’s absolute wilderness state. The
diversity of animals is not as wide as the other big parks, but the opportunities
to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are spectacular.
The Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the
whole area on both sides of the river is a massive wildlife sanctuary.
The rivers edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe,
mostly diasporus, ficus and other riverine species. Further inland is a
floddplain fringed with mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn
trees Acacia albida. The hills which form the backdrop to the park are
covered in broadleaf woodland.
The Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4092
square kilometers, but most of the game is concentrated along the valley
floor.There is an escarpment along the northern end which acts as a physical
barrier to most of the parks animal species.Enormous herds of elephant,
some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the rivers edge. ‘Island hopping’
buffalo and waterbuck are common. The park also hosts good populations
of lion and leopard and listen too for the ubiquitous cry of the fish eagle.
One can drive into the National Park on one’s own but
it is very underdeveloped and not really structured for vehicle visitors
yet. The existing lodges and canoeing operators provide the best access
to the park. They all offer pick-ups from either Lusaka or Chirundu (where
there is a small motel) or Kariba in Zimbabwe.
The Chongwe River demarcates the western boundary of the
park and can be accessed from Chirundu along a rough road (4x4 recommended),
crossing the Kafue River by pontoon just beyond Gwabi Lodge.
From April there will be a pontoon that crosses the Zambezi
from Luangwa Town to Kanyemba in Zimbabwe and to Zumbo in Mozambique. All
at the Zambezi/Luangwa confluence.
There are three lodges on the lower Zambezi, two in the
park and one just outside in a private wildlife sanctuary. They are all
reached by arrangement as access is usually by motor boat along the Zambezi.
Chiawa Camp has luxury tented, en suite accommodation
for 14 guests. Their speciality is gameviewing by motorboat, by open vehicle
in the park, night drives, bush walks, canoeing, river cruises and angling
safaris. Operating season is from May to October.
Chongwe River Camp, found at the Chongwe River and Zambezi
confluence, opposite Mana Pools. It has 3 self catering chalets and only
5 campsites under the canopy of huge Acacia trees. Unparalleled tiger fishing
area, with great game and bird viewing opportunities.
Sausage Tree Camp is run by Tongabezi and offers superb
comfort in a rustic setting on the banks of the River. Canoeing safaris
as well as game drives and night drives, walks in the bush, birding trails
and often you can just sit in your tent and watch the action!
Kiambi Safari has three up-market lodges on the Zambian
banks of the Lower Zambezi River. These well designed Camps have been carefully
positioned in keeping with the unspoiled wilderness of the area. Kiambi
Camp offers superb views over the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers and is only
20km from the Chirundu Border, Kiubo Camp is in the Chiawa Game Management
Area opposite Mana Pools National Park and Kulefu Camp is in the remote
Lower Zambezi National Park.
Royal Zambezi Lodge has it's own 3.5 kilometers
of unspoiled river frontage and is flanked by a back drop of scenic mountains.
Fly in to the Royal Zambezi's private air strip in the comfort of a chartered
aircraft only half an hour's flight from Lusaka.
Two great new Camps have recently opened, one on the River
bank, Mtondo River Camp and another further up the escarpment with magnificent
views of the Zambezi Shafumbi Mountain Camp.
For an affordable option, there is Kwalata Bush Camp,
a comfortable campsite situated on the banks of the river, 45 km before
the National Park in the GMA.
Kingfisher Lodge is further down the Mpata Gorge near
the confluence with the Luangwa River. This small but exclusive lodge is
exquisitely situated on a bend in the River with not a soul in sight. They
also offer gameviewing by boat and on land as well as fishing expeditions
up the gorge and their speciality is flyfishing.
Kayila is set on a terraced lawn, with four luxury chalets
on the rivers edge. There is a honeymoon suite with an enormous rock pool
for a bath and the last chalet is a treehouse way up in the boughs of an
enormous sausage tree. It has the quaintest guest toilet right in the middle
of a naturally hollowed Baobab tree.
Mvuu Lodge located in an attractive setting in the
GMA is a self catering as well as a fully catered (on request) tented camp.
There is also a camp site for those on a budget.
The best way to experience the magnificence of this river
is to take a canoeing trip down the channels. Karibu Safaris runs popular
6 day canoeing safari with limited participation camping along the Zambezi
river and into the Lower Zambezi National Park.
Safari Par Excellence and Tongabezi Safaris do 2, 3, 4
and five day trips. Very comfortable camps are erected along the river
in the national park about 15 - 20 kms apart.
In Chirundu at the Zimbabwe/Zambia border, there is a
simple motel, the Nyambadwe, offering very basic accomodation for overnight
stops. More comfortable and picturesque is Gwabi Lodge on the banks of
the Kafue River, close to its confluence with the Zambezi.
Fishing is good along the river, all three lodges offer
fishing with rods and simple tackle provided. Healthy Tiger fish and bream
catches are common as well as vundu, a member of the catfish family, weighing
up to 50 kilograms. Strangely, cheap strong smelling soap is an excellent
Canoeing is a must. The lodges will provide day long canoeing
trips. Float down the river at your leisure and they’ll pick you up in
a speedboat at the end of the day to bring you back.
Several operators run 3 - 5 day trips, overnighting at
very comfortable bush camps on the banks of the river. These are highly
recommended. The river has a strong enough current to take you easily down
the river with little effort. The river guides will take you down remote
channels between the islands where your opportunities to get close to game
are very high. Hippos are always in sight, elephant, zebra, puku, impala,
buffalo, kudu and baboons can be seen browsing on the banks from the laid
back comfort of your canoe. See Adventure Companies.
Safari Par Excellence also offer ‘participatory’ canoeing
trips of any duration. All gear is carried in the canoes and camps are
erected on islands in the river along the way. Everyone gets involved in
setting up camp and cooking. These trips are obviously cheaper and a touch
less comfortable, but the thrill of the wilderness is that much more intense.
Karibu Safaris a canoeing safari with limited participation
camping (no equipment carried in the canoes, excellent meals prepared by
crew). Guests are met at Kariba and are transferred to exclusive campsites
on the banks of the Zambezi. Guests canoe their way down the river
with their experienced and knowledgeable river guides, staying at a different
camp site each night. 6 day and 4 day packages are offered.
Game drives and walking safaris offered by the lodges
and camps provide excellent game viewing opportunities.
The ecological unit of LZNP and the Chiawa Game Management
Area support a relatively large population of mammals. The escarpment and
plateau regions are largely inaccessible and have not been formally surveyed.
The valley floor, although a small area is host to many of the bigger mammals,
elephant, buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, kudu, zebra, and crocodiles, impala
and warthog. Occasionally, roan, eland and the Samango monkey. Nocturnal
animals here are hyaena, porcupine, civet, genet and honeybadger.
The birdlife along the riverbanks is exceptional. Many
a fish eagle can be seen and heard for miles around. Nesting along the
cliffs are white fronted and carmine bee eaters. Another unusual the red
winged pratincole, the elegant crested guinea fowl, black eagle, and vast
swarms of quelea. In summer the stunning narina trogon makes its home here.
Other specialities are the trumpeter hornbill, Meyers parrot and Lilian’s
The vegetation in the area is predominated by Acacia albida
trees, a thorn species 10 - 30m high with the classical shady umbrella
canopy. It is able to tolerate sandier soils than other woodland species
and serves to stabilise infertile sandbanks and reduce erosion. Winterthorn
pods are also remarkably nutritious to elephants who digest it leaving
about 40% intact, thereby contributing to its proliferation.
The best time is mid season from June to September, but
all lodges and canoeing operators are open from April to November. Kayila
lodge is open all year. Fishing is at its best in September / October.