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South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park

The South Luangwa has it all.  The meandering Luangwa River, stunning scenery, big game, knowledgeable guides and a choice of intimate elegant lodges and remote bush camps. 

As well as exceptional lion and leopards sightings, the South Luangwa boasts diverse and prolific wildlife and not least, expert guides who can find the game and truly maximize your photographic opportunities.

Many of the camps are owner managed including the Norman Carr and Robin Pope lodges who were the first to establish camps in the South Luangwa.  These camps are expertly run with a real family feel with excellent hospitality and expert guiding from rangers with many years of experience in the bush.  To optimize wildlife photography, some camps even have a network of photographic blinds and hides that practically guarantee award winning wildlife photographs.   Early morning and late afternoon game drives in open 4×4 vehicles are led by a knowledgeable guide whose enthusiasm for the flora and fauna will inform and delight.

Walking Safaris have their origins in the South Luangwa, particularly walking between remote bush camps which gives a true perspective of Africa’s sights and sounds. Getting up close to wildlife without the confines of a vehicle, but in the safe hands of some of the best guides in Africa is a truly unforgettable experience.

 

Photo credit: Time+Tide/Norman Carr Safaris

 

at a glance

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Introduction

South Luangwa is widely regarded as one of Africa’s greatest national parks, and the finest wildlife sanctuary in Zambia. The huge national park is set in a truly wild and remote setting, situated on the valley floor between the Muchinga Rift Escarpment and the meandering Luangwa River. It is one of Africa’s most unspoiled destinations with a wide diversity of habitats home to one of the continent’s largest concentrations of varied and rare wildlife seldom seen in other game reserves.

This premier wilderness area contains a wide variety of landscapes and flora. From attractive sausage trees, beautiful 600 year old baobabs and large ebony forests, South Luangwa is famous for its natural beauty. Seasonal changes add to the park’s richness, ranging from a dry, bare bushveld in winter to luscious green woodlands in summer.

The park is sustained by the impressive Luangwa River which supports a rich and dense selection of game along its banks. The dry season of June to November delivers the most impressive spectacles: South Luangwa is probably the best location to view pods of hippo as for every kilometre along the River, 50 hippos reside, with at least 6000 inhabiting the National Park in total. Extraordinarily high numbers of crocodile are present, and it is not uncommon to witness the world’s largest Nile crocodile – 15ft long – fighting over a hippo kill or alternatively basking along the river banks. River safaris provide an excellent opportunity to view this exciting wildlife of the Luangwa River from February to April.

South Luangwa’s seasonal floodplains create a profusion of varied wildlife. With over 60 species of mammal, the only notable exception is the rhino. Large herds of elephant dominate the plains and in the dry season, buffalo herds can be in excess of 1000 in number. Guests at Mfuwe Lodge may even witness elephants strolling through the reception en-route to nearby mango trees in November! Many rare endemic species only found in the South Luangwa National Park are highlights to the area, such as the Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s wildebeest and Crawshay’s Zebra to name a few. Unusual animal sightings include wild dog, honey badger and civet. Excellent predator-prey viewing can be witnessed on game drives between 14 different species of antelope and plentiful populations of lion.

Renowned for its unusual density of cats, South Luangwa is home to one of the world’s highest densities of leopard, with one for every kilometre of the river in the valley. As the National Park is one of Africa’s few to allow spotlight night drives, South Luangwa has a reputation for first class sightings of these largely nocturnal animals, particularly around Kaingo and Mwamba along with porcupines, hyenas and owls which often feature.

Bird watching is superb in the valley regardless of season as the lush and varied vegetation attracts 400 of Zambia’s 732 species. Hundreds of large waterbirds are often seen wading through the shallows, whilst 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species provide impressive sights towards the end of the dry season. The area is also famous for its endemic rare species, the Lilian’s Lovebird being one of the most colourful birds in the park, which are popular for photographers!

One of the finest ways to experience South Luangwa’s pristine wilderness first hand is on its world famous pioneering walking safaris which operate from June until November, with game drives and night excursions being available year round. For budding photographers, one of the more satisfying unique bush experiences are photographic hides situated between Kaingo and Mwamba Camps. Ranging from an ‘elephant hide’ in the tree tops, to a ‘hippo hide’ in the river bank, these hides guarantee close up encounters with the wildlife and stunning photos.

The South Luangwa Valley offers a unique opportunity to view top quality game whilst having a warm Jacuzzi or Zambian foot reflexology massage at the award winning Bush Spa. Set in the heart of the Park with views over the lagoon, the spa creates a sanctuary for those seeking tranquillity and rejuvenation of mind, body and soul by use of indigenous remedies. For a rare opportunity to appreciate the local Kunda culture, visits can be taken to the rural Zambian village of Kawaza. Whether it’s for a few hours or a few days, the village provides a chance to learn more about their daily ways of living, traditions and culture.

Regional Considerations

For the best game viewing experience, the South Luangwa Central region is ideal, however in addition to attracting the most prolific wildlife; the area also contains the highest densities of visitors during peak season of June to October. South Luangwa North attracts fewer tourists and epitomises a true wilderness environment. For those seeking spectacular views, the southern region of the park provides a more scenic backdrop than elsewhere in the park; where the rift escarpment closes in slightly. Camps are smaller here and generally open between June and October only.

When To Visit

South Luangwa’s dry season begins in April and intensifies through to October (the hottest month). By this time, the earth is bone-dry so is the best environment for game viewing as visibility is 100%.

The wet season begins in November and ends towards the end of March and is overlooked as being a good time to visit the area. Known as the ‘Green Season’, animals take advantage of the abundant food supply, begin giving birth and migrant birds arrive in droves as the dry bleak terrain comes alive to become a lush jungle. Nurseries of tiny impala taking their first steps are often sighted, along with baby warthogs and packs of wild dog. Predator-prey sightings often increase as the carnivores take advantage of the new populations of vulnerable young. Birdlife is at its peak as birds adopt colourful breeding plumage and mating displays. This is an excellent time of year for photographers as there is minimal dust and the skies often hold impressive formations. With parks relatively empty of visitors, and prices significantly lower than peak season, this is an understated yet magical time to visit South Luangwa.

January to April

known as the green season, this is an interesting but unusual time to visit South Luangwa. At the peak of the rainy season, game viewing has largely dispersed away from the Luangwa River system, making game viewing most challenging at this time of year. The best chance at sighting wild dog is between February and June. Despite of this, the quality of sightings does not diminish and many consider these months to be a magical period to be out in the bush. Lush vegetation and wildflowers make the park an attractive isolated wilderness. This ‘emerald season’ is the best time for bird watching as summer migrants have arrived and flocks of herons, egrets and storks are common. The Nsefu Sector in the north of the park is one of the better locations for bird watchers as during the rains, a huge breeding colony of yellow-billed storks resides and can be spotted in the tall trees. In addition, the colonies of carmine bee-eaters nest in holes in the sandy river banks during this period. This season is the cheapest time of year to visit South Luangwa however very few camps remain open at this time. Nkwali Camp and Kapani Camp are a couple of the better lodges for this time of year to stay at. Regardless, the lack of visitors makes the place feel extremely remote and guests can truly immerse themselves in the Zambian wilderness.

May and June

As May progresses, the rains begin to abate at the onset of the drier winter months. Game remains largely dispersed until late June, when animals begin to congregate along the Luwanga River and tributaries. Therefore, game viewing remains relatively challenging at the start of this period until late June when more solid and reliable game viewing occurs. Alternatively, the vibrant landscape is a highlight during this changeable period between the rains and the dry season. Most of the lodges in South Luangwa are open from May onwards and discounts are available.

July to October

the main dry season period is traditionally peak time for visitors to the park. Temperatures steadily climb as October approaches, with maximum temperatures in October reaching 40°C. Despite of the heat, October is considered the prime time to be on safari. For the game, the Luangwa River and waterholes  are the primary sources of drinking water; therefore animals migrate to, and cluster in such areas, making game viewing easiest and most eventful. Towards the end of October/early November, bird migrants from Europe and the rest of Africa arrive including red chested cuckoo, European swallows and white storks. Birds of prey such as steppe eagles and steppe buzzards also migrate to South Luangwa during this time. All lodges should be open during this period; however it is advisable to avoid the central area of South Luangwa which becomes exceptionally busy. The Mfuwe Bridge experiences a great deal of traffic so avoiding this by pontooning across the river as an alternative would be best. Prices are at their peak as this is peak season.

November and December

Early November is hot and humid so can be one of the most uncomfortable times to visit South Luangwa as temperatures are often in excess of 40°C. As the rains commence in the middle of December, conditions improve. Waterholes are filled with water from the rains, encouraging animals to migrate away from the main rivers. Game viewing along the Luangwa River therefore depletes, however game viewing quality is still good. The park is colourful at this time and the birthing season has begun. Many seasonal camps begin to close at the start of November; however some with access to all-weather roads remain open annually. Kapani, Nkwali and Tafika lodges are excellent at this time of year for birdwatching. For guests seeking a quieter period to visit outside the peak tourist time, these months would be suitable. Lodge prices are also less than peak season until around the 20th December when the holiday season prompts prices to soar again.

Temperature & Rainfall

Climate Chart – Mfuwe

South Luangwa Highlights

Bush Walking

Bush Walking

Bush Walking

This is one of the most exclusive experiences on offer in African bush. Walking with the best of ...

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Bush Walking

Bush Walking

This is one of the most exclusive experiences on offer in African bush. Walking with the best of guides, dipping deeper into the bush to savior the raw beauty of the Luangwa valley.

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Dry Season Hippos

Dry Season Hippos

Dry Season Hippos

September to November brings the spectacle of hundreds of hippos jostling irritably as they try to ...

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Dry Season Hippos

Dry Season Hippos

September to November brings the spectacle of hundreds of hippos jostling irritably as they try to escape the blazing dry season sun in the dramatically shrinking Luangwa river and its lagoons.

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Luangwa Leopard

Luangwa Leopard

Luangwa Leopard

The most exciting aspect of the Luangwa Valley is that it has the world’s highest naturally ...

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Luangwa Leopard

Luangwa Leopard

The most exciting aspect of the Luangwa Valley is that it has the world’s highest naturally occurring population of leopard. Night drives are especially effective with sightings in close proximity to the vehicle in many cases.

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Microlight Flight

Microlight Flight

Microlight Flight

Experience an early morning microlight take off for magnificent aerial game viewing experiences. ...

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Microlight Flight

Microlight Flight

Experience an early morning microlight take off for magnificent aerial game viewing experiences. Tafika Camp is unique in offering this activity.

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Spectacular Birds

Spectacular Birds

Spectacular Birds

South Luangwa provides spectacular birdlife all-year-round. Not only does the park welcome visiting ...

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Spectacular Birds

Spectacular Birds

South Luangwa provides spectacular birdlife all-year-round. Not only does the park welcome visiting species, it has a host of resident birds.

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Crocs & Hippos

Crocs & Hippos

Crocs & Hippos

The meandering Luangwa River creates scenic ox-bow lagoons set amongst beautiful riverine ...

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Crocs & Hippos

Crocs & Hippos

The meandering Luangwa River creates scenic ox-bow lagoons set amongst beautiful riverine vegetation of evergreen mahogany and ebony trees, the area is a magnet to outstanding wildlife. The South Luangwa is famous for its hippos and nile crocodiles too.

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camps & lodges

Chikoko Tree Camp

Chikoko Tree Camp

Situated in the South Luangwa National Park, along the west bank of the Luangwa, the Chikoko Trails Camps consist of two private camps: Chikoko Tree ... Read More

Chinzombo

Chinzombo

Chinzombo is situated in 24 hectares of private Luangwa River frontage, just upstream from sister camp Kapani Lodge in the South Luangwa National ... Read More

Crocodile River Camp

Crocodile River Camp

In South Luangwa National Park Crocodile River camp and Chikoko Tree camp form the Chikoko Trails.  These two small bushcamps are in an ... Read More

Flatdogs Camp

Flatdogs Camp

Flatdogs is an excellent, affordable, owner-managed safari camp overlooking the Luangwa River next to the South Luangwa National ... Read More

Island Bush Camp

Island Bush Camp

Island Bush Camp is located in a remote area of the National Park, ideally located on the banks of the Luangwa.  Island Bush Camp is a great ... Read More

Kafunta River Lodge

Kafunta River Lodge

Kafunta River Lodge is a classic Zambian safari lodge located in a game rich area of the Luangwa Valley overlooking the floodplains of the Luangwa ... Read More