Zambia Safari Guide | Discover South Luangwa National Park

Your private deck at Nkwali Camp in South LuangwaYour private deck at Nkwali Camp in South Luangwa

Are you fed up with stampedes for the buffet table and convoys of tourists at every game sighting? Discover the real Africa that is wild and unpredictable in beautiful South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Go off the beaten track - enjoy unforgettable walking safaris, canoeing and game drives.

Access

You can reach Mfuwe by public transport, 4x4 vehicle and by plane (Mfuwe International Airport). A map of the park which shows routes and tourist information is available at the main gate. Chipata is the closest town to Mfuwe Gate which is the main entrance to the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. The road from Chipata to Mfuwe is bumpy and rutted and it takes about 2 hours to drive. Chipata is connected by road to Lusaka in Zambia and Lilongwe in Malawi.

Airport

Mfuwe International Airport is about 30 minutes drive from the Mfuwe Gate of South Luangwa National Park. Most lodges provide airport transfers. Mfuwe Airport offers flight connections to Lusaka, Livingstone and Lilongwe (Malawi), with higher frequencies of flights in the dry season. Private Charter flights to Mfuwe connect many top destinations in Zambia and surrounding countries.

Regions

Some parts of South Luangwa become inaccessible in the wet season, so certain lodges and camps are closed for all or part of this season. Year-round camps take advantage of the dramatic change in the seasons and offer activities to make the most of opportunities.

Highlights

The Luangwa River is the heart of the South Luangwa National Park. This beautiful river is visually stunning with its oxbow lagoons and lush riverine vegetation. It is not dammed or interfered with in any way and there is no significant development along its banks.

The valley floor is actually much lower than the surrounding plateau which is the tail end of the Great Rift Valley. South Luangwa is known for its high concentrations of wildlife (also Leopard). Expect superb game viewing and birding in an area that is remote and wild - the real Africa.

South Luangwa features authentic walking safaris with highly trained guides and armed scouts. You can also go on night drives, which are not usually allowed in national parks. South Luangwa is not overrun with visitors, which is the main attraction.

Activities

One of the most exciting and rewarding ways to explore this remote park is on foot with a ranger and armed scout on a traditional walking safari. Nature's mysteries reveal themselves to you on this activity and you'll discover many details that are overlooked on game drives.

Walking safaris can be on average about 3 hours long or continue over a number of days while walking from camp to camp. Guided game drives take place in the early morning, in the evening and at night with the aid of a spotlight. South Luangwa is a wonderful destination for photographic, fishing and birding safaris. During the wet season canoe safaris and boating can be done on the river. For something different you could also go on a cultural visit to Mfuwe village and Kawaza village. Some lodges have wellness facilities.

Climate

The Dry Season - April to October. This is the Peak Season. June and July are the winter months and though sunny during the day, the nights and early mornings are very cool. This season gets progressively drier and hotter towards October which is the hottest month. Animals are easier to see as the vegetation dies back. Predator action at the river and waterholes becomes more intense, as thirsty animals break cover to drink at the water's edge.

The Wet Season - November to March. This is the Emerald season. Visitors are less as some lodges close during the rains. Some camps offer reduced rates at this time. The humidity level rises in November with the onset of light rains. Migrant birds arrive in numbers and many species begin nesting and breeding. Certain antelope species give birth in this season. Rainfall increases with heavy short downpours mostly at night. Game disperses to higher ground. The landscape transforms into a lush wonderland especially towards the end of the season. The river swells and canoeing / boating safaris are possible.

The Experience

Each season in the South Luangwa Valley offers something unique and you can get the best of both worlds, from great canoe safaris to exciting land activities. Game viewing is spectacular in South Luangwa National Park, especially in the dry season. You'll spot hordes of Hippos and Crocodiles from the moment you drive over the bridge at Mfuwe Gate. The Leopard population is a big attraction and sightings are common in particular after dark. You're bound to see large herds of Elephant and Buffalo along the riverside and possibly big Lion prides and Hyena which roam the park. Wild Dogs can also be spotted in South Luangwa.

Specialities of this park include Thornicroft's Giraffe, Crawshay's Zebra, Cookson's Wildebeest, Puku, Roan, Sable and Aardvark. South Luangwa is also amazing for birding as there are around 400 recorded species with additional interest when the migrants arrive in the rainy season.

Keep your eyes peeled for Carmine Bee Eaters, Pel's Fishing Owl, African Fish Eagle and Lilac Breasted Rollers. There are nearly 50 migrant species that spend the summer in South Luangwa including the Steppe Buzzard and Steppe Eagle.

Authentic walking safaris are a speciality of South Luangwa National Park and really not to be missed for the sheer adventure of it all. You can go on half day walks in the wilderness which include a refreshment stop, or opt for an 'Out of Africa' experience on a mobile walking safari over a number of days in the wilderness.

Accommodation

South Luangwa benefits from being a hidden gem, visitors are limited and the feeling of truly being in the wild is strong. There are a number of great lodges and camps to choose from. Some are open only in the dry season. Camping enthusiasts will find 5 campsites, 2 near Mfuwe Gate, 2 along the Luangwa River and one very basic site near the Nyamaluna Pontoon.

What you need to know

Game passing through your camp, especially at night is quite common in South Luangwa, therefore wandering around after dark is very dangerous and not advised. Escorts are often used to walk guests around the grounds and from the main lodge to the accommodation units at night.

This is a malaria zone so precautions are needed. Mosquitoes are active after sunset and in the rainy season. Cover exposed skin especially around wrists and ankles.

Prepare for hot weather. It is blistering during the day and even warm in winter (although temperatures drop a lot at night in peak winter months). Safari activities take place in the cooler early morning or evening hours to avoid the intense midday heat.
African Safaris Guide to South and East Africa
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