SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK
Called by some as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, South Luangwa is one of Zambia's main draws. This 9,050 sq km park is centered around the Luangwa River and is home to one of Africa's largest concentrations of wildlife. The game viewing and scenery here is superb. If we could only do one more safari, we think this is where we would return. The chances of finding leopard and wild dogs are very high, and the range and abundance of key species, with the exception of rhinos, is incredible.
Thanks to its inaccessible location, South Luangwa manages to combine immense density of wildlife with limited visitor numbers, and it's also one of the few national parks that allow night safaris. However, visitor numbers are steadily marching upwards, and the best time to visit is right now — before it becomes the next Kruger or Serengeti. The seasonal floodplains create an environment that supports a huge diversity of wildlife including over 100 species of mammals and over 420 species of birds as well as many reptiles, insects, amphibians and plants.
South Luangwa is home to a dazzling array of wildlife. You'll see hipposand crocodilesas soon as you cross the bridge over the Luangwa River, and elephantsare hard to miss along the river's banks. Thornicraft's giraffe, with white legs and faces, and Crawshay's zebra, without the brownish "shadow-stripe" of common (Burchell's) zebra, are both endemic to the park and easily spotted. Herds of buffalo roam the park, along with several prides of lions. The density of leopards is among the highest in the world, although spotting these nocturnal creatures can be tricky. All sorts of antelopes abound: impala are ubiquitous, the puku — rarely seen outside Zambia — is almost as common and there are plenty of waterbucks and bushbucks too.
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 is a sub-species that is only found in the Luangwa valley. Cookson’s wildebeest is another species unique to the area.
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.
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 about 50 hippos per kilometre of the Luangwa River.
Lions are commonly seen in South Luangwa National Park and it is the only place in the world where they are known to kill hippos. The lion prides here include up to 20 animals and other more furtive predators abound too, as well as leopards there are jackals, serval and caracal.
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. Also to be heard is the melodious Heuglin’s robin, the shrill cry of the fish eagle, set to the background cooing of doves.
Your best way to get to/from South Luangwa National Park is by light aircraft to Mfuwe airport, from where the lodges include transfers in their nightly rates. Depending on your itinerary we can book those flights for you from Lusaka, Livingstone, one of the Lower Zambezi or Kafue airstrips. One-way flights cost ~USD 400 per person.
SOUTH LUANGWA ITINERARIES
Please click on one of the below links to view our South Luangwa itineraries, on the button for combination itineraries with other areas in Zambia, or contact us directly for a bespoke itinerary.