Introducing South Luangwa National Park
For scenery, variety and density of animals, accessibility and choice of accommodation, South Luangwa is the best park in Zambia and one of the most majestic in Africa. Impalas, pukus, waterbuck giraffe and buffaloes wander on the wide-open plains; leopards, of which there are many in the park, hunt in the dense woodlands; herds of elephants wade through the marshes; and hippos munch serenely on Nile cabbage in the Luangwa River. The bird life is also tremendous: about 400 species have been recorded – large birds like snake eagles, bateleurs and ground hornbills are normally easy to spot. The quality of the park is reflected in the quality of its guides – the highest in Zambia. The local professional guide association sets standards, and anyone who shows you around this park should have passed a set of tough examinations.
The focal point is Mfuwe, an uninspiring though more prosperous than average village with shops as well as a petrol station and market. Around 1.8km further along is Mfuwe Gate, the main entrance to the park, where a bridge crosses the Luangwa River. A little before the gate are turn-off signs for a handful of lodges and camps. The area around the gate can get quite busy with vehicles in the high season but only because it probably has the highest concentration of wildlife in the park. But compared to the rush-hour, rally-style safaris in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for example, it’s positively peaceful. (Note that lots of wild animals in this area make walking around at night very dangerous.)
Away from Mfuwe, in the northern and southern parts of the park, the camps and lodges enjoy a quieter and more exclusive atmosphere. The animals may be less used to vehicles and slightly harder to find, but there are fewer visitors in these areas and watching the wildlife here is immensely rewarding. In all, only around one eighth of the park is 'operated in' while the remainder sees few if any visitors.
Much of the park is inaccessible because of rains between November and April (especially February and March), so many lodges close at this time.
If you’re in either Zambia or Malawi, on a budget and looking for ways to see South Luangwa without breaking the bank, consider organising an all-inclusive safari, which will also sort out those challenging transport logistics. Recommended budget operators with accommodation in tents are: River Safari Company, which is run out of Lusaka Backpackers, and Jackalberry Safaris in Zambia; and Land & Lake Safaris and Kiboko Safaris, both of which operate from Lilongwe, Malawi.
South Luangwa National Park destination guides
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