South Luangwa National Park, the highlight of eastern Zambia
South Luangwa was founded as a game park in 1904 and later converted in a game reserve in 1938. The park covers a huge area of almost 9000 square kilometres and lies from 500 metres to 800 metres above the sea level. Open, grassy plains and mesmerising woodlands with magnificent trees as the mopane, leadwood, winterthorn, the tall vegetable ivory palm, the marula and the magnificent tamarind tree, crowned with the impressive Luangwa River make this Park a spectacular safari destination.
The Park boasts 60 different animal species and over 400 of Zambia’s 732 species of birds. The river is the life-blood of the South Luangwa National Park and is magnet for large herds of cape buffalo and elephants that often crowd its banks; the Park is also well known for its high density of leopards (the park is also known as “Valley of Leopard”) as well as endemic species such as Crawshay’s zebra and Thornicroft’s giraffe plus a significant population of lions and all the classic plains game such as zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, kudu, puku, impala, eland, hippo, crocodile, wild dog and hyena. The only notable exceptions are the cheetah and the rhino, sadly poached to extinction more than 20 years ago.
Activities in the South Luangwa
South Luangwa offers stunning wildlife viewing. It is undoubtedly the jewel of Zambia’s National Parks and the place to see the unspoiled African nature. All the lodges offer several activities to enjoy the park living an unforgettable experience through its huge unspoiled area.
1. Game drive
The best way to enjoy the wildlife is by the open vehicles guided by a professional guide that will lead you around beautiful wilderness drive and loop of the park providing closer encounters and spectacular photographic opportunities. The morning game drive last 4 hours and costs around 50 $ (6 am to 10 am); The night game drive lasts 4 hours and costs 50 $ (4 pm to 8 pm). During the night safari, as the sun starts to disappear, you’ll first stop for sun-downers, and then head into the night to catch some of the elusive nocturnal creatures with the help of a spotter and his light. Another option is the “full day” safari that lasts around 12 hours and reaches the remote areas of the Park (it costs about 100 $ and includes breakfast and lunch).
2. Walking safari
A walking safari is a thrilling experience and a unique way to experience the African bush and observe its wildlife. South Luangwa is famous for its guided walking safaris, and the guides boast an extensive knowledge of flora and fauna in the area. The morning walking safari lasts around 3/4 hours and costs around 50 $. If you want to try a wilder experience, some lodges arrange multi-days walking safaris where you are immersed in the wilderness day and night (temporary base camps are set up in different spots each night).
3. Self-drive safari
You can also experience the Park with your vehicle (you need a 4×4) paying the daily entrance fee (30 $) plus the charge for the car itself (15 $). Ask the reception the map of the road networks to be sure of getting the most out of your visit. Click here to see the networks map of South Luangwa.
Need to know about South Luangwa
1. Best time to go
The best time for visiting Zambia is the dry season from June to September. Days are warm and sunny but can get chilly at night (above all June and July). September brings hot, hazy weather and it’s an excellent time for game viewing and bird watching. In October it can get scorching with temperatures going up to 40°C in the shade. This is the end of Zambia’s dry season.
Click here to check the official website.
3. Traveller’s health
Click here for more information; keep in mind that Malaria is endemic in Zambia as well as in most African countries.
4. How to get there
We visited the Park for 3 days during a trip to Malawi since it’s quite close to the border. The road from Lilongwe is well maintained, and it takes about 6/7 hours to reach the South Lwangua (including the stop at the Malawi and Zambia border to get the Visa). If you are travelling with your vehicle (or a rented vehicle), you also have to pay a temporary Import permit at the border (including insurance and road access fee) for it to drive in Zambia.
Click here to see our itinerary and general information about the trip.
5. Entrance gate and fee
The fee x day is 25 $ x person that you have to pay at the entrance gate of the park. The major access point to the park is the Mfuwe gate, near the village of Mfuwe. If you visit the park with a rented car (or a foreigner car), the daily park fee is 30 $ x day, and the vehicle fee is 15 $ x day.
6. Where to sleep and eat
Very close to Mfuwe gate you’ll find a wide range of Lodges. The cheapest option is to sleep with your tent (average price 10 $ x day). We slept at Croc Valley Camp with our tent (the camping area is well equipped and next to the restaurant and the pool). We arranged our safaris with the open vehicle of the lodge paying 45 $ x morning/night game drive and 100 $ for the full-day game drive (plus the daily park fee). There are also a few lodges inside the park but more expensive. All the lodges arrange the activities through the South Luangwa. If you rent a gas cylinder with a stove to cook yourself, you can do grocery shopping in Chipata at Spar or Shoprite supermarket (you’ll only find a supermarket in the big cities).