South Luangwa National Park, the highlight of eastern Zambia
South Luangwa was founded as a game park in 1904 and later converted into 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 sea level. Open, grassy plains and mesmerising woodlands with magnificent trees such 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 a 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 SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK
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 with the open vehicles driven by a professional guide that will lead you around a 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 USD (6 am to 10 am); The night game drive lasts 4 hours and costs 50 USD (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 USD and includes breakfast and lunch).
2. Walking safari
A walking safari is a thrilling activity 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 50 USD. If you want to try a wilder experience, some lodges arrange multi-day walking safaris where you will be completely 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 USD) plus the charge for the car itself (15 USD). Ask for the road networks map at the entrance gate (or at your accommodation) to be sure of getting the most out of your visit. Click here to see the networks’ map of South Luangwa National Park.
Need to know about South Luangwa NP
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.
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) to drive in Zambia.
Click here to see our itinerary and general information about the trip.
The fee x day is 25 USD p.p. you have to pay at the park entrance gate. 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 USD x day, and the vehicle fee is 15 USD x day.
Very close to Mfuwe gate you’ll find a wide range of Lodges. The cheapest option is to sleep in your tent (the average price of 10 USD x day). We slept at Croc Valley Camp in our tent (the camping area is well equipped and next to the restaurant and the pool). We arranged our safaris with the lodge’s open vehicle paying 45 USD x morning/night game drive and 100 USD 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 NP. 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).