A sweeping, fertile valley sculpted by the Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park is best known for its diverse and wealthy wildlife and the superb quality of its guides. It's a great destination for walking safaris and one of the best places to see leopards in the wild. South Luangwa National Park is definitely high up there on the list of favourites among true safari enthusiasts.
- Arguably Zambia's best safari destination
- Incredible variety of abundant wildlife
- Birding hotspot, especially in the 'emerald' season
- Renowned for walking safaris with expert guides
- Three endemic species of giraffe, wildebeest and zebra
- Known for its excellent leopard sightings
- Afternoon/evening game drives allowed
- World-class lodges with highly-trained, welcoming staff
South Luangwa is known for two things: walking safaris and leopard sightings – the latter said to be on a par with the world-famous Sabi Sand Reserve of South Africa.
At South Luangwa, lodges and safari operators can stay out until 8pm (self-drive tourists have to be out by 6pm). This means that most camps offer a typical safari itinerary which includes a morning game drive and an afternoon/evening game drive with spotlights. Leopards are most often seen during the night drives, as well as many of the other shyer nocturnal species.
The midday hours are usually spent relaxing over lunch, resting or game viewing from the decks of your lodge or camp. On bush walks, you’ll be accompanied by an expert ranger who’ll share the finer points of fauna and flora with you.
Some camps have their own well-situated hides, perfect for avid wildlife photographers. Game viewing by microlight is also an option at Tafika Safari Lodge. In the ‘emerald’ or rainy season (usually from December to March), some camps also offer game viewing by canoe and by boat.
There are several superb safari camps at South Luangwa, mostly looking out over the expansive Luangwa River, or one of its lesser channels. Camps are unfenced and animals are free to roam between the lodge rooms or tents. There’s a range of options to suit all tastes and preferences – from tiny, rustic bush camps to world-class safari lodges; however, all are renowned for their high-standards of service, expert guiding and hospitality.
Excellent Game Viewing and Birdlife
South Luangwa is definitely Zambia’s best national park for variety and abundance of wildlife. There are three endemic species, too: Thornicroft's giraffe – with its dramatic zigzag markings; Cookson's wildebeest – slightly smaller, more reddish and brighter in colour than its more common cousin; and Crawshay's zebra – lacking the ‘shadow’ stripe of its southern family.
You’re likely to see enormous elephant and buffalo herds, and antelope like impala and puku, as well as many varieties of large plains animals. Lions are common, as are hyenas and wild dog numbers are on the increase. No rhino or cheetah are found here.
More than 400 bird species have been identified in the region. Probably the best time for birding is the rainy or 'emerald season' when the bush is lush and food is plentiful. You're likely to see vast flocks of herons, storks, egrets and numerous other water birds. Another annual spectacle is the thousands of carmine bee-eaters nesting in the sandy riverbanks (August to October).
Best Times to Visit
Most camps in South Luangwa are open only during the dry season, from May until mid-November, with only some camps staying open all year round. The best game viewing is from July to October. But bear in mind that October is the hottest month and often daytime temperatures soar over 30°C (86°F).
Best ways to Safari at South Luangwa
Fly-ins: the easiest and quickest option by virtue of the vast distances you often need to cover from one safari camp/reserve to another. An hour-long flight from Lusaka connects you to Mfuwe Airport, from where you’ll be met and collected by someone from your safari lodge/camp.
Guided Safari: a reputable ground operator will meet you at the airport and be your personalised safari guide for your entire stay at the lodge of your choice.
Self-drive: would require a 4x4 vehicle with a competent driver as some of the roads are challenging to say the least, and are sometimes impassable in the green/rainy season.
Please discuss your dream safari ideas and requests with us and we’ll gladly put together an excellent itinerary for you, based on our firsthand experience at the many safari lodges on offer. There are also some great 'bush and beach' opportunities. For example, combining your Zambian safari with a stop-over at Lake Malawi.