South Luangwa National Park Parks and Reserves
A sweeping, fertile valley sculpted by the Luangwa River, this national park is best known for its diverse and wealthy wildlife and the superb quality of its guides. It’s definitely high up there on the list of favourites among true safari enthusiasts.
* South Luangwa National Park Highlights
- ∞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
- ∞3 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 8.00 pm (self-drive tourists have to be out by 6.00 pm). This means that most camps offer a typical safari itinerary which includes a morning game drive and then 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 micro-light 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 boats.
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 – their markings are more zigzag and dramatic; Cookson's wildebeest – slightly smaller, more reddish and brighter in colour; and Crawshay's zebra – lacking the ‘shadow’ stripe of its southern family.
You’re very likely to see enormous herds of elephant and buffalo, and antelope like impala and puku as well as many varieties of large plains animals. Lions are common, as are hyenas and the numbers of wild dog are on the increase. No rhino or cheetah are found here.
More than 400 bird species have been identified here. Probably the best time for birding is the rainy/’Emerald’ season when the bush is lush and food is plentiful, when 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 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 first-hand 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.
Before you go to South Luangwa National Park Things you should know before you go!
Malaria is a consideration in South Luangwa National Park
Learn more about malaria areas and malaria prevention with our resource article.
Malaria Areas & Prevention