South Luangwa

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South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park is for may people the best park in Africa and it was here that walking safaris were pioneered.
The concentration of game around the Luangwa river and it’s ox bow lagoons is among the most intense in Africa.

The 9050 square kilometre Luangwa park is acknowledged as one of the top 10 game parks in Africa with a wide variety of wildlife birds and vegetation.

Five days in this wonderful park (which is home to over 15,000 elephant, dense populations of hippo, leopard and lion, as well as the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest) should be split between a traditional safari (in a lodge or tented camp) and a more adventurous walking safari (staying in rustic bush camps).

A place in Africa with a special appeal …. for its remote location, lack of crowds, wildlife and “wild-ness”

South Luangwa Park

hippos (1)

South Luangwa Park : Map of Zambia

Near the north-eastern border of Zambia lies the Luangwa Valley – twice the size of Wales it supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife to be found.

The ‘Valley’ lies at the tail end of the Great Rift Valley, which accounts for the spectacular escarpment scenery.

As the Rift reaches Zambia, it divides; one arm to the east encompasses Lake Malawi and the western arm becomes the Luangwa Valley, which stretches some seven hundred kilometres at an average width of about one hundred kilometres. The Valley floor is about a thousand meters lower than the surrounding plateau.

Over 100 mammal species and almost 400 birds of the 732 bird species found in Zambia are located in South Luangwa National Park




The Luangwa River which meanders down the middle of this is the lifeblood of the wildlife. It is a dynamic river which constantly changes its course forming ‘ox bow’ lagoons as it winds through the flood plain. These lagoons are very important to the ecology of the riverine zone and account for the high carrying capacity of the area.

The changing seasons add to the Park’s richness ranging from dry, bare bushveld in the winter to a lush green wonderland in the summer months. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction.

Among the more common trees in the valley are the mopane, leadwood, winterthorn, some beautiful specimens of baobab, large ebony forests, the tall vegetable ivory palm, marula and the magnificent tamarind tree

Animals in South Luangwa park

The park has 14 different antelope species, most of which are easily seen on game and night drives.
Of the primates, baboons and vervet monkeys are prolific. More scarce is Maloney’s monkey. Present, but unlikely to be seen except on night drives is the night ape, and the nocturnal bushbaby.
Hyenas are fairly common throughout the valley and their plaintive, eerie cry, so characteristic of the African bush can be heard on most nights.
South Luangwa has a good population of leopard but they are not that easy to spot and tend to retreat when they hear vehicles.

Many of the Lodge’s game trackers are skilled in finding leopards on night drives however, and often visitors are rewarded with a full view of a kill.
Lions are as plentiful in the Luangwa as anywhere else in Africa, but when a kill is made away from the central tourist area, the pride may stay away for several days and may not be seen by visitors on a short stay. Very often they roam in prides of up to thirty.
Of the other carnivores present but not often seen is the caracal, wild dog, serval and side striped jackal.
The Luangwa river also has an extraordinarily high number of crocodiles. It is not uncommon to see several basking on the riverbanks or even floating down the river tearing at a dead animal.
Night drives are fascinating in the Luangwa. Not only for the chance of seeing a leopard but for the many interesting animals that only come to life at night. Genets, civets, servals, hyenas, and bushbabies as well as owls, nightjars, the foraging hippos, honey badgers and lion.
If you’re in your own vehicle, be sure to get a map of the park from the Crocodile Farm at the park entrance and follow the loop roads graded in the park, past dambos bursting with hippos, crowned cranes, grazing antelope and scurrying baboons. Further out on the plains you’re bound to see the large elephant herds, reaching up to 70 in number. Buffalo are abundant and spread throughout the valley.


Birdwatching is superb in the Valley, with about 400 species of birds appearing in the Valley, including 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species
Near the end of the dry season (Sept-Nov), when the river and oxbow lagoons begin to recede, hundreds of large waterbirds can be seen wading through the shallows.

  • The red faced yellow billed storks move along with their beaks open underwater, disturbing the muddy liquid with their feet until the fish flop into their mouths.
  • The pelicans tend to operate in lines abreast, driving the fish before them into shallows before scooping them up into their beak pouches.
  • The striking 1.6m saddle bill stork makes quick darting movements into the water.
  • Then there’s the marabou stork, great white egrets, black headed herons, open billed storks and the stately goliath heron that can stand in the same position for hours before pouncing.
  • Of the most beautiful are the elegant crowned cranes, with their golden tufts congregating in large flocks at the salt pans.
  • Just before the rains set in, in November, the palearctic migrants from Northern Europe and the intra-African migrants arrive to exploit the feeding opportunities that the warm rainy season brings. These include the red chested cuckoo, white storks, European swallows. Swifts, hobbies and bee-eaters, as well as birds of prey such as the Steppe eagles and Steppe buzzards that come all the way from Russia. A special sight is the hundreds of brightly coloured carmine bee-eaters nesting in the steep sandy banks of the river.

Getting There

There are scheduled 1hr flights from Lusaka to Mfuwe airport, where your safari operator will collect you for the short drive to the national park. Accommodation in South Luangwa is generally upmarket and expensive – but remember that you are paying not only for high quality camps, meals and guides, but also for the complicated logistics of setting up a safari base in a remote, seasonal location.

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