South Luangwa National Park

... some information about South Luangwa National Park

A world renowned wildlife sanctuary and one of the finest in Africa, with beautiful scenery along the meandering Luangwa River and associated ox-bow lagoons. There are over 60 species of animal and 400 species of birds. Common animals include elephant, buffalo, hippo, lion, leopard together with a host of antelope species (puku, impala, kudu, bushbuck, waterbuck – less common are eland & hartebeest). The leopard population is one of the highest densities in Southern Africa. Endemic populations of Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest are unique to the Luangwa Valley.  The Luangwa Valley is famous for its walking safaris, one of the finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness.

SUMMARY

One of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa

The South Luangwa National Park is a world renowned paradise.  The meandering Luangwa River forms the lifeblood of the park attracting abundant wildlife of extraordinary diversity and creates spectacular scenery against the backdrop of the Muchinga Escarpment.

During the peak game viewing season the river level drops dramatically, exposing wide expanses of sand quickly taken over by eager colonies of nesting birds and providing ideal sleeping spots for  hippo and crocodile. At the height of the green season the river completely changes character becoming a powerful, swirling mass of water, filling the ox bow lagoons and giving new life to the park.

The famous missionary, explorer Dr. Livingstone traversed the area in the late 1800s and like many after him, was spellbound by the beauty of the Luangwa. The vastness of Africa and the bountiful wildlife create a seductive allure.

The park has prolific birdlife and a myriad of mammals including, leopard and elephant for which the park is famous, lion, buffalo, zebra and over 14 different antelope.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • One of the highest densities of leopard in Africa.
  • Estimated to be at least 50 hippos per km of river.
  • Bird lover’s paradise with over 400 species.  The Luangwa Valley is an important bird area and migratory birds swell the population during the green season November – March.
  • Endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest.
  • Spectacular fishing parties of birds form as the lagoons dry out each year.
  • Game drives in open safari vehicles offer unparalleled photographic opportunities.
  • Experience the exciting nocturnal world of the park on a night drive.
  • Discover the real Africa on a legendary walking safari – Rustic, seasonal bushcamps are the ultimate bush experience.

CLASSIC COMBINATION

  • Luangwa, Lower Zambezi & Kafue National Parks
  • Luangwa and Victoria Falls
  • Luangwa and Lake Malawi

WALKING SAFARIS

An exhilarating wilderness experience.

Walking safaris, Zambia’s signature product, were pioneered in the Luangwa Valley by the late, Norman Carr, the country’s doyen of conservation. He created a sublime experience that remains unsurpassed.  Africa distilled into a heady, intoxicating blend that magnifies your senses.  The result is one of intense appreciation for the beauty of this land.

A professional safari guide leads each “walk” interpreting the bush and revealing the wonders of nature.  The original safari was a walking trail between rustic bushcamps.  This is still an exceptional way to experience the Luangwa, with many of the camps originally sited by Norman himself.

SOUTH LUANGWA IN DETAIL

The 9050km2 South Luangwa National Park is a world renowned wildlife sanctuary and one of the finest in Africa, with beautiful scenery along the meandering Luangwa River and associated ox-bow lagoons.  The park is located in the eastern region of Zambia, encompassing the mid-Luangwa Valley which forms part of the Great Rift Valley System.

The western boundary of the park runs along the edge of the Muchinga Escarpment which provides a beautiful and photogenic backdrop to the area, whilst the river forms the major portion of the park boundary to the east.  Most of the region lies between 500 – 900m above sea level rising to 1,250 m in the west.

The river is essentially the lifeblood of the park, the floodplain levees, oxbow lagoons, wide grazing lawns and associated riverine vegetation forming an important habitat with the result that wildlife is most abundant in this region.  Mopane woodland dominates the adjacent terrain; beyond this there are large areas of scrub, munga and miombo woodland.  Scattered grasslands are more common in the far north, the largest being the Chifungwe plain and strips of riparian forest and thicket occur throughout.

There are over 60 species of animals and 400 species of birds recorded in the Luangwa Valley.  In addition to the prolific wildlife, the park is also emerging as an important and extremely rich area of archaeological significance (although research is still in its infancy).

The classic African walking safari was pioneered in the Luangwa by Norman Carr, Zambia’s most respected conservationist and is still one of the finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness.

History of the National Park

The history of game protection in the area began in the late 19th century when the British South Africa Company (BSAC) imposed a total ban on the hunting of hippo and elephant due to massive exploitation by the Chikunda tribe from Mozambique and the Arab traders from Malawi.

From 1904 – 1911, the BSAC established a game reserve in the southern Luamfwa region to protect the endemic Thornicroft’s Giraffe, whose numbers had also declined.  With the ban on hunting, the elephant populations increased significantly and hunters were allocated licences to shoot crop raiding elephants.  Later on a government elephant control department was formed.

The North and South Parks together with Luambe were proclaimed in 1938.  Norman Carr and Bert Schultz were appointed game rangers and the villages within the reserves moved to the peripheries.

In the late 1940s Carr recommended that professional hunting safaris be allowed in the region, with the revenues going to the local Native Authorities. In 1951 Carr persuaded Chief Nsefu to set aside a portion of his tribal land as a game reserve bordering the park.  Nsefu, the first safari camp in the Luangwa, was built with the proceeds going to the local community.

In 1973 the elephant population was estimated to be 100 000 and having a major impact on the area.  A culling programme was carried out, but the completion of the culling coincided with the escalation of poaching to rampant proportions.  The poaching seriously depleted elephant numbers and rendered the black rhino locally extinct.  A privately funded organization, Save the Rhino Trust, was established in 1980 as an attempt by concerned and dedicated conservationists to halt the demise.  They conducted extensive anti-poaching patrols, but up against powerful opposition, were sadly unable to save the black rhino.

Mammals

Common animals include elephant, buffalo and hippo, with healthy numbers of lion.  The leopard population is one of the highest densities in Southern Africa, providing for rewarding sightings during night drives. Hyaenas are fairly common throughout the area.  Sightings of wild dog have been increasing over the past few years and seem to be particularly good during the rainy season in the Mfuwe area, although certainly not guaranteed due to the highly mobile nature of the species.  Less common are caracal and serval.

Endemic populations of Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest which are unique to the Luangwa Valley.  The giraffe are common within the Mfuwe area diminishing in concentration towards the north of the park.  The wildebeest are found in the more northerly region around Lion plain and are abundant in North Luangwa National Park.

There are estimated to be at least 50  hippo per kilometer of the Luangwa River and there is a very healthy population of Nile crocodile.  Of the primates, baboons and vervet monkeys are prolific, the Maloney’s monkey is more scarce and occurs towards the escarpment.  The night ape and bushbaby are only likely to be seen on night drives.  The park has 14 different antelope species, including the bushbuck, kudu, eland, waterbuck, impala and puku.  Much less common and a treat that is more likely to be found in the remote regions of the park are duiker, reedbuck, roan, sable, hartebeest, grysbok, kilpspringer and oribi.

Birds

The Luangwa Valley is renowned for its birding with about 400 of Zambia’s 732 species occurring in the area, including 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species.

The South Luangwa National Park is an Important Bird Area (IBA). IBAs are crucial sites of international importance for the conservation and biodiversity of birds.  They are selected by strict criteria and may hold significant numbers of one or more globally threatened species, be one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted-range species or biome-restricted species; or have exceptionally large numbers of migratory of congregatory species  Refer to Section 12.0 for IBA species listing.

Mopane birds are very well represented in the park.  Towards the end of September the carmine bee-eaters arrive and begin constructing their nests in the river banks forming a mesmerizing display of crimson.  When the oxbow lagoons recede, hundreds of birds of different species form fishing parties in the shallow waters. Great flocks of pelicans and yellow billed storks can be seen thermalling high up in the skies.  The yellow billed storks are particularly amusing as they drop in like parachutists on a drying waterhole, cartwheeling and spinning almost out of control.

In November, palaearctic migrants from Northern Europe and intra-African migrants arrive.  These include the red-chested cuckoo, white storks, European swallows, swifts, hobbies, bee-eaters, as well as birds of prey such as the Steppe eagles and Steppe buzzards that come all the way from Russia.

Best Time of Year to Visit

April/May: Potential rain storms around.  Warm/hot.  The bush is very green, grass long.  Birding is excellent with migrants still around.  Gameviewing is good but only the all weather roads in the Mfuwe area are open.  Remote roads are still closed.  Some lodges  have boats which allow for beautiful trips on the river which is still quite high.  Fantastic light for photography.

June/July: The start of the peak season – the bushcamps within the park are open and walking safaris are possible.  This is “mid winter” and can be very cold on early morning and evening game drives.  During the day the temperatures are cool/warm.  The bush is drying out.  Most days are clear with fabulous colours.  All areas of the park are open.  Gameviewing is good/excellent.  Walking safaris may be a little restricted as the grass is still a bit high.

August: Cool to hot with the bush now dry.  Lagoons are shrinking and gameviewing excellent.

September: Hot, dry and hazy.  Trees flower and lose their leaves.  There may be fires in the area attracting yellow billed kites (migrants) and other birds. Gameviewing is now excellent. Carmine bee-eaters arrive and begin to build their nests.  As the waterholes dry up, huge fishing parties of birds are formed.  Buffalo form large herds and come to the river daily to drink, with lion not far behind.  Everything is waiting for the onset of the rains.

October: Very dry with excellent game viewing, animals concentrating around the last remaining water.  The river is now very shallow.  Storm clouds start building up and there may be occasional rain which cools the temperatures down and clears the air.  Can be very hot (up to 40 degrees in the shade).  New growth starts in the mopane woodland and elsewhere – newborn warthog finally emerge from their burrows and may also be seen.

November: Hot and slightly humid.  Daily afternoon storms start to become the norm.  These can be very dramatic with wind, dark clouds and sheet lightning – very beautiful and exciting.  The bush is now green and fresh.  Time of birth (especially the impala).  The migrant birds arrive providing excellent birdwatching.  The bushcamps are now all closed and access to the more remote roads is reduced as the rains increase.

December – March: Lush, green and beautiful.  The river rises daily.  This is a very quiet, relaxed time. Only some of the lodges remain open, road access is restricted, tourist numbers are much reduced.  Thunderstorms are a daily event.  Birding is spectacular.

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
TEMPERATURES (centigrade)
max 32 31 32 32 31 30 29 30 35 40 37 33
min 20 20 19 18 19 12 11 12 15 20 22 22
RAINFALL (mm)
normal 195 287 141 91 0 0 0 0 0 50 108 110

Normal activities offered in the Luangwa

Game drives – night and day in open safari vehicles.  A few lodges have canopies on their vehicles, but this is not the norm.  Guests should enquire beforehand if necessary.

Walking Safaris

........ June – October.   Some lodges have permission to conduct walks outside of this period, however with the grass tall and black cotton clay soil very muddy, the wet season is not the ideal time for walking. It is generally accepted that the bushcamps are most ideal for walking, being located in more remote areas away from the game drive roads and with a ZAWA scout allocated to each bushcamps. It is possible to do walks from the lodges, however they may need prior notification to organize a scout to accompany the walk.  Children under 12 are not allowed to accompany walks in the national park.

River Safaris & Boating

........ Some other lodges which are open during this time are also able to offer boating, notably Mchenja Bushcamp (Norman Carr Safaris; Nkwali Camp; Kafunta River Lodge; Luangwa River Lodge...

Additional Activities
Other places to visit in the Mfuwe area include:

  • Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre
  • Kawaza Village – a cultural village offering guests the opportunity to see traditional rural life wither during a day visit or overnight.
  • Tribal Textiles workshop  A successful exporter of Batik-style crafts.
  • The Mfuwe airport also ahs several curio shops selling local art and crafts, together with a small selection of wildlife books.
  • The local Anti-Poaching base
  • Many of the lodges support local schools which can be visited.

The normal daily program at most camps is approximately as follows

  • 05:30 (summertime) / 06:00 (wintertime) Wake-up call and a light continental breakfast served.
  • 06:00 (summertime) / 06:30 (wintertime) Morning safari.  After a few hours walk or game drive, the guide will chose a scenic spot where guests can stop for a break and enjoy a light refreshment and snack. The safari will then continue for another hour or so (depending on what game is seen).
  • 11:00 A hearty brunch is served.  The afternoon is spent at leisure.
  • 15:30 (summertime) / 16:00 (wintertime) Evening safari similar to the morning.  The guide will choose a picturesque spot to watch the sunset whilst enjoying drinks and a snack.  If the guests are walking, they will return to camp before dark. If on a game drive, the drive will then continue using a spotlight for about an hour and a half to two hours, whilst they look for the nocturnal animals.
  • 20:30 Dinner is served.

Some lodges offer special meals in the bush, such as bush brunches, all day drives or picnic lunches, depending on the length of stay of the client.

Safety

All camps and lodges in the Luangwa area are open to the surrounding bush without fences of any kind.  The wildlife can, and does, roam freely through the lodges.  Guests should take the utmost care when walking about their lodge and stay within their lodge area at all times.  At night clients should not walk around the camp themselves.  Should a guest come across game, they should not approach the animal. Elephants in particular can move very fast and can be very dangerous – they are scared of humans and can react suddenly without warning.  If an elephant happens to feel threatened and kill a human who has got too close, the scouts will then be directed to automatically shoot the elephant. Please don’t give them reason to have to do this.

Park Entry Fee
At present the rates are as follows:

  • Zambian Citizen - K25,000
  • Zambian Residents and permit holders USD20
  • Non Residents USD25

Proof of residency status must be presented to the lodge or park gate on payment.  These fees are per person per 24 hour period.  Self drive guests will have to pay for their vehicle entrance too.

Payment

Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, however not in remote areas and should not be relied on except in major towns.  Most lodges in South Luangwa accept credit cards, however they will charge a commission varying from between 5 – 7% on both credit cards and travelers cheques in order to cover the bank charge commission.

It should be noted that VisaCard is the most widely accepted, whilst some lodges accept Mastercard as well. Diners Club, American Express and other cards are unlikely to be accepted anywhere.

Cash: US dollars are easier to change than sterling. Smaller denominations of bills are recommended. USD notes should be recent with “large heads”. Old notes with “smaller heads” (except one dollar bills) are not accepted ANYWHERE in Zambia.

Health & Insurance

Clients are advised to have comprehensive travel insurance (including Trip Cancellation/ Curtailment and Medical Evacuation & Hospitalisation).

Malaria – Zambia is a high risk malaria area and protection from malaria is imperative. Guests are strongly recommended to take malaria prophylactics and are advised to adhere strictly to the dosages, especially for the four to six weeks after their stay in Africa.  Guests are further advised to use mosquito repellent and wear long clothing in the evenings and sleep under a mosquito net at night.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms either during, or within four to six weeks after your visit to a malaria area, seek a doctor’s advice immediately.

Tetanus and hepatitis vaccinations are recommended.

Laundry

Whilst most lodges offer a laundry service, guests should be aware that these are hand washed, dried in the sun and then ironed with charcoal irons. Lodges cannot be held responsible for loss or damage to clothing.

What to Bring on Safari

Casual, comfortable, lightweight clothing in khaki, brown, green and beige colours. Pale or bright colours are not advisable for walking safaris as the animals can easily see these shades. (Shorts or trousers are best for walking safaris)

• Light cotton tops and cotton trousers
• Shirts with long sleeves (even in summer; to protect from the sun and mosquitoes)
• Shorts or a light skirt
• Jeans or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
• Sweater or warm jacket (game drives in open vehicles can be very cold in winter)
• Comfortable walking shoes/boots
• Sun block, sunglasses and hat
• Strong Torch (when staying at bush camps)
• Swimsuit if your lodge has a pool
• Light, compact raincoat during the rainy months
• Insect repellent, anti-histamine cream, personal toiletries and medication
• Binoculars (Each person should have their own pair of binoculars)

Camera Equipment

  • a telephoto lens (200/300mm).
  • Flash and fast film (400 ASA) for night photography.
  • Lots of film (64,100,200,400 ASA).
  • Camera cleaning equipment and a good dust proof bag.
  • Videos - bring spare batteries.

If you wear prescription glasses – bring a spare pair.  For contact lens wearers bring a spare pair of glasses as the dust and insects in the open vehicles can be a problem

Getting there by Air

  • Mfuwe International Airport is located approximately 30 minutes (24 km) drive east of South Luangwa National Park main gate.
  • Lukuzi airstrip located north of the Nsefu Sector near Tafika Camp is a 10 minute charter flight from Mfuwe. The airstrip is open from March/April – end November, weather permitting.
  • Domestic flights operate about ten times a week in peak season (June-Oct) from Lusaka to Mfuwe airport. Charter planes from outside the country can now fly direct without clearing customs at Lusaka.  All lodges do transfers to and from the Airport.

Flying times

  • Lusaka - Mfuwe takes approximately 90 minutes
  • Lilongwe to Mfuwe takes approximately 30 - 50 minutes
  • Mfuwe – Lukuzi takes approximately 10 minutes.

Charter flights

Restrictions - It should be noted that luggage is restricted to 12kg on charter flights in soft suitcases.

Meet and Greet - Both Proflight and Airwaves charter companies are able to meet and greet clients from international flights and assist them onto their charter flight to Mfuwe. Voyagers is also able to offer this service and should be given priority where possible.

Getting there by Road - Directions

Approximate journey times to Mfuwe are:

  • 5 hours drive from Lilongwe (Malawi)
  • 10-12 hours drive from Lusaka via Chipata (about 700km)
  • Lusaka – Chipata is 7-8 hours; Chipata – Mfuwe is 3-4 hours depending on the road conditions
  • 10 – 12 hours drive from Lusaka via Petauke (550km)

The South Luangwa National Park can be reached from three different routes, Chipata being the usual route.

Road conditions from Lusaka to Chipata can vary with some section of the tar road having terrible potholes. The Chipata to Mfuwe road can range from excellent (after grading) to shocking (middle of the rains) and self-drive guests should enquire beforehand.

Fuel can be purchased in Petauke and Chipata, however fuel in Mfuwe is much more expensive and petrol in particular can be difficult to obtain.

Chipata

The distance from Chipata is 123km and duration varies from 2-5 hours depending on the road conditions. The road from Chipata passes through rural Zambian villages and some lovely scenery.  During the dry season, if the road has been fairly recently graded, conditions are generally reasonable with corrugations, some potholes and exposed rocky areas.  Saloon cars are not appropriate and would need to drive with extreme caution, a high clearance vehicle is recommended.  During the wet season access is only possible with a 4 x 4 as the road can be very rutted and muddy.

  1. From Lusaka, take the Great East Road to Chipata.
  2. As you reach the outskirts of Chipata turn left 50m before the Independence Arch.
  3. Continue on the tarmac for +/- 8km until the road becomes dirt.
  4. Follow the dirt for a further +/- 80km. (There is a sharp corner to your left and then two stretches of tar on this section of road with more blind corners).
  5. When you reach the T-junction with a tarmac road opposite a Zesco substation, turn right (Turn left for Mfuwe International Airport).
  6. Proceed on tarmac for +/- 25km, past Tribal Textiles workshop, various markets and villages.

When you reach the BP fuel station on your left you have reached Mfuwe town.  About 500m further on there is a tarred road to the left with many lodge signs.  To reach your particular lodge follow specific lodge directions and signs from here.  The main South Luangwa park gate will be reached if you continue driving straight ahead.

Petauke

This route is a very picturesque and remote “shortcut” from Lusaka, recommended for guests with a robust 4 x 4, preferably in convoy, wanting an adventure and different scenery.  This road is only open well into the dry season.  Adequate provisions should be taken on this journey as it is not a well frequented road. Information regarding current road conditions should be obtained.

  1. From Lusaka take the Great East Road to Petauke (400km).  At Petauke, there is a BP filling station on your left. Turn left here. Set your trip meter at zero.
  2. Drive for approximately 5.5km and here you will see a police station on your right.  Turn left after 200m and head for Ukwimi.  (Follow signs for Luamfwa).
  3. To Ukwimi the distance is approximately 57km on a dirt road. About 4km before the boom/gate below you will pass another check point.
  4. At Ukwimi you will see a security hut on your left and a boom/gate across the road.  After the boom, turn left.
  5. You will descend into the Luangwa Valley here.  The road is bad for a few km. Don’t despair as it improves considerably.
  6. After this you will have about 54km to Lusanga Village.  The road is reasonable at a speed of about 35km/h.  Soon after the descent you will pass the village of Sandwe indicated with a village and school signs.
  7. 100km from Petauke you will pass a three-road crossing.  Turn right.
  8. After another 8-10km you pass Chief Malama’s Village. There is a small blue sign on a tree to your left.
  9. About 63km from the boom you will reach Lusangazi Village. Lusangazi River is on your left, but it not visible unless you turn left. The road continues ahead, bearing right to Mfuwe (Only turn left if you are staying at Luamfwa Lodge). N.B. If you cross the dry Lusangazi River bed you are heading towards Luamfwa Lodge and NOT Mfuwe.
  10. Continue straight towards Mfuwe for about another 1-11/2 hour drive – you will pass through Nyamaluma scout training camp, a scout gate just south of the turnoff to Tundwe lodge (on your left), then finally Kafunta Lodge and Nwkali Camp.
  11. After Nkwali Camp turnoff you will come to a crossroads (in the dirt road) with a sign for Wildlife Camp indicating left. Keep right here and after about 1km you will reach the tar road (Turn left for Kapani Lodge). Continue right along the tar road for 1-2km to the main Mfuwe T junction for other lodges. If you turn right at the T junction you will come to the BP service station. Follow directions relevant to your lodge from here.

Northern Access

The Northern access is either from Mpika on the Great North Road or Lundazi, near Zambia’s eastern border with Malawi.

Just below Mpika there is a road which turns off the Great North Road and heads east, through the Munyamadzi Corridor between North and South Luangwa National Parks. A 4 x 4 is essential, preferably in convoy and is only accessible well into the dry season.  The road down the escarpment is quite formidable, very rocky and bumpy but the view over the Great Rift Valley is quite spectacular.

Adequate provisions should be taken on this journey as it is not a well frequented road. Detailed directions and information regarding current road conditions should be obtained.

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