South Luangwa National Park, Zambia: complete safari guide

Small herd of elephants crosses the Luangwa River in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Tucked away in a remote corner of eastern Zambia is South Luangwa National Park. It is a true example of unparalleled wilderness and a Zambian safari treasure.

Spread out over 9059 square kilometers, the park encompasses the quintessential African grass plains, old woodlands, and the impressive Luangwa River. Its dramatic landscape is breathtaking and rich in wildlife.

There is no doubt that South Luangwa is one of the best safari destinations in Africa. Unique and diverse wildlife congregate on the meandering river, the abundant oxbow lakes, and the lagoons. Elusive species graze the savannah and a plethora of birds occupy the sky.

Take a look at this complete safari guide to South Luangwa National Park, one of the most celebrated Zambian game parks.

Two Reasons Why You Should Visit South Luangwa National Park

With so many incredible African and Zambian game parks, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one to visit.

There are a hundred reasons why South Luangwa National Park should be on your safari bucket list, but these are the most important ones.

You won’t bump into crowds

Puku vs wild dogs in South Luangwa, Zambia

There’s nothing quite like happening upon a spectacular moment in the bush. Perhaps a pack of wild dogs on the hunt, or a herd of elephants crossing the road. The only thing that can ruin it is a long line of impatient cars trying to butt their way into the best spot.

Unlike Kruger National Park, South Luangwa is relatively quiet. You won’t need to compete with eager crowds to catch a glimpse of wildlife.

Unique wildlife density

Much of South Luangwa National Park consists of thick bush that is not ideal for spotting animals. Yet, the wild population of the park congregates at the Luangwa River and the lagoons. These bodies of water are always a hot spot of wildlife, with a massive variety of game.

Here you will find some of the most concentrated wildlife areas in Africa.

How to Get to South Luangwa National Park

The entrance gate to South Luangwa National Park, with Luangwa bridge in the background

What makes this park so special and an incredible safari destination is its location in a secluded little corner of the world. Despite this, it is still relatively easy to find your way there.

Visitors to the park should fly into Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. This is possible from domestic locations such as Livingstone as well as international destinations.

From Lusaka, you can choose to take a domestic flight to Mfuwe Airport, the closest airport to the park, or drive the distance.

Driving from Lusaka to South Luangwa Park takes a little over 8 hours and around 15 hours from Livingstone.

It is also possible to arrange an airport pick-up through individual lodges or with a tour operator.

When to Go on a South Luangwa Safari

Scenic view of the Luangwa River in the dry season, South Luangwa

Zambia’s national parks are great to visit any time of the year and South Luangwa has something to offer for every season. As with most game parks in Africa, the winter months are usually more fruitful in terms of animal sightings.

May to October is dryer and cooler. This means that animals move towards the water, searching for a drink. And they don’t hide in the shade for the better part of the day. These months are also the best time for walking safaris.

While the summer months are scorching, the landscape is lush and bright. The seasonal downpours and impressive thunderstorms transform the landscape. The natural scenery is especially stunning at this time of the year and the birdlife is abundant. If you’re a keen birder, this is the best time to go.

It’s good to keep in mind that malaria is prevalent in this area all year round, although especially rife in summer. It’s advised to take precautions.

South Luangwa National Park Safari Information

Heading off into South Luangwa National Park feels like a real adventure. The pristine region offers an unforgettable and immersive safari experience.

As you plan to head to this incredible park, get to know the safari basics.

South Luangwa national park entry fees

Entrance sign to South Luangwa National Park, Mfuwe area, Zambia

Each visitor to the park has to pay entrance fees at the gate. This is not included in your accommodation price and it is a daily fee for every day you spend in the park. You can choose to pay in US Dollars or Zambian Kwacha.

  • Citizens – 41.70 ZK
  • Residents/SADC Nationals – $20 USD
  • International Visitors – $25 USD
  • Self Drives (Residents/Non-Residents) – $30 USD

Luangwa Valley and park residents

There’s no doubt that this park will be a delight for even the most experienced safari-goers. Visitors have the chance to spot wildlife that tops the average bucket-list, as well as unique and rare species.

Unfortunately, only four of the Big Five call the park home. Rhinos do not inhabit South Luangwa National Park as the population has not survived the onslaught of rhino poaching.

However, keep your eyes peeled for game favorites such as wild dogs, elephants, leopards, and lions. Your chances of encountering a leopard during your visit are startlingly high. The Luangwa Valley has the highest naturally occurring population of leopard in the world.

There are also fourteen antelope species, including the powerful kudu. Thrillingly, Luangwa is home to rare animals that are unique to the park. It is the only place that you can see a Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s wildebeest, and Crawshay’s zebra.

Birders, hold onto your hats. There are a whopping 400 species of birds, including 39 birds of prey. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars and cameras and keep your eyes on the trees and the sky.

Bird watching is fruitful all times of the year, but especially in the wet season as migrants settle in during this time. Look out for the African broadbill, western banded snake eagle, and the moustached grass warbler.

Safari activities

There are many different ways for guests to enjoy, explore, and discover the wonders of the African bush. Choose the best for your game viewing desires or try all of them!

Walking safari

South Luangwa is the birthplace of walking safaris

South Luangwa, Zambia, is the birthplace of walking safaris. This is a unique way to experience the true nature of the African bush. On a walking safari, all your senses will tune to the happenings around you.

You can learn about critical animals you might otherwise miss on a game drive – such as the dung beetle. Expert guides will teach you how to identify animal tracks and introduce you to the indigenous flora. Almost every camp and lodge in the park offers walking safaris.

Game drive

Of course, for spotting big game, traditional game drives are the best option. You can choose from several options including night drives and specialized birding safaris.

Boat safaris

Lone Nile crocodile on the banks of the Luangwa River

This is a unique safari option during the summer months. It is a spectacular and peaceful way to observe wildlife activity around the river. Expect to see many birds, water-dwelling hippos and crocodiles, and animals that come to drink.

Self-drive safaris

Self-drives are an excellent option for people spending an extended time in the park. As well as those who like to work on their own time. Remember that sunrise and dusk hours are when animals are most active, so get up early, pack some coffee and head off in search of wildlife.

Night drives

Lone leopard on a night drive, lapping water from a local waterhole in South Luangwa

You cannot self-drive in the park past 6 pm, so booking a nighttime game drive through your camp is heavily recommended. It allows visitors to spot elusive nocturnal creatures. Look out for the adorable bushbaby and lone leopards on the move.

Where to Stay

A large male elephants walks around Kafunta River Lodge, looking for ripe mangoes

There is something for everyone in South Luangwa Park. If you’re looking to indulge in African luxury or for a more simple bush camp, the options are endless. All of the camps boast unbelievable views of classic African scenes and a truly memorable time.

Here are some of the top choices of accommodation:

Luangwa River Camp

This is a fantastic South Luangwa river facility with unparalleled views of the park. The location is incredible and the list of activities plentiful at this camp.

Tena Tena Camp

You will have a rustic bush experience in this luxury tented camp on the river bank. Its location between the river and lagoons ensures plenty of wild visitors.

Flatdogs Camp

Flatdogs is the perfect place to have an African safari experience without breaking the bank. The expert guides and affordable price of this camp are unbeatable.

Kakuli Bush Camp

Kakuli is one of the few camps that are open for Zambia’s green safari season. When the river flows fast and high and boat safaris are popular.

Let the Safari Adventure Begin

Scenic view of the dry Luangwa River with impala and a variety of birds

Zambia is a true example of raw, untamed wilderness and South Luangwa National Park is undoubtedly the best place to experience it.

You can have the opportunity to witness the incredible wildlife that congregates around the waters of South Luangwa. Book your Zambian safari and go in search of leopards, unique antelopes, and birds that roam the area.

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