Zambia’s most popular safari destination, South Luangwa National Park protects a vast wilderness area flowed through by the atmospheric Luangwa River. It is known for the quality of its guided walking safaris, as well as for offering superb leopard sightings, both by day and at night. There are also large herds of elephant, buffalo and hippo, and good populations of lion and African wild dog. Camps and lodges in South Luangwa tend to be small and upmarket, which means that people looking for an intimate luxury safari experience are spoiled for choice.

The accommodations below are not ranked in a specific quality order. 

 

1. Kafunta River Lodge

Kafunta River Lodge This luxurious owner-managed lodge is notable for its photographic hide and walking safaris

This owner-managed lodge stands on the Luangwa River’s forested east bank, facing the national park. The 10 spacious thatched chalets and suites are perched on stilted wooden platforms and all have a private viewing deck overlooking a floodplain that often attracts large herds of elephants. Special features include a well-equipped spa, an infinity plunge pool fed by natural hot springs, and a superb photographic hide situated underneath the main deck. Kafunta can be visited as a destination in its own right or as part of an extended South Luangwa walking safari that incorporates stays at two bush camps managed by the same company.

Kafunta River Lodge Tours

 

2. Three Rivers Camp

Three Rivers Camp Get away from it all at this small, remote bush camp close to the meeting point of three rivers

Situated 90 minutes’ drive south of the main wildlife-viewing circuit near Mfuwe Main Gate, this remote bush camp is under the same management as Kafunta River Lodge. It has a magnificent setting on the Luangwa River alongside an oxbow lagoon shaded by leafy sausage trees. The other rivers referred to in the name are the Kapamba and Lusangazi, both of which flow into the Luangwa close to camp. The setup is very tranquil, consisting of five luxury standing tents with private semicircular wooden decks. You can expect to see plenty of hippos and other wildlife from camp, and it is also a great base for guided walking and 4x4-vehicle safaris.

Three Rivers Camp Tours

 

3. Mfuwe Lodge

Mfuwe Lodge This flagship South Luangwa lodge combines a superb waterside location with luxurious accommodations

Situated inside the park only five minutes’ drive from the main gate, Mfuwe has the premier location you’d expect of one of the longest-serving South Luangwa lodges. It is built around a wild mango tree whose fruit regularly attracts elephants, and stands alongside a shady lagoon where hippos, baboons and antelope maintain a permanent presence.

Despite its age, Mfuwe Lodge has undergone regular renovations and refurbishments over the years, so the architecture and decor feel thoroughly contemporary. The lodge is quite large by Zambian standards, comprising 18 thatched chalets with air-conditioning, massive en suite bathrooms and private decks. Amenities include a swimming pool, a highly regarded spa, and top-notch guided game drives and walking safaris.

Mfuwe Lodge Tours

 

4. Kapamba Bushcamp

Kapamba Bushcamp Kapamba is a small bush camp where you can sleep indoors or outdoors throughout the year

Remote Kapamba is probably the pick of half-a-dozen South Luangwa bush camps run by the same folk as Mfuwe Lodge. It stands in a wildlife-rich area in the park’s far south, on the well-wooded banks of the Kapamba River, one of the Luangwa River’s largest seasonal tributaries. The four stylish riverside chalets have open fronts and wide decks; two also have raised platforms where you can sleep out under the stars.

Despite the camp’s small size and remote location, it has a plunge pool where guests can cool off in the midday heat. Kapamba is one of the few camps that operates between January and April, making it particularly well suited to off-season bird-watching and photographic safaris.

Kapamba Bushcamp Tours

 

5. Shawa Luangwa Camp

Shawa Luangwa Camp An ecofriendly camp from where you can explore South Luangwa in solar-powered open 4x4 vehicles

Silent safaris are the specialty at this small (five unit) ecofriendly property tucked away in riverside forest on the east bank of the Luangwa River. And, no, that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the evocative sounds of the African bush. On the contrary, you’ll experience them all the more fully on game drives, as you creep silently through the bush in a solar-powered Land Cruiser. Another unique feature of this totally solar-powered property is stilted A-frame tents, which look deep into the forest canopy.

The camp itself is anything but silent. Indeed, grunting hippos, trumpeting elephants, braying hornbills, hooting owls and croaking frogs are among the many scene-setting sounds you’ll hear during a stay at Shawa.

Shawa Luangwa Tours

 

6. Puku Ridge Camp

Puku Ridge Camp A remote, stylish lodge whose glass-fronted units overlook the wildlife-rich Kakumbi Floodplain

Classy Puku Ridge stands on a rocky hillside offering sweeping views over the Kakumbi Floodplain, a stronghold for the puku antelope after which it is named. There is plenty of other wildlife around too, ranging from lion, leopard and African wild dog to elephant, buffalo and hippo.

Accommodations are in super-spacious glass-fronted canvas units, each set on a private wooden deck that incorporates an outdoor shower and plunge pool (in addition to the en suite indoor shower and bathtub). The location outside the park’s main safari circuit ensures that visitors to this exclusive South Luangwa lodge will seldom see other vehicles on game drives.

Puku Ridge Tours

 

7. Tafika Camp

Tafika Camp Famed for its expertly guided walks, riverside Tafika has had the same hands-on owners since 1995

One of Zambia’s longest-serving camps, Tafika has an idyllic riverside location in a little-visited area to the north of South Luangwa’s Nsefu Sector. It is owned and managed by the same family who founded it back in 1995, and this continuity is reflected both in the relaxed but attentive hosting style and in the absolutely outstanding guiding.

Tafika is a great place for photographers, thanks to a pair of strategically positioned hides facing a waterhole that’s regularly frequented by elephant. Guided walks are a specialty, and often involve an overnight stay at one or more of the bush camps run by the same company. Game drives, night drives and mountain-bike excursions are also on offer. If you visit in May, ask about microlight trips over the river (these are not offered during other months).

Tafika Camp Tours

 

8. Luangwa River Camp

Luangwa River Camp This intimate camp comprises five massive suites set on the forested bank of the Luangwa River

This cozy camp, run by Robin Pope Safaris, stands in a shady grove of ancient ebony trees on a sweeping bend in the Luangwa River. The five thatch-roofed bush suites are very spacious and attractively decorated, while possessing a solidness that reassures first-time safari-goers who are nervous about sleeping under canvas. A smart open-plan lounge and dining area leads out to a wide deck complete with a swimming pool. You can expect to see plenty of wildlife from the lodge, and guided activities include day and night game drives as well as walking safaris.

Luangwa River Camp Tours

 

9. Time + Tide Chinzombo

Time + Tide Chinzombo Super-luxurious Chinzombo combines modern minimalism with a stunning riverfront location

Taking bush chic to its luxurious extreme, Time + Tide now operates five superb small camps in and around South Luangwa. It’s a tough call, but Chinzombo is narrowly the pick of these. Six massive open-fronted villas combine contemporary minimalist lines with organic canvas, timber and reed decor, along with mesmerizing views over a bend in the Luangwa River. Every villa comes with an eco-cooled king-size bed and walk-in netting, as well as a wide wooden deck with a plunge pool.

The area around Chinzombo offers some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere in South Luangwa, whether you explore it on a guided walk or game drive.

Time + Tide Chinzombo Tours

 

10. Sungani Lodge

Sungani Lodge This stylish family-run lodge offers superb wildlife viewing in a blissfully remote location

Officially opened in 2022, Sungani is a luxurious family-run South Luangwa lodge set in the park’s remote and little-known Lusangazi Sector. Architecturally innovative, the lodge is built entirely on stilted wooden walkways and platforms, and the open-plan tented suites all have a private plunge pool. Although Sungani is near the Luangwa River, it overlooks a forest-lined oxbow lagoon where passing herds of elephant and buffalo regularly join the resident hippos and waterbirds. It is also one of those precious few places where lions and leopards are seen with greater regularity than other vehicles.

 

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By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is a renowned Africa expert and author of more than 20 guidebooks to African destinations.

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