​Expert Reviews – North Luangwa NP

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Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Winter

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

Zambia’s only Big Five safari destination
Overall rating

This remote and relatively little-visited northern counterpart to the ever-popular South Luangwa National Park is bounded by the Luangwa River to the east and the Rift Valley escarpment to the west. North Luangwa supports a similar range of wildlife to its southern neighbor, including plentiful elephants, buffalos and hippos, as well as healthy numbers of lion and leopards. There are no giraffes here, but black rhinos have been reintroduced, and it’s the only place in Zambia where these endangered creatures can be seen.

Tourist development in North Luangwa is relatively limited, and comprises a handful of exclusive upmarket camps that focus on walking safaris. A more recent development, in collaboration with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, is the construction of several budget-friendly community camps bordering the national park, and the new Chimana game-viewing circuit on the west bank of the river.

We explored this new circuit in October 2021, shortly after it opened, then crossed the park from east to west, staying at community camps on either side of it. Our experience is that wildlife in general is less conspicuous and more skittish than in South Luangwa, with elephants being particularly edgy, presumably as a result of poaching. Having said that, we did have some excellent sightings, including spotted hyenas on a kill, a surprisingly habituated pack of 20-plus African wild dogs, several elephants, and a varied selection of antelope including greater kudu, puku, impala, waterbuck and Cookson’s wildebeest (a Luangwa endemic).

When we visited, towards the end of the Dry season, the tsetse flies were pretty awful – it’s one of the few times that we've done game drives with the windows closed – but our understanding is that this is to some extent a seasonal phenomenon.

Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

A North Star
Overall rating

North Luangwa is one of the most uncommercialized parks I’ve visited. There are only a couple of camps here along the banks of the Mwaleshi River. The main drawcard for North Luangwa compared to its bigger sister South Luangwa is the sense of bush solitude it evokes in a raw and genuine wilderness. All the Big Five are here, including rhinos which are now (relatively) easier to see since their intensive protection zone was increased – we saw fresh dung when we were there but the rhinos themselves eluded us.

Walking safaris are superb with excellent guides. We tracked a pride of lions on foot and stayed just 10m/32ft away from them for an hour. Getting close to a huge buffalo herd was far more nerve-wracking. The NGO Frankfurt Zoological Society have done a brilliant job in restoring the wildlife after it was virtually poached out in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the wildlife can still be a bit skittish, that makes the sightings even more special.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.1/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 7
  • 3 star 1
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
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