Expert Reviews – South Luangwa NP

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Close to nature in South Luangwa National Park
Overall rating

In the footsteps of Norman Carr, some of the best guides in Africa use The Luangwa Valley as their playground. Most of the camps in the area offer a very in depth educational and exciting bush experience. Aside from the normal drives, a lot of emphasis is given to night drives and walking safaris. The nightdrives I’ve been on in the valley are the best I’ve had throughout Africa. Nighttime specials include porcupine, genet, bushbaby and leopard. Although often spotted in daytime, I’ve seen lions hunt at night on many occasions. On gamewalks I’ve had a closer look at a lot of the smaller creatures difficult to spot from a vehicle like a spider and termites, but more often than not, my skilled guide would take me downwind from something much more exciting like a herd of buffalo or elephants. Also on offer is the ultimate safari experience: fly camping. This is where you’ll be taken on foot into the bush and a very simple tented camp is exclusively set up for you. I’ve never felt closer to nature in my life.

Home of the Walking Safari
Overall rating

I love South Luangwa. Despite its vast size (9000 sq km), it has relatively few visitors so provides a real wilderness sensation. Yet, the chance to take guided walks and night drives gives it an intimacy rarely provided in most African national parks. Other than black rhinos, the Big 5 are here in abundance but, with some of the most knowledgeable guides in Africa to explain in minute detail the lives of seemingly all creatures great and small, you might find watching little bugs just as interesting. Night time in South Luangwa brings a whole new bush scene, from tiny but beguiling elephant shrews to prickly porcupine to leopards stalking for a kill – I’ve seen more leopards here than anywhere else, often when I’ve been on foot. Its topography has been carved out by the vast Luangwa River leaving oxbow lagoons and flood plains in its wake. If you stay at Tafika or the Robin Pope Safaris lodges, I strongly recommend visiting Kawaza and Mkasanga villages, both brilliantly supported by the camps, to see the human side of life in the bush.

A wonderfully wild location with a host of African animals
Overall rating

There’s such an abundance of animals in South Luangwa it could almost be called crowded. I’ve always had amazingly diverse safaris here, and not just to see the usual suspects (of which there are plenty). At the smaller end of the scale, I have been delighted to see honey badger and civet cat, a porcupine sniffed around our door one night, the elephant shrew fascinated me, as did the snake dangling in the tree by the camp kitchen. Also incredibly rewarding are night drives which open up a whole new world under the sensitive glare of the spotlight. Highlights were following an elephant family in the moonlight and a staggering four leopard sightings in just one evening. Equally as wonderful was sitting at a lodge studying the peaceful Luangwa River; bushbuck came to drink, baboons played around, magnificent birds fluttered in, and hippo and croc lolled around doing even less than me.

Africa’s best night drives
Overall rating

My abiding memory of South Luangwa is the routinely superb night drives, which yielded an incredible number of leopard, genet, civet and white-tailed mongoose sightings, along with some great one-offs, such as honey-badger and porcupine. I also really enjoyed the fact that you can chose between game drives and guided walks: the latter offer a rare opportunity to see the likes of buffalo and elephant on foot, and to absorb the sights and sounds of the bush without the constant roar of a car engine as distraction. The Luangwa River, for which the reserve is named, is also an imposing presence, supporting hundred-strong huddles of hippos in isolate pools as the dry season kicks in. Overall, this is an excellent reserve, and close to the top of my ‘must revisit soon’ list.

Zambia’s Big Hitter
Overall rating

Set in the lush Luangwa Valley, magnificent South Luangwa is by far the best park in Zambia when it comes to the diversity of game on offer. Large herds of antelopes, giraffes and buffaloes roam the park, elephants and huge pods of hippos wade in the swamps and the river, lions hunt on the plains, and once rare wild dogs are increasing in number. Leopards stalk the dense woodland, and are especially visible on night drives, a highlight of my visit here. The park is also home to unique species of giraffe and zebra.

There is accommodation for every budget, from luxury lodges where you can gaze out at wildlife heavy plains from an infinity pool, to basic, self-catering camps. I stayed at lively, riverside Flatdogs camp, where I pitched my tent amongst the monkeys on a platform in the trees.

To experience the bush in intimate detail a walking safari (the first African walking safaris were dreamt up here by conservation pioneer Norman Carr) is a must. Your chances of coming across game are high, and your guide and armed ranger will give you a detailed (and nerve-wracking!) briefing of what to do in case of a Big Five encounter.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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