​User Reviews – South Luangwa NP

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Pim   –  
Netherlands NL
Visited: May 2016 Reviewed: May 31, 2016

Email Pim  |  35-50 years of age  |  Experience level: over 5 safaris

One-week photo safari/workshop in Mfuwe/South Luangwa
Overall rating

I spent a week in the Mfuwe area of South Luangwa under the wings of lodge owner/bushguide and wildlife photographer Peter Geraerdts of Track and Trail River Camp.

The Camp is located on the other bank of the Luangwa, just outside the Park's Mfuwe gate.
We stuck to a 'first in, last out' policy: arriving at the gate for our morning drives just before six, and trying to leave the Park at 8pm sharp. Regime was strict: morning drive until 10:00-10:30, early lunch, and afternoon/evening drive from 15:30 or 16:00 through 20:00, followed by dinner around 20:30.

I've been around SA, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda, but Zambia was a first-time visit. A few (online) friends had recommmended South Luangwa, time to find out for myself!
It's a long trip (Amsterdam-Nairobi, Nairobi-Lusaka, couple of hours off to a hotel then Lusaka-Mfuwe), but worth it. Door-to-door is probably just under a full day, but the lack of time difference cuts out jetlag at least...

Transfer from Mfuwe to the Lodge was a painless <40m exercise, over remarkably good (tarred) roads. The Lodge/Camp is situated right on the bank of the Luangwa, with pool/gym/massage/spa facilities, as well as a bar, restaurant and small library.
I was assigned a spacious thatched chalet with a comfy double bed, large bathroom and safety features for both my valuables/documents (small safe) and my photo gear (a padlocked strongbox). Food was good to excellent, with 3-course lunches and dinners every day. Good pastry as well, with always a slice of something waiting for me at tea time. The Camp feature daily laundry service, and had reasonable wifi coverage in the bar/restaurant area.

My goal for this trip was twofold: a week-long safari in a park and country yet unknown to me, as well as improving my wildlife photography skills. Peter proved to be the ideal host: his fauna and flora knowledge is remarkable and perhaps even better than some of the native guides I worked with, and he's a skilled and patient photography teacher.

Our safari vehicle was not your regular open 4X4: it was heavily modified for the (pro) wildlife photographer... The rear section of the car features heavy steel swivel arms with beanbags and ballhead mounting space on the sides, supplemented with more beanbags in front and at the back. This effectively gave me a 360-degree line of sight with steady support for even the longest piece of glass...

Both of my goals were met: my skills have tangibly improved, with a couple of impressing shots as evidence, and I got to sample most of South Luangwa's flora and fauna.
More on the latter: the floral diversity was impressive, ranging from monumental Baobabs to wild jasmin, from nile cabbage to the intriguing ansellia. A remarkable amount of sausage trees in the area, bearing some of the largest fruits I've seen...

The fauna is probably why most people come and visit, and I was not disappointed... Both of the big cats (with 4 leopard sightings in just two drives!), a large group of wild dogs, heaps of elephant, a small herd of buffalo, and much, much more. My timing was just right to come across fighting grazers: we saw some impressive male impala and zebra battles!
Crocs, water monitors and hippos are abundant thanks to the river, with the latter two incidentally paying a visit to the lodge. The smaller mammals were well-represented: we saw 5 species of mongoose, 'caught' both civet and genet up close, young porcupine, spotted honey badgers twice(!), and ran into the accidental shrew or shrub hare during our night drives.

I'm not a 'hardcore' birder, so haven't recorded every sighting, but we must have easily seen 100-120 different species. Ranging from raptors (bateleur, tawny, snake eagle, martial eagle, lizard buzzard, goshawk, ...) to storks (open-billed, woolly-necked, yellow-billed, marabou) to herons (my first decent shot of a squacco) to the more colourful birds like rollers, sunbirds and - especially near the river banks - bee-eaters.

Arianna Meschia   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: April 2015 Reviewed: May 24, 2015

Email Arianna Meschia  |  Experience level: first safari

A weekend in South Luangwa
Overall rating

Saturday morning, 5.30am.

A whisper disturbs my lazy dream about ice creams. "Excuse me? Wake up call!" Wrenched out of sleep I find myself wondering who is waking me up at 5.30am on a Saturday morning and why, when I make out the unfamiliar outline of a net surrounding me, and I remember I'm Zambia, and I'm being woken up to go on safari.

Half an hour later, not knowing what I'm wearing and still partially asleep, I'm ushered out of our campsite, Flatdogs, and greeted by two smiling safari guides. Not until I am shown to our car do I definitely understand what's happening, and instantly I'm fully awake. Our safari car is the biggest jeep I've ever seen, a three-tiered, nine-seater, brown-green monster, and sitting on it with the chilly dawn wind rushing past me is incredibly exciting.

As soon as we enter South Luangwa National Park, we are greeted by a breath-taking sunrise over the Luangwa river. We've been in the park for less than ten minutes, and I've already spotted a gorgeous family of elephants with two babies sleepily crossing the river bed, a group of impalas looking at us with bewildered black eyes, and of course, the Park guards, two attentive baboons sitting right by the entrance, ushering us inside.

The next three hours are an unbelievable whirlwind of exotic animals, interesting facts told by our guides, and unforgettable scenery. Crocodiles and hippos seem to cohabit in the river, alongside fishermen on their slender wooden boats; elephants and giraffes slowly make their way around, in contrast with the hundreds of impalas, gazelles and antelopes darting around or fiercely fighting to reclaim their territory and the ladies' attention, their elegant horns locked together. Zebras move in dazzles, their hypnotic skin glistening in the sun, and countless species of birds, plants and flowers are everywhere we look. We even spot a leopard for a few minutes, shiny and regal in his stride. We drive around a stinking bush, where a pack of lions has clearly just had a kill. The lions, however, seem to know everyone is looking for them, and they don't come out until the evening.

On our sunset safari, we spot a pride of 14 lionesses and 3 young males, lazily lounging on the river bed. They look so inoffensive and chilled out, it is hard to imagine they are one of the deadliest predators in the animal world. A baby elephant and his mum tentatively cross the river a couple of hundred yards away. Immediately a few of the lionesses stir, stand up, and look at them, pondering on whether they are hungry enough to attack. They decide against it eventually, but for a few minutes the atmosphere grows tense as we are all torn between witnessing a kill or chasing what promises to be a spectacular sunset. We decide for the sunset eventually, and what a good choice that was: the sun was the biggest I've ever seen it, a huge incandescent, perfectly round circle, so enormous and close you could have reached out and touched it.

After sunset we are heading back to camp, thinking we've been as lucky as it gets, when out of nowhere on the road, two pairs of eyes pierce the darkness, and the silhouettes of two lions emerge just ahead of us. They are approaching a small pond to have a drink, when a crocodile jumps out of the water and they recede quickly. That's when they spot us. They turn around and slowly walk towards our car, looking suspiciously at this big dark mass smelling of humans. They are the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen, and they are promenading a couple of meters away from me. We reverse to let them go through undisturbed, and admire the powerful muscles and joints moving effortlessly under their taut skin, manes flowing around the faces, tails whipping the air.

And after all this, when we thought we had seen everything South Luangwa had to offer, our safari guide stopped the car, killed the engine and told us to look up, where the sky had almost disappeared under hundreds of constellations, the Milky Way and a million glistening stars.

D Kiene   –  
United States US
Visited: August 2008 Reviewed: Oct 29, 2011

The most mind-blowing park we visited--simply amazing!
Overall rating

We spent 10 days at South Luangwa National Park: we could easily spend 50.

The wildlife was incredibly diverse and abundant. We saw over 100 species of birds, including eagle owls; lions every day, including a lion killing a buffalo; 100s of crocodiles; various species of antelopes; zebras, giraffes etc. Moreover, the quality of the guides is superb. Guides must undertake rigorous and lengthy training and testing before taking clients.

This was the last park we visited on our 45 day Southern Africa trip, which included Etosha National Park, Waterberg Plateau National Park, Mana Pools National Park, Lower Zambezi National Park, and Moremi Preserve. Of all the parks we visited, this is the one we would most like to revisit.

Steve & Michelle   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: October 2010 Reviewed: Aug 9, 2011

Email Steve & Michelle  |  35-50 years of age

An excellent park for most of Africa's animals.
Overall rating

We spent an excellent 2 full days here with Kiboko Safari tours (based in Lilongwe) in October 2010. The weather was hot, but not unbearable. We saw practically everything - hippos, giraffe, lions, zebra, crocodiles, civerts, many birds, elephants, monkeys, antelope, buffalo, chameleon, etc. The photos and video of what we saw are on here:

The journey from Lilongwe was about 5 hours, half on tarmac, half on dust roads. Our camp (Track and Trail lodge) was at the side of the river where the hippos spent all day and you could relax with a cool drink between the morning and evening game drives. The food was perfectly acceptable and our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. All in all a great place to visit. We have previously visited Chobe, Kruger and Etosha, and this is probably our favourite of the 4.

Riccardo   –  
Italy IT
Visited: August 2018 Reviewed: Oct 30, 2018

Email Riccardo

A park to visit at least once in life!
Overall rating

South Luangwa National Park, located in eastern Zambia at only one hour driving from Chipata, has been my first safari ever. My expectations were very high and I can now say that the experience has absolutely reached them! The two guides, one from Lusaka and one from the local village Mfuwe, were very prepared, available, kind, respectful and nice! In our group of five visitors, I was the only one with photographic equipment and both of the guides have always managed to make me feel comfortable to take pictures from different perspectives, and always in the respect of the animals! Although we have spent only one full day in the park, not being able to visit the whole of it, nature and the life you can observe are amazing! The stunning views, the great and open landscapes both on the Luangwa river and in the bush are unforgettable! The park is full of animals, and since it’s not that extended, you’re able to easily spot four of the Big Five, not the Rhino which is not present at all in the park. Among the others, we have spotted: many Thornicroft's giraffes and elephants, plenty of hyppos, a male lion with three puppies, a lonely male leopard and a female with two puppies, a Cape buffaloes herd running to the river to drink and enjoy the water, many impalas, kudu, puku, and birds! South Luangwa National Park is for sure a park to visit at least once in life!

atkiteach   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: August 2016 Reviewed: Oct 9, 2016

Email atkiteach

The most outstanding safari destination in the world.
Overall rating

We travelled to South Luangwa National Park in August. We'd only been on safari once before - at a private reserve in South Africa. We'd asked our travel agency for the best safari experience and they said South Luangwa was it... and we can't disagree.

We stayed in two bush camps: Nsolo, a Norman Carr camp, and Lion Camp. Both were great! Staff couldn't do enough for us, the game drives were amazing and the guides' knowledge was encyclopaedic! Nsolo was smaller, more personal and more luxurious; Lion Camp was bigger but in a more rich area of the national park. However, if you're going for 5 star luxury - don't go to South Luangwa - this place is all abut the game, which is wonderful!

Let's face it, if you;re looking at South Luangwa, you're after great game sightings. It will not disappoint. A co-traveller has safaried across Africa for the last 20 years and said he'd never, ever experienced anything like South Luangwa; at a later stop, Sindebezi Island near Livingstone, we were speaking to a traveller who'd just been on a two week walking and river safari in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia (south) who, on hearing what we'd seen, said "Well, that's it - you can't go on safari again as nothing will compare to that". That's how great South Luangwa is.

I can't tell you everything we saw - the list would be far too long - but here's heavily edited highlights:

On our first night (Nsolo), we were sitting around the campfire after a delicious dinner when a staff member noticed some lions. Immediately, the truck was started up and we piled in. Barely two minutes later, we were sat watching a lion and lioness enjoying the moonlight... literally 3 metres from our bed! Suddenly, the armed guard who escorts you to and from your accommodation during the dark didn't seem overly cautious.
During the night, we had the best worst-night's-sleep ever. The sounds of the bush woke us delightfully often, including the resident hippo pod which lives right next to the camp and come out at night to graze around the edge of the camp.
My wife is a sucker for animal babies, so seeing hyena cubs, only a few weeks old, was amazing.
At Lion Camp, we saw, obviously, many sightings of the two prides which live nearby, including finding them lazing on the road just waking up after a night's feed. We sat in the middle of the pride, feeling like we were a little part of it rather than just observers. My lion highlight was seeing the full pride in a stand off with some painted dogs. Another was seeing a lioness move her 5 day old cubs from one nest to another: they were so young, their eyes were not open yet, and the tenderness with which she moved them in those huge, powerful jaws was stunning.
If you love elephants, you'll love South Luangwa. It seems like they're around every corner - and they're not afraid to let you know when you;re too close. We were mock-charged three times... but we never felt unsafe.
One thing we'd hoped for was seeing a leopard. We were not to be disappointed! Over 5 days at Lion Camp, we had 7 - seven - sightings, from glimpses in the night to sitting watching two different leopards in trees during the day. At one point, we were so close I asked the guide if it was purring - it wasn't: it was growling at us! We moved of sharpish. Another night sighting was wonderful - we'd seen the leopard at a distance and our guide swung the car round, went through undergrowth trying to second guess where it would head, and we were rewarded with it coming out of the undergrowth just to our side and making its way across the front of the car so close that, when in front, you couldn't see it over the bonnet.

For birders, which we are not, South Luangwa is wonderful. Some fellow travellers were birders and we caught a bit of the bug from their enthusiasm. Bee eaters and violet breasted rollers were my favourites, but the various eagles and vultures are spectacular in their size. We were even treated to a long, uninterrupted sight of Pel's fishing owl - something we appreciated but not fully until it was explained to us that this rarity is similar to seeing to a leopard.

Overall, if you love wildlife, if you love safari and if you want the greatest experience you've ever had, book for South Luangwa today.

Tob Photo   –  
Mozambique MZ
Visited: September 2013 Reviewed: May 26, 2015

Email Tob Photo  |  20-35 years of age  |  Experience level: 2-5 safaris

Simple, serene and superb
Overall rating

South Luangwa National Park is fantastic for all sorts of reasons. We stayed at the very affordable Marula Lodge, which facilitated an authentic and enjoyable experience. We had an elephant come into the dining room to eat my son's fish and potato and hippos grazing on the grounds during the night. The atmosphere was calm and quiet, save for the noise from the hippos and the splashing of elephants in the river as the crossed from one side to the other. Once in the park itself for the 'safari experience', we saw lions eating their buffalo kill, as well as leopards, zebra, giraffe, hyena and countless other species.
South Luangwa NP, in my experience (and I've been to a few other places in Africa), is simply superb for the balance it manages to have in terms of the quality of the wildlife viewing and the limited number of other tourists. Other parks are plagued by too many tourists, all packed in around trying to watch the same thing - whether it be a lion kill or a lazy leopard in a tree. South Luangwa was great because we often had the view of a leopard or lions to ourselves without the pressure to move on and make space for others.
I highly recommend this place as a tourist destination. It must also be said that we visited as a family (i.e. we had two kids with us both under the age of 5). It was still relaxing and a great place to unwind.

inikep Visited: December 2011 Reviewed: May 10, 2012

Visit to South Luangwa National Park is a must if you want to experience real Zambia.
Overall rating

South Luangwa National Park is definitely a very rewarding destination. You have the best chances of seeing leopard there. We've seen hunting leopard twice during amazing night drives. Chances of seeing other animals from BIG 5 are also very good (with the exception of rhino). But there is something for everyone: lovely hippos bathing in Luangwa River, lots of bird for birdlovers and fantastic food and accomodation for all budgets and tastes.

hemrin2000   –  
United States US
Visited: December 2002 Reviewed: Apr 24, 2012

20-35 years of age

Absolutely amazing
Overall rating

My wife and I stayed at Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa National park. There wasn't a brick building in sight except for the airport. It was a little pricey but worth every cent. We saw the big five including a leopard. Our guide was very well educated and spoke fluent english. We took off for the morning safari after breakfast. The weather was beautiful. The sky looks so blue and the sunsets are a vivid orange. The night sky is light up with stars. We saw hippos bathing, a lion had just made a fresh kill and there were a few other lions from the pride hanging out there. The open four wheeler (toyota land cruiser of sorts) was fun to ride in with ups and down in the dirt road.

After we got back to the lodge, we had lunch. We are vegetarians and had informed the lodge of our meal preference up front. We rested a bit in the afternoon in the lodge. We went out again for an evening safari where we saw a leopard that was trailing a herd of impalas. We slowly followed it for about 45mins as it was inching closer and closer to one implala it had singled out. Unfortunately, it was getting very dark and we decided to head back.

Overall, a very good experience. Would definitely go again.

Trapperjem Visited: August 2011 Reviewed: Apr 24, 2012

Fantastic first safari, few people and lots of animals.
Overall rating

This was a fantastic 4 day safari, 2 days at Kapani Lodge and 2 days at a very luxurious bush at Mchenji with Norman Carr Safaris. We saw more than 60 different species of animals and birds during those days. The guides and scout were exceptionally well trained and knowledgeable on most aspects of the wildlife and plants. A very personal service was provided and the night drives were terrific for seeing hippos feeding on land and several leopards, a very special treat. A great destination for all the great African mammals except cheetah and rhino.

During the two 3-4 hour drives each day we only met other a couple of 4x4. There was none of that following along in a queue of traffic! The food and the accommodation were also 1st class. I highly recommend this place.

Average User Rating

  • 4.8/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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