User Reviews – South Luangwa NP

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

There are safari parks, and there is South Luangwa.
Overall rating

I have been fortunate to have been on several safaris in my lifetime; in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Botswana. Every experience is unique; each wildlife reserve offers something different. South Luangwa for me tops the lot: the facilities are outstanding; the wildlife is abundant, and the remoteness and sheer size of the park mean there are few others to share with. Not here do you find vehicles jockeying for position near a carnivore.

I visited with my eldest son in early August 2107, the beginning of the busy season. We wanted to a walking safari, and our tour operator recommended Remote Safaris, as they have three lodges an easy walking distance apart towards the northern part of the reserve. Although the lodges were fully booked in the peak period of September and October, they were less than 50% occupied. We stayed three nights in the main camp of before walking to … Crocodile River. We were the only occupants in the two satellite camps.

The combination of walking and vehicle game experiences meant we had many sightings, including leopard (three times from vehicle), lion, and wild dog, who passed within five metres of us when walking on our final day.

Hippos are abundant in the Luangwa river; elephants abound, and we had many sightings of zebra, giraffe, and antelopes. Every sighting even of the common herbivores gave us a different perspective, especially when walking; there is that extra feeling of adventure when you tiptoe slowly near an antelope, or freeze when elephant is close.

The scenery adds to the experience. The sublime mapone forest, with many trees devastated by elephants, contrasts with the rich vegetation around the river. According to our guide, some guests request a long walk simply to experience the feeling of isolation and peace.

The birdlife is amazing. We viewed 78 species and photographed many close up. Our guide told us much about footprints and plant life as we made our way through the bush.

South Luangwa is expensive. It is difficult to visit for overseas travellers, requiring a flight into ….and then on onward journey to your camp. But the reward is experiencing something very special: abundant wildlife in a remote location where, for the most part, you alone are the sole human participant.

Average User Rating

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

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