South Luangwa National Park
Safari suitability: 9/10Find your tour
Home to four of the big five and has a high concentration of wildlife. Lack of rhino keeps it from getting perfect score.
What YAS members think
- April through October are the best months to visit
- High concentration of wildlife is found in South Luangwa National Park
- Open-sided safari vehicles
- Great sightings of wild dog and leopards
- Less visited than many of the other top safari parks
About South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa National Park is located in eastern Zambia. It was originally established as a game reserve in 1938 and was officially established as a national park in 1972. It is 9050 km² (3500 mi²), making in the 14th largest national park in Zambia and the 2nd largest national Park in Zambia, after Kafue National Park. South Luangwa is known for its high concentration and diversity of wildlife and is home to four of the big five. The buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion can all be seen here. Sadly, the rhino was poached to extinction here and is no longer seen.
South Luangwa purportedly is one of the few African parks where guests can enjoy a true bush camp experience. Many of the camps are of high standards and all are in remote locations. The terrain of South Luangwa consists of savannah woodlands, open plains, lagoons and tall grass fields. South Luangwa offers a wide-range of safari options and most safari vehicles here are open-sided. Walking safaris are very popular here and most tour operators recommend all guests experience a walking safari.
When is the best time to visit South Luangwa National Park?
South Luangwa has two distinct seasons: a rainy and a dry season. The rainy season starts in November and runs through March. During these months the foliage of South Luangwa becomes greener and denser and the animals are less easy to spot. Although the game viewing during this time of year is more difficult and the some of the roads become extremely difficult to navigating, causing some of the camps to close for the season. The dry season runs from April through October, and by October the land is parched and the foliage is all but gone. The lack of precipitation means most water sources dry up and animals must share the remaining available resources, including the Luangwa River and Oxbow Lagoon. Game viewing is arguably at its peak in October and visitors will be rewarded with high concentrations of animals that are easier to view than in other months.
South Luangwa is highly recommend as a safari destination and is idea for beginning and intrepid travelers alike.
South Luangwa is a one of the biggest national parks in Zambia and is a complete wilderness with the highest concentration of hippos in Africa. You are guaranteed to see the big five and more in this park. In the South Luangwa you see game on walking safaris, game drives and even from the comfort from one's room depending on the location of the lodging facility. Its easy to seen all the wild life in the dry season without much effort around waterholes. In the wet season, because the vegetation is lush, you do have to take trails but will certainly see the game. There are several accommodation facilities both camps and lodges within and outside the park. Accessibility could be either by plane or road.
Arriving at the gates of South Luangwa is like stepping back in time. There is no first world rush, sign in, pay and you're on your way to more fun than you could imagine. The road from the entrance twists and turns, a small water hole here and there, Yellow Billed Stork, Fish Eagle...plenty of birds to be seen here. During the heat of the day there is not much movement by the larger mammals. Resting, conserving energy is instinctive for later in the day when survival at night is paramount. Lions see better at night than during the day - a reflective mirror in their eyes directs light to fall onto their rods twice enabling excellent night vision. Other mammals are not so fortunate and the night is a time of knife edge survival. If you venture a little further, past the old airstrip, the roads are less busy with day visitors and one really starts to see the denser stretches of bush, look into the shadows for the larger animals as they rest up. The road crosses an old bridge and a series of plains open up as you drive south, occasionally the river is visible to your left and the game varies as the biome changes from dense riverine bush to open plains with warthog snivelling in the grasses and impala grazing on short tufts of bitter grass. some of the small forested areas that line the river banks are ethereal and mysterious, they seem to hold the spirit of the Luangwa in their grasp...tall trees stand sentinel on river San as the sun streams through their branches creating long shadows and beams of light that pierce the darkness. And just as soon as you feel this mysticism the vehicle breaks out into the sunshine and there is mopane woodland all around you. Ahead, a massive bull elephant crosses the road, completely ignoring the vehicle. He ambles slowly across, will you look at the size of him!! Ive seen thousands of elephant over 15 years in Africa, never the size of him though. I speed up to get a better view....when I arrive at the point where he crossed the road....gone! Vanished??!!?? A 5 ton animal has disappeared into the bushes and I can't even see bushes moving to mark his movement, not a bird stirs....? This is the magical mysticism of South Luangwa.
South Luangwa is not visited much in February and the lodges are practically empty or closed. Animals are less visible now than they are in the dry season but the experience is still amazing. Leopard dining on bushbuck. Elephant herds crossing the river trying, unsuccessfully, to climb the river banks. All this made for an extraordinary sight. _____________________________________________________________________________ Le South Luangwa est très peu fréquenté en février et les lodges sont quasi vides ou bien fermés; Les animaux sont moins visibles qu'en saison sèche mais l'expérience est tout de même formidable. Léopard dînant d'un bushbuck ou troupeau d'éléphants traversant la rivière à la nage pour essayer de grimper sur les berges d'abord sans succès, ont constitué un extraordinaire spectacle.
There is a good chance of seeing terrapins, leopard tortoises and also all kinds of insects. The animals dont like to get their feet wet either so they often use the same paths as we do. We come across elephants, lions, giraffes, lots of antelopes and even wild dogs. During this time of the year their puppies are out of the den. The Emerald Season is also called the Secret Season. It is so very true!
I will never forget a particular evening sunset in South Luangwa... we sipped on our G&T's, overlooking a wide river with the sounds of hyenas in the distance. Hippos roaring just below us, all while surrounded by a swarm of colorful carmine bee eaters flying in and out of their homes in the side of the river bank. In this moment, the bush felt all-encompassing. The immense African sun setting into all shades of orange... we truly felt as if we had landed in a dream world. This park doesn't boast the big 5 but there are many other reasons that this park is a special place for all wildlife enthusiasts. In general, I was shocked by the abundance of wildlife in South Luangwa and pleasantly surprised by the variety of species. In fact, as soon as we entered the gates of the park we were greeted by hundreds of hippos splashing in the river. Truly a haven for hippos and crocs there seemed to be some lurking in every body of water. I was also thrilled to have ample opportunities for spotting leopards - seems as if every visitor returns home with a leopard story! I also felt like October was a great time to be in the park. Everything felt desperately dry but this made most of the wildlife quite visible. I would like to return after the rainy season to see the baby animals and the difference in vegetation. Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to SL and look forward to returning again one day!
South Luangwa NP is one of the best wildlife areas in Zambia. It's a 90 min drive on a good tarmac road away from Chipata and it's accessible all year round. The camps and lodges in the area cater for all budgets and visitors. The best way to experience the park is together with a local guide. They know were the animals are. Leopard and Wild Dog sightings are common in South Luangwa. Most of the time even from close range in broad daylight. On night drives it is difficult to take good photos but you have a chance to see the nocturnal animals like porcupine, genets, civets, owls and many more. This park is home to the endemic Thornicroft Giraffe / Giraffa Camelopardalis thornicrofti, Cookson's Wildebeest / Connochaetes taurinus cooksoni and Crawshay's Zebra / Equus quagga crawshayi. Of cause it has several lion prides and many more common game species. Even when in a hurry, a day visit is already worth the journey.
This park has a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation. One of the finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness first hand is by going on a walking safari. This has become known as THE wilderness experience of the South Luangwa! The day will be spent walking in the game rich area of the Luangwa riverine habitat, with ebony groves, many lagoons and of course the Luangwa River itself. This is something everyone should experience! There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species that you must see! This area is very remote and wild. The terrain and habitats are varied and the game is not used to man. And that makes this even more exciting!!
Wow, this park totally surprised me. I wasn't expecting to see so much wildlife, especially so many lions. It wasn't nearly as crowded, either, which made for a great time and some up-personal viewing! I was there right at the beginning of the dry season, so many of the water holes were still around. I'd def go again but would probably do it a few months later for better viewing.
Its a park recommended by seasoned travellers in Africa, world class wildlife haven they say. No regrets and unforgettable are some of the words that have been used to describe this park.Its location Eastern Zambia, access via Lusaka the capital of Zambia is either by vehicle to Mfuwe though its a long 100 plus km of semi tarred road. The second and most recommended option is by flight to Mfume. After arrival to Mfume there is a drive to the park entrance--most lodges offer this as a free service. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to South Luangwa National park. Our stay was at the flatdogs camp located at the edge of SNLP,thus an excellent vantage point for wildlife viewing. We stayed in one of their standard tents which are located near the Luangwa riverbank. The camp is not fenced and hippopotamus and elephants roamed in the background without fear as we arrived . A natural haven SNLP, the park is unfenced. Escorted by an armed ranger we were treated to a walking safari. There is a crocodile farm at the entrance of the park. Here you can see 10 plus metre crocodiles. Be sure to catch them when feeding. On crossing the entrance bridge we saw over 20 hippopotamus lounging in the river below. Antelopes are also aplenty here especially the kudu, a fairy-like creature with spiral horns. Apart from wildlife the river Luanda is also ripe with scenery and birds as we were treated to a pelican show. The majestic birds operate in tandem to drive the fish to shallow waters before scooping them. The park is also renowned for birding with over 400 species being recorded here. Further into the valley the big game didn't disappoint. Vultures feeding on buffalo and elephant carcasses is a common sight. Further in we were privileged to see a pride of over 20 lions, buffaloes and herds of elephant (over 50). We eagerly waited for the lions to make a kill to no avail. Seems the large buffalo herd was a force to be reckoned with. At night we were treated to a night drive by our guide Yotam, an amazing fellow he did his best and finally we saw a kill by the elusive leopard. By the end of the drive we had seen about 5 leopards, amazing experience . The wildlife, birding and scenery are all great, the superlatives I heard about SNLP are valid, unspoilt wilderness if I could add, this is one of the most beautiful parks in Africa, a wildlife haven indeed .
Driving to South Luangwa
Getting to South Luangwa from Zambia's capital, Lusaka, will take you between seven and eight hours. Roads can be very rough in the wet season.
From Lilongwe, Malawi
If you are arriving in Lilongwe and wish to drive to South Luangwa, the drive, not including border crossings, takes around five hours in normal weather conditions.
Domestic flights to South Luangwa
Proflight Zambia offers several daily flights between Lusaka to Mfuwe airstrip in South Luangwa. The flight is around 70 minutes from Lusaka. Proflight Zambia also flies direct between Lilongwe, Malawi and Lusaka. The flights are between 70 and 90 minutes in duration.
The following airlines travel to South Luangwa National Park
Bush & Lake Aviation is a newly established charter company offering flights from its Lilongwe base to destinations in Malawi and the adjacent regions. We offer a small team of dedicated pilots, engineers, and management with many years of experience in the aviation business. We fly directly to your destination making your connections possible and saving you the unnecessary frustrations of transfers - queues and delays Bush & Lake Aviation specializes in charters for leisure travel or business. Visit website
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Ultimate travel is a fully Malawian owned Tour Operator and Travel Service Company. We are an innovative, reliable and independent ground-handling company that specializes in Malawi and Zambia (South Luangwa). No one has a better all-round knowledge of the Malawian tourism product and how to pull it all together than us. We do not handle the request with a one size fits all attitude but rather tailor make our services to meet what you need. Our independence means that we are happy to book any lodging facilities throughout Malawi; alternatively, we are always pleased to recommend what we believe to be the best itinerary to suit your criteria. Visit website
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