South Luangwa National ParkEastern Zambia : South Luangwa National Park
Called by some as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, South Luangwa is one of Zambia's main draws. This 9,050-sq km park is centered around the Luangwa River and is home to one of Africa's largest concentrations of wildlife.
Thanks to its inaccessible location, South Luangwa manages to combine immense density of wildlife with limited visitor numbers, and it's also one of the few national parks that allow night safaris. However, visitor numbers are steadily marching upwards, and the best time to visit is right now — before it becomes the next Kruger or Serengeti.
South Luangwa is dry woodland, watered by the meandering Luangwa River and its many oxbow lakes. The dominant tree is the mopane, but stately baobabs also dot the landscape here and there. In the dry season, most plants and trees seem to shrivel up and wildlife congregates around watering holes, allowing excellent viewing.
Flora and faunaEdit
South Luangwa is home to a dazzling array of wildlife. You'll see hippos and crocodiles as soon as you cross the bridge over the Luangwa River, and elephants are hard to miss along the river's banks. Thornicraft's giraffe, with white legs and faces, and Crawshay's zebra, without the brownish "shadow-stripe" of common (Burchell's) zebra, are both endemic to the park and easily spotted. Herds of buffalo roam the park, along with several prides of lions. The density of leopards is among the highest in the world, although spotting these nocturnal creatures can be tricky. All sorts of antelopes abound: impala are ubiquitous, the puku — rarely seen outside Zambia — is almost as common and there are plenty of waterbucks and bushbucks too.
South Luangwa is a dream come true for birdwatchers, with over 400 species recorded. Depending on who you ask, the best times to go are November-December (when the rains start), April-May (when they end) or August-September (when the water levels are at their lowest).
See also: African flora and fauna
The peak travel season is May to October. May to August it's still pleasantly cool and dry. September and October are very hot and the humidity is building up, but these are the best months to spot the game as they gather close to the river and watering holes. November to December is hot and humid and January to April is the rainy (or "green") season, some lodges close during this period, other give reduced rates. The rainy season is the best time to go birdwatching. From March to June is the best time to spot the elusive African wild dog.
There are two major access points for the park: Mfuwe Gate, near the village of Mfuwe and connected by bridge, and the less used Nyamaluma 50 km to the southwest, where a pontoon ferries vehicles across the river.
Most tour groups will offer either the option to fly into Mfuwe or have a private vehicle pick you up (i.e., from Lusaka, Chipata, Lilongwe, etc.). Although these options offer the most convenient and comfortable means of getting to the park, they are not the only means of entry--and one can also access Mfuwe by means of public transport through much of the year.
The nearest airport is in Mfuwe, which offers flights to Lusaka and Livingstone, as well as Lilongwe (Malawi). Note that flight schedules are cut down in the green season. The airport is about 30 minutes away by car from the park entrance, and most lodges offer free transfers.
Mfuwe is 123 km by car from Chipata. The nearly 100 km of once untarred road is now completely tarred reducing travel times from 5-6 hours to just about 1.5 hours. From Chipata, it's 1.5 hours (2-3 hours public transport) to Lilongwe depending on the time it takes to cross the border and 8-10 hours to Lusaka.
There is a rarely used very scenic track from Petauke down the escapement and along the Luangwa northward to Mfuwe, but it's best not attempted unless you're traveling in convoy and can repair any problems that crop up. Expect 8 hours for this unforgettable trip of 180 km.
By public transportEdit
South Luangwa remains one of the few national parks suitable for budget travelers. Lodges offer relatively cheap rates (some with dorms), and the park can be accessed by public transport as well. Although as has been mentioned above most travelers access the park by way of plane or private vehicle (and most tour companies only have information about these two methods), it is also possible to reach by public transport from Chipata.
GETTING TO CHIPATA FROM LILONGWE: Either (a) Take a minibus from the Lilongwe minibus stand toward Mchinji (~2 hrs: 1000 MWK in May 2012), then a taxi or shared taxi to the border (15 min: 500 MWK). After crossing the border, take a taxi or shared taxi to Chipata (15 min: 15000 ZMK or 15 ZMW rebased currency). (b) Take a bus from Lilongwe to Lusaka, but depart at Chipata. 'Zambia-Malawi' is a reputable company.
GETTING TO CHIPATA FROM LUSAKA: Take a bus to Chipata (~7hrs, 130,000 ZMK Apr 2012). Buses depart from InterCity Bus Terminal. Reputable companies include Zambia-Malawi, Johabbie, Juldans... You will need to catch the first bus out of Lusaka in order to arrive in time to catch the same-day minibus to Mfuwe. If you do this, it is advisable that you coordinate with the minibus driver so that he anticipates your arrival.
ONCE IN CHIPATA: There are daily minibuses that run from Chipata to Mfuwe, the town just outside the entry to the Park. The minibus usually departs in the early afternoon (11am-2pm) after collecting passengers and sometimes goods (i.e., to deliver to Mfuwe stores), and takes 2 hours. The ride from Chipata to Mfuwe costs 60,000 ZMK ($11 as of May 2012). To confirm your spot on the minibus and coordinate it's pick-up (can pick you up pretty much anywhere in Chipata), call the driver (John--a very friendly and honest Zambian) at 0967384620 (+260967384620 if calling from Malawi). Call 1-2 days in advance.
The return from Mfuwe to Chipata leaves around 7:30-8:00pm (~2hrs to Chipata by night) and costs 50,000 ZMK (<$10 as of May 2012). The minibus will drop you at the Chipata bus stand. If you are doing this with the intention of taking a morning bus to Lusaka, it is possible to buy your bus ticket when you arrive at the Chipata bus stand, then sleep on the bus until it departs in the morning. This is a safe (though can be cold) way to avoid the hassle of finding a hotel late at night upon arriving in Chipata.
Since 2014 there is a daily bus by Jonda going directly from Lusaka to Mfuwe and therefore avoiding the hassle of transferring in Chipata. The bus takes around 12 hours and leaves in Lusaka at 5:00 and in Mfuwe at 4:00. Fare is ZMW 220 (08/2017).
With a tour groupEdit
Extra fees are levied for bringing in your own vehicles (79.2 foreign reg or 15 Kwacha for local). 
DNPW Park Entry valid per day:
For Self-Drives US $ 30 per person per day – Non Residents US $ 25 per person per day – Zambian Residents / SADC members ZK 42 per person per day – Zambian Citizens
For Guided Safaris by licensed tour operator US $ 25 per person per day – Non Residents US $ 20 per person per day – Zambian Residents / SADC members ZK 42 per person per day – Zambian Citizens
A child under the age of five years shall not pay for entry into any National Park. Children aged five years and above, but under thirteen years, shall pay 50% of the rates
Note: Entry permit is valid for a single calendar day (6:00 - 18:00) and only licensed tour operators are allowed in the park after 18.00 hours
Most visitors tour South Luangwa by car, either on safari drives organized by their lodge, or by their own 4WD vehicle. If going on your own, there are plenty of trails but the signposting can be a little haphazard, so pick up a map from the gate.
The Personal Touch Ltd ([email protected]) tel: +260 978 459965 has well equipped game viewing cars available for the hire to established lodges or individuals needing rental vehicles, transfers or transport in the valley. Beside high quality game viewing vehicles, Personal Touch offers a variety of transport options within the Mfuwe area. For volunteers assisting at various community projects wishing to hire a vehicle, to specific transfer needs to lodges, camps, or even researchers or filmcrews.
It is possible to rent 4WD open top Land Cruiser from a local company in Mfuwe (Hardies Engineering, near airport).
During the dry season the water levels in the Luangwa River are too low to permit travel by boat. In the green season, however, some operators arrange canoe safaris, but trying this on your own is not recommended due to the large number of hippos (which capsize canoes) and crocodiles (which attack capsized canoes) in the river.
Independent travel on foot is not permitted, but you can join a walking safari (see next section).
See & DoEdit
The thing to do in South Luangwa is, of course, to go on safari. All lodges organize game drives, where a trained guide takes visitors around by a safari jeep. Safaris are typically arranged at the crack of dawn (wake-up call before 6 AM), in the evening past 4 PM when temperatures have started to cool, and at night after sunset when high-powered spotlights are used to locate nocturnal animals like leopards, hyenas and civets. High-end lodges include drives in the price, but independent travelers pay US$20-25 each if you can rustle up 3-4 others to go.
Some lodges organize walking safaris, where you actually walk through the bush on foot and track animals with the help of a guide — an altogether different experience. Walking safaris can be as short as 4 hours, but multi-day treks where you stay overnight in "bushcamps" (usually far more luxurious than you'd think from the name) are more rewarding. You will not, however, save any money this way: costs are generally US$300-400 per person per day.
Buy, Eat & DrinkEdit
There are no public shops or restaurants in the park itself. Safari lodges usually provide three meals a day.
- How Bazaar Shop / Dog and Gat Bar, Flatdogs Camp (on the road to main park entrance). Sundry shop, bar and restaurant. Promises to satisfy enormous appetites, quench unbearable thirsts and guarantee monumental hangovers. Open all day.
- Tribal Textiles , Tribal Textiles are located on route to South Luangwa National Park in Mfuwe. Tribal Textiles create hand painted textiles inspired by the African bush. You can take a tour of the factory and visit the showroom.
In the July-September peak season demand often outstrips supply, so book in as far advance as possible. During the green season, however, many lodges close down and those that are still open can offer steep discounts.
- Kaingo Camp, ☎ +260 216 246064, . Overlooking the Luangwa River deep within the prime area of the South Luangwa National Park. Relaxed, personal and friendly atmosphere, offering game-viewing opportunities within an area of beauty and varied terrain. edit
- Zikomo Safari Camp, Plot # 24623/M (135km from Chipata), ☎ +260216246202, . Zikomo Safari Camp is a small and personalized safari camp on a beautiful spot on the banks of the Luangwa river. For budget travelers, camping is $20 per person per night. www.zikomosafari.com Tel: +260216246202. $450-$500 per person per night sharing. (13.01,427,31.53,509) edit
Unless otherwise noted, all rates below are per person per night and include all meals, two game drives per day, park fees and airport transfers.
- Kafunta River Lodge, ☎ +260-6-246046 ([email protected]), . Wonderful safari lodge with friendly service, knowledgeable guides, stunning views of the Luangwa River and the Luangwa Valley. Not only does it have a pool but a natural hot spring tub as well. Guests can relax after a safari at the wellness spa or take in the view from the hide or tree deck. Kafunta River Lodge has its own pontoon 5 minutes from the lodge taking you to the more remote areas of the park and providing a shortcut to the the main gate 10 km North of the lodge. $420-$560. edit
- Wildlife Camp, [email protected], ☎ +260 216 246026, . Provides affordable rustic en-suite chalets, a secluded en-suite tented camp, a Bushcamp for overnight walking safaris and a campsite, all situated on the banks of the Luangwa River. Guides lead all the activities and, as they are all Zambian, they give a true insight into their own South Luangwa Park. A full board option is available at $220(peak) and includes accommodation, three hearty meals every day, all game drives or village tours, room cleaning & laundry as well as airport transfers. Open all year. edit
- Mfuwe Lodge, tel. +260-6-245041, . The oldest and largest operation in South Luangwa, running since the 1960s but privatized and completely rebuilt in 1998 and refurbished in 2010. Located just inside the park, the lodge is set beneath a canopy of ebony and mahogany trees, its thatched buildings are arranged around the banks of two lagoons where where you can watch the wildlife as you lounge on the open deck or take a dip in the swimming pool. The lodge has 18 spacious, en-suite thatched chalets with private verandah, plus an bush-spa and curio shop. The lodge offers day and night game drives, plus (upon request) guided walking safaris & cultural visits to the local village, school and textiles market.
- Thornicroft Lodge, . Classically African on the banks of the Luangwa River overlooking the South Luangwa National Park. An intimate lodge with just 9 chalets and a Zambia shaped swimming pool. Rates: $205 low season and $255 high season per person per night including two four hour safaris per full day stayed, breakfast, lunch and dinner and transfers, based on two people sharing.
- Mushroom Lodge. Can be found as you enter the main entrance to South Luangwa National Park, travelling 2 kilometres until you see a sign to the right. It is a unique site on the Mfuwe Lagoon inside the South Luangwa Park, and was originally built in the early seventies to accommodate the Head of State and his VIP guests. The main Lodge area boasts an expansive verandah that overlooks the lagoon, meals are taken here. The Mushroom Pub is a great social meeting area. The Lodge features twelve double chalets, each with bathroom en-suite and wireless broadband internet. Each luxury chalet is equipped with twin or double bed options and a spacious lounge complete with mini bar. Tel: +260–216–246-116 or 246-117. Fax: +260–216–245063. Mobile: +260-977-397-900 or +260-977-758-056
- Shenton Safaris, . Offers two bush camps and six photographic hides that are used regularly by National Geographic, BBC and Discovery channel for numerous photographic shoots and the making of wildlife documentaries. Visitors in these hides will have a unique up-close-and-personal view into the lives of these animals, enabling you to watch them undisturbed in their natural environment. Tel: +260 216 246064
- 'Croc Valley Camp',  Experience the South Luangwa in our rustic on-suite chalets on stilts or in our unique luxury safari tents with bush bathroom on the banks of the Luangwa river.Experience the African bush with its daily visitors on your doorstep.Visit the national park in open 4x4 vehicles where our experienced guides will take you to their "special" spots.Feel the adrelanin as you venture into the park on foot.Fullboard option available at $220 or just accommodation at $30 to $55.Seeing and feeling is believing tel +260 216 246074 E mail [email protected]
- "Marula Lodge (http://marulalodgezambia.com) is the new kid on the block. Offering great budget safaris in this wonderful park, Marula Lodge aims to provide comfortable, affordable accommodation and wildlife experiences for families, volunteers, and backpackers.In fact all budget travellers find their way to Marula Lodge. From furnished riverside tents at $12 per person to full board options in en suite chalets from $150 per day every traveller will find great value for money. They have excellent guides and vehicles and their food and service is well known. The location close to the gate of the park is perfect for both convenience and relaxation. email [email protected] phone 00260974595838 see Tripadvisor too!
Zikomo Safari Camp A small and personalized safari camp on a beautiful spot on the banks of the Luangwa river. This is the base for the South Luangwa Safaris that are conducted in open safari vehicles to give you that ‘bush’ touch feeling and the flexibility to make that unique picture to take home! The first time the Wallace family came to the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia were overwhelmed by the diverse and plentiful wildlife and the wildness of the Nsefu sector and the main South Luangwa National Park. The place or area is a trip back in time to old Africa where the people are friendly, and the wildlife is abundant. There is an old African saying which goes something like this; “once you get the dust of Africa on your boots, you will never be able to kick it off”. In other words; once you experience Africa, it will be in your heart forever. Wildlife is in danger all over the world, and especially in Africa. Photographic safari camps are one of the best ways to save wildlife as they; bring tourists in for the best safari explore, create jobs for locals, which makes both parties (the tourists and the locals) value their wildlife and habitat which helps save the animals for the whole world. The intention was to become part of larger conservation efforts taking place in the Luangwa valley and so we built Zikomo Safari Camp( the word Zikomo means thank you in a local dialect). We offer full board services from $450-$500 per person per night sharing. For budget travelers, camping is $20 per person per night www.zikomosafari.com Tel: +260216246202 Skype: zikomo.safari1 Facebook: Zikomo Safari Camp
- Croc Valley Camp, email  . Nestled on the banks of the Luangwa river, 5 minutes from the main entrance to the park where "the grass is greener on the other side" lies Croc Valley Camp. The campsite is situated under large shady Mahogany trees. Lapa's with power and water points on the river. Our rustic chalets on stilts are unique in their look. Game drives @ $40 and camping at $8.50. Swimming pool bar and restaurant facilities available
- Track and Trail River Camp, , . Located right on the Luangwa River, with the park boundary on the other side of the river. Expect the daily elephant heards outside your window, lion prints outside your tent and hippos keeping you up all night. The 'terrifying at the time' memory of looking UP at the elephants as they tred carefully around your tent throughout the night is definately a once in a lifetime opportunity and not to be missed. The camp features a tidy ablution block, luxury tents, swimming pool, massage room, two storey chalets, shady trees. Each camping spot has electricity, running water and a barbeque. Great meals, friendly service, free airport transfers. Game drives are organised on request; ask for Godfrey! Camping US$10/7.50 in high/low season.
- Wildlife Camp ([email protected])US$10 p.p.p.n. peak season. Offers a scenic site to camp and relax next to the Luangwa river. Swimming pool, bar, electricity and warm showers available. Game drives & Restaurant is optional.
Important notice: Campsite closed 01-07-2011! * Flatdogs Camp, email [email protected], . Well located right outside Mfuwe Gate. As of 2011 Flatdogs no longer allows camping, but has chalets and tents from US$40. Airport transfers an extra US$20, game viewing US$40 plus park entry.
Bushcamps are scattered throughout the camp, but are generally accessible only on exclusive safari tours costing US$350-800 per night. The largest operators are The Bushcampcompany Robin Pope Safaris, Norman Carr Safaris and Kafunta Safaris.
- Island Bush Camp, ☎ +260-6-246046 ([email protected]), . Island Bush Camp lies under a grove of mahogany trees on the banks of the Luangwa River in the heart of the South Luangwa National Park. This intimate bush camp provides a real safari bush experience in rustic but comfortable accommodation in grass and reed huts built on stilts providing great views of the Luangwa Valley. The camp specialises in walking safaris but also offers game drives and night drives. $270-$495. edit
There is also a barebones camp site at the Nyamaluma pontoon, but using it is only practical if you have your own 4WD.
Mobile phones do work in the national park and nearby Mfuwe has GSM. However, all safari lodges and camps, as well as the airport, are set up with a radio system for local communication.
- CyberDog Internet Café, Flatdog Camp. Two terminals available at US$1 per 15 minutes. Open from 7AM to 9:30PM.
Walking in the bush at night is extremely dangerous, and lodges provide escorts to take their guests even around lodge grounds. Hippos, crocodiles, lions and buffalo kill many people every year — although the victims are mostly unfortunate locals, not tourists.
- Mfuwe — village just outside the park, with some attractions of minor interest, namely it has a shop that is open most days and a fuel station. The fuel station is usually only open at around 8:00 am so if you are planning on heading in to the park or back to Lusaka early don't forget to fill up the day before.
- North Luangwa National Park — a short flight (or arduous drive) away, offers wilder game and fewer visitors.
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