African Safari - South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
After Busanga Plains in Kafue National Park, our next Zambian destination is the highly regarded South Luangwa National Park. While perhaps not as well known as the famous reserves in Botswana and South Africa, the South Luangwa is generally considered a great unsung safari destination, with incredible game viewing, superb guiding and a small number of exceptional safari camps.
We arrive at the small airport of Mfuwe in eastern Zambia, the gateway to the South Luangwa National Park. Seamlessly, we are picked up by our hosts, The Bushcamp Company. As we drive to their lodge, we pass through the small village of Mfuwe, gaining a glimpse into rural Zambian life, a vibrant and boisterous contrast to the serene isolation of our recent days in Kafue National Park.
Mfuwe lodge is The Bushcamp Company’s base lodge, just outside the entrance to the South Luangwa National Park. Here, eighteen thatched cottages are scattered around an oxbow lagoon, with abundant wildlife in attendance. But this is not our destination; instead we are welcomed and refreshed before setting off again in a private safari vehicle for the bushcamps of the southern sector of the South Luangwa National Park.
The South Luangwa National Park is widely regarded as the best national park in Zambia, and one of the most impressive in Africa. The park centres on the Luangwa River as it meanders through eastern Zambia, forming the Luangwa Valley. Here the river forms vast floodplains in the wet season, but as the waters recede from May to October, huge concentrations of wildlife congregate around the shores of the river, making for an incredible safari experience.
The park is divided into three sectors – the central sector, northern sector and southern sector. The central sector, near Mfuwe, is the gateway to the Luangwa Valley, and is home to the highest concentrations of game. But its accessibility means it is busy, so more experienced safari travellers tend to head to the more remote bushcamps of the northern and southern sectors. We have chosen the southern sector where The Bushcamp Company operates six stunning small camps.
Choosing in which of these six bushcamps to stay was a pleasantly painful experience, as all look incredible, and all have individual features which set them apart. We eventually chose to divide our four night stay in the South Luangwa between two camps, in different areas of the southern sector. First was Chamilandu for its spectacular riverside location, its beautiful modern-looking open rooms and its impressive hide for animal watching. And second was Bilimungwe, also renowned for its beautiful, if more rustic, rooms, and its incredible waterholes for continuous wildlife watching. Naturally, all were famous for the quality of their guides and the wildlife experience they provide, and this was certainly our experience. We suspect that it makes little difference which of the camps you choose, as all appear impressive. If you do have enough time, we would recommend dividing your stay between two or more camps, as this has the potential to maximise your wildlife experience, with different sightings possible in different areas. It is also possible to walk between certain camps, incorporating the walking safaris for which the South Luangwa is famed.
As is often the case on safari, getting to camp is a game drive in itself, and the journey from Mfuwe Lodge to Chamilandu was no exception. Zebra, giraffe, warthog and hippo were in abundance as soon as we entered the park, and as we headed further south, the Chindeni hills rose above the floodplain, adding to the beauty of the scenery. While the bushcamps are in reality only an hour or so from Mfuwe Lodge, the wildlife (and our photography thereof) stretches the journey into a very pleasant two hour meander.
After a welcome drink and high tea at Chamilandu, our evening game drive sets off in the photogenic afternoon light.
South Luangwa is Zambia's biggest and best, and certainly most popular, National Park. The wildlife is abundant and in high concentration.
And for those of you brave enough to get down to the level of the local residents, walking safaris are a particular highlight.
When To Go
The best time to visit South Luwangwa National Park is generally July to November being the dry season. Though The Bushcamp Company do look to operate some of their camps from as early as May and as late as January. The Mfuwe Lodge is also open all year round. Other camps will no doubt follow suit.
But for the best wildlife viewing, that dry season, particularly its final weeks and months, would get the votes, even if the later periods are rather hot!
How Long to Stay
As long as you can, though realistically we would suggest a minimum of three nights. Four if you wish to experience more than one of the high quality camps.
Where to Stay
There are many options, but we would wholeheartedly recommend The Bushcamp Company and any (or all) of their fine camps. They really do know how to look after you, how to look after their amazing park and how to get you the very best safari experience. See our posts on two of their fine camps being Chamilandu and Bilimungwe.
Know Before You Go
§ Patience was of particular importance in South Luangwa. The local wild dog pack were in no hurry as we sat and waited for their hunger to rouse them. And when it finally did, we were rewarded with an exhilarating (though admittedly gruesome) display of nature at work.
§ As to be expected, there is no wi-fi or phone coverage and we are certain you won't miss it.