Zambia's Best Safari Parks & Camps

Safari In South Luangwa National Park

Safari In South Luangwa National Park
By Mazuba Kapambwe

South Luangwa National Park, in the Eastern province of Zambia, is is one of the most wildlife-rich national parks in the country.

The park is home to more than 400 species of birds and over 60 different mammals, including antelopes, lions, elephants and more.

South Luangwa is the only place in the world to see the Thornicroft species of giraffe as well as the Cookson’s wildebeest.

Safari in South Luangwa National Park

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Zambia South Luangwa A young cute Plains Zebra Equus quagga in a grassland

A young plains zebra in South Luangwa National Park

The best safaris in South Luangwa National Park

There are various types of safari offered at South Luangwa National Park. Walking safaris are a speciality of the park, and were pioneered by renowned conservationist Sir Norman Carr in the 1950s and 1960. They continue to be one of the most popular ways to view wildlife in the park. On a walking safari, guests can see lions, leopards, elephants and learn about the flora of the park. It’s not all about big beasts however; a walking safari will allow you to get up close with a termite mound and learn about Zambia’s ecosystem.

Game drives are generally offered twice a day at most safari camps and lodges in South Luangwa. A typical safari day begins around 6am and lasts about 4 hours. Guests can expect to see elephants, zebras, antelope and more. After sunset, some lodges and camps offer two-hour night game drives. This is a good time to see nocturnal animals such as honey badgers and porcupines, alongside the chance to witness a lion or leopard hunt.

Another type of safari offered in South Luangwa is hides. These are camouflaged and protected areas where guests can watch the animals at a safe distance without interfering in their activities. It can be thrilling watching a lion prowl or an elephant bathe up close from a hide.

A canoe safari on the Luangwa River is one of the best ways to see the region’s abundant birdlife as well as elephants, crocodiles and hippo. Birding enthusiasts can also book safari experiences focusing on birdlife led by expert ornithologists.

South Luangwa lion

A lion in South Luangwa National Park

The best times for safari in South Luangwa National Park

Zambia has distinct seasons which impacts when you can go on safari. The peak safari season is between July and October when Zambia is dry. This is also the best time to see wildlife.

During the emerald season (which coincides with the rainy season) of November-March, camps have cheaper rates as some lodges close due to heavy rains making some parts of the park inaccessible. However, Mfuwe in the southern part of South Luangwa national park has all-weather roads and remains open throughout the year. Although it is harder to spot wildlife during this time due to increased water sources and vegetation, guests can expect to see lots of baby elephants, zebra, antelope and wild dogs. Leopard and lion sightings are also possible.

The best time for a photo safari in Zambia is during the emerald season as the park is full of colour which contrasts with the lush green vegetation. It is also a great time for bird watching as rivers are full and animals head to watering holes.

May, June and November are known as the shoulder season. The weather is pleasant for walking safaris and bird watching enthusiasts can spot canine bee-eater birds as they begin nesting.

Luangwa Valley Baboon standing guard for his troop

Baboon standing guard in Luangwa

Best safari camps & lodges in South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park has a range of luxury, mid-range and lower-cost safari lodges to suit most budgets. Most luxury lodges and camps are all-inclusive, which means game drives and meals are included.

Mfuwe Lodge offers guests the chance to see elephants which regularly pass through the reception between late October and mid-December on their way to the mango trees around the property.

For budget-conscious travellers, Marula Lodge offers dorm-style rooms, ensuite double and twin rooms as well as tents. All-inclusive packages are also available. Thornicroft Lodge and Croc Valley Camp are also great budget-friendly options.

How to get to South Luangwa National Park

Most safari-goers in Zambia will fly into Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. To get to South Luangwa from Lusaka, there are several options. Zambian airline Proflight has seasonal flights from Lusaka and Livingstone to Mfuwe town. Lodge and camps provide pickups from Mfuwe airport to their accommodations. Guests should contact their accommodations in advance to schedule pickups.

Renting a vehicle from Lusaka and driving to South Luangwa is also possible. The trip takes about nine hours or more depending on which camp in the park is being visited. A 4x4 vehicle is recommended, especially in the rainy season. Buses to Mfuwe can also be taken from Lusaka’s intercity bus stop.

Safari In South Luangwa National Park

Mazuba Kapambwe

Mazuba is a freelance writer from Zambia whose travel writing has appeared on CNN Travel, Unearth Women, Culture Trip and several in-flight magazines. Her travel podcast Mwende Bwino (Go Well) was recently featured on Conde Nast Traveler’s website and listed as one of the top five Zambian podcasts. Mazuba co-wrote the Lusaka Arts and Culture guide produced by the National Arts Council of Zambia.

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