The perfect safari holiday in South Luangwa
The Luangwa Valley is the most fertile area and thus has the most prolific wildlife
Undoubtedly the best-known of Zambia’s National Parks, the South Luangwa covers some 9,050 km2 of Eastern Zambia and is a mixture of open savannah and Mopane woodlands. The plains and woods are punctuated by a series of rivers, most significantly the Luangwa River which is fed by smaller rivers such as the Mwamba and the Luwi, both of which lend their names to camps within the park.
As with most parks within Zambia, this is predominantly a seasonal park, with the main safari period running between April and May through to October and November, with exact opening and closing dates dependent on camp location. The summer rains render large parts of the park away from the Luangwa River inaccessible, although certain camps on the river do remain open throughout the year, offering the chance to enjoy boat safaris as well as game drives. Known as Emerald Season, this is a wonderful time for visitors looking to enjoy a luxury South Luangwa safari with few other visitors, marvel at the lush, green landscapes and enjoy excellent birding as well as general wildlife viewing.
In the longer dry season, the park is transformed into a golden-brown series of open plains, with wildlife congregating around the Luangwa River which, although generally not flowing, does hold large pools of water where hippo and crocodile can be found. Out on the plains there are herds of elephant and buffalo, lions stalking their prey and a burgeoning wild dog population. Birdwatchers will delight in the variety of species that can be spotted here, with September and October an especially popular time of year as this is when the beautiful Carmine Bee Eaters can be found nesting in the dry banks of the Luangwa River. However, it is for leopard sightings that this area is best-known, with these often elusive and solitary cats found with startling regularity, especially in the dense bush around the riverbanks. In addition a number of endemic species can be found here, such as the Thornicroft giraffe.
Accommodation in South Luangwa is wonderfully varied and spread around the park, meaning it never feels overly busy, despite featuring in almost all Zambian safari trips. The ‘main’ area of the park is around Mfuwe, which is also the access airport, with a number of lodges found both inside and outside the park. Style here varies from more basic tented camps to permanent lodges and one of the most luxurious camps anywhere in Africa, so there is plenty of choice. Away from this the accommodation is far more spread out, with properties built in the style of traditional bush camps using reed and thatch, with many of them being re-built every year. A few days in one of the more Northern or Southern parts of the park is the perfect complement to spending a few days in the Mfuwe area.
Activities here in the dry season are game drives, guided walks and, from certain camps, the chance to sit in specially sited viewing hides for ultimate photography opportunities. On a tailor made South Luangwa safari holiday is regarded as one of the finest places to enjoy walking safaris in all of Africa, with the flat, open terrain making it easy to spot wildlife. Plus the requirement to walk with an armed scout means that guides can dedicate their time and energy to their guests rather than keeping an eye out for potential danger. During the Emerald Season of November to March there is also the chance to enjoy boating safaris, although the exact timings when this is offered will be dictated by water levels in the river.
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