Experts have dubbed South Luangwa to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.
The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of this 9059 km2 Park. The Park hosts a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation. The now famous ‘walking safari’ originated in this Park and is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand. The changing seasons add to the Park’s richness, ranging from; dry, bare bushveld in the winter, to a lush, green wonderland in the summer months. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species in South Luangwa National Park. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction.
With about 400 of Zambia’s 732 species of birds appearing in the Park, including 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species, there is plenty for the birdwatcher to spot, whatever the season.
An interest in the vegetation of Zambia will enhance your experience of the bush. Some magnificent trees and plants grow in the Luangwa Valley and it certainly adds to the richness of one’s experience to be able to recognize the different tree species and to discover exotic wildflowers.
Among the more common trees in the valley are the mopane, leadwood, winterthorn, the tall vegetable ivory palm, the marula and the magnificent tamarind tree. The are some magnificent baobab specimens and a few large ebony forests to admire.
Seasonal changes are very pronounced in Luangwa. The dry season begins in April and intensifies through to October, the hottest month, when game concentrations are at their height. Warm sunny days and chilly nights typify the dry winter months of May to August.
The wet season begins in November as the leaves turn green, and the dry bleak terrain becomes a lush jungle. The rainy season lasts up until the end of March and the migrant birds arrive in droves. Each lodge stays open for as long as access is possible, depending on its location in the area.
There are several lodges that remain open all year in the central area of the park, and recently bushcamps are now opening in the “Emerald Season”.
HOW TO GET THERE
Mfuwe Airport recently achieved international status and various airlines were looking at scheduled flights from abroad.
Proflight Zambia is the only airline flying scheduled domestic flights in Zambia. They fly daily to South Luangwa and Livingstone from Lusaka all year (frequencies increase in high season).
Charter planes from outside the country can now fly direct without clearing customs at Lusaka and there are a number of charter companies in Zambia, that can fly to and from Zambia’s top destinations. All lodges do transfers to and from the airport. Charter planes at seat rate – Executive Air and Nyasa Air Taxis.
One can approach from three directions. The usual route is from Chipata. This is a good road if a little corrugated and the 123km drive takes about two hours to Mfuwe, just outside the Park. If travelling in a robust 4×4 from Lusaka, it is possible to take a short cut from the Great East Road at Petauke, up alongside the Luangwa River to Mfuwe. Only to be attempted well into the dry season. A good overnight stop along the way is at the Luangwa River Bridge at Bridge Camp.
The Northern access is from Mpika on the Great North Road or Lundazi, near Zambia’s eastern border with Malawi. Just below Mpika, there is a road running down the Munyamadzi Corridor between North and South Luangwa Parks. It is passable but is only open between August and October and only in 4WD and preferably with two vehicles as help is a long way away. The mountain pass down the escarpment is quite formidable, very rocky and bumpy but the view over this, the tail end of the Great Rift Valley, is quite spectacular.