South Luangwa National Park is one of the best parks in all of Africa for animal encounters. Very few places can offer the unique combination of open, grassy plains, woodlands and lush riverbanks lined by the Luangwa River. The river is the lifeline of the whole Luangwa region. It rises in the far northeast of Zambia and flows southward for 800km though the Luangwa Valley. The river flows all year round, only in the dry season does its water level drop to an absolute minimum, but without drying up completely. This attracts a variety of animals like hippos or crocodiles basking in the sun. Animals do however prefer to drink at the park’s numerous oxbow lagoons, formed as the river continually changes its course, and this is where wildlife viewing is often best, especially as the smaller water holes run dry.
To locals the park is simply known as ‘The South Park’ and was initially founded as Luangwa Game Park in 1904. It spans over an area of 9,059 square kilometres and protects a wide variety of wildlife, birds, and vegetation.
Wildlife to spot in South Luangwa
Although South Luangwa is relatively small in size, especially compared to the universally known parks like Kruger or Etosha, it does not disappoint in terms of its wildlife, varying vegetation, and habitats. The park offers a multitude of game that will satisfy any safari bucket list: from predators like wild dogs, lions, and leopards – which are practically a guaranteed encounter in South Luangwa – to big game favourites like elephants and hippos. The park is also famous for its large herds of buffaloes which are dramatic when they gather in the dry season and stride to the river to drink. In addition, the park is home to 14 different species of antelopes, including bushbucks and kudus, and offers unique sightings of the Crawshay’s zebra herds (whose stripes are more distinct than those found further south and west). Lastly, one cannot forget about the incredible birdlife of South Luangwa – whether you’re a bird fanatic or not, there’s something for everyone here. Among the 400 different species the park is home to, there are also 39 birds of prey which guarantee unique sightings as they go hunting.
Activities and experiences
Besides the usual game drives, numerous walking safaris are offered in South Luangwa. The park was basically the birthplace of walking safaris, and it is still a captivating way to explore the landscape. Allowing you to access areas where there are no roads makes it unlikely to see anything but wildlife. Another unique way to approach game viewing is from the vantage point of a boat safari. The South Luangwa River offers a spectacle of wildlife to view safely from the comfort of your boat. The river is best navigated in the rainy season when it is fuller. Most safari operators do combine boating and walking to guarantee the full nature and game viewing experience.
For bird lovers, a birding safari will create the perfect experience to see and hear their feathered friends. With the company of an ornithologist or an expert birding guide, everybody will have the chance to broaden their horizons and expand their knowledge.