The lowdown on The South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Totally unspoilt, wildly beautiful and with one of the highest concentrations of animals anywhere in Africa, the South Luangwa is in a class of its own.
Zambia is also one of Africa’s most welcoming and politically stable countries, making it a great choice for a safari holiday. Find out more in our Zambia country guide.
Here we tell you everything you need to know about the South Luangwa National Park, including the best months to visit and what you can expect to see on your epic safari.
Brief history of safaris in South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa safaris began with the conservationist Norman Carr.
Carr began as a big game hunter, but was ahead of his time in realising that photographic safaris were the future for the South Luangwa’s wildlife. When the park was established in 1972, the first safari lodges were quickly established.
Today the South Luangwa National Park boasts over 40 lodges and camps.
For many years, getting to the South Luangwa National Park was an adventure in itself! The roads were appalling, and flights were very expensive.
But today the access road from Chipata is excellent, you can pick up great value airfares, and there are more cost-effective options than ever before.
South Luangwa lodges and camps
The South Luangwa is really unique in Africa in genuinely offering something for everyone.
Budget safaris in South Luangwa National Park are very possible – check out our top tips for a low cost safari.
The South Luangwa is also famous for its bush camps. These seasonal, eight sleeper camps, offer a remote wildlife experience unlike any other.
For example, Nkonzi Camp, our small bush camp, is set deep inside the South Luangwa National Park. Here guests can experience a very natural safari, under canvas, just as the early safari pioneers would have done.
South Luangwa wildlife and landscape
The Luangwa Valley is one of Africa’s most ancient landscapes.
It is through this timeless land that the vast Luangwa River flows, gently meandering its way to the Zambezi.
Along the way, the river cuts the characteristic water holes and lagoons that the valley is so famous for.
Cool riverine forests, large plains, and pristine forests all help support huge concentrations of animals, including elephant, hippo, giraffe, buffalo, antelope and zebra.
South Luangwa safaris are also famous for predator sightings, with lion, leopard and hyena often spotted. African wild dog are rarer, although they often den in the park.
South Luangwa weather
The South Luangwa National Park enjoys three distinct seasons.
December-April is the rainy season and is humid and wet.
May-August is winter and is cooler and dry.
September-November is hot and dry, with the first rainy season storms usually arriving in early November.
The best time to safari in Zambia is generally considered July-October.
At this time the thick vegetation begins to die back and the wildlife starts moving towards the river as waterholes dry up. Animals become concentrated in smaller areas and are easier to spot. Predators also take advantage and make numerous kills.
Visitors to the Luangwa should be aware that night time temperatures drop sharply between June and August. Especially in the early mornings, things can feel very chilly. And on an open Land Rover, the wind chill factor shouldn’t be underestimated!
So a couple of warm sweaters, trousers and even a scarf and woolly hat can be very welcome.
In contrast, by September, things are really heating up.
From September to November, daytime temperatures regularly top 38oC, or 100oF.
Nights are usually still cool enough to sleep comfortably. But during the day, lightweight cotton clothing, lots of drinking water, high factor sunscreen and a good hat are all essential.
Check out our What to Pack page for more tips on what should go in your suitcase.
South Luangwa activities
The South Luangwa is famous for walking safaris.
Walking offers an unmatched opportunity to experience the wild in person.
The sights, sounds and smells of Africa are all heightened and although you may see less big game than on a game drive, you experience the wilderness in a much more immediate way.
South Luangwa walking safaris are all accompanied by an armed, trained wildlife scout, and a highly qualified Luangwa walking safari guide. To learn more about walking safaris and how to get the most from yours, take a look at our What to Expect on a Walking Safari page.
Game drives are a great way to see the South Luangwa and its amazing animal life. All safari companies offer morning game drives as well as afternoon/night drives.
Morning drives are very special. The South Luangwa’s animals are at their most active in the morning, so it’s a great time for game sightings. Birding is also best just after dawn, as birdsong carries beautifully in the still early morning. And of course, the soft morning light is a delight for everyone, especially photographers.
Afternoon/night game drives have a different thrill. Afternoons offer the opportunity to find predators getting ready for the night’s hunt, and prey animals nervously eyeballing them!
After the sun sets, game viewing continues with a high powered spotlight; a truly unforgettable adventure. Watching a hyena emerge from the darkness into the spotlight beam, then disappear again into the inky blackness is a visceral and haunting experience.
Nocturnal animals such as civet and genet, owl species and nocturnal birds can also only be spotted at night. And finally, the African night sky is a treat in itself, with the Milky Way spread out above your head.
A few lodges offer the ultimate game drive experience – an all-day drive.
For example, at Jackalberry Safaris we offer our all-day expedition as part of our 3+ night safari packages. Our all-day drive lasts from 06:00-20:00 and reaches remote northerly sections of the park. We pack up the vehicle with everything we need, and head out into the wild. It is a long, but incredibly rewarding day and a real highlight of any safari.
Many lodges outside the South Luangwa National Park main gate also offer cultural activities, including village tours, school visits and souvenir shopping trips.
For more tips on things to do around South Luangwa National Park, check out our insider’s guide.