South Luangwa National Park

Overview

Introduction

This huge national park is by far the best game park in the country. Located along the river-veined Luangwa Valley, South Luangwa specializes in walking safaris that give visitors an up-close and personal look at the African bush. Treks cover 6 mi/10 km a day, and each evening is spent at a remote hut. Porters and cooks haul food (and walkers' belongings) and transform simple way stations into comfortable camps. (Don't be intimidated by the trek: Much of the terrain is flat, so the walking is less arduous than you might expect.) You don't need to go on the treks to see animals in South Luangwa: Most lodges are located on a river or swamp, so you can make noteworthy sightings just hanging out at your hut.

The park is known for its diverse wildlife, including Cape buffalo and plenty of crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, hippos, hyenas, impalas, leopards, lions, warthogs, waterbuck and zebras, as well as hundreds of species of birds. (Birdwatchers: If you're in South Luangwa in October, ask to be taken to the carmine bee-eater nesting grounds.) The once-numerous black rhinos now number fewer than two dozen because of poaching. Spotlight-equipped four-wheel-drive Land Rovers take guests on night rides—on ours, we saw a leopard stalking a herd of impalas.

Within the park are a variety of camps and lodges—it's important to choose your site carefully. Some, such as Mfuwe and Chichele, cater to families: Serious game watchers may prefer smaller, more peaceful lodgings (many of which forbid children younger than age 12), such as Chinzombo (run by the Save the Rhino Trust). The private, smaller properties tend to pay a bit more attention to details and are—not surprisingly—more costly. Government bush camps are open June-October. The northern areas of the park become inaccessible during the rainy season (November-April). North Luangwa National Park, northeast of South Luangwa, is mostly undeveloped, but there are a few government-approved safari companies that operate there, and tourists are able to view the black rhino. (Contact the tourism office in Lusaka for more information.) 280 mi/450 km northeast of Lusaka.

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