The immense Luangwa River, with its impressive oxbow lagoons, is the veritable lifeblood of this 9 060km2 reserve. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, and for good reason. The river is one of the last remaining unspoilt water systems left on the continent, and the concentration of game along its length is one of the most intense in Africa. Founded in 1938, South Luangwa is the southernmost reserve out of the three national parks along the length of the Luangwa River, and is by far the most well known.
Out of the 732 bird species in Zambia, South Luangwa is home to over 400. Imagine flocks of dozens of crowned cranes gliding gracefully over open waters, as hundreds of hippo belligerently snort their displeasure at having to share their stretch of river with elephants, lions, leopards, and indeed any other visitor! The natural plant life is a wonder, and it is easy to lose yourself in this world of huge tamarind and ebony forests.
Interestingly, the park spans two different woodland eco-regions, and together with large patches of floodplain grassland, the reserve is able to support a very wide variety of animals, including the near endemic Cookson’s wildebeest, Crawshay’s zebra, puku and Thornicraft’s giraffe.
South Luangwa holds the reputation of being one of the best locations for walking safaris. It is even possible to arrange a multi-day walking trip, where you stay overnight in luxury tented camps. Experiencing the bush on foot is a unique way of reconnecting with nature. You will be surprised at how many fascinating little wonders there are, that one normally just zooms past in a vehicle.
South Luangwa is also one of the few places in the region that offers night safaris. Night time in the African bushveld is an entirely different kettle of fish. The predators are bolder – it is their time now – melting along game paths and roads, marking territory or searching for prey, while a whole new secret world of shy nocturnal creatures like bush babies, porcupines or genets begins to stir after their daytime slumber.
Access to the reserve is very convenient by air, but there are no roads crossing the valley, due to its size and rough terrain. This limited access has contributed greatly to the conservation of the area.
The best time of the year to visit is totally subjective. The height of the wet, green season runs from January through to April and many camps in the region close completely due to high water levels and inaccessible roads. However, it is the best time of year for bird watching. This is when the migrants arrive. And there are far fewer tourists around. It is also the time when canoeing down the river is possible. May to October is traditionally the peak season, and although by September or October it is beginning to get hot and sticky, it is the best time for game viewing as the animals are beginning to congregate around the river and watering holes.
If your time in Zambia is limited and you are looking for a place that can fulfil your wildest dreams in a relatively short period of time, the Luangwa is the place to go. It is renowned for some of the greatest game viewing anyone could ever hope for. It is no wonder that many of the wildlife documentaries are filmed here. It is Africa on steroids, and every aspect of the place will take your breath away.