For most visitors, South Luangwa National Park is by far the most practical park to visit in the valley. This is Zambia’s premier wildlife park, with superb wildlife and many excellent camps. This is where the now famous walking safaris started from over 60 years ago and this unique African destination retains some of the finest world-class safari guides.

There are many contenders for the title of Africa’s best game park. The Serengeti, Amboseli, Ngorongoro Crater, Etosha, Kruger, Moremi and Mana Pools would certainly be high on the list. South Luangwa has a better claim than most. Some of these other areas will match its phenomenally high game densities. Many others – the lesser known of Africa’s parks – will have equally few visitors. One or two also allow night drives, which open up a different, nocturnal world to view, allowing leopards to be commonly seen and even watched whilst hunting.

However, few have South Luangwa’s high quality of guiding together with its remarkable wildlife spectacles, day and night, in the isolation of a true wilderness. These elements, perhaps, are how the contenders ought to be judged, and on these the South Luangwa Park comes out around the top of the list.

The easiest way to get into the South Luangwa is to fly in, because it is the most relaxing and your time is relatively limited. This is how almost all the trips arranged by Authentic Safaris Zambia are set up.

From Lusaka we usually organize a short 70-minute scheduled flight, which takes you to Mfuwe Airport. On arrival, you will be met by someone from your safari camp, and transferred to the camp. There you will be welcomed by the team with some time to settle in, before heading out on an activity such as a safari walk or drive.

South Luangwa boasts several world-class safari camps which all offer exciting walking safaris and game drive safaris with first-class guides. Some also offer excellent mobile and fly-camp options.

Almost all the South Luangwa safari camps and lodges lie in natural bush along the Luangwa River or one of its tributaries, with game regularly roaming through camp. In style, the safari camps in the South Luangwa National Park differ widely, from sophisticated safari lodges to the simplest of bush camps. Just ask us about the many options; we know all these camps from first-hand experience!

In most safari camps and lodges within the South Luangwa National Park you will enjoy a game drive or walk in the early morning, and a second in late afternoon. The hours between are yours to linger over lunch and enjoy a siesta, or spend time watching the birds and animals in camp. Game drives usually take place in open-topped 4WD vehicles, and an afternoon drive may continue after dark in search of the park’s nocturnal creatures.

On a walking safari, you can expect a leisurely pace, with fascinating input from an expert guide, accompanied by an armed ranger. Walking safaris afford you the opportunity to get closer to the wildlife on their terms. There are strict exams, which all guides have gone through before becoming walking guides to ensure the top guiding quality which the South Luangwa is known for. Most walking trips are 2–4 hours, and done as an activity from a lodge or camp, but at times it can be combined with a game drive. Note however, that walking safaris may be affected by the weather pattern in the rainy season.

South Luangwa supports a very rich flora and fauna, and the key to this is in the valley’s soils.

Amongst South Luangwa’s many herbivores, three several stand out as being endemic to the area. The beautiful Thornicroft’s giraffe has a different (and more striking) coloration than the giraffes in the rest of southern Africa.

Cookson’s wildebeest differ in having slightly reddish bands and often ‘cleaner’ colours – and they are also a little smaller and more compact than their blue cousins. Finally Crawshay’s zebra is an endemic subspecies of the more common plains zebra, completely lacking its cousin’s brown shadow-stripes between the black stripes.

Elephant and buffalo occur in hundreds-strong herds, and antelope, especially impala and puku, are numerous. Impala are very adaptable: they can browse and graze, whilst puku are best suited to well-watered riverine areas.

The main predators in the Luangwa Valley are lion, leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog. Of these, lion are probably the most common, and their large prides are often easily spotted. South Luangwa also has a top reputation as a first-class park for leopard. This is largely because leopard hunt nocturnally, and South Luangwa is one of Africa’s few national parks to allow spotlit night drives. Wild dog are uncommon, but sightings have been becoming much more numerous in recent years.

As you’d expect of a fertile valley, the Luangwa boasts a rich tropical birdlife including birds of dry-country and water-based habitats. About 400 species have been observed here, including many typical of Southern Africa – and a few more usually known from East Africa.

The best time to visit the South Luangwa for birds is around December to March: the ’emerald season’. Then summer migrants are here, lured by plentiful food. Once-dry plains have thick vegetation and water is everywhere, encouraging wading flocks of herons, egrets and storks and several species of geese and ducks.

Of special note for birders are the plains and marshes of the Nsefu Sector, in the north of the park. During the rains there is a huge breeding colony of yellow-billed storks here – situated in a stand of tall trees, surrounded by shallow water.

Another birding highlight of the South Luangwa is the migrant carmine bee-eater: colonies of these iridescent birds nest in holes in the side of sandy riverbanks. The birds arrive around August–September and usually leave early in the New Year, although their peak nesting activity is usually around September to October.