When people talk about the best wildlife reserves in Africa, most mention the Serengeti, or the Maasai Mara, or even Etosha. But experts have actually dubbed eastern Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa river, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.
Known to locals as simply ‘the South Park,’ it was initially founded as the Luangwa Game Park in 1904, and converted to one of three game reserves in the Luangwa river valley in 1938, before being declared a national park in 1972. This is still “old” Africa. Little has changed since explorer David Livingstone walked here in the late 1800s. It is without doubt one of the most scenic and spectacular wildlife areas on the African continent.
The impressive butterfly-shaped park covers an area of about 9,000 square kilometres (3,490 sq mi) of the Luangwa valley floor, and lies anywhere from 500 meter to 800 metres above sea level. With its western and northwestern edge bounded by the Muchinga escarpment (no fences), and the southern border lined with the meandering Luangwa river, there’s no shortage of dramatic and fascinating topography in this stunning game-rich park.
The focus in South Luangwa is undoubtedly the meandering Luangwa river, whose intermittent flooding alters its course, creating floodplains and many tranquil oxbow lakes. It is the lifeblood of the park. The habitat of the park is mostly that of woodland savannah, with Miombo and Mopane the dominating species. Within these woodland savannah swathes are larger patches of grassland, as well as floodplains closer to the river.
South Luangwa hosts a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation. There are over 60 different mammal species in the park, including some rare ones like the locally endemic Crawshay’s Zebra and Thornicroft Giraffe, along with 4 of the famous Big 5 (no rhino). It is especially famous for its large herds of African Elephant and African Buffalo, and for the abundant Hippopotamus population living in its lagoons alongside some of the biggest Nile Crocodiles on the continent. Lion are also relatively common, and South Luangwa is often cited as one of the best places in Southern Africa to spot the elusive Leopard. The park also hosts over 400 different bird species, including 39 birds of prey and a further 47 migrant species. Avian highlights include Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Skimmer and large colourful flocks of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters.
Lastly, the now famous ‘walking safari’ originated in this park and is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand. Traveling through the park’s lush landscapes on foot also means that you have time to stop and appreciate the smaller things in nature, from exotic insects to animal tracks and beautiful flora.
Join one of our Zambia Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.