Judging by the astonishing ratio of return visitors I came across during my visit, I suspected the Luangwa walking safari experience to be highly addictive!

Overall Impression The South Luangwa National Park is a 3,500 square mile stretch of pristine wilderness hidden away in the north-eastern corner of Zambia. The eastern border of the park follows the Luangwa River as it makes its convoluted way toward the Zambezi, leaving behind a patchwork of oxbow lakes and lagoons. According to experts, this remote valley, with its ruggedly varied landscape of savanna and forest, has one of the highest concentrations of game in Africa. It is host to approximately 60 animal and 400 bird species, including most of the Big Five.

While elephants, buffalos, lions and leopards abounded in the park, and pods of fifty or more hippos were frequent in the river, rhinos were sadly poached to extinction in the 1980’s. Small herds of several varieties of antelopes ranging from the tiny Sharpe grysbok to the great kudu with its majestic spiral horns, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck, and the honey-colored puku rarely seen outside of the valley, were common; as were the Thornicroft giraffe and Crawshay zebra, both indigenous to the park.

Given the abundance of game roaming this spectacular landscape, it was easy to understand how the famed Zambian “walking safari,” which originated in the park over half a century ago, flourished to become one of the most prized game viewing experiences in southern Africa. This led to the development of a number of small seasonal bush camps in the eastern part of the park, in close proximity to the river. These camps were run by a few of the most reputed safari operators in the country. The camps I visited, most notably Kuyenda, Chamilandu and Chindeni, were memorable for the outstanding expertise of their guides as well as the high quality of their accommodations and warm hospitality.

Because of its remote location, the South Luangwa National Park was not as readily accessible from North America and Europe as other better known southern Africa safari destinations. This isolation limited the number of visitors, which further enhanced my thrill of feeling transported to an Africa that time had forgotten. Judging by the astonishing ratio of return visitors I came across during my visit, I suspected the Luangwa walking safari experience to be highly addictive!

Climate The climate of the Luangwa Valley was tropical, with two very pronounced seasons: dry from May to November, and green from December to April when the seasonal rain fall averaged around 130 cm (50 inches). I visited in October, one of the hottest months, when the temperature could rise over 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the middle of the day, but cooled off comfortably after sunset. The outlying water sources were dry, forcing great concentrations of game to congregate by the river.

Cost Of Visiting Reasonable

Currency The currency of Zambia, the kwacha, had an exchange rate of approximately 4000 kwachas for one U.S. dollar at the time of my visit.

Electrical Current 220 Volts/50 Hz. A NW-135C adapter was necessary when using electrical outlets (the kind used in the U.K.).

Health And Vaccinations There were no mandatory inoculations for travel to Zambia at the time of my visit. My local health clinic, following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, recommended an up-to-date inoculation schedule for meningitis, hepatitis, rabies, sleeping sickness, tetanus and typhoid fever; as well as visitor precautions for AIDS and preventive medication for malaria. Because I visited Zambia at the end of the dry season, I found that mosquito repellant was usually not necessary. However, in this tropical climate, high protection sunscreen was a daily necessity.

Location The South Luangwa National Park was located in the north eastern corner of Zambia, near the borders of Malawi and Mozambique. Mfuwe, the main entrance to the Park, was approximately 400 kilometers (250 miles) north east of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

Measures Metric system

Money Issues All prices in areas that catered to tourists, including airport taxes and park fees were quoted in U.S. dollars, alleviating the need to exchange currency. Because I couldn’t anticipate whether change could be made in U.S. dollars, I brought all the funds for incidentals, tips and souvenirs, in small U.S. denominations (mainly $1, $5 and $10). This ensured that I didn’t accumulate local currency along the way.

Technology All the lodges and camps offered running water. Electricity was permanently available at the lodges and on a limited basis at the camps. Cellular phone service and Internet access were available at the lodges. In the camps, the only available option was satellite phone.

Time GMT/UTC plus two hours (e.g. Continental European time)

Transportation The only way to get around in the Park was by all-wheel drive vehicles or on foot.

When To Visit The remote bush camps operated from May through October. They were closed during the green season when the saturated dirt paths became impassable bogs. The two permanent lodges operating in the park, the Mfuwe Lodge and the Chichele Presidential Lodge located within one hour’s drive from the Mfuwe entrance, remained open all year; catering mainly to birdwatchers during the green season, when migrant birds were said to visit in droves.

How To Get There South African Airways (SAA) offered daily flights from Washington and New York to Johannesburg, South Africa. Several European airlines also offered daily flights to Johannesburg from various European gateways. From Johannesburg, SAA and Air Zambia operated daily flights to Lusaka. British Airways had one daily flight between London and Lusaka. From Lusaka, Zambia Airways offered daily connecting flights to Mfuwe. Many of the lodges operating in the park provided road transfers to and from the airport. At the time of my visit, there was an airport departure tax of $8 for domestic flights and $25 for international flights. A tourist visa valid for one entry could be obtained at passport control in Lusaka for $25.

Facilities There were no shopping, dining or healthcare facilities in or near the Park. The closest town where basic necessities were available was Chipata, 80 miles away (approximately 3 hours by road).

Shopping And Souvenirs The lodges and camps had some very limited souvenir shops, stocked mainly with locally decorated textiles and some woodcarvings.

Tourism Highlights The combination of game hikes and drives offered an incomparable safari experience, joining the intimacy of eye-level discovery with the broader perspective that could only achieved from the safety of an open-top Land Rover. It was intensely satisfying to quietly walk single-file in the early morning sun behind an armed ranger and a guide, observing game tracks; and to listen to the complex sounds of the bush before finally catching sight of a five-ton bull elephant browsing with relish on mopane leaves; or a hippo on a determined trek to a nearby mud hole. However, when on foot, it was necessary to maintain a respectful distance from the animals. Standing near a pride of lions or returning the malevolent stare of a buffalo were best done from the back of a sturdy vehicle. In addition to these daytime excursions, the camps where I stayed offered nightly game drives in open top all-wheel drive vehicles equipped with powerful spotlights to view leopards, lions, hyenas and small nocturnal predators such as genets and civets.

Bird watching was equally outstanding, especially along the river where large flocks of waterfowl, such as yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, crested cranes and great marabous, congregated. Meanwhile some of the steep banks appeared to be literally blooming with colonies of carmine bee-eaters.

Date Of Latest Visit October 2006

ReviewersArticle and photographs by Josette King

Would You Visit This Destination Again? Yes