Zambia : South Luangwa National Park
One of Zambia's finest parks and one of the world's most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries, the South Luangwa National Park is an area of outstanding beauty. The South Luangwa pioneered the modern walking safari, and this is what the region is best known for. Walking safaris are the best way to get close to the animals and learn about the area. Many of the main lodges have their own bush camps and you can walk both to and between these camps. There is a huge variety of game within the park, which was originally established to protect the unique Thornicroft's Giraffe, including large numbers of lion and leopard.
Walking safaris were started in the South Luangwa in the 1950s by the legendary conservationist, Norman Carr. He spent over 50 years developing the South Luangwa, and his legacy is still very evident today with pro-active conservation and care of the local community and excellent guiding at the lodge and camps. Kapani Lodge, which was the final safari lodge that Norman Carr built, is still the main hub and from here you can walk between some or all of the four very special luxury bush camps.
Kapani Lodge is an exclusive lodge set on a large lagoon beside the Luangwa River and sleeps up to a maximum of 12 guests in large, thatched cottages. There are eight standard suites each with an en-suite bathroom and sitting area, and two Lagoon Houses overlooking the Kapani Lagoon, which are very private and spacious, and ideal for honeymooners. The bar and sitting area are in a central thatched building, and depending on the season, dining is al fresco with dinner taken on the terrace and brunch on a shady platform overlooking the lagoon. There is a secluded swimming pool at the far end of camp. Kapani Lodges offer walking safaris and game drives, night drives as well as superb game viewing from the camp itself.
Mchenja Bush Camp is hidden in a shady grove of age-old ebony trees on the bank of the Luangwa River, a picturesque site with lovely views of the river. The accommodation at Mchenja is in five raised wooden chalets with thatched roofs and all have en-suite facilities. Guests dine in the shade of ebony trees right on the bank of the river. There is a grass hide close to camp over-looks a deep lagoon providing secretive and close up views of a variety of animals.
Kakuli Bush Camp is on an elevated stretch of riverbank on the confluence of the Luwi and the Luangwa rivers. It has five traditional walk-in safari tents each with en-suite open-air bathrooms, and a central bar and dining chitenje is built from reed and thatch.
Nsolo Bush Camp has four spacious canvas roofed, en-suite chalets built on raised wooden decks with reed walls and en-suite bathrooms. Each chalet is set under the shade of large evergreen trees with private verandas overlooking the surrounding bush. There is a thatched chitenje with a bar and dining room offering a peaceful refuge where you can study the camp's collection of books or view a variety of game at the waterhole.
Luwi Bush Camp is the perfect bush camp: simple, unobtrusive and comfortable. Set deep within the National Park with all the animal activity happening all around you, it has four thatched bamboo huts set in a beautifully shady grove of trees on the banks off the Luwi sand river. Each room is en-suite with a flush loo and hot showers.
Robin Pope Safaris is one of the best known walking safaris in the Luangwa, and if you want the crème de la crème of walking safaris, you should book in with Robin Pope himself as your guide. That said, any walking safari with Robin Pope Safaris is memorable whether it's a morning from one of the fixed camp or on a mobile safari over a few days. The longer mobile walking safaris include some nights in the fixed camps and some nights in very comfortable mobile safari camps with walk-in tents and full bedding, bush shower and long-drop loos. For the more adventurous there is bush camping in dome tents for a maximum of four guests.Robin Pope Safaris has three camps in prime locations across the Luangwa Valley, as well as two exclusive use houses:
Nkwali is just outside the park but in an excellent game viewing area and has six comfortable thatched chalets including one family suite overlooking the Luangwa River. The showers are open to the sky, and there is a swimming pool. Elephants often cross the Luangwa, seen from the bar, or come to the waterhole near the thatched dining room.
Tena Tena Lodge is a small, remote and very charming tented camp inside the park. It was Robin's first camp and is a firm favourite. The main area is a marquee strung between two trees and dining is on a platform under the stars. Nearby, there is a spectacular lagoon, Buca Buca, where a whole morning can be spent quietly sitting while the game comes down to feed and drink.
Nsefu has six luxury rondavels in a superb location on a sweeping bend of the Luangwa River and in a phenomenal game viewing area. The spacious rooms have an elegant, old-fashioned feel and great views of the river from the veranda. The bar, tucked in beside a huge extinct termite mound, overlooks a waterhole that is very productive for game, especially leopard at night. It's a small, personal camp where you can go on night drives and to visit the local village.
Robin's House and Luangwa Safari House are two private houses which can be taken over on an exclusive use basis. Robin's House is on the edge of Nkwali Camp, and has amazing views of the river and the animals that come to drink. It sleeps up to five in two luxury bedrooms and has a private chef, valet and guide, making it ideal for families, or honeymooners looking for something extra special. Luangwa Safari House is designed for bigger groups, with four double rooms, and is on a seasonal lagoon 1km from Nkwali Camp.
The Bushcamp Company has six excellent camps in the South Luangwa National Park set up and run by one of Zambia's most respected guides, Andy Hogg. Kapamba is a permanent lodge, and there are five bush camps which have been set up as luxury stopovers on the Bushcamp Company's brilliant walking safaris. The bush camps, which sleep no more than eight people, all have their own character and ambience, and you could be staying in a tree-house one night and under canvas the next. The walking trails vary in length, and are an excellent way to experience the bush in its rawest sense, learning about the flora and fauna and being at one with nature. Other activities are tailored to individual tastes and include day and night game drives. The game viewing here is excellent.
Kapamba is a stunning four-chalet lodge situated in a prime location on the picturesque Kapamba River. The beautifully appointed open-fronted bedrooms give you uninterrupted game viewing and the bathrooms have amazing double sunken stone baths, also open-fronted so you can watch the hippos below as you bathe. Walking safaris from Kapamba are exceptional with numerous trails following the course of the river, and you can combine Kapamba with a multi-day walking safari staying in some of the bush camps (this needs to be booked in advance). Kapamba also offers day and night game-drives. Generally the guests agree with the camp guide whether to walk or drive for a given activity, and then the guests will all join the same activity.
Kuyenda is a secluded, traditional bush camp with only three en-suite reed and thatch chalets, offering absolute privacy to a maximum of six guests. Run by renowned safari guide Phil Berry, who has lived in the Luangwa for over 30 years, you will get a true sense of the area and its history, and the Africa of old while you are here.
Chamilandu is a seasonal bushcamp with beautiful tree-house chalets set in thick riverine vegetation with lovely views over the river. It is stylishly decorated with wrought iron beds and neutral fabrics, and offers comfort and class in the bush.
Bilimungwe Camp is a relaxing bush camp with four reed and thatch chalets set amongst Mahogany trees on the banks of the Luangwa River. It overlooks a permanent waterhole, and there's great game viewing from the rustic bar and dining area. It has en-suite showers, loos and double vanities.
Chindeni is a classic, seasonal bushcamp on an oxbow lagoon, with stylish walk-in tents and fantastic views. The interiors are stylish and timeless, with wooden four-poster beds and furniture. Each tent has its own private, raised veranda. You will dine under the stars overlooking the plains and the wildlife.
Remote Africa Safaris is an owner-run operation in the far north of South Luangwa National Park. The camps are run by owners John and Carol Coppinger who give the camp a lovely relaxed family atmosphere. The emphasis is definitely on the game experience, but the food and service is also excellent.
Tafika Camp is one of the most northerly camps in South Luangwa, set in the shade of giant Leadwood trees and on a large bend of the river. It's a beautiful setting and the five cottages are spread along the river with the main dining room and bar set back. Set just outside the park you can go on game drives within the park or walks around the lodge. An amazing start to the day is to go up with John in his microlight, it certainly makes the day start with a buzz and you get fantastic views of the park and the rivers.
Chikoko Tree Camp and Crocodile River Camp are the two tiny bushcamps, each with three twin chalets (raised in the trees at Chikoko and on the ground at Crocodile River). They are both set on the Luangwa River in an exceptionally scenic area and surrounded by an abundance of wildlife. There are no roads: you cross the river by boat and all game viewing is done on foot. The chalets are simple but comfortable, with flush toilets but with bucket showers where water is heated over the fire. Lighting is with tilly lamps. The camps are lovely and you feel so close to nature sleeping in these simple bandas listening to the noises of the African night. Open June-October.
Remote Africa Safaris also have Mwaleshi Camp in the North Luangwa.
Kafunta River Lodge is a small lodge run by owners Ron and Anke Cowan on the banks of the Luangwa River and overlooking the South Luangwa National Park. Set amongst riverside forest, its eight chalets are built on raised wooden platforms under a thatched roof and have mahogany floors and walls and luxurious interiors. The thatched bar and dining area are built around a semi-evergreen wild mango tree overlooking the river and the national park, and there is great game viewing and bird watching from the lodge. As well as a pool, Kafunta has the only natural hot spring tub in the Luangwa Valley. Just five minutes from the lodge is a private pontoo with a crossing into the more remote areas of the park, offering an adventurous alternative to the game drives from the main gate 10km north of the lodge.
The Island Bush Camp is a small, personalised camp two hours' drive south of the Kafunta River Lodge. With grass and reed huts, and the modern comforts of hot showers and running water, it offers a rustic and very special experience. Each chalet has a private veranda overlooking the Luangwa River, and from the camp, you explore the unspoilt wilderness on foot.
Mfuwe Lodge is larger and more luxurious than most of the other lodges in the Luangwa Valley. Just 3km from the main gate of the South Luangwa National Park, it has 18 thatched luxury chalets, all overlooking over one of the lodge's two lagoons, which attract abundant game activity both during the day and at night. This is especially exciting when the water in the surrounding area dries out and hippo, elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion come to the lagoons to drink. The thatched chalets all have large tiled en-suite bathrooms and a private veranda looking out to the lagoon. The dining area is huge and open-sided and there is also a bar and lounge, a stylish swimming pool and a lovely spa. Every November, the same herd of elephants come to eat the wild mangos from the tree in the garden, and literally walk through reception! See the Elephant Mango Safari for more details. A stay here combines really well with a walking safari with the Bushcamp Company.