South Luangwa National Park is one of my favourite safari destinations in Africa! Back in August of 2018, I had the opportunity to stay at one of the lodges just outside the park for an entire month.
Over the next four weeks, I spent my days going on morning and night game drives and saw some of the most impressive wildlife viewings in my life!
- I got to see two leopards hunting at night,
- A pride of lions feasting on a recent kill,
- Massive herds of wildebeest making their way across the plains and,
- Iconic African sunsets while listening to hippos and lions roaring in the distance.
If you’re looking for a safari experience that isn’t full of crowds like Kruger National Park, with plenty of accommodation options and unique wildlife experiences – you can’t go wrong with a trip to South Luangwa!
Here’s my ultimate South Luangwa National Park travel guide!
Table of Contents
- How to Get to South Luangwa National Park
- Visa Requirements for Zambia
- Health & Safety
- Entrance Fees for South Luangwa National Park
- Best Time to Visit South Luangwa National Park
- Where to Stay in Luangwa National Park
- Things to Do in South Luangwa National Park
How to Get to South Luangwa National Park
You can fly directly from Zambia’s Lusaka International Airport to Mfuwe International Airport or from Lilongwe International Airport in Malawi. There are daily flights with local airline, Proflight Zambia.
Keep in mind that it’s a bush flight and you’ll need to pack light if you don’t want to pay extra for heavy bags.
The planes are small, and you won’t have overhead luggage space to store hand-luggage suitcases. There is a small compartment at the front of the plane where you can store small backpacks that you don’t want to check-in.
Most lodges in the area provide an airport transport service, and the drive is about 35-45 minutes depending on where you are staying.
It will take you between 6-7 hours from Lusaka or 2 hours from Chipata to drive to South Luangwa National Park.
It’s not a good idea to drive at night in Zambia due to the high number of cars and bicycles without lights and unfenced wildlife.
If you’re travelling overland from another country like Malawi, you’ll need a police clearance certificate to prove the car isn’t stolen. You’ll also need to budget for the Carbon Tax and 3rd person insurance that’s required at the border.
Here are detailed directions to South Luangwa National Park from Lusaka, Chipata and Lilongwe.
Visa Requirements for Zambia
Zambia is one of the 102 visa-free countries for South Africans. All you need is a valid passport, and you’ll get an entry stamp on arrival.
Other nationalities from the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can buy a single entry tourist visa at the border or airport for $50 USD.
If you’re planning to visit Zimbabwe as well, it’s a good idea to buy a UNIVISA for both countries.
It costs $50 USD, but there is the possibility that there might not be any when you arrive as they have to be printed.
Health & Safety
Malaria is a real threat in South Luangwa National Park, and there is a high chance that you’ll get bitten by a mosquito carrying the disease. It’s best to visit your local travel clinic before you arrive and get an anti-malarial prescription for the duration of your stay.
I’d also recommend bringing a strong mosquito repellent and covering up as much of your skin as possible from dusk into the evening.
If you’re camping, it’s a good idea to bring along a portable mosquito net to minimise your risk even further.
Always check with your accommodation if the water is safe to drink. Some lodges do have their own private boreholes that have drinkable water, but you can buy bottled water from the shops or nearby restaurants.
Entrance Fees for South Luangwa National Park
All visitors will need to pay an entrance fee at the main gate of the national park. You can pay in either US dollars or Zambian Kwacha.
South Luangwa Entry Fees
International Visitors: USD 25 per person per day.
Residents & SADC Members: USD 20 per person per day.
Zambian Citizens: K 41.70 per person per day.
Self-drive for Residents & Non-residents: USD 30 person per day.
Best Time to Visit South Luangwa National Park
The best time to visit South Luangwa National Park all depends on what kind of safari you’d like to experience. The changing seasons each come with their own unique wildlife experiences, transforming the terrain into a lush, green wonderland or dry bushveld.
The dry season lasts from April to October. It’s the best time to visit South Luangwa National Park if you want to maximise your chances of seeing game.
Large numbers of animals concentrate around the watering holes, and it’s not uncommon to see buffalo forming super-herds of 500!
The cooler mornings up until August make for fantastic morning drives as the big cats are active for longer. You’ll have more opportunities to spot the park’s leopard population and Garlic and Ginger (the park’s famous lions) are easily spotted sleeping the day away with their pride.
The wet season in South Luangwa begins in November and lasts until the end of March. It turns the parched terrain into a lush jungle, and it’s the best time to spot the park’s varied birdlife as thousands of migrant birds return to the park.
While the rains aren’t perfect for game viewing, the short grass makes it easier to spot the park’s wildlife. There’s also are plenty of baby animals to see, and you’re more likely to see predators such as lions, hyena or leopard walking along the roads.
Where to Stay in Luangwa National Park
There are tons of accommodation options inside and outside South Luangwa’s borders. Whether you’re looking to splurge on a luxurious safari holiday or you’re looking for something on the cheaper side – there’s an option to suit your budget.
Mfuwe Lodge is an award-winning luxury lodge and is the only accommodation option inside South Luangwa National Park. If you don’t mind splurging, it’s the best option for wildlife lovers that don’t want to miss out on any of the action in the bush.
You can stay in one of the 18 chalets that are set around two lagoons. For an incredible wildlife experience, book your trip during November.
The lodge has a wild mango tree that attracts herds of elephants, and it’s not uncommon to find them wandering right through the lobby!
Flatdogs is situated on the border of South Luangwa National Park. It’s a great mid-range option with accommodation rates ranging between $47 to $69 per person.
The chalets here are really something special and are ideal if you’re visiting Zambia for a special occasion. My favourite option is the Jackelberry Treehouse.
You’ll have a private deck overlooking the lagoon, and if you’re a group of four, the lodge includes a private safari vehicle and guide for your entire stay!
Croc Valley is an excellent budget option for South Luangwa. It’s a popular choice for backpackers, campers and overland tour groups.
The WiFi here is fast, the bar has an excellent range of drinks and affordable meals, and it’s not uncommon to see elephants walking through the camp in the late afternoon.
I think it’s the best camping option in South Luangwa, as the campsite overlooks the river and the national park. You’ll be able to watch the hippos swim around, and herds of elephant and giraffe make their way across during the day.
Things to Do in South Luangwa National Park
If you prefer going on a self-driving safari inside South Luangwa National Park, you need a 4×4 vehicle. While some of the roads are in good condition, you’ll spend a lot of time driving through dried out river beds.
During the rainy season, it’s easy for vehicles to get stuck in the mud. When I was living at one of the lodges outside of the park, there were a few tourists who went inside the park with a regular vehicle and got stuck.
One couple almost spent the night there as there isn’t a cellphone signal to phone for help.
I highly recommend going on at least one guided drive in South Luangwa National Park. All the lodges in the area have experienced guides that know how to read the signs of the bush to find the animals you’re looking for.
You can sign up for either morning or evening game drives.
South Luangwa is one of the few national parks in Africa that allows game drive drives to take place after dusk.
All guides have the necessary equipment to help you spot the park’s elusive nocturnal wildlife. It’s also your best chance of catching a leopards and lions hunting!
Some lodges offer an all-day safari. You’ll spend the entire day inside the park and have the opportunity to travel to the more remote areas where most travellers don’t get the chance to see.
South Luangwa National Park is the birthplace of the walking safari. It’s an authentic safari experience where you’ll become a part of the bush and notice the sounds, smells and signals of the wild.
You’ll be joined by an experienced guide as well as an armed ranger. You’ll learn how to identify the different animal footprints and witness things you wouldn’t see from a car like dung beetles rolling their balls and the marks of where a porcupine dragged its quills.
The reason it’s safe to go on a walking safari is that the park’s predators aren’t active during the day. But if something does happen, the ranger is there to protect you and scare off any animals that come to close.
South Luangwa National Park boasts a rich diversity of wildlife. The sheer numbers of animals make it one of the best places in Africa for a safari!
But despite its density, you won’t find lines of cars clogging up the roads inside the park. It’s an off the beaten track safari experience that makes the national park one of Africa’s best-kept secrets.
Here are some of the creatures you might be lucky enough to spot on your game drive:
- Crawshay’s Zebra
- Thornicroft’s Giraffe
- Cookson’s Wildebeest
- Leopards (The park boasts the largest leopard population in Africa)
- Wild Dog
- Antelope (South Luangwa is home to 14 different species)
- Birds (450 of Zambia’s 732 species of birds flock to the park throughout the year)
Do you have any travel tips for Zambia or South Luangwa National Park? Let me know in the comments below!
Psst…Want more Africa travel inspiration? Check out my other posts:
- Backpacking South Africa Alone: The Perfect One Month Itinerary
- Travel to Rwanda: 15 Useful Things to Know Before You Go
- How To Travel To Mozambique on a Budget from South Africa
- Akagera National Park in Rwanda: The Complete Guide
- 45 Awesome Things to Do in Cape Town: A (Hella Long) Local’s Guide
- What It’s Like Staying on Mumbo Island in Malawi
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