South Luangwa National Park in Zambia
Dominated by the Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park is a stunning kaleidoscope of landscapes, making it one of southern Africa’s most beautiful parks. After the first rains have fallen, the valley blossoms into an exquisite jewel that overflows with vegetation, and the air is filled with the scents of acacia, mopane and miombo.
The wildlife population in the park is great, with four of the Big Five present, and birdwatching is excellent. With game drives, walking tours and night drives, the park has something for everyone to enjoy – whether you are an experienced safari-goer, or booking your very first expedition.
Best Time to Go
July - November
Average Safari Cost
$200 - $1,000 pp/day. Park fee: $25 - $30.
Four of the Big Five (rhino is absent), best park for leopard sightings, excellent night drives, over 400 species of birds.
Why Visit South Luangwa National Park
The lush valley of South Luangwa is an excellent wildlife watching park. Four of the Big Five are available in large numbers (unfortunately no rhino), and the leopard is uncommonly easy to spot. The park also boasts three very unique animals – the Thornicroft giraffe, Crawshay’s zebra and the Cookson’s wilbebeest.
The park offers great walking tours and game drives, and the night drives provide an excellent opportunity see nightjars, owls, porcupine, genet and bushbaby.
Birdwatching in South Luangwa is excellent. Boasting over 400 species in a variety of habitats, – river, woodland and savannah – the varied birdlife is sure to appeal to all bird-lovers.
The diverse landscape of this beautiful valley might be more than worth the visit, even without the excellent wildlife and birdwatching.
Pros and Cons
- Four of the Big Five are present (no rhino)
- Best park to see leopards
- South Luangwa has great guides
- Walking safaris and night drives are excellent
- Highend and budget lodging options
- Beautiful landscape and scenery
- Budget accommodation is only available outside the park
- Gets hazy between May and October
Best Time to Go
Dry season: May – October
Wet season: November – April
From May to October, South Luangwa is very dry. The weather starts to heat up around June/July and reaches an unpleasantly high peak in October. The rains from November to April only brings a brief respite from the heat – these months are equally as hot when it is not raining. The higher climates are the only places that are cooler.
The drier months from July to September are the best months for wildlife viewing, as it is sunny, but the heat hasn’t peaked yet. During this time, animals are easily spotted at the Luangwa River. The thinner vegetation also increases your wildlife viewing opportunities. The wetter months from November to April are not ideal for wildlife viewing as the roads are waterlogged.
During the wet months (November to April), the park transforms into a lush landscape. While this time of the year is not good for wildlife, it is excellent for birdwatching. This is the breeding season, and many migratory birds are present as well. You are sure to see a marvelous variety of avian specials.
For more information when to visit see our Zambia Safari - Complete Travel Guide.
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Wildlife and Birds
South Luangwa offers fantastic wildlife viewing, with a large animal population. Four of the Big Five are present – large herds of buffalo and elephants, and common sightings of lions and leopards. The ever-elusive leopard is best seen on night drives, and South Luangwa has the best viewing of these mysterious predators in Zambia.
The park is home to three very unique animals as well: the Thornicroft giraffe and the Crawshay’s zebra are common, while the Cookson’s wildebeest is more scarce.
Hyena are also easily seen, and the night drives ensures a great viewing of nocturnal animals such as the porcupine, genet and bushbaby.
- Wild Dog
- Cheetah, Wildebeest, Cookson’s wildebeest
Infrequently Seen Animals
- Wild dog
Frequently Seen Animals
- Elephant, Thornicroft giraffe, Hippo, Buffalo, Crawshay’s zebra, Lion, Leopard, Hyena
Birdwatching is exceptional in South Luangwa, with more than 400 recorded species present. From July to August pelicans and yellow-billed storks are present, while you can find migratory flocks of southern carmine bee-eater from August to September. Other migratory specials are available from November to April. Night drives are prefect for spotting nightjars and owls.
Endangered birdsFor a complete list of endangered birds in Zambia see here.
Endemic and Near Endemic Birds
- African broadbill
- African crake
- African pitta
- African skimmer
- Allen's gallinule
- Barred long-tailed cuckoo
- Black-throated wattle-eye
- Cardinal quelea
- Collared palm-thrush
- Dwarf bittern
- Horus swift
- Lilian's lovebird
- Moustached warbler
- Narina trogon
- Pel’s fishing-owl
- Racket-tailed roller
- Western banded snake eagle
- White-fronted plover
- White-headed black chat
- White-headed lapwing
- Woodland kingfisher
Getting There and Safety
Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (LUN), as the country’s major airport, is the main entry point in to Zambia. It is located 14km (9miles) from the capital city of Lusaka.
Located roughly 700km (343miles) from Lusaka, many visitors choose fly to Mfuwu International Airport (MFU), which is just outside the park. Alternatively, visitors can fly from Lower Zambezi National Park to Mfuwu, instead.
Driving to the park takes approximately two hours on a tar road. You will likely pass through the city of Chipata on your way to the park. A 4x4 is not necessary for driving to the park – a 2WD car is suitable.
For the flights to Zambia, it is advised to check Skyscanner (for multiple destination flights), to see which airlines can take you there and compare various ticket prices.
If you are based in the UK and Europe, check out these flights to Zambia.
If you are based in the USA and Canada, check out these flights to Zambia.
For more information on visas see our Zambia Safari - Complete Country Guide.
The entire country is a high risk zone for malaria. This becomes increasingly worse from November to April, as the mosquitoes are most active during these wet months.
We recommend that you speak to your doctor or travel clinic about the correct anti-malarial medication that you will need for Zambia – they should also advise you on any vaccinations that you may need. Ensure that you have plenty of insect repellent (30% DEET or more), and keep your arms and legs covered at night, for added protection.
Check your local travel health authority for more information:
Like most countries, Zambia’s main crime areas are in cities such as Lusaka and Chipata. As a developing country, the crime rate is understandably higher. However, if you are visiting as part of an organized tour, you are not likely to encounter any problems.
For your safety, it would be best to avoid going anywhere alone, and try not to wonder the cities at night. Avoid having valuables on display in order to dissuade thieves.
Going on a safari in Africa comes with obvious risks. We recommend you get travel insurance for all safaris in Zambia. Make sure your insurance has full medical coverage, emergency air evacuation, repatriation and the standard travel insurance for cancellations, delays and luggage cover.
Check World Nomads’ travel insurance calculator to see the cost of your safari trip cover.
South Luangwa is hot all year round. From May to October, the weather is hot and dry, and it can very hazy during these months. Ensure that you have adequate protection from the sun – sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat and plenty of water.
If you are visiting during the months of November to April, you can expect hot, wet weather, with high humidity. Wet-weather gear may be necessary and insect repellent (30% DEET or more) is particularly important during these months.
For more details on what to pack see our Safari Packing List.