A luxury South Luangwa safari is typified by the scene of elephant crossing the Luangwa River.

Luxury safaris in South Luangwa National Park

The presence of intense concentrations of wildlife and pristine wilderness scenery makes a luxury South Luangwa safari a quintessential Zambia safari experience. Like many of the country’s reserves, South Luangwa National Park undergoes a radical transformation as the seasons change, but here there’s year-round access.

As water levels drop, the Luangwa River becomes a lifeline for the park’s animals, which interestingly include two endemics: Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest. Our night drives were also prolific, and I’ll never forget watching a moonlit wild-dog hunt. And once known as the ‘Valley of the Elephant’, and you’ll find your encounters with South Luangwa’s gentle giants particularly poignant.

The region lies at the tail-end of the Great Rift Valley, and with so many activity options you might feel torn when it came to choosing what to do each day. We particularly enjoyed discovering the lagoons and shady trees of the Mfuwe region, and I can certainly recommend a stop at the bush spa – being able to watch game while you enjoy an indulgent treatment using local, seasonal ingredients makes the whole experience doubly relaxing.

You’ll get an authentic sense of exploration on combined walking and camping safaris. These typically last five nights, and we loved the sense of purpose it gave to our South Luangwa experience, with the opportunity to sleep in a different location each night. If you’d prefer an abbreviated version, opt for a one-night fly-camping adventure, which is equally thrilling.

Finally, for an insight into rural life visit Kawaza village, where Kunda tribeswomen in colourfully-printed wraps flash brilliant smiles from beneath the bundles of firewood on their heads.

When to Go

The cooler winter season is arguably the best time to see the concentrations of wildlife along the Luangwa River and around the oxbow lakes. The drier conditions mean that all parts of the park are accessible, although boating activities may be restricted. Warm days are bookended by fresher mornings and evenings, although temperatures start to rise quite steeply just before the rains arrive. The end of winter is announced by a sudden profusion of flowers in the trees, as if to welcome return of the life-giving rains.

Known locally as the ‘Emerald Season’, and with good reason, the summer rains see the re-greening of South Luangwa. It’s a humid time of new life – lush green vegetation and young animals in profusion, plus the arrival of many migrant bird species. Rising water levels make boating on the Luangwa River an option, and while some more remote camps may close, those that remain open tend to be more flexible about family travel (and offer lower rates). Rainfall tends to happen at night, so daytime safari activities are largely unaffected.

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