South Luangwa – The Valley of the Leopard

Experts have dubbed South Luangwa to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa, including some of the highest densities of hippo and leopard.

The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of this 9059 km2 Park.

Very few places in Africa can offer the unique combination of South Luangwa National Park's open, grassy plains and mature, mesmerizing woodlands, crowned with the pristine, impressive Luangwa River. This area's reputation for abundant wildlife and unspoiled vegetation is well earned, so whether driving around or walking through, the intense beauty calls to you from every corner.

South Luangwa National Park is the highlight of eastern Zambia. Known to locals as simply 'the South Park,' it was initially founded as the Luangwa Game Park in 1904, and converted to one of three game reserves in 1938. The impressive park covers an area of about 9050 square kilometers of the Luangwa Valley floor, and lies anywhere from 500 meter to 800 meters above sea level. With its western and northwestern edge bounded by the Muchinga Escarpment, and the southern border lined with the meandering Luangwa River, there's no shortage of dramatic and fascinating topography in this stunning game-rich park.

Even as Zambia’s reputation as a spectacular safari destination grows, it retains its essence of true wilderness; South Luangwa National Park is a place that still feels relatively untouched by modern humans, and is therefore uniquely able to provide an unpredictable and exhilarating safari experience. Because of that protected quality, it is important that you enter this country with a deep respect for the sanctity of the wildlife habitats and an appreciation for the ecology that supports this special environment.

It is important to note that alongside the beautiful scenery is also a beautiful culture. The people of Zambia are kind and friendly, and will welcome travelers with warmth and genuine hospitality. The local people are also some of the best guides in the entire country, and their passion for sharing their knowledge while working in these camps, which can be incredibly remote, makes the safari experience that much richer and more memorable.

Favourite places to stay in South Luangwa

There are many different options available when visiting South Luangwa, from luxury camps all the way to self sufficient camping.

Over the past few years I've fallen in love with three camps:

  1. Kaingo Camp

Owned and run by the Shenton family, Kaingo was built in 1992 and is the flagship camp for Shenton's Safaris.

The name Kaingo means leopard in the local Nyanja language, and is fitting as the camp has a long history leopard. The name itself came about from a particular Leopard who made herself very comfortable around camp and actually took up residence in one of the chalets.

Kaingo Camp has the perfect balance between comfort and authenticity without going over the top. The basic principles of safari are very well organised and the staff are incredibly friendly and always looking to satisfy the clients.

The Camp is also perfectly located, right next to the Luangwa River, which is a massive draw card as many animals head down to this main water source during the dry season.

2. Nsefu Camp

Nsefu Camp is one that is steeped in history with the Camp being built in 1951. Apart from a few upgrades, the location and style of the camp is still in the same place with the same style.

With only six chalets, the camp has a very homely and intimate feel, with friendly staff and fantastic service.

The view from Nsefu Camp is arguably one of the best you will find in South Luangwa, overlooking the magnificent Luangwa River at a spot which is known for having elephants cross over regularly. Yet again, this great location is vital during the dry season, as it attracts a large number of plains game species, which in turn attract the predators.

3. Tena Tena

Nestled under a thick grove of Mahogany trees, lies Tena Tena Camp.

Tena Tena was the first camp that Robin Pope opened and ran and it is easy to understand why it has become one of the favourites in their portfolio. Ideally located in the private Nsefu sector, Tena Tena is situated on a double tiered riverbank with each room enjoying their own private view of the Luangwa River.

Tena Tena Camp is the perfect combination of fitting into its surroundings with the necessary luxuries.

Taking into account all the above mentioned factors, it is easy to understand why South Luangwa is such an attractive destination for wildlife photographers and safari enthusiasts. The game viewing is good all year round, but my personal favourite time to visit is during the dry season (August-October). During this dry season not only are the wildlife more concentrated, heading towards to main water source which is the Luangwa river, but migratory birds will have also started to make their way south, most famously the Southern carmine bee eater.

So if you are thinking of a new destination to experience, make sure South Luangwa is on that list, you won't be disappointed.

Till next time...

Johan

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