Zambia’s vast wildlife areas have long been known for their outstanding wildlife experiences, especially amongst seasoned safarigoers, and it was with much excitement my daughter – on her first safari – and I set off to explore two of its premier wildlife destinations, South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.
After quick flights from Johannesburg to Lusaka and on to Mfuwe Airport we began our safari in earnest, exploring South Luangwa National Park. First up was Mfuwe for shopping – the town has a number of wonderful artisan retailers – we stopped at Mulberry Mongoose and Tribal Textiles – which is definitely worth making time for at the beginning or end of the journey. These projects support both the local community and wildlife conservation, as well as offering beautiful products for sale.
South Luangwa, located in Eastern Zambia at the end of the Rift Valley stretches along the winding Luangwa River and is host to an incredible variety of game including over 60 species of mammals and more than 400 species of birds. Its diverse landscapes include mopane woodland, seasonal floodplains and beautiful riverine forests whose trees – knobthorn, ebony, sausage trees, winterthorn, marula and the magnificent baobabs – are spread across the park and along the riverbanks.
This is where the walking safari began and walking is still a prime safari activity here along with day and night game drives. Wildlife viewing is stellar with intense predator activity – lion, wild dog, hyena and the magnificent leopards which thrive here, as well as elephant, hippos in vast quantities, kudu, puku and many other antelope species. The park is also home to the animals endemic to Zambia including the Thornicroft giraffe and Crawshay’s zebra. Birdlife abounds – we were slightly ahead of the famed Carmine bee-eaters who make the riverbanks home but had some incredible sightings of lilac breasted rollers, love birds, egrets, fish eagles and even a nighttime sighting of the elusive Pels Fishing Owl!
Where we stayed:
- Puku Ridge is a gorgeous property on a ridge overlooking a busy floodplain. The expansive main area featuring natural décor – the lanterns were beautiful both in daytime and when lit at night, is a lovely spot to relax and enjoy the wildlife (when not out in the bush or in the hide under the main area). The rooms are spacious and air conditioned (very welcome in August), indoor and outdoor shower and a plunge pool with a view. A highlight was the star bed, easily accessed from the room, which offered us a stunning view of the Milky Way. It is an excellent companion to its sister properties in the Lower Zambezi either at the beginning OR end of an itinerary.
- Lion Camp is located about 2 hours north of the park gate. The area around camp teemed with wildlife and offered us a spectacular sighting of…lion. The resident pride showed off their newest cubs and we enjoyed an hour of them exploring. The property is more traditional décor of thatch and canvas – the raised walkways are well lit at night, allowing us to walk unescorted, and the breeze cooling over the beds was delightful. The decks all face the lagoon which was a magnet for wildlife. The stay really felt like being part of a family and the food was some of the best of our trip.
- Chindeni and Kuyenda, two gorgeous Bushcamp Company properties, is where our final two nights were spent. Chindeni has a fantastic location overlooking a lagoon where we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise after a wonderful night listening to hippos “chorteling”. Kuyenda by contrast harkens back to safari of old – with all the modern touches we love. The rooms are traditional rondavel huts with a beautiful deck facing the open grassy area, where wildlife happily wanders by (we loved the ‘open to the sky’ bathroom). We also had the chance to visit their sister camps – Bilimungwe, Kapamba and Chamilandu – and lodges: Mfuwe Lodge (famous for the elephant walking through the lobby every October when mangoes are ripe), and the newest lodge, KuKaya. The Bushcamp company is an integral part of the South Luangwa landscape and the bushcamps are fantastic as a combo – offering the chance to walk or do game drives. For a soft landing or departure, adding Mfuwe or KuKaya Lodge at the start or end of the stay allows for the easy airport transfer.
Stay tuned for Victoria’s next entry featuring the Lower Zambezi. In the meantime, have a look at our Zambia itineraries and give us a call to start planning your adventure!