Zambia

Luangwa

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Valley of abundance

Valley of abundance

Valley of abundance

Image credits: Dana Allen for Robin Pope Safaris

Rated by those ‘in the know’ as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, South Luangwa National Park is host to perhaps the most varied concentration of wildlife to be found in Africa. This agglomeration is at its peak in the dry season along the Luangwa River and its ox-bow lagoons.

The flood plains of the Luangwa have been recognised as being of international importance and have achieved Ramsar Site status. Considered the most intact major river system in Africa, the Luangwa River is the life-blood of the 9,050km2 of the Park. For the most part the river forms the eastern boundary of the protected area. When it floods it flows with the deep red colour of the rich soil upstream.

South Luangwa was declared a game reserve as far back as 1938 but was only awarded national park status as recently as 1972, which makes it one of the original protected areas in Zambia but a fairly recent national park.

Walking safaris, now widely practised throughout Africa, originated in this park under the pioneering leadership of legends like Norman Carr, Robin Pope and Phil Berry and have been taken to a level not readily found elsewhere. Being on foot in the wild is one of the finest ways to experience pristine wilderness and its varied inhabitants. 

There are more than 60 mammal species (sadly excluding rhino, which were poached to local extinction in 1987 despite Norman Carr’s best efforts to save them) and over 400 bird species to keep you company on your walk. The Luangwa Valley has a number of animals not found elsewhere including Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s wildebeest and Crawshay’s zebra which are endemic, or very nearly so, to the valley.

If you follow the river you will be exposed to what is probably the highest concentration of hippo anywhere, with an estimated average of 50 of these large animals in every kilometre of the river.

The summer rains are heavy and many of the roads are closed during the wet season, so the best time to visit this park is undoubtedly from May until November. If you do wait until November be sure to call in at Mfuwe Lodge where a small herd of elephants regularly passes through the reception area en route to a marula tree laden with delicious fruit.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Luangwa Destination Profile

Other articles in this series:
Paradise unveiled
A short history of the Falls
The sacred hills of the Matopos
The smoke that thunders
Valley of abundance
Superlative and unexplored
The great enigmas
Africa’s grand anomaly
The Middle Zambezi
The Zambezi’s final triumph