Southern Zambia is characterized by the course of the Luangwa River which alternates large floods and periods of low water (rarely total dryness). The floods bring so much debris that actually raise its banks more and more, which is why the animals are unable to drink and prefer to use the marshes and lagoons that it forms further upstream. However, along the course of the great river there are three national parks, of which the South Luangwa National Park is the southernmost one. And also the most beautiful. Exploring it with a well-organized safari means not only admiring the animals but coming into contact with exciting ancient tribal traditions.
Characteristics of South Luangwa
Established as a nature reserve in 1938 and a protected park in the 1970s, South Luangwa National Park spans over 9,000 square meters between the Muchinga Mountains and the river itself. Despite having a complex geography – either too full or too little water – the Luangwa River is home to many animals. For example, in times of low water, crocodiles and hippos vie for waterholes. While elephants and buffaloes try to cross it from the lower fords.
But even at a distance from the banks of the river you can admire the great African animals that tourists love most (lions, leopards, antelopes, impalas, wild dogs and various types of birds including many pelicans). The wildebeests, some families of giraffes and the beautiful crowned cranes are also part of the population of the park. The territory of the park is characterized by large plains, stretches of savannah and a few trees gathered in small groups of scrub.
The men of South Luangwa
Since the national park was established, the local population has had a hard time adapting to the new situation. The animals, having become untouchable, were a danger both for farmers and for their crops, or for livestock. Over time, a balance was found and today many of these families live within the boundaries of the park, using both agriculture and tourism as a livelihood.
Safaris also include visits to local villages, where visitors can interact with the locals. People are no longer treated as “local attractions” but as those who offer shared tourism experiences that can teach a lot, especially to Westerners. Traditions, typical local meals, symbols, everything becomes part of the puzzle of memories of those who visit this park.
Tourism in South Luangwa
Tourism to South Luangwa National Park is different than typical Zambian safaris. In fact, in this country it is a tradition to take tourists on water safaris on the rivers. But since the Luangwa is not navigable, the excursions take place almost exclusively on foot or by jeep.
However, tourists can get very close to the animals and can, in some cases, sleep inside the park in tented camps or lodges with traditional huts that form an integral part of it. South Luangwa tourism is slow tourism, which fully embraces the slow pace of more traditional Africa. If you want “everything and now”, this tour is not for you.
How to get there
The national park has its own small airport which can handle many flights from the Zambian capital. It can also be easily reached through organized tours. They use jeeps and mini vans to bring tourists directly to the place, from nearby towns – the busiest of which are Chipata and Mfuwe.