Tuesday, 4 February 2014

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Often said to be one of the best safari experiences in Africa,South Luangwa was high on my list of places to visit. It is also quite easy to get to as an independant traveller and as a result can be done on a relatively tight budget. It's relative closeness to the Malawi border makes it a popular choice for weekend trips from Lilongwe and this is evident by the amount of Lilongwe based safari companies who offer trips here.

I am happy to say that South Luangwa did not disappoint.

I left Lilongwe on a mini bus to the border (Michinji) and from there I took a taxi to Chipata. There is now a regular time tabled bus that goes from Chipata to Mufwe at 2:00pm making it much easier to visit independently. The bus even dropped me to my camp, Croc Valley Campsite, which is located just outside the park gates and right on the Luangwa river. This means the sounds of hippos lulled me to sleep every night. I set up my tent and decided to explore options for game drives. Croc valley run game drives twice a day, at 6am and 4pm. A morning game drive is prime time to see noctornal predators such as leopards and lions after they have been hunting and before it gets too hot for them. The evening game drive continues once the sun goes down, with a huge torch, to see a different perspective of life in the wild. There are also the options of game walks during dry season.

The morning after I arrived there were people scheduled to go on a game drive and I decided to join in. Before even entering the park, we could spot elephants just outside the campsite. After entering the park and paying the park fee, we happened on a herd of zebra (my favourite animal) complete with a baby zebra. Turning the corner we encountered a group of giraffes having a morning drink. About 5 minutes drive away we came across a leopard just chilling on a tree watching some kudu (no doubt contemplating breakfast). As with most encounters, the pictures are worth a thousand words. The night drive was something I had not done before and it was interesting to see hippos out of the water (man but they are HUGE). One of my favourite things was that, for the majority of the time, our car was alone. In comparison to the safari I did in the Serengeti this time last year, where sometimes there can be 30 cars crowded around one lion or leopard, it was amazing, a real sense of adventure and you feel closer to the animals.

"You are between me and my breakfast"

Zebra bum

This is a photo without using any zoom. The elephant was less than 5m from the car!

I was there during the rainy season (or the green season) which had both pros and cons. Pros included a quiet campsite, less vehicles while doing game drives and discounted accommodation. Cons include, higher grass which means more difficult to spot wildlife and of course the rain.

Would I recommend South Luangwa? Definitely, it really deserves it's reputation as one of the premiere parks in Africa with the added benefit of being one of the cheapest.

Minibus Lilongwe to border: MK2,000
Taxi from border to Chipata: ZK 70 (normally 20 in a shared taxi but I was rushing to catch a bus)
Bus from Chipata to Mufwe: ZK 70
Game Drive at Croc Valley: First drive ZK208 Second drive ZK182
Park entry fee to South Luangwa ZK182
Camping at Croc Valley: ZK57

*NOTE* Croc Valley add 16% tax and 10# service charge on top of these quoted prices

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