A South Luangwa safari is an unforgettable experience, offering a chance to witness some of Africa’s most incredible wildlife in their natural habitat. Safaris in South Luangwa National Park typically involve game drives or walking safaris with experienced guides who have an intimate knowledge of the park and its inhabitants. Game drives are usually conducted in open-top vehicles, allowing for unobstructed views of the wildlife. Walking safaris are a more immersive experience, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of the park.
The accommodation options in South Luangwa range from luxurious lodges to rustic campsites, catering to various budgets and preferences. Many lodges and camps offer all-inclusive packages that include meals, game drives, and other activities.
With its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, a South Luangwa safari is a must-do for any nature lover or adventure seeker. A couple of our sales ladies, Tapiwa and Razziah, headed back to South Luangwa National Park after a 2-year hiatus, and here we share their experiences at each of the lodges they had the opportunity to visit.
After what has felt like a lifetime, we were finally back on the road heading to the South Luangwa Valley with a very exciting and mixed itinerary. We departed Lilongwe at 8 am, a short hour stop at the border (very smooth), and arrived in the Valley at 2 pm. Although it took 6 hours, it seemed to fly by, possibly overwhelmed by all that excitement.
Our trusted guide Eddie (our main Man), drove us to the Chinzombo pick-up point, where we met Philip, our guide for the night. After a short 20-minute transfer, we emerged at the remarkable diamond in the rough, Chinzombo. Beautiful earth tones of grey and light brown combined with bright whites, it’s very aesthetically pleasing and screams luxury. Chinzombo manages to blend into its environment and yet still stand out.
Chinzombo’s Management duo, Emmanuel and Chibesa, ensure the smooth and seamless running of this intimate 6-tented camp. The rooms are just as breathtaking as the main camp area. They are spacious and comfortable and have everything you need when on safari. Catering to a very specific traveller, equipped with a fully stocked bar, hairdryers, Wi-Fi (even in the rooms), yoga mats, an evening breeze cooling system in the beds for those warm Luangwa nights, and not to mention a private pool. Yes, you heard right, not just a plunge pool. The deck offers you all the privacy you need; sit out and enjoy the sounds of the bush, and as the rooms sit just off the riverbank, you may be lucky to get your own private safari as wildlife often frequent the area.
While at Chinzombo, we had the privilege of doing two game drives, one on arrival and one the following morning before our next stop. We saw a range of wildlife, from elephants to Wild Dogs, and of course, not forgetting the elusive Leopard, which gives South Luangwa its nickname ‘The Valley of Leopards’. Our guide Philip, who clearly had a deep love and passion for the bush, was well-versed in animals, birdlife and even the flora and fauna, taking us through our game drive with incredible ease and extensive explanations. On our evening drive, we stopped at a gorgeous setting and were treated to an incredible African sunset, they never get old. Sundowners was also a great opportunity to mingle with the other guests staying at the lodge, it is always great to get an insight into the interests of others and hear their travel stories.
The following morning, we enjoyed another game drive with Philip, and we were spoilt with a sighting of 29 Wild Dog. Not every visitor is as fortunate to see them, and we were lucky enough to come across this huge pack lounging in the sun, enjoying their ‘food coma’ after two successful kills earlier that morning. Following our morning drive, Philip took us through to Robin Popes Camp, Nkwali, where we would then transfer to our next camp on the trip, Luangwa River Camp, also one of Robin Popes Camps.
After we said our goodbyes to Philip, we hopped into one of the RPS vehicles and headed out to the boat, which was situated out of the park. Luangwa River Camp is wild whilst still very comfortable, it is a rustic oasis on the banks of the Luangwa River. Its main area effortlessly joins the dining and lounge area, topped with some tall banana stalks in front of the lodge and pool; it felt like we were on our own secluded island.
The famous Daudi and Kim manage the small 5-roomed camp with ease and enthusiasm. Daudi himself has been working with Robin Pope for over 30 years, so he is basically a permanent fixture at the RPS Camps, even guiding alongside Robin Pope himself. Both Daudi and Kim were extremely warm and accommodating, as were all the staff working at the camp. Mealtimes are a favourite, with a scrumptious, light but filling lunch on arrival and a delicious warm well, prepared three-course dinner. Game drives with our guide, John were a dream; ever attentive and very accommodating to the budding birder, Tapiwa was in her element here.
John took time to stop for even the LBJs (little brown Jobs), much to the annoyance of Razziah, who was keen on catching sights of the larger mammals. She, of course, wasn’t disappointed as John delivered us some great sightings of the grander animals too. Our high point on the drives with Luangwa River Lodge had to be the Lion cubs sighting.
To everyday eyes like ours, we would have missed them, but that’s where John came in handy and noticed them hidden in a shrub where their mum had left them. Curious as to why, John pointed out he could hear a lion call, none other than the mother to the little fluff balls under the bush. We followed the calls, and just a few km in, there she was. It was a pinch-myself moment and one that doesn’t come around that often.
After our stay at Luangwa River Camp, we headed to Msandile River Lodge, which is quite literally next door, just a short but pleasant 20-minute drive away.
In the words of Harold Samuel, “location, location, location”, and my goodness, does Msandile have quite the location? Situated on what seems to be an Animal highway, during our evening game drive, we saw more wild dogs directly opposite the camp, and we were fortunate enough to get there in time to watch them finish a kill. We couldn’t believe the luck we were having! On the same stretch, we saw Elephants, a laughing hyena and a collective of hippos lounging about in the still waters below the lodge. What a welcome to this impressive lodge.
Msandile River Lodge is owned and managed by the lovely couple, Frank and Sabine. This camp is one of the larger camps in the area and offers a variety of rooms, from standard non-ensuite tents to gorgeous ensuite luxury tents which boast outdoor showers to stunning open-fronted ensuite chalets. My colleague and I stayed in one of their ensuite family chalets, and we undoubtedly felt like we were at one with nature all night, with the amplified sounds of the night drifting into the room from the open front of our chalet. Frank and Sabine were excellent hosts, making us feel right at home from the moment we got there, with endless conversation and laughter.
Our guide, Isaac Banda, was very informative and quite the adventurous guide, humouring us and taking us on wild dog chases as they hunted, much to the amusement of my colleagues. We witnessed the dogs devour one impala and one Puku, which ended with us watching a hyena try to claim the carcass and get his rear end bitten mercilessly by the wild dogs trying to defend it. That drive, I have to say, was quite memorable, and Isaac (fondly referred to by our party as IB) was the man of the moment for this.
The following morning, we were woken by the guards, informing us that a herd of elephants were crossing through the lodge and, even more exciting, right next to our room. Could this trip get any better? We quietly watched them cross the riverbed as the sun rose with a morning cup of coffee in hand. What a way to wake up!
Our final destination on our 4-night Fam trip was Shawa Luangwa, Green Safaris’ fairly new camp, opening in the safari season of 2021. Still, in the same area as Msandile and Luangwa River Camp, Shawa Luangwa’s beautifully designed lounge area and reception await you as you emerge from your game drive transfer. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by all the staff at the lodge, singing a wonderful welcome song called ‘Ba fika benzu besu’, which literally translates to ‘our guests have come, let us welcome them’. It was a truly warming moment.
The team runs the lodge with enthusiasm and care; we, as guests for one night, felt very much at home. Our guide Donald was informative, patient and quite the comedian, telling us funny anecdotes and folk tales about wildlife, flora, and fauna. On our last night in Luangwa, we had our first rainfall since our arrival to the Valley. There is nothing like an African Storm in the middle of the bush, it poured all night. We fell asleep listening to the rain hitting our tent, it was oddly satisfying and soothing.
The following morning was time to head home. On our drive out, we discussed our incredible sightings of the trip and said how although we had seen a leopard, we wished we had another sighting. Well, low and behold, just minutes later, 40 minutes into the drive, Donald’s eagle eye spotted one, given it was a distance away, but he fulfilled that one last wish of ours. But that wasn’t the end. Soon after this, he topped the trip off further; we came across an incredible sighting of a female and male lion napping right in the middle of the road. Donald explained they were in the ‘resting’ stages of mating and went into some very interesting detail as to what happens, but that is a story for another time.
We soon began our journey home and reminisced on how lucky we were to have this incredible location so close to where we lived. This trip would be one for the books, once-in-a-lifetime sightings, gorgeous lodge stays, delicious food, top-class service, and even meeting guests to share such wonderful moments and stories together. I am thrilled we got to do this before the season ended.