South Luangwa is Zambia’s premier park located in the Eastern part of the country. The Luangwa Valley is vast, remote and home to both people and a truly impressive number of animals. It was none other than explorer David Livingstone who first recognised the extraordinary allure and unique nature of the South Luangwa Valley. Crossing the Luangwa River in 1866, he declared, “I will make this land better known to men so that it may become one of their haunts. It is impossible to describe its luxuriance.” It wasn’t until 1938 that the area was proclaimed a game reserve, and then given national park status in 1971. In 1961 the legendary Norman Carr put the Luangwa on the map as a safari destination leading the first walking safari in the reserve.
Over 60 different species of mammal call the South Luangwa National Park their home, drawn by the diverse range of habitats from sandy seasonal river courses to the mineral-rich alluvial floodplains that stretch out to distant blue hills. Predators such as lion, leopard and wild dog stalk the smaller game, whilst primates such as yellow baboons and vervet monkeys swing through the trees. Down on the river, huge densities of elephant, hippo and crocodile enjoy the cool waters.
The South Luangwa National Park is 9050 sq. km with the river, its tributaries and the riverine strips being the focus of the wildlife viewing. There are the diverse habitats, from huge ox bow lagoons of varying stages of maturity, woodlands, ebony groves, grassland and thickets, that host truly impressive numbers of wildlife. The birdlife is also excellent with around 450 species to be seen.
The Luangwa River remains one of the last untouched major river systems in the world. Each year the river drops to almost knee deep and then in the Emerald Season rises to the top of the banks. The river is up to 4 meters deep and averages 400 meters wide and at peak will flow at 47 million gallons per hour. That is a lot of water. Boating safaris during the high water months (Jan to March) are an adventure!! The Luangwa Valley is at its most dramatic in the Emerald Season, with the Luangwa River now flowing over into the brimming lagoons. Boating into these lagoons, flooded ebony groves and flowing channels gives you a view of the Valley which is normally inaccessible during this season. The Luangwa River is one of the last remaining major rivers in Africa, and even in the world, that has not been damned for hydropower. This vast river still annually rises, floods into lagoons and channels, changes course and resulting in new lagoons and in so doing creates a rich flood plain river system. To be in the heart of the park, at peak flood time from January to March is quite an experience and activities will consist of driving, walking and boating. Most of the game in this area remains resident all year and so the game viewing is always excellent although it is definitely more of a birder paradise as this time of the year.