David Rogers asked local experts on the ground to give us their top tips on how to make the most of your visit to one of Africa’s finest wildlife destinations
Andy Hogg, The Bushcamp Company
First, don’t base your expectations on what you see on TV. Come with an open mind, patience and proper equipment. Decent binoculars make the safari much more rewarding. Although iPhones and pocket cameras can get good photos, a decent SLR and lens will get you closer to the action. A good guide will approach animals with the welfare of both the animals and his guests in mind, and harassing animals or scaring guests is not good etiquette. When planning an itinerary do some research: make sure that the animal or bird that you wish to see actually resides there; people come to South Luangwa expecting to see cheetah, but sightings are virtually unheard of. Think about the seasonal aspect of your safari. Include a wide range of habitats in your itinerary – certain areas favour certain species. Think about the accommodation, too: do you prefer a bigger, busier place with more amenities, or would a smaller, intimate bush camp in more remote surroundings be preferable?
Keyala (‘Kiki’) Phiri, Robin Pope Safaris
Zambia is a very peaceful country with friendly people and knowledgeable, skilled guides. When it comes to wildlife, nowhere compares to South Luangwa and its sheer abundance of game. We are host to some endemic species, such as the Thornicroft giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest, and have regular sightings of leopard, buffalo, elephant and hippo, not to mention some 292 species of bird. It is a magical place and changes dramatically throughout the seasons, transforming from vivacious green to extremely dry and dusty. I would highly recommend coming at different times of the year but feel that your first experience should be in the dry season, when the animals gather around the sparse water sources. Finally, a visit to South Luangwa would not be complete without taking part in a walking safari – an opportunity to enjoy an up-close and personal look at nature, alerting all of your senses and concentrating on the smaller things that so often get missed.
Martin Mbewe, Kafunta guide
South Luangwa is home to some unique antelope: the Cookson’s wildebeest is endemic to the park; it is quite shy but worth searching for. Small herds of eland, Africa’s largest antelope, can be found in the north of the park. And for those visiting the south (near Island Bush Camp, for example), I recommend looking for the roan antelope.
Derek Shenton, Owner & Guide, Shenton Safaris
The prides of lion that frequent the area around Kaingo and Mwamba Camps makes each safari drive a true adventure. Behind the Kaingo, there is a 3km-long African ebony forest, which is home to a big resident male leopard. There is also a place to observe hippo from our hippo hide, located upstream from Kaingo Camp. And just downstream from Kaingo Camp is our elephant hide where our clients sit high up in a tree house, secretly watching elephants as they socialise, bathe and swim in the Luangwa River. If you are wanting to see Pel’s fishing owl, the best place is on a riverside drive just north and south of Kaingo Camp. Lastly, every year at Kaingo from September to November we anchor a boat hide, just metres away from a huge colony of nesting carmine bee-eaters. This makes for extraordinary photography.
Shenton Safaris Family
The best month for photography is October in the South Luangwa National Park. In the height of the dry season the landscape is epic, and the reduced amount of vegetation and water supply means that wildlife sightings are viewed in concentrated areas, close to the handful of remaining watering holes. If you are visiting during the warmer months, get the best out of your day by getting up early and taking advantage of the grey light of dusk, as you may get the chance to view nocturnal animals as they wind down. Finally, if you’re looking for a more serene safari experience, come out to South Luangwa at the start of the bushcamp season during the dry months of May and June. These months are quieter, and you’ll be surprised at the amount of game viewing there is!
John Coppinger, Remote Africa
Luangwa is known as the Valley of Leopards. If you want to see them during the day, come in the cooler months – May, June and July – when they are often seen in the morning between sunrise and 10am, hunting or walking out in the open heading towards cover. Pel’s fishing owls can often be seen along dry riverbeds with standing water pools, where fish have been trapped, early in the dry season. Late in the dry season, at the end of October and the beginning of November, African pitta begin to descend for the arrival of the wet season.
Anke Cowan, Kafunta owner
Zambia is big and visiting its national parks usually involves flying from Lusaka with Proflight, which serves most tourist destinations. Consider booking your domestic journeys with your international flights if the airline allows it (for example, Emirates) in order to have everything under one booking. That way you benefit from extended passenger rights should there be delays, cancellation, missed flights or lost luggage. Sometimes, the immigration process in Lusaka can take longer than anticipated. You can save time by selecting a seat as close to the door as possible, obtaining your visa in advance online and by booking a meet-and-greet service, which will get you through a VIP lane.
When to go
Derek Shenton, Shenton Safaris
The first step towards planning your safari should always starts with ‘when’. Undoubtedly, the best photographic month in South Luangwa is October. The landscapes in the height of the dry season are nothing short of epic. This, paired with the reduced vegetation and water, means that incredible wildlife sightings are viewed in concentrated areas close to the handful of remaining waterholes and unobstructed by shrubbery. But don’t forget, it is hot, so get the best out of your experience by rising early and taking advantage of the grey light of dawn. You may see nocturnal animals winding down or the start of the diurnals’ day. Who knows, maybe the last hunt of the night will come to an end right as the warm golden sun breaks the horizon. Return to the camp during the midday hours, and relax in a hide or have a siesta, before heading out again. And enjoy that sundowner – but always remember to keep hydrated.
Anke Cowan, Kafunta Safaris
If budget is a concern, travel in the low season, for example in April, November or December. It is true that rains are possible, but nature is vibrant with greens and multiple flowers, and most lodges offer a low-season rate, which can really bring down the overall cost of your safari. It is the best time for birding, but you should be just as lucky with leopard, lion and wild dog.