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South Luangwa confirms that nothing beats a safari holiday!

7 September 2020

Safari enthusiasts consider South Luangwa National Park, in the Eastern part of Zambia, to be one of the industry’s best kept secrets. South Luangwa is popular with photographers for its unspoilt scenery and high concentration of wildlife, with at least 60 animal species and over 400 bird species.

The entrance to the South Luangwa National Park
The entrance to the South Luangwa National Park. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

South Luangwa offers sightings of four Big Five animals: buffaloes, elephants, leopards and lions. Unfortunately, the rhinoceros is now extinct after many years of poaching. The irony is that the term Big Five was originally coined by hunters to describe the most difficult animals to find on foot but is now used as the minimum standard for what tourists expect to see on a safari.

South Luangwa teenage lions
The South Luangwa National Park is home to the largest number of lions in Zambia. In this amusing picture, one adolescent lion is on the lookout as another member of the pride does his business. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba
Lions and teamwork
Lions live, play and hunt together and are role models for the power of team work. This pride of adolescent lions walk with the confidence and swag of a SWAT team as they head in the direction of potential prey. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

South Luangwa is also where the legendary Conservationist, Norman Carr, pioneered the concept of the walking safari, which offers tourists a rare opportunity to get close to nature. Walking safaris have spread to other National Parks in Africa. All walking safaris are led by highly qualified guides and armed staff. Safaris are so popular because the bush is one of the few places in the world where one can truly unplug from modern life, as most safari camps do not have modern necessities such as televisions and Wi-Fi but do have electricity and running (hot) water. One has to be comfortable with the silence which is sometimes interrupted by the sound of Vervet monkey calls - a sign that a predator is in the vicinity.

Buffaloes can be tempermental
Buffaloes can be tempermental and don't take too kindly to being watched. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

Secondly, watching animals in their natural habitat can also help to put the meaning of life into perspective. You don’t fully appreciate the meaning of stress until you put yourself in the shoes of an antelope, a lion's favourite dish, which doesn’t know if it will live through the night. Every night. Humans have it easy in comparison. We worry about so many unimportant and irrelevant things.


Baby elephant
A baby elephant stays close to its mother. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

Lastly, safaris offers many life lessons. For example, an ecosystem is best understood by observing the interconnectedness among species and why each one – big and small – has an important role to play. At the bottom of the food chain are ants who are responsible for turning nutrients in the soil, which supports the growth of vegetation on which herbivores feed. These herbivores support small animals like baboons which feed on elephant dung. Elephants only digest 40% of the ~200kg of food they eat per day because they have a single chamber stomach unlike Giraffes which have an efficient gut with four chambers. Oxpecker birds feast on ticks buried on the backs of zebras, thus saving the animal with the best-bottom-in-the-bush from tick infestation. At the top of the food chain are the carnivores, who feast on the herbivores.

MBA classes ought to have a module about wildlife! Founder, Muloongo Muchelemba, wrote a chapter on office politics for her first book, The Millennials' Gaido to Work, while on safari in South Luangwa.

The Zebra
Zebra has the best bottom and kick in the business and are a personal favourite of Muloongo Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

Tips for planning your safari holiday

When to go

South Luangwa is an option all year round though some camps close during the rainy season from November till March. The best time to go is between May-August when the temperatures are cool, and the dry grass makes it easier to see animals. Zambia is blessed with sunny blue skies all year round so the day temperature in winter (June-August) is pleasant.

The beautiful Puku (an antelope) is the star participant of the real world Hunger Games. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

The Emerald season from January to April is the low peak because of the rains. This is a good time to get a bargain. The lush, green backgrounds are great for taking photos, but it is a lot harder to spot prey such as leopards. Temperatures peak in October and November making it unpleasant to be out and about.

How to get there

Pre-pandemic, international airlines such as South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, RwandAir and Emirates, had daily flights into Zambia's capital city, Lusaka. From Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, it is a 40 mins plane ride on the local airline, Proflight to Mfuwe Airport. Most camps are located 1-2hrs drive from the airport, with plenty to see on the way.

Proflight is the domestic carrier that flies between Lusaka and Mfuwe
Proflight is the domestic carrier that flies between Lusaka and Mfuwe. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

Where to stay

South Luangwa offers a wide range of accommodation from the luxurious Chinzombo to basic campsite accommodation for backpackers.


Chinzombo is the one of most luxurious camp in South Luangwa. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba
Chinzombo exterior
The Chinzombo chalets come with their own dipping pool
Chinzombo interior
The interior of a chalet at Chinzombo. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

Muloongo stayed at Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge during her first visit to South Luangwa, which is a grand colonial lodge set on a hilltop that is frequented by Zambia's Presidents. Staying in a brick and mortar hotel outside the park can help to ease the nerves of first-time safari tourists. Chichele is known for its excellent service - from the safaris to the dining experience - and the most stunning sundowner.

Chichele Lodge
Chichele Presidential lodge offers brick accommodation in the Game Management area and offers excellent service

Muloongo chose Mfuwe Lodge on the next trip, which is located in the Game Management area and feels more (African) authentic than Chichele. Her chalet was next to a hippo-infested lagoon and her noisy (animal) neighbours kept her up on the first night but she managed to sleep soundly the rest of her stay. Mfuwe is world-famous for elephants walking through the foyer. It has a swimming pool for cooling down during the day and a fantastic spa overlooking the lagoon. The safari guides are exceptional!

Mfuwe Lodge
Mfuwe is one of the few lodges with a swimming pool. A real treat! Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba
Mfuwe chalet
Muloongo's chalet was located right next to a hippo-infested lagoon beneath the lush green foliage. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

In 2019, Muloongo decided to be brave and stay right in the National Park at the Robin Pope Safaris' camp called Tena Tena. The tented room is exquisite, with a comfortable king-size bed and an outdoor shower area. One must be brave to take a bathroom break in the middle of the night! A tented camp is perfect for romantic breaks and those looking for a peaceful, beautiful place to just be one with nature.

Tena Tena camp
Tena Tena was the first camp opened by the legendary, Robin Pope. The luxurious camp is situated in the Nsefu sector of the South Luangwa National Park and offers a truly authentic safari experience.
The main area at Tena Tena
The tented main area at Tena Tena holds the dining area, bar and library facing the banks of the Luangwa river. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

What does your typical day look like?

Guests are given the option of doing two game drives or one walking safari + one game drive, every day. The day starts very early, around 5.30am with a wake-up call followed by a quick breakfast. The first game drive starts before dawn when the temperatures are still cool and is the best chance to see a kill. Most predators hunt at night and sleep during the day. Lions can sleep for up to 20hrs a day – just like domestic cats.

Guests return to the camps and are offered mid-morning tea and refreshments. Lunch is served around noon. Afternoons are spent taking a siesta, reading, swimming or using the spa, where available. Most lodges do not have swimming pools as this could put guests at risk during the dry season when animals desperately look for water to drink. Afternoon tea is served around 3pm followed by an afternoon/early evening game drive from 4-7pm and then dinner.

Early morning sky
Early morning in the South Luangwa National Park. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchelemba

What to bring:

Clothing: it is important to wear khaki, olive and brown coloured clothes. Black and blue colours attract bugs which will make the game drive a miserable experience. Bright colours distract wildlife and must be avoided. The whole point of a safari is to blend in with the environment. A wind breaker is handy for the cold nights during the cold season and a good safari hat to protect from the sun during the day. No umbrellas.

Camera: bring a good SLR with different lens, especially a super telephoto zoom lens e.g. 200-600mm Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Super Telephoto Zoom. Extra memory cards are a must - one can never take enough photos.
Binoculars: preferably a hunting one, to spot elusive animals like the leopard.Drone: a license is required from the Department of Civil Aviation to operate a drone in the national park. Best to ask the tour operator for advice before taking one. The ground is the best vantage point anyway.

Essentials: pack sunblock and insect repellent at a minimum. The lodges also provide repellent.

Loose change: Even though tipping is not mandatory, Muloongo gives the safari guide and driver about $3 (K50) each, for every trip. Some safari staff can only work during the peak season, so the extra income is most welcome.

So, what are you waiting for? Visit Zambia: the real Africa!

Sunset on the Luangwa River
Sunset on the Luangwa River. Photo credit: Muloongo Muchlemba

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