Every moment in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park has its highlights, from the lush “emerald season” following the January to March rains, when the best mode of transportation is boat, to the dry months from July to October, when massive herds of big game gather around the shrinking Luangwa River and waterholes. This is also when spectacularly colourful carmine bee-eaters use their beaks to dig thousands of nest burrows in the vertical river banks of the river. It’s not uncommon to drive around an oxbow bend of the river and encounter red-faced-yellow-bills and other storks mingling with startlingly white egrets fishing from giant green lily pads as buffalo, pukus, impalas, and waterbucks look on. A raft of semisubmerged hippos (Zambia is thought to have more hippos than any other nation) can often be seen as well, resembling stepping-stones along the river-banks. And South Luangwa is celebrated as being as Zambia’s big-cat country, so you are almost guaranteed to see a leopard during its twilight hunt, along with one or two lion kills in one day during the hot summer months.
The late Norman Carr pioneered walking safaris in Zambia and set guide standards in south Luangwa that are now respected by all of Africa. His remarkable fostering, teaching, and freeing of two orphaned lion cubs in 1958 is the stuff of legend (and of literature with Carr’s 1962 memoir Return to the Wild). Carr died in 1997, but the safari company he founded runs Kapani Lodge, a well-appointed riverside retreat with eight suits and two lagoons houses. For multiday safari you can stay put in the lodge or start there and move on into luxury bus camps in remote areas. Staying outside the lodge allows you the luxury of walking from camp to camp and surprising (or being surprised by) herds of up to 1,000 buffalo or as many as 100 elephants making their wy to the water. If the entire family is in tow, Flatdogs Camp, just outside the park on the other side of the river, may be your best choice. With six en-suite safari tents, six two-storied stone chalets, and the still-supported Jackal-Berry three house, it offers friendly surroundings to a few dozen guests (and to the elephants, which are known to come and sip from the freshwater swimming pool in the evenings).
WHERE : 400 miles/644 km northeast of Lusaka.
BEST TIME : Dec – Mar (emerald season) far birding; Jun – Sep (dry season) for walking.