In my last post, I mentioned how much we enjoyed the South Luangwa, Zambia’s flagship National Park. It may be a long way to travel from Cape Town or Johannesburg, but it was well worth it. We saw some species we’d never seen before and we fell in love with the country and its people, the true African-ness of Zambia. Here are some practical hints to help you plan your trip.
We drove from Livingstone, on the border with Zimbabwe, to Lusaka (460km), then east to Chipata near the Malawi border (another 550km). We chose to sleep over in Lusaka instead of doing it in a single day – and were glad we did because the roads are fairly slow, especially when going through villages.
From Chipata we turned north-west towards the small village of Mfuwe, a distance of only 130km but don’t be fooled; it took us 3.5 hours thanks to road works and long stretches of bad gravel surface. There are other access routes to the South Luangwa National Park, but our research told us this was by far the best and most reliable. When you make a booking for accommodation, it would be a good idea to ask about the current state of that road.
You need to be fairly adventurous in a high-clearance vehicle because the roads inside the park aren’t fabulous, more like jeep tracks in places. This is largely because many of them are seasonal – they get flooded in the wet season and remade anew once the floods recede. Since they’re remade annually, they’re functional but not perfect.
Strangely, the park officials at the entrance gate have no map of the park to give you when you pay your entrance fee. Not even photocopies. Our guy smiled broadly in apology and mumbled some excuse about paper being hard to come by. So unless you have a GPS with up-to-date maps you could get very lost indeed! We stayed at Croc Valley, which had an old copy of the map you’ll see on the wall at the entrance gate and we scanned that to use as a backup for our GPS.
Must do: go on a guided drive
Budget for at least one drive into the park with a guide, even if you’re generally an independent person who likes to do your own thing. There are lots of small seasonal roads that the local guides know well, so they have a better idea of where to go to see the best game. We decided on a sunset drive and were so glad we did. (I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.) Chatting to the guide also gave us some hints on good roads to cruise looking for game when self-driving on our next few evenings.
International visitors will need to pay $30 per person per day for self-driving in the park ($25 if you're not self-driving). The fee for SADC residents is $20 per person per day. [Note: these are updated 2018 rates.] Your permit is valid from 6:00 till 18:00, but can NOT be carried over within a 24-period to the next day as used to be the case, so don’t believe old editions of guidebooks like Bradt’s and Lonely Planet.
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