Luangwa refers to the Luangwa River Valley formed by the river of the same name that flows from north to south in eastern Zambia. This is the most intact major river system in all of Africa. There are three wildlife refuges around the river, including North and South Luangwa National Park Zambia and small Luambe National Park. A few miles farther to the east is Lukusuzi National Park, which lies right along the border of neighboring Malawi.
The country of Zambia is extremely poor, and there was virtually no tourism infrastructure even by the early 1990s. Road conditions remain poor, and there are only a handful of relatively decent "highways." The Luangwa River Valley in the far north east of the country is extremely remote. There are no main roads from the centrally located capital city of Lusaka, which is several hundred miles away.
One of the only main highways in all of Zambia is from Lusaka to Livingstone and Victoria Falls, located a few hundred more miles away in the far southwest of the country. The most practical method of getting to South Luangwa is on flights from Lusaka. There is an international airport at Mfuwe, with flights from places like Nairobi in Kenya or Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. However, most flights from outside the country require going through customs and immigration formalities and changing planes in Lusaka. This has made getting to the park expensive, meaning fewer tourists visit. This, in turn, means that Luangwa National Park Zambia has remained almost completely pristine, with very little degradation caused by hundreds of vehicles and millions of tourists.
Another thing that has helped to keep the Luangwa region pristine is the area's emphasis on low-impact, low-occupancy, high-end accommodations. Most of the lodging consists of small, elegant wilderness lodges that are some of the finest and most exclusive in the world. Rarely will you find a lodge with more than ten or twenty rooms and bungalows, so they are also intimate. Additionally, there are a number or bush camps that are even smaller and more exclusive than the lodges. There are fewer than five 5-star Lusaka hotels, but almost every property in Luangwa is a luxury property. Most people who visit Luangwa will also visit magnificent Victoria Falls, usually staying in fine hotels along the Zambezi River in the city of Livingstone.
Luangwa National Park Zambia is known for its huge herds of elephants and African Cape buffalo, with herds numbering several hundred. The elephants are impressive to watch from your lodge or camp as they cross the river back and forth during the day and at night. One lodge in the park, lovely Mfuwe Lodge, is built on a trail that elephants have used for centuries to reach a grove of papaya trees, and a group of elephant strolls right through the reception area with regularity.
The river itself is abundant with crocodiles and hippos. This park is where walking safaris originated in the 1970s and 1980s. One local man credited with leading the first walking safaris is Robin Pope, and today there are a number of Robin Pope lodges and bush camps scattered throughout the park.
Wildlife safaris here are very rewarding, and other species indigenous to the region are the Thornicroft giraffe (found only here), Cookson's wildebeest, Crawshay's zebra, lions, leopards, and more than 400 other species. Birdlife is also abundant, including majestic fish eagles, storks, hornbills, and more than 700 others. Vividly colored carmine bee-eaters are a wonderful sight, as they nest in the river's steep, sandy banks in groups of hundreds. Sadly, the black rhinos that once inhabited the area have been poached to extinction.
April through October provides the best weather for wildlife viewing. This is the dry season, when it is warmest and when the grasses are low, making it easier to spot wildlife. November through March is a bit colder and rainy. Everything is beautifully green and lush, but the grass is tall and foliage is thick, making it more difficult to spot game.