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South Luangwa, without breaking the bank


Soukous
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South Luangwa, without breaking the bank.

 

Zambia's South Luangwa Valley is one of Africa's most outstanding wildlife viewing areas.
With a mixture of woodland and riverine forest, it is home to an amazing variety of animal and bird life.

One of the real highlights of my recent visit was discovering that you can enjoy South Luangwa without breaking the bank.

 

Whilst he lodges situated inside the park are expensive, US$500 per person per day, or more, there are some terrific camps & lodges located about 10 minutes drive from the park gate that will cost you around half that price.

 

A bed is a bed

The accommodation is not as fancy, with simple rather than luxurious chalets, but the guides are equally good, sometimes better.
You'll see just as many animals and are just as likely to have elephants walking through your camp; the animals don't pay much attention to the park boundaries.
The money you save means that you can either stay longer or put some of that saving towards a private vehicle and guide which will ensure that your game drives are focussed on the things you want to do.

 

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There are several lodges & camps that charge around US$270 per person per night for a full board package that includes all meals and 2 game activities per day.

In Green (low) season those rates fall to as low as US$170 per person sharing and those who live in the area will tell you that this is the best time to visit anyway. It's cooler, it's greener, the skies are clearer and the bird life is more abundant.

Park entry fees are an extra cost.

 

Here are a few places worth checking out.

 

Thornicroft Lodge is located on the banks of the Luangwa river and has just 9 guest chalets. It is currently looking a bit drab but the chalets are comfortable and renovations planned for early 2018 should bring it right back to the top of its game. Head guide Godfrey is one of the best working in South Luangwa.

 

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Wildlife Camp, also located by the river, has both chalets and safari tents as well as a campsite.

 

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If you'd like to vary your game viewing experience and do some walking, Wildlife Camp has a simple bush camp set up in a lovely river side location especially for walking safaris.

 

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Marula Lodge has a lovely setting with a cheerfully decorated communal lounge and dining room overlooking the river. Electric tape around the lounge is a clear reminder that elephants regularly visit the grounds.
Guests I spoke to rated their guides highly.

There are a couple of cons: the chalets are stone built with tin roofs and get extremely hot in summer. Some of the people I spoke to said they found it hard to sleep. The other negative point is that, because it is a budget lodge, Marula will pack 9 people onto their game vehicles. If you are serious about photography this is a real no-no, but if you just want game drives with a good guide, then why not?

 

All three camps are just 10 minutes from the main entrance gate. All three camps have small swimming pools.
The rates do not include drinks or laundry, although the laundry service and the cash bar are reasonably priced.

 

Getting there

South Luangwa is easily accessible from Lusaka using Pro Flight. The one way air fare is about US$325.

Alternatively, if you have a bit more time to spare, South Luangwa can also easily be reached from Malawi – about 6 hours by road from Lilongwe. The combination of game viewing in South Luangwa and time spent relaxing on the shores of Lake Malawi is very popular.

 

Zambia visa costs US$50

Malawi visa costs US$75

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Very helpful post @Soukous For many of us budget is a massive constraint.

 

I may have missed it but ...............1. what are the park fees of you stay outside the park and 2. are these payable at each entry, so twice a day, or are the daily fees?

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2 hours ago, wilddog said:

Very helpful post @Soukous For many of us budget is a massive constraint.

 

I may have missed it but ...............1. what are the park fees of you stay outside the park and 2. are these payable at each entry, so twice a day, or are the daily fees?

 

Oops, I thought I'd mentioned the park fees.

 

The park entry fee is US$ 25 per day. You can enter in the morning and then again in the afternoon of the same day using the same entry ticket.

If you enter in the afternoon, your ticket IS NOT valid for the next morning. Ticket is only valid on the day of issue. First entry is at 06:00. Visitors must be out of the park before 20:00.

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Useful information here @Soukous but shouldn't this be in the trip planning section rather than trip reports?

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Thanks for this useful info @Soukous.   

 

If you have similar tips to share for areas in Tanzania (particularly southern TZ) you would have some eager readers!

 

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Great stuff Martin.  

 

I should point out too that Proflight offer last minute out of season flights - I think they are called firecracker rates - that are much much cheaper.  

 

 

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Wildlife camp is considerably further from the gate than Marula and Thornicroft. Right next door to Marula are Track & Trail camp and Croc Valley, which should also be mentioned in this list.

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39 minutes ago, ForWildlife said:

Wildlife camp is considerably further from the gate than Marula and Thornicroft. Right next door to Marula are Track & Trail camp and Croc Valley, which should also be mentioned in this list.

 

I reckon the extra distance to Wildlife Camp adds about another 5 minutes to the journey, no more. It should also be mentioned that Wildlife Camp has the best location and has its own hide overlooking a small waterhole so the photo opportunities there are a wee bit better that the other two.

 

I did visit Track & Trail and agree that it is a fine camp. The reason I didn't include it in my list is that their rates are about US$100 more expensive than the others I listed. They have also been the slowest to respond to queries I sent them. I particular I wanted to know why they charge US$30 per person for park entry fees (it is quoted on their website) when the actual fee is just US$25.

 

I didn't get the chance to visit Croc Valley or Flatdogs, so I couldn't include any opinion about them.

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On 10/11/2017 at 10:13 AM, wilddog said:

For many of us budget is a massive constraint.

One of those folks with budget constraints, so I am very glad to read your post @Soukous

 

On 10/11/2017 at 9:58 AM, Soukous said:

In Green (low) season those rates fall to as low as US$170 per person sharing and those who live in the area will tell you that this is the best time to visit anyway. It's cooler, it's greener, the skies are clearer and the bird life is more abundant.

When is Green season in Zambia? Or more precisely, which dates one can expect those lower rates to be active?

 

 

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Green season = wet season. The bushcamps usually close in the first week of November, although much of the park is often still accessible until early December (but in some years it's not and they can't chance it that guests get stuck for a week). January is usually the month with the most rain. In December you can expect that many roads outside the main game area are impassable but grass is still somewhat low and there are many young animals about. November can have good rains, or can be bone dry, but usually there has at least been some rain. February, March have rain and thick bush. By April most European birds have left and local birds will lose their breeding colors (on of the best things about the rainy season). May is usually dry, but this year they had rains up to June. So during the rainy season rates are lower (but maybe not around Christmas), the bush is thick and green (animals can disappear easily), birdlife is fantastic, many of the predators prefer to walk along the roads to keep their feet dry so lion, leopard and dog sightings tend to be pretty good (but dogs start denning and becoming less visible in May/June), fewer roads are accessible (but there are also fewer cars in the park).

The high season, shoulder season and low season are mainly directed by the European and American school holidays. 

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21 hours ago, xelas said:

One of those folks with budget constraints, so I am very glad to read your post @Soukous

 

When is Green season in Zambia? Or more precisely, which dates one can expect those lower rates to be active?

 

 

 

Lower rates normally apply from November until the end of June although some places have been bringing June into High Season as it is a busy month for bookings.

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On 10.11.2017 at 9:58 AM, Soukous said:

It's cooler, it's greener, the skies are clearer and the bird life is more abundant.

Park entry fees are an extra cost.

 

Why would you say it's cooler? My own personal experience is that the summer months of the southern hemisphere (November / December/ January) are much hotter than June, July and August, at least in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

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14 minutes ago, ice said:

 

Why would you say it's cooler? My own personal experience is that the summer months of the southern hemisphere (November / December/ January) are much hotter than June, July and August, at least in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

 

Maybe a bit of a generalisation @ice

I was there in October, which is reckoned to be one of the hottest months. In November & December the rains have usually begun which brings the temperature down significantly. 

I do agree with you that June & July are generally cooler, but my comment was more in relation to the dusty heat of October.

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Just a brief update:

 

I have communicated with Track & Trail River Camp about them charging a park fee of US$30. 

They told me that ZAWA (Zambian Parks Authority) had advised them the park fee would be increased from US$25 to US$30, so that is what they published. 

The park fee has not actually gone up yet, so they are still charging US$25, like everyone else.

 

As a side note, I suggested that the savings made by using one of the cheaper lodges outside the park could be put towards staying longer or paying for a private vehicle.

Wildlife Camp charge US$200 per day for a private vehicle & guide

Track & Trail charge US$375 for the same service. Quite a difference.

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