On safari in Zambia

Going on safari in Africa is incredibly special and on this trip we’ve enjoyed wonderful safaris in Kenya, where we saw many rhinos at Solio Ranch and cycled amongst zebra, giraffe and lots of buck in Hells Gate National Park, and Uganda, where we rented a car to explore Murchison Falls.

The South Luangwa National Park lies in the east of the country in the Luangwa Valley. It is home to more than 60 animal species, over 400 bird species (more than half of Zambia’s total) and is renowned for its concentration of animals. We knew very little about the park before it was recommended by Kate, a friend from the beach in Kenya, and the more we read the more excited we were to visit.

After a two day train ride into Zambia from Tanzania and a long bus ride from the capital Lusaka to the tiny village of Mfuwe, we had a relaxing day hanging out at our lodge on the river.

The following morning we were up before the sun and after a quick breakfast, we excitedly hopped in the safari jeep and made our way into the park. We were visiting at the end of the rainy season so the park was a brilliant bright-green and lovely and overgrown. There were colourful birds everywhere, lots of beautiful baobab trees and while some roads were inaccessible because of the rains,  it didn’t detract from our safari in any way.

An iconic African image – the great Baobab tree

Our safari started at the park gate where we saw monkeys and from the bridge crossing into the park we saw hippos relaxing in the river below. It didn’t take long to see lots of impala as well as elephants, which were eating as they always do. Alongside seeing zebra, warthog and puku, a type of antelope we’d never seen before, we saw Masai giraffe which until very recently were thought to be a different endemic sub-species called Thornicroft giraffe (it is now known that the Thornicroft giraffe are genetically identical to the Masai giraffe).

Our guide had seen the resident pride of lions the previous day so we went looking for them and all got very excited when we saw their footprints in the sand. After driving for  little while,  as we rounded a bend, we saw a lioness casually walking towards us and she passed so close to our open jeep that we noticed her bloody mouth. We found the rest of the pride a little further down the road and although they were out of sight in the bush, we heard them as they fought for the last few bits of a small warthog lunch.

On this trip we’ve developed a new appreciation for birds and throughout the morning we also saw a number of beautiful species: Grey-headed Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher (in town from Senegal to breed), Yellow-billed Stork, Red Bishop, the Greater Blue-eared Stalin and the larger Red-billed Hornbill to name just a few.

The yellow-billed Stork

After our awesome morning, we made our back to the lodge for lunch and a refreshing swim in the pool.  We were back in the car later that afternoon and it didn’t take long to see a  tower of half-a-dozen giraffe who had wandered out of the park and onto the road. Inside we saw small herds of elephants, including a baby that our guide said couldn’t have been more than a few months old, a few zebra, one of which had a nasty scratch on its thigh from a lion, buffalo and lots of antelope on the plains (impala, kudu, puku and bushbuck). We also found the pride of lions sleeping off their lunch in the late afternoon sun.

That’s a buffalo!

Wild dogs are Africa’s second-most endangered animal (after the Ethiopian Wolf). They’re known as the painted dog for their mottled fur with black, brown, yellow and white colourings and have a long legs, a lean body and large rounded ears. When we heard there was a possibility of seeing them, our guide drove across the park and we couldn’t believe our luck to see a few cross the road in front of us.

We saw antelope running away and a hyena lurking in the shadows and then realised that they were hunting! It was a coordinated team effort with dogs seemingly everywhere and lots of barking (it is this coordination and communication that make wild dogs formidable hunters with an 80% success rate).

We didn’t see the kill but we saw a hyena run across the road with a big chunk of meat and a few of the pack chase after it. The hyena kept them at bay, demolished the piece of meat in five minutes and then started sauntering back into the bush to try and steal seconds.

Meanwhile, a vulture flew in and was waiting patiently in the tree for everyone else to finish. It was incredible to see the park at work.

It’s not the best picture but what an incredible experience seeing Wild Dogs

After this flurry of activity, we enjoyed a cold Mosi as the sun went down soaking up what we had just seen. Once we’d finished our sunset beer, we continued driving for an hour in the dark which was our first night safari.

We had a spotter scanning a flashlight back and forth to try see the animals, with their eyes reflecting the light. We were more aware of so many noises and lots of insects and aside from the stars,  it was incredibly dark and definitely a little scary.

The safari continued when we got back to the lodge with bush buck and hippos roaming in the garden. Once we’d finished our delicious dinner, we watched the hippos eat theirs and it was an unbelievable way to end a very special day on safari in Africa.

Practical Information

Getting Here

Jonda Bus runs one bus per day from Lusaka to Mfuwe departing from the inter-city bus terminal at 5am and arriving between 4-5 pm. We booked our tickets the day before and the the lodge will meet you from the bus.

The bus costs Zkw 240 (roughly $25).

Where to Stay

Marula Lodge has a beautiful location on the river and its a very relaxing set-up with a swimming pool, hammock, swinging chairs and comfy sofas.

They offers a few fantastic packages:

2 nights, 2 game drives, full board – $140 (Dorm bed with D,B,L,D,B)

3 nights,  4 game drives, full board – $210 (Dorm bed with D,B,L,D,B,L,D,B)

  • The food was absolutely delicious with dinners a three course affair
  • All the staff are wonderfully friendly
  • Beers are a pricey $3

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