Africa’s Cheapest Safari: South Luangwa, Zambia

Leopard in South Luangwa National Park

Leopard in South Luangwa National Park

What if I told you that you could do a week long African safari for under $500 USD? I wouldn’t blame you for calling me a liar. But it’s absolutely possible.

Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is probably the cheapest African safari destination you’ll find. And not only is it cheap, but your chances of seeing all the animals you came for are extremely high. Add that to the limited number of other tourists in the area and it’s pretty much safari heaven.

For some reason this park is not as widely marketed or as developed as common safari destinations in countries like Tanzania & Kenya. This means that it’s not a luxury destination, but it’s also by no means roughing it. I can’t really say why it hasn’t developed further, but as we entered the park each day with only around 15 other vehicles, I was very glad of it.

Just some of the many, many animals in the area.

Just some of the many, many animals in the area.

Getting There

If there’s a reason for relatively low visitors to this park, perhaps this is it. It’s really in the middle of nowhere. There’s a small airport in nearby Mfuwe with tiny planes being flown in by Proflight Zambia, who holds a monopoly and charges a fortune. If you’re not the roughing it type, don’t let the high cost of flying here deter you – you will make up for the cost elsewhere.

Or to save more money, travel by land. It’s a 2 day schlep from Lusaka, or a few hours drive from Chipata, on the border with Malawi (it’s actually less travel time from Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, than from Zambia’s capital, Lusaka). You’ll be able to get a taxi all the way to your lodge from Chipata for under $25 per person.

There’s even a bus that runs once a day from Chipata, but details of this change so frequently that I won’t post them. Ask at your Chipata hotel, or call ahead to your South Luangwa lodge for details.

Some lionesses eating a buffalo that they killed the previous evening.

Some lionesses eating a buffalo that they killed the previous evening.

 Where To Stay

South Luangwa has a number of budget options. These line the bank of the river opposite the national park. This is really clever as you’re not actually in the park, so you don’t have to pay park fees to stay, but the animals cross the river and enter the lodges regularly.

We chose Marula Lodge and could not have been happier, but if they don’t take your fancy, there’s also Track & Trail River Camp and Croc Valley Camp.

For a pre-erected safari tent, with twin beds inside, Marula charge $13pppn. This includes running hot showers, a swimming pool, close encounters with African animals and wonderful, passionate staff who know all about the animals and make sure you don’t stumble across a hippo at night.

We can’t stop raving about this place. We had hippos grazing around our tent at night, got sniffed by a huge wild elephant while having dinner and spent days lazing around in the pool watching the monkeys play and staying very still as elephants crossed the river right in front of us. The owners are a relaxed, welcoming couple and it feels great to support people who are in turn putting their spare time back into developing the local community.

The view from our little safari tent. Not bad for $13 each per night!

The view from our little safari tent. Not bad for $13 each per night!

 What You’ll See

Due to the excellent location of the lodge, we saw elephants (so many elephants), hippos, baboons, vervet monkeys, crocodiles, warthogs, puku, impala and monitor lizards in our campsite.

On game drives within South Luangwa National Park we saw lions, giraffes, buffalo, a leopard, hyenas, zebra, kudu, well pretty much everything you could want to see on a safari. The only notable thing missing from South Luangwa is rhinos.

Just a few of the many, many animals in the area.

Just a few of the many animals we saw.

 Eating/Drinking

You can buy food at the lodge, but Marula are more than happy for you to BYO food & drinks and use their kitchen. There is a small shop in town, but options are limited – best to stock up in Chipata to avoid disappointment. I can’t speak for the other lodges, but the Marula owners were even kind enough to take us into town with them when our supplies ran low. (A little too much drinking wine in the pool, watching the elephants pass.)

Drinking water is provided at the lodge so don’t worry about hauling huge bottles there.

During the dry season all the animals gather around the river.

During the dry season all the animals gather around the river.

Game Drives

Entering South Luangwa National Park will cost you $25 per day. This is an absolute steal and covers you for the whole day. Make sure you keep your receipt if you’re entering the park more than once in a day, though we were never asked to show them.

Game drives from our lodge cost $40 per person. This include 4 hours of guided day or night driving in the park, with no more than 12 people per vehicle. They even throw in a cup of tea and a snack to have in a scenic location of the park.

For something a little different, you can do a walking safari. They drive you and only a few others into the middle of the park and then you walk. As scary as this sounds, it’s fascinating to learn about tracking wild animals (I can now tell the difference between lion and hyena poo) and seeing the small things you wouldn’t notice as you whiz past in your safari vehicle. As you need to pay a park ranger with a rifle, this safari costs $50 per person. We found the walking safari totally fascinating and well worth the extra $10. 

Some of the things we saw on the walking safari, a hyena, a zebra jaw and an ant lion.

Some of the things we saw on the walking safari, a hyena, a zebra jaw and an ant lion.

Costs

This can be done unbelievable cheaply. Our budget  for 2 people was as follows*. Prices are in US dollars as this is the most common currency used in the South Luangwa area.

Transport  $100

7 nights accommodation (safari tent) $182

Park entrance fees (2 days) $100

Game drives  $240

Walking safari  $100

Food  $100

Drinks $100

TOTAL COST FOR 1 WEEK SAFARI FOR 2 PEOPLE: $922 USD


*We ended up flying out due to a family emergency, which totally threw the budget (cost more than the whole budget!), but emergencies aside, this spend is perfectly achievable

A lovely spot for some sunset drinks in the national park.

A lovely spot for some sunset drinks in the national park.

Posted from Northern, Zambia.

11 thoughts on “Africa’s Cheapest Safari: South Luangwa, Zambia

  1. A great post for a incredibly underrated, cheap safari destination.

    I visited South Luangwa last year and it was the best safari experience i have had. I saw everything, including 6 or so Leopards. It was truly magical.

    Oh, and the walking safari – what an experience!

    Glad you guys had a great time there too!

    • Thanks for reading Mark.

      It truly is an incredible place, we are constantly recommending it and those who follow the advice have all been as blown away as we were.

  2. We also did 3 days safari from Lusaka at 285 usd pp we stayed at croc valley camp
    It was really budget safari . the tour was organized by mophy budget safari tour .we also visited
    Nsefu sector we saw about 15 lions and thousands of baffalos

    • Glad you enjoyed your trip, in our case they turned out to be a complete fraud, taking our deposit and never did any reservations for us. When we asked for deposit back the owner Mophy sent us threatening letters.

  3. South luangwa NP is an amazing Park. But please beware of cheap safaris, we booked and paid deposit to Mophy Budget Safari, on condition that they make reservations for camps but they never did.

    We gave them 3months chance to make the reservation but they never did. The owner Moffat Fungamwango known as Mophy kept sending us one lie after another. Later we learned from others too that he is a fraud. He lures you by offering cheap safaris until you do the deposit, then he spends the deposit on other things.

    He created a complete mess to us, he even threatened us several times in writing, after we demanded our money back. After 10 months he has not returned a penny from our deposit.

    • Thanks for the info Edward – when we were organising this trip we came across a lot of people saying the same things about Mophy! We completely avoided Mophy because of this. I think many people have been ripped off and I hope those looking online consider this before booking.

  4. hi are just coming from bangwaulu wet land s our tour was fantastic.
    we fill sorry for you / im sure something went wrong mophy is nice guy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *