If you want the real bush experience, Zambia's South Luangwa is the place to get it; since I was a child it has held a life-long enchantment over me. Focused around the lifeblood of the Luangwa River, it is a vast area covering 9,059 km2 of almost untouched ecological diversity. The current safari trend places its focus on South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania but this looks set to change in coming years to countries like Zambia, which offers up the stunning areas of South Luangwa National Park, the Liuwa Plains and the Lower Zambezi National Park. With the rise of cheaper flights and more accessible transport, at last areas like these are achieving the recognition that they deserve whilst keeping their wild charm. Don't forget though that British passport holders do need a visa to enter Zambia.
Within South Luangwa's expanse are 400 different bird species and 60 different mammal species. A haven for both budding and professional ornithologists, thousands of nesting carmine bee-eaters cluster the red mud banks of the river during mid-August, and during the rains prehistoric-looking shoebill storks dot the wetlands. Aside from the avian attractions, close encounters with rare wild dogs, elephants and lions add to the park's charm. Indeed, if one was to use South Luangwa as a measurement for leopard populations, it would seem the species was as common as the vervet monkeys which gambol on the roofs of the lodges.
The lodges within the park range from those clustered along the banks of the river - audience to the symphony of hippo grunts - to the seasonal, buried deep in the bush. Again, it is unlikely that you will be surrounded by many fellow tourists at these lodges. Certainly during my stay at Thornicroft, a camp perched high on the banks of the river, we were the only guests given our timing at the beginning of the rainy season, which was already beginning to turn the landscape emerald green. Mfuwe is likely the most well known of these lodges, a luxury camp centred around a hippo-filled lagoon and a family of elephants who visit the mango tree in reception. It's important to take note of seasonal changes - a lot of camps close in peak rainy season because the roads in the park are impassable, and bear in mind that malaria is more prevalent during the warmer, wetter months.
Lodges offer game drives in both the morning and evening, as well as safaris. There's nothing quite like rolling out of bed in the dark to be greeted by a hot coffee and a blanket-filled open-topped safari truck. Mobile walking safaris are also offered in the park, which offer a palpable experience of the African bush of days gone by. Even the most adventurous can be catered for here, just don't forget your travel insurance! Arts and crafts are not out of the picture either, with Tribal Textiles near the park gates, selling crafts and an array of brightly coloured textiles made locally. This is certainly well worth a visit, and many tour companies add a trip here on to the return journey from the park.
If you want to explore the wilds of South Luangwa, there are many reputable tour operators with which you can do this, including the original South Luangwa tour operator of Norman Carr Safaris, as well as Robin Pope Safaris, and - at the slightly cheaper end of the spectrum - Land and Lake safaris. It's well worth doing your research before you go; each season holds its own particular charm, but if it's lots of big game you want to see, it's best to go during the dry season when animals congregate at the river or around the few remaining waterholes.
Whatever you want to get out of your holiday, Zambia is well worth a visit. Do make sure that you visit the Foreign and Commonwealth advice page before you travel to make sure that you are well informed, and follow them on Twitter @FCOTravel for the latest up-to-date advice.
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