Where to stay in South Luangwa
Upmarket camps and lodges
Most of South Luangwa's camps aim at upmarket visitors from overseas. Given the park's remote location, this is not surprising. They incur great difficulties (and costs) in communicating, organising supplies, and actually getting their clients into the valley. Then remember that most of them can only operate for six months of the year, after which they pack up, returning to re-build their camps after every rainy season. Thus, they do have some plausible reasons to be costly.
Most offer a special 'safari rate', typically about 5–10% cheaper than the normal rate, if you stay in camps run by just one operator for seven nights or more. This can be very convenient and is certainly recommended. It will provide a welcome continuity whilst you visit totally different camps. Such combinations include Kapani and its bushcamps; Nkwali, Tena Tena and Nsefu; Tafika and its bushcamps, including Mwaleshi; Mfuwe Lodge and the camps of the Bushcamp Company.
A few offer discounts if you are a resident of Zambia, especially in the quieter parts of the season. At busier times (including July to October), they are likely to be full and such deals are usually 'unavailable'. Then the best deals are usually available from overseas operators whose volumes of business give them access to significant discounts.
Note that although many of the camps cost around a similar level, their atmospheres and styles differ greatly – so choose carefully. For the sake of completeness, I've included here a few camps whose names are well known, but have now closed. The valley's camps, in alphabetical order, include:
Bilimungwe Trails Camp (GPS: BILIMU)
Chamilandu Bushcamp (GPS: CHAMIL)
Chibembe's walking camps
Chichele Presidential Lodge (GPS: CHICHE)
Kapani Safari Lodge (GPS: KAPANI)
Kuyenda (GPS: KUYEND)
Lion Camp (GPS: LIONCA)
Mwamba (GPS: MWAMBA)
Mfuwe Lodge (GPS: MFUWEL)
Nkwali (GPS: NKWALI)
Nsefu Camp (GPS: NSEFU)
Tafika (GPS: TAFIKA)
Zebra Pans Bushcamp
South Luangwa National Park is not an ideal safari destination for the impecunious backpacker. Hitchhiking into the park from Chipata is difficult (flying is the best way to arrive 'independently'), and there are no touts selling cheap safaris. There are a few budget camps as well as a lot of smaller, more exclusive ones (with all-inclusive rates). The latter don't cater well for unexpected visitors; they're best booked in advance.
If you want to be independent, then really the only way to arrive is in your own fully equipped 4WD – as then you can see the park for yourself. Though note that self-drive vehicles are not allowed to drive in the national park when it's dark; only registered guides can conduct night drives. Make sure that you bring supplies of food (fresh vegetables and limited tinned foods can be bought locally), and the best maps that you can buy in Lusaka.
I've seen the park several ways over the years – I've hitch-hiked here and camped, I've driven myself around, and I've flown in with advanced bookings at lodges and small bushcamps. I think that much of the Luangwa's magic is about being guided by some of Africa's best guides – in a vehicle, or especially on foot. These guys know this area, and its flora and fauna, like the back of their hands. So although driving yourself around is fun, it's a pale shadow of the experience that you get at one of the better small lodges.
Most budget travellers who come to the Luangwa arrive in overland trucks. These travel between Malawi and Zimbabwe, stopping here and in Lusaka. They usually stay, together with a few backpackers and independent travellers, at one of Luangwa's less-expensive camps: