LUAMBE NATIONAL PARK
Luambe National Park
I had been to South Luangwa – doubtlessly one of Africa’s most spectacular national parks – several times before I even heard of its much smaller neighbor to the north. Luambe National Park might not be ideal for first-time visitors, I was told, but perfect for those who value true wilderness. I listened. I went. And I didn’t leave for more than two weeks.
Half a century ago, Luambe, consisting mainly of mopane woodland and patches of open savanna along the Luangwa River, was well-known for its rhinos and a relatively popular getaway. The rhinos are long gone, but plenty of other wildlife has returned in recent years. The elephants are becoming more relaxed again, large herds of eland and zebra mingle with puku and impala on the plains, sometimes joined by kudu and giraffe. The hippo pods are among the largest in Africa, bee-eater colonies abound along the riverbank, and with a bit of luck you might just spot a bush pig, porcupine or bush baby. Lions, leopards and wild dogs can be found here, too, though not in the concentrations of South Luangwa.
But sheer volume of wildlife was never going to be Luambe’s main drawcard. Rather, it is the feeling of having it all to yourself. Only able to accommodate a handful of visitors at a time, sightings here are earned, not learned about over the radio. There are no crowds here. No waiting in line at sightings. Whether you are out on a walk or a game drive, chances are that you won’t see or hear any other vehicles all day. No other spotlights will disturb your night drive, and the only sounds you will hear on your sundowner are those of hippos, frogs and lions.
This, more than anything, is what keeps bringing me back to Luambe. It is sometimes difficult to feel entirely immersed when visiting a popular park, no matter how beautiful it is or how spectacular the sightings. Luambe has always felt different, a perfect partner to South Luangwa. I have had plenty of memorable wildlife encounters here, too, of course – entire days spent with wild dogs, leopards in camp and countless hours within a stone’s throw of bee-eater colonies. But more than that, it is a place for breathing freely and winding down, and somewhere I always wake up feeling a deep sense of profound gratitude.