Kafue National Park in Zambia

This is Zambia’s oldest park and by far the largest. It was established as a game reserve in 1924 and became an official national park in 1950. The park offers african wilderness with exciting wildlife safaris, incredible birding and fishing opportunities. It is home to over 55 different species of animals and over 400 species of birds. Ranging from established lodges which offer luxury to budget safari accommodation.

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The park is spread over 22,400 square kilometres making it the second largest national park in the world, stretching over 3 provinces(North Western, Central and Southern Province) The park boasts 55 large mammal species including 20 antelope, 6 cats and 491 bird species.
  • A variety of wildlife
  • open from June and July through to November
  • Largest national park in Zambia

The rivers and the dambos in Kafue National Park make superb birding experiences whilst the Kafue and Lunga Rivers offer superb fishing opportunities, especially good bream, barbel and freshwater pike.

Ecology and habitats

Most of the park lies in the central zambezian miombo woodlands characterised by savannah grasslands with miombo tree species which grow thickly in some patches. There are also small dambos (grasslands which become marshy in the rainy season) interspersed among the trees. In the south there are stony hills and rocky outcrops where the sparser zambezian and mopane woodlands take over. Here mopane trees which have adapted to hotter drier conditions replace miombo vegetation. A thin belt of evergreen forest lines the banks of the Kafue River, which has been dammed just outside the park at Itezhi-Tezhi, forming a reservoir within the park.

Some would argue that the jewel in Kafue’s crown is the zambezian flooded grasslands in the north which includes the Busanga Swamps and plains. These support large herds of herbivores and their predators as well as rich birdife. In the dry season the animals keep close to the swamps and marshy creeks and are easily seen. Ngoma in the south is the headquarters of the park but this area together with the Nanzhila Plains are less visited and less developed as more lodges are established in the north.

Wildlife

The northern section of the park is the home of the astounding Busanga Plains. The annual floods bring with them tens of thousands of grazing animals. Zebra, fill the landscape. Lechwe, sitatunga and hippo thrive in both the seasonally inundated plains and year-round swamps. Large prides of lion, solitary leopards and cheetahs are prime predators. There is also a host of smaller carnivores from the side-striped jackal, civet, genet and various types of mongoose. In April, when the floods recede, fresh grass attracts thousands of grazing animals and their predators are never far behind.

In the south of the park there is the wilderness with it’s thick trees and lush dambos and an open area known as the Nanzhila Plains. This forms great spaces for Zambian wildlife with its grassland and extra large termite mounds. Lake Itezhi Tezhi, down south, is a popular spot for hippos and the scraggy drowned trees on the dam shoreline provide roosting and breeding sites for water birds such as cormorants and the African fish eagle.

Of special interest note that Kafue National Park is home to more antelope species than any other park in existence and sightings of the majestic sable antelope are common.

Bird watching

Of special note are the wattled crane, purple crested Lories and Pel’s fishing owl that are found here. Birding habitats include vast flood plains, broadleaved woodland (mopane and miombo), open water and riverine areas.

Viewing Zambian wildlife on safari

In the early morning and late afternoon game drives are a key feature on the Zambia safari activity list. Kafue National Park offers particularly good night game drives and walking safaris come highly recommended. Walking safaris offer a great way to get up close and personal with game if you dare (remember to stay close to your guide). Scenic game drives through the park give you the opportunity to absorb the beauty of the very wild Kafue National Park.

When to travel

Due to seasonal flooding in the North of the Kafue National Park, lodges and camps tend to be. In the Southern half of the park, accommodation is available all year round, although the rainy season can make access difficult whilst thick vegetation can make wildlife difficult to spot. The dry season is best for experiencing wildlife but the green season is a wonderful and calming display of new growth.

Getting there

  • Most visitors take a scheduled charter flight to Kafue usually from Livingstone or Lusaka. This is by far the easiest and most comfortable way to travel.
  • If you are driving from Lusaka to the northern camps such as Hippo Camp, McBride’s or Lunga Cabins, take the road to Mumbwa and then the northern road out of Mumbwa.
  • To reach the southern section of the park, continue through Mumbwa on the main road. 66 kilometres from Mumbwa is a left turning to Itezhi Tezhi Dam and the southern lodges.
  • To reach the Busanga plains and nearby camps, take the road that goes through the park until you reach the Kafue River Bridge. Shortly after the bridge is a gate on the northern side which leads to Kafwala and Lufupa camps.
  • From the west, take the Mongu-Lusaka road which dissects the park.
  • From the north, coming from the Copperbelt, take the road to Solwezi and then to Kasempa. Here a reasonable graded track for 98 kilometres will take you to the Lunga Pontoon. To reach the northern Kafue gate, take the left turning 16 kilometres before the pontoon.
  • From Livingstone travel to Kalomo on the road to Lusaka and then turn left. Shortly after this take a left turn towards Ndundu Mwense gate at the southern edge of the park.
  • Note that a 4×4 is recommended for most of these routes and be aware of seasonal road closures. You will be driving through areas where wildlife has right of way so travel carefully, equipped and with as much knowledge as possible. Most camps will arrange road travel for you.