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Kafue

Kafue

Kafue National Park remains largely unexplored and we aim to put that right!  It’s a hidden gem of a wilderness, tantalisingly waiting to be discovered by both safari connoisseurs and first timers.

Just a two hour drive from Livingstone, Kafue is Zambia’s largest National Park with a hugely varying landscape including the Kafue River, Lake Itezhi Tezhi, open plains, grassy dambos and miombo woodland.   

Excellent small, owner-run bush camps are dotted along the river and in the plains. Knowledgeable guides can tailor such things as aardvark excursions at 2 am if you are up for it!  Even make time for a visit to the David Shephard Elephant Orphanage or for an insight into the locals daily lives, make a visit to a nearby village.  It’s well worth exploring different parts of the park too during your visit.  The varied terrain means that a huge diversity and number of animals inhabit Kafue.  It is said that there are 150 different mammals and at least 470 bird species!

Such variety of wildlife and habitat makes Kafue a magnificent safari destination, whether on a classic fly-in safari to the Busanga Plains in the north or by taking a road safari in a 4×4 vehicle; an excellent and the most comprehensive way of exploring both north and south regions.   We urge you to go!  You will leave Kafue feeling that you have experienced a truly exclusive safari.

 

at a glance

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Introduction

Located in the centre of Western Zambia, Kafue is the largest of Zambia’s national parks. Covering over 22,000 km², the park is a huge and magical pristine wilderness. Nicknamed ‘the Wilderness Adventure Park’, Kafue is an underdeveloped and largely unexplored expanse with a great regional diversity of wildlife. Biodiversity is extensive, with the best game viewing in the Busanga plains. The region receives 15% of South Luangwa’s tourists. The dominant feature of the park is the Kafue River which is full of life and inundated with hippos and crocodiles along the eastern boundary of the park.

Despite low annual rainfall, Kafue’s vegetation is varied. With over 750 woody species recorded, the park shows great regional variation as you travel from north to south. Although largely flat, the park has an interesting range of ecosystems, from swamps in the north, to grasslands and woodlands in the south.

Renowned for prolific animal and bird life, 80% of Zambia’s mammalian species are represented in the park, with more species of antelope recorded than any other Zambian park. The Kafue River and tributaries are magnets for hippos and crocodiles along with water monitors and water-loving birds. All the main carnivores are present with one of Africa’s best leopard populations in forested areas in addition to Zambia’s only cheetah population on grasslands. Elephant sightings are more prominent further south, whereas giraffe and rhino are absent from the park. The park is home to typical nightlife species including porcupines and mongooses. With 494 bird species recorded in the park, birding is exceptional particularly out on the floodplains and near rivers. Zambia’s national emblem, the fish eagle, is dominant throughout the park as are purple crested lourie and Pel’s fishing owl. Sandy river banks provide nesting sites for Bee Eaters and sheltered ledges and beaches favour otters.

With its variety of environments, visitors can enjoy walking safaris, sunset boat cruises, drives in open 4WD’s, gentle canoe trips, motor boating on the Kafue river and night drives in search of leopard in addition to visits to nearby villages and traditional fishing. For an unusual and unique opportunity, balloon safaris over the Busanga Plains add variety.

The North – Busanga Swamps and Plains

The jewel in the crown is the flooded grasslands of the Busanga swamps and plains in the north. This is Kafue’s prime viewing destination and is situated at the confluence of the Lufupa and Kafue Rivers which support huge herds of herbivores and predators. Animals are spotted easiest during the dry season as they remain close to the swamps and marshy creeks. The swamps located in the far north are permanently flooded which attracts Kafue’s sole population of sitatunya.

The slightly undulating plateau of the Busanga Plains consisting of Kalahari woodland and grassland plains veined by rivers and dotted with photogenic islands of wild date palms becomes a wildlife haven by mid-July after the rains. Great expanses of grazing and lush water meadows suit large herds of Lechwe and puku along with smaller populations of zebra, blue wildebeest and Zambia’s highest densities of oribi. Rare for the rest of Zambia, yet common here are the famous black mane tree climbing lions which feature in the branches of wild date palms. This is also one of the best places in Zambia for wild dog along with unusually high populations of nocturnal pangolins. The floodplains attract armadas of pelicans along with a full range of herons, storks, Egyptian geese in their thousands and large kori bustards. Ross’s turaco and olive woodpeckers thrive amongst the riverine vegetation. At night, spotlights reveal the rare Dikktops and churring Nightjars, making this area a good spot for birdwatchers.

Central Regions

Miombo and Kalahari woodland dotted with baobabs dominate this area, making plains game harder to see. Game is patchy but thrives in areas around lodges and large predators, particularly cheetah roaming the grasslands, are sighted. The mixed bush environment attracts rich populations of impala and bushbuck around the Puku Pan and Kaingu Safari Lodge area. Partially submerged trees provide ideal perches for many waterbirds including cormorants and spoonbills which are often spotted near the Itezhi Tezhi Dam. Endemic birds include pale billed hornbill, miombo pied barbet and grey tit. The central and southern areas of Kafue are home to the highest densities of elephant of the park, particularly in the Chunga area.

Southern Regions – Ngoma and The Nanzhila Plains

This region is largely floodplain dotted with islands of vegetation and beautiful groves of cathedral mopane. Baobabs and ebony trees are prominent land marks interspersed with munga and mopane woodland which attracts eland, roan and sable antelope along with waterbuck, kudu and impala. Game viewing is more difficult than the north due to thick woodlands. Blackcheeked lovebirds are easier to spot here and are near endemic to Southern Zambia. Small granite and sandstone hills provide contrast to the northern landscape.

When To Visit

Many parts of the Park are inaccessible during the summer months of November-April, such as the Busanga Plains which are flooded. Therefore the dry season (June to October) is best as driving is easier and game is easier to see. At an altitude of 4000ft, temperatures throughout the park are mild compared to the Lower Zambezi and Luangwa Valleys.

January to April – The green season is an unusual time to visit the park as game has dispersed away from the main river system and visibility is poor as grasses have grown. Game viewing is most challenging. The bush however is lush and vibrant as a result of the rains and temperatures are around 28°C.  There is an abundance of insects at this time. The waters of the Busanga swamps spill over to flood the plains in late April, resulting in many of the being closed at this time.

May and June – This shoulder season between the green and dry season is drier with daytime temperatures around 25°C. Gameviewing becomes easier as foliage dies back. The Busanga plains are heavily flooded which can limit access for safari vehicles. Birdlife is at its peak as birds begin to flock in. In May, game drives and boating take advantage of game moving towards the Lufupa and Kafue banks. Predator viewing is good. By June, the air is crisp and clear and thousands of Red Lechwe, puku, Defassa waterbuck, zebra and buffalo move back to river areas and the wide open plains which are great attractions. Hippo pods grow in size as water levels drop and predator viewing is good. Most safari lodges open by May and discounts are available.

July to October – By July the cold mornings warm a little.  Sable take up residence on the dambos, grazing on the short green grass shoots.  This main dry season is the traditional time to visit the park. With virtually no rainfall, temperatures are around 26°C in July and slowly rise to 40°C in October.

August – can be a windy month with water levels continuing to drop. The Kafue River and tributaries are the only significant sources of drinking water so the majority of game migrates to such areas. The Busanga Plains are inundated with water from the overflowing swamps, providing exceptionally nutritious grazing prospects and water for drinking, making this area a wildlife haven by Mid-July. However, access is restricted until late July. This is the easiest game viewing time and largely the only time that the Busanga Plains are accessible. In July wild dogs will start to den.  All lodges are open during this period however with peak prices. By October nights are cool offering a restful night’s sleep, but by midday temperatures rise.  Water is becoming a premium and antelope such as impala drop their young as the early rains begin.  Wild dogs have left the den by now.

November and December – Early November is extremely hot (40°C) and the first summer showers arrive. Game starts to fall away from dry season densities, however viewing is still good. Boat trips, including canoeing on the Kafue and walking safaris are still possible in the early rains when the grass is not too high. Migratory birds, such as European beeaters and swallows begin to arrive, making birding fantastic. This is peak antelope birthing season. Many seasonal camps begin to close in November, however many remain open up to the end of December.

Temperature & Rainfall

Kafue Temperature & Rainfall Charts

Kafue Highlights

Walking Safaris

Walking Safaris

Walking Safaris

Seasoned safari travellers will be in their element at the independently run bush camps in Kafue ...

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Walking Safaris

Walking Safaris

Seasoned safari travellers will be in their element at the independently run bush camps in Kafue National Park. Flexibility of daily activities with emphasis on walking in the wilds. Musekese is a favourite.

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David Shepherd Elephant Orphanage

David Shepherd Elephant Orphanage

David Shepherd Elephant Orphanage

The Elephant Orphanage Project is a project of Game Rangers International, established by the David ...

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David Shepherd Elephant Orphanage

David Shepherd Elephant Orphanage

The Elephant Orphanage Project is a project of Game Rangers International, established by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation in close collaboration with the Zambia Wildlife Authority and IFAW.

The Elephant Orphanage Project’s (EOP) Lilayi Elephant Nursery on the outskirts of Lusaka is the first rehabilitation center of its kind in the Southern African region.

Rescued baby elephants undergo intensive care, with comprehensive physical examinations, dehydration treatment, and dressing of any wounds. A team of locally employed, highly trained keepers spend time with the elephants around the clock in an effort to provide stability and help with recovery from the emotional damage the elephant has suffered, taking them out for daily walks, or sitting close by their stables at night.

As soon as the calves can be weaned from milk they are moved to the Kafue National Park to join other older orphaned elephants at the EOP’s Kafue Release Facility, where they are more independent of human support and spend most of their time browsing freely in the park. 

Konkomoya Camp will take you out to visit the Elephant Orphanage project during your stay in Kafue NP to witness first hand the conservation work to raise and release orphans back into the wild.

Photo Credit: Konkamoya Camp

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Hot Air Ballooning

Hot Air Ballooning

Hot Air Ballooning

An hour long adventure starting at dawn – a hot air balloon flight over the bush is a seasonal ...

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Hot Air Ballooning

Hot Air Ballooning

An hour long adventure starting at dawn – a hot air balloon flight over the bush is a seasonal offering in the Busanga Plains.

Photo Credit: Dana Allen

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Remote & Unexplored

Remote & Unexplored

Remote & Unexplored

Within an area the size of Wales, Kafue is rich in wildlife species and variety of habitats this ...

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Remote & Unexplored

Remote & Unexplored

Within an area the size of Wales, Kafue is rich in wildlife species and variety of habitats this lesser known but hidden gem of a park has to offer.

Photo Credit: Dana Allen

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Birding

Birding

Birding

With about 500 recorded bird species in Kafue, this is a birder’s paradise. Specials include ...

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Birding

Birding

With about 500 recorded bird species in Kafue, this is a birder’s paradise. Specials include Chaplin’s Barbet and Pel’s Fishing Owl.

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Boat Safaris

Boat Safaris

Boat Safaris

Boat cruises along the unhurried Kafue river and its tributaries searching for elusive and rare ...

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Boat Safaris

Boat Safaris

Boat cruises along the unhurried Kafue river and its tributaries searching for elusive and rare birds such as the African Finfoot.

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camps & lodges

Busanga Bush Camp

Busanga Bush Camp

Busanga Bush Camp lies in the heart of the Busanga Plains, a vast mosaic of expansive, grassy seasonal floodplains that extend to the horizon. ... Read More

Konkamoya Lodge

Konkamoya Lodge

Nestled on the banks of the Iteshi Teshi lake, Konkamoya Lodge has five safari tents. Each tent is on a wooden platform raised a metre above the ... Read More

Mayukuyuku Bush Camp

Mayukuyuku Bush Camp

This rustic style bush camp built from natural materials is in Kafue National Park, overlooking the Kafue River.   The area is open ... Read More

Musekese Camp

Musekese Camp

Musekese is a small owner hosted camp located in Kafue National Park on the eastern banks of the Kafue River.   The camp is situated in a vast ... Read More

Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp

Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp

Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp is located in the southern sector of Kafue National Park in Zambia. The National Park is the 5th largest in the ... Read More

Shumba Camp

Shumba Camp

Shumba Camp is located in the centre of the Busanga Plains, home to hundreds of red lechwe, ubiquitous puku, stately roan and the diminutive ... Read More