Cheetah and Vultures at Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park is Zambia‘s oldest and largest national park at 2.25 million hectares (5.5 million acres); the size of Wales, UK, and twice the size of Yellowstone National Park in the USA; and is situated in central-western Zambia.

Even though it is centrally positioned, quite close to Lusaka (the capital), it has remained underdeveloped until recently. It is also only about a 2 – 3 hour drive from Livingstone (Vic Falls).

The Lunga, Lufupa, and Kafue rivers; the major watercourses that feed and drain the Park; are lined with riverine forest, and the landscape is further patterned with broad-leaved miombo woodland, floodplains, and island thickets. Lake Itezhitezhi in the south is another notable feature of the Kafue.

The northern Kafue region; is a place like no other. The northwest is dominated by the Busanga Swamps; a papyrus wetland that gives way to the vast floodplain of the Busanga Plains; a seasonally inundated grassland dotted with islands. Hot Air Balloon safaris are available in season; an incredible way to see the wildlife.

Hot Air Balloon in Kafue National Park
Hot Air Balloon in Kafue National Park

Kafue wildlife safari

The Kafue is home to more species of ungulate than any national park south of the Congo Basin. Rare and elusive antelope such as the blue and yellow-backed duiker occur in the thickets; sitatunga and lechwe in the swamps; roan, sable, and hartebeest in the miombo woodlands, the list goes on.

Mukambi Safari Lodge sable
Mukambi Safari Lodge sable

The park is regarded as one of the best places in Africa to find leopards. In certain areas and at certain times of the year; these secretive and elusive predators are frequently seen; especially on night drives (which are allowed in the Kafue); and even from afternoon boat cruises along the Kafue River in the hotter months; when leopard come down to drink.

A rarity for Zambia is the cheetah and they are only found in the west of Zambia; with Liuwa Plains and the Kafue holding the last viable populations of this rare and charismatic predator. In the Kafue; cheetahs thrive on the plains and in fact; they do very well in mixed woodland and riverine areas too; where they can be found preying on puku and impala, amongst others.

The African wild dog is a highly sought-after species for wildlife tourists; these exceptionally rare and elusive predators are not easy to find, however; the Kafue has what some might say the largest population of this species; compared to any other national park in Africa. Packs are on both sides of the Kafue River and in almost all habitat types; from dense woodland to riverine and dambo areas.

Busanga is mostly known through international wildlife documentaries; for its predator sightings, notably lion. The guides at the few safari camps situated on the plains; offer great insight into the Busanga lion prides you’ve seen on TV and the dynamics of this fascinating population.

Kafue birding

The Kafue is a birders paradise. Thanks to the outstanding array of habitat types; the plethora of bird species the Kafue houses stands at over 500 recorded species. With too many to write here; some notable ticks in the Kafue are; Pel’s Fishing Owl, Black-cheeked Lovebird, Chaplin’s Barbet (Zambia’s only endemic bird), Wattled; and Crowned Crane, African Fin-foot, Bohm’s Bee-eaters; the list goes on…

Konkamoya Lodge - Great white pelican
Konkamoya Lodge – Great white pelican

Even in and around the camps in the Kafue some outstanding birding can be had; with entertainment from beautiful Paradise Fly-catchers to any of the numerous Kingfisher species in the park; to the diminutive and iridescently colored Sunbirds. The woodlands are home to Racket-tailed Rollers, flocks of Helmetshrikes, and flitting Sooty and Arnot’s Chats. Soaring above the bush are raptors large and small, from African Hawk-eagles to the magnificent Black-chested Snake-eagles.

Over the grass plains of the Kafue come Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Lesser Kestrels, and European Hobby; all making the most of the termite hatchings before the rains. All in all, a birders paradise.

The Busanga is one of the few known breeding sites for the endangered wattled cranes, and it is not uncommon to see large aggregations of these rare birds; sometimes in mixed flocks with the iconic crowned cranes which scour the Busanga in search of food in mega-flocks.

When to visit Kafue National Park

The Kafue is wonderfully mild temperature-wise due to its altitude, averaging 1100m above sea level; therefore; it is generally cooler; compared to the Luangwa or Zambezi valley’s in October and November; and in fact, the Kafue goes sub-zero in winter (June-August) in some areas.

The best time for safaris in the Kafue National Park is in the dry season from June to October. At this time, there is low rainfall and access is easier. The days are warm and the evenings are cool. All the camps are open at this time of year; so you really can experience the Kafue from a number of sections of the park; giving you a better safari experience.

The wetter months of November through to May; called the green season; make some areas inaccessible; however;  it is a spectacular time of year and the lush greenery of the bush is something really to behold. The trick is visiting the camps that do stay open for 12 months (or as close as possible to) namely; Mukambi Lodge, Mayukuyuku, and Musekese Camp to name a few in the central/northern section of the park.

The Busanga Plains area is still strictly only accessible from (water-level dependent) from June through to the end of October; this area is a floodplain and unless you enjoy swimming then unfortunately you must visit in these months! There is an airstrip at Busanga.

How to get to Kafue National Park?

The park is well serviced by a number of all-year-round airstrips; notably at Chunga, Ngoma, and Lufupa. These enable tourists to make the most of the park in any of its ever-changing seasons. It is possible to drive to Kafue from Livingstone or Lusaka, however; this is not recommended in the wet season. It would take about 3 or so hours to reach the southern section of the park.