Kafue National Park is the oldest national park in Zambia, covering around 22,400km2. It is also the largest in Zambia and one of the vastest parks in Africa. Situated in the centre of western Zambia, it is just a three-hour drive from Lusaka.
Even though the park is in a prominent location, it remains little-known and largely untouched. However, tourists are starting to see what all the fuss is about and beginning to discover the varied habitat types and diverse wildlife of the park.
Established in 1924, the park is named after the Kafue River. The river runs through the park and stretches over three provinces: North Western, Central and Southern. Surrounding the area are eight game management areas which provide a buffer zone for the park’s wildlife.
Kafue makes a wonderfully off-beat section to a Zambian trip, or a new destination to explore for repeat visitors to the country. From the Busanga Plains in the north, where you can enjoy a hot air balloon ride to see the mass of unusual antelope, many lions and increasing elephant populations, to the wild wilderness of the south, where you can explore some of the best mobile camping and walking areas in Zambia.
Kafue is seeing an almighty push in the conservation sector. African Parks are all set to work their magic in helping out anti-poaching and species monitoring, and, the Lion Recovery Fund stepping in to help monitor the lion populations and introduce new blood.
The park accounts for approximately 33% of the country’s national park system and as you’d expect with a park of this magnitude there is a variety of activities offered ensuring that visitors can explore it from all viewpoints.
As with other parks in Zambia, game drives are the typical way to explore the park. Lodges and camps in Kafue offer guests both night and day drives – a guide will accompany your drive and show you what to look out for. The night drive provides an opportunity to see the parks, nocturnal creatures. Lodges also offer guided walks, specialist birding drives, canoeing and boating excursions.
Boating excursions and canoeing along the Kafue River offers a wonderful vantage point to view game coming to the river’s edge or encounter water birds and of course, you will be sharing the water with hippos and crocodiles. Another water based activity is fishing – where you can catch barbell, bream and pike.
One activity available at Kafue National Park which isn’t offered anywhere else is balloon flights. Between August and October, you can explore the park from an aerial perspective offering unparalleled views of the terrain and wildlife and enjoy a champagne breakfast, naturally! This is an exclusive activity and only available in the northwest section of the park.
Covering such a large range area, with a variety of habits, wildlife in Kafue is rich and diverse, making for unbeatable game sightings without the crowds. The only absentees are rhino and giraffe.
Big cats are reasonably easy to spot. Lion are relatively widespread all over the park and leopard are very common throughout the forested areas of the park. Cheetah are found all over the Kafue National Park and cannot be found in South Luangwa or Zambezi National Parks, making them a big draw for visitors. As well as cats, there are dogs. The African wild dog population in Kafue is said to be the largest population of any national park in Africa. Packs can be found of both sides of the Kafue River and in almost all habitat types.
There are populations of buffalo and elephant in the park. Sadly, much like most of Africa, elephant numbers have significantly reduced in the last 50 years due to poaching. Today’s elephant population is estimated to be 4,000 compared to 60,000 in the 1960s. However, things are beginning to improve; thanks to the hard work of park operators and Wildlife Authorities, game numbers and sightings are seeing an increase to levels not seen for many years.
An incredible 158 species of mammal have been recorded in Kafue National Park. This includes 20 different species of antelope, including the red lechwe, puku, oribi, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, roan antelope and the rarely seen sitatunga antelope.
The park is also home to more elusive and unusual species such as pangolin, bush pig, aardvark, honey badger, wildcat, civet, serval, otter, monitor lizard and many mongoose species.
With its diversity of habitats, Kafue is Zambia’s best birding destination with over 495 species recorded, roughly as much as the whole of Europe. The rivers, wetlands, floodplains and miombo woodland offer a variety of environments for different species.
The wetlands and floodplains have the full range of herons, storks and ibises, plus crowned and wattled cranes, bustards, secretary birds and geese by the thousand.
The most sought-after species are Pel’s fishing owl, the near-endemic black-cheeked lovebird, wattled and crowned crane, African fin-foot and Zambia’s only endemic bird, Chaplin’s Barbet.
Birder favourites such as bee-eaters, rollers, kingfishers, hornbills, vultures and eagles can also be sighted in the park, making it very difficult for you to put down your binoculars.
Kafue is a great birding destination year-round. However, the best time is during the wet, summer months, from November to April, when migrants are present. General wildlife viewing is best in the dry months, from July to October.
Kafue provides an extremely serene and exciting safari experience. Big game sightings are harder to come by than South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi national parks which makes sightings that much more special. You can take stunning sunset cruises along the river whilst relaxing and enjoying the scenery and feel as though you are the only people there. The remote nature of the lodges combined with the vastness of the park allows you to feel at one with nature and enjoy this beautiful wilderness exclusively.