Zambia’s Under-the-radar National Parks: The YZ Top Three

By Shona 07 March 2018

Pretty much located in exactly the heart of ‘Safari Africa’, Zambia is a bit of an oddity. It has some of the best game viewing in the world, yet is one of the least-visited destinations for a safari. It has some luxurious properties, thanks to Wilderness Safaris, but it is known for its adventurous offerings rather than its cosseting comforts. It is a completely landlocked country, yet its three great rivers – Kafue, the Luangwa, and the Zambezi – truly set Zambia apart.

Due to its size, Zambia can often prove difficult for the usual safari crowds to visit – it requires quite a lot of logistical planning, which is why Zambia always makes our ‘must-experience’ list for the safari aficionado and avid adventurer.

With little to no crowds, an almost never-ending list of undiscovered national parks, and a peace ranking that makes it one of the safest countries in Africa, Zambia is by far the best destination for an under-the-radar safari. Below, we’ve picked our top three parks to visit:

Kafue National Park

Although it’s the second largest in Africa and Zambia’s oldest national park, Kafue receives a fraction of the visitors that its Kenya and South Africa cousins experience in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Kruger N.P., for example. Its incredibly diverse terrain boasts whole tracts of pristine bush, seasonal floodplains, and woodland studded with huge granite hills that hold equally diverse wildlife.

However, if you are a first-time safari goer, don’t be too quick to cast off the Maasai Mara for Kafue – the latter offers superb viewing and rare experiences, but both require a little more work. In Kafue, you need patience, keen eyes, and a phenomenal guide to experience the ample rewards.

We recommend putting the checklist away and just letting the drama and beauty of Kafue unfold in front of you, whether that’s casting your eyes over the seasonal floodplains to watch lion and cheetah stalk the plentiful red lechwe and puku or cruising down the Kafue River to see hippos, crocodiles, and any of the 490 bird species that have been recorded here.

A handful of luxury and high-end lodges have discovered the advantages of this stunningly remote and wild section of Zambia, and have set up camps overlooking the grazing grounds of the vast Busanga Plains in the far north-east corner of the park. In particular, we love the six tents at Shumba Camp. Raised on wooden platforms, this is by far one of Zambia’s most opulent lodges, featuring en-suite indoor and outdoor showers, lovely views, and activities such as traditional game drives, night drives, walking safaris, and even hot air balloon safaris. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to embrace Zambia’s more intrepid side, go with Busanga Bush Camp, a no-frills four-tented camp with real character, a thrilling predator-rich location, and unparalleled photographic opportunities when the mist rises off the floodplains in the morning.

North Luangwa National Park

The lifeblood of the Luangwa Valley, the Luangwa River gives life to over 800 kilometres of wilderness, flowing from northern Zambia to join the mighty Zambezi at the convergence on the borders of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. It connects all three national parks in the valley, so that North Luangwa, Luambe, and South Luangwa all have the hippo-strewn river as their chief boundary. Although North Luangwa has similar landscape to its southern counterparts, it is a world away in terms of offering a wild and totally secluded safari.

Almost completely untouched, North Luangwa is one of the few parks in Africa where game viewing is carried out just about exclusively on foot, following existing animal trails.

This is Africa at its most raw, remote, and pristine. A safari here is almost unimaginably good, rarely offered anywhere else on the continent. We highly recommend taking to the bush with your walking boots, binoculars, and sense of adventure. This is the place to get Africa’s dirt under your shoes, its drama into your soul, and its charm into your heart.

Run by the fittingly named Remote Africa, Mwaleshi Camp is the only camp in the North Luangwa that we sell. Simple, rustic, and functional rather than luxurious, Mwaleshi is undeniably a YZ favourite – there are only four reed-and-thatch chalets, which are rebuilt annually using natural materials. The en-suite bathrooms are open to the stars, the dining area is beautifully scenic with superlative views of the Mwaleshi River, and the guiding is some of the best on the continent – what more could you want in the walking-only zone of North Luangwa?

Liuwa Plain National Park

Our third favourite ‘under-the-radar’ national park in Zambia is located as far away from North Luangwa as possible, and is situated next to the unexplored border of Angola. Liuwa Plain National Park was designated a game reserve by King Lewanika in the nineteenth century. One of the earliest protected areas in Africa, it became a national park in 1972.

This park is a sea of ancient golden grassland and is completely dominated by seasonally flooded grassy plains. Each year, Liuwa Plain bears witness to the pageant that is Africa’s second-largest wildebeest migration – as the park becomes flooded in the north, the wildebeest are driven out of the northern woodlands and into the southern open plains. We recommend you visit between late October and mid-July for a good sighting.

A few reasons why this park is seldom visited are its far-flung location, its seasonal flooding and Kalahari-like environment, and its up-until-now limited choice of accommodation. Although it covers an area of 2,236 square kilometres, there were no permanent camps until 2017. Putting Liuwa Plain on the luxury safari map, Norman Carr Safaris’ King Lewanika Lodge is an exceptional new camp with canvas walls, expansive decking that overlooks the plains, and award-winning guides that can take guests on traditional game drives, walking safaris, boating excursions, and canoeing trips. So if extreme isolation and remoteness appeal to you, look no further than a stay with King Lewanika!