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Liuwa – Zambia’s magical wilderness

Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park is widely touted as being the next big tourism destination for this increasingly popular southern African country, with plans to increase safari options within the park bound to give more people the chance to explore what is one of Africa’s last, true wilderness areas.

The site of the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa, Liuwa is also known for featuring in recent documentaries like “The Last Lioness” which followed the fortunes of what was reputed to be the very last lion in the park (known as “Lady Liuwa”), and the reintroduction of lions into the area.

These documentaries have helped to raise awareness of the park in the travelling world, and more and more operators are now offering Liuwa experiences, providing the perfect opportunity for safari lovers to go and find out what all the fuss is about.

Liuwa Plain National Park covers more than 3500 sq km in the western region of Zambia, close to the border with Angola. It’s a vast swathe of land, with huge wooded islands and the plain itself which gives the park its name, which is around 70 km long and 30 km wide.

The region Liuwa is known as the Barotse floodplain, and every year between December and June the Zambezi floods this region, turning it into a wetland wonderland, with huge flocks of water birds such as African spoonbills, wattled and grey crowned cranes gathering at lagoons and dambos.

More than 33,000 blue wildebeest move through the park each season, accompanied by Burchell’s zebra. And in spite of the lack of lion in the park (as these have only recently been reintroduced, having been reduced to a single lioness) there are nevertheless lots of other carnivores, including cheetah, spotted hyaena and wild dog.

To say that Liuwa is remote would be an understatement! Certainly, during the annual flood, reaching the park is something of a mission and not for the faint hearted! It can take almost two days to drive from Lusaka to the park’s entry point at Kalabo! Of course, the other way to get into the park is to go on an organised safari, in which case you would fly in from Lusaka, taking 2 hours rather than 2 days!

The reason for the difficulty in getting into the park during the flooding is that the usually narrow Zambezi, which in the dry season is around 100 m wide, becomes a massive 40 km wide stretch of  swampy water dotted with islands and huge reedbeds as it spills its contents over the Barotse floodplain.

It’s the wildness, and remoteness of Liuwa which make it so special, though, and well worth the difficulty of getting there. Just a word of warning however – whether you go for the challenge of driving into Liuwa or taking an organised safari (more preferable) then you will need a guide – there are no roads and it is very easy to get lost on the wide, open plains.

Whichever way you want to explore Liuwa, the point is to go and do so, while it is still so wonderfully wild!

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