Wildebeest migration just one of the wonders of Zambia's Liuwa Plains

A male lion in Zambia's Liuwa Plain National Park.
A male lion in Zambia's Liuwa Plain National Park. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Still largely undiscovered and untouched, Zambia's Liuwa Plains is expected to become a more popular safari destination in 2017.

The reason for the expected rise in popularity is that this remote destination in the far west of Zambia will soon become much more accessible. Proflight has announced it will be launching regular flights in April between the Zambian capital of Lusaka and Kalabo, the airstrip used for guests visiting the Liuwa Plains National Park.

The launch of the new route will coincide with Norman Carr's opening of its King Lewanika Lodge. The new lodge was named after King Lewanika of the Lozis, who proclaimed the Liuwa Plains as a protected area in the early 1880s. It will comprise just six villas with the capacity to accommodate a total of only 15 guests. Included among the villas is a two-bedroom family unit.

A photographer's dream, Liuwa is home to the second-largest wildebeest migration in Africa. Every year tens of thousands of blue wildebeest move north toward greener grazing pastures in early July. When the rains build up in late October they head southward again following the numerous pans and nutritious forage. This spectacle is as amazing as the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, but thanks to the remoteness of the area, Liuwa Plains still offers a much more intimate experience.

Besides the wildebeest migration, Liuwa boasts a huge array of wildlife, including cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, lions, elands and tsessebes. It is also a birding paradise: It is not uncommon to see millions of pratincoles and spectacular kaleidoscopes of crowned cranes and endangered wattled cranes, which start flocking at the onset of the rains.

Although traditional game drives are organized daily, a unique way to explore the park is on a walking safari. While looking for wildlife by foot, travelers will be able to fully take in the beauty of the colorful landscape of huge, honey-colored, grassy plains with its hundreds of flowers. When the park becomes completely inaccessible to vehicles during the wet season from December to April, another exceptional way to explore the area is on a canoe safari.

The region has a lot to offer culturally, as well. When the water levels rise, locals organize the Kuomboka festival, during which the king and his procession will traditionally move to the higher grounds. The festival creates a beautiful and original celebration.

When visiting the area's villages, locals love to tell guests about the legend of Mambeti and Lady Liuwa. Mambeti, who lived, died and is buried in Liuwa, was a member of the Lozi tribe and a highly revered grandmother to several existing park staff. According to local folklore, Mambeti was reincarnated as Lady Liuwa, a lioness in the park. Locals will tell you this reincarnation is the reason why the lioness spends so much time in the same woodlands area frequented by the elderly lady in her twilight years and near to where she was buried.

How to get there: The Kalabo route on Proflight can be booked on the same international ticket with Emirates, South African Airways, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and RwandaAir through the GDS. The route will be operated using a Cessna Caravan with a maximum occupancy of eight passengers. Flights will depart Lusaka on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8:15 a.m. and land at 10:45 a.m., with the return flight departing Kalabo on the same days at 11:05 a.m., landing in Lusaka at 1:35 p.m.

When to visit: The weather is generally cooler from May to July, warmer from August to October, and the rains typically occur from November to April.

Health precautions: Zambia is a high malaria area. It is recommended to take anti-malaria medications, with doctors advising to take prophylactics two weeks before arrival and continuing two weeks after leaving.
Liuwa has no history of tsetse flies, although they can be found in other parks like Kafue National Park when driving through to Mongu. Precaution should be exercised, as prevention is better than cure.

Languages spoken: English is the official language in Zambia. The local language, Lozi, is spoken in the Western Province of Zambia, where Liuwa Plains National Park is located.

Visa requirements: A passport and visa are required to enter Zambia. The passport must be valid for at least six months after the intended date of departure from Zambia and have at least two blank pages. A single-entry visa may be obtained at a port of entry for $50 and is valid for 90 days.

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