Lower Zambezi National Park is still relatively undeveloped, it’s beauty lying in it’s wilderness state. The diversity of animals is not as wide as the other big parks, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are spectacular. Lower Zambezi National Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the whole area on both sides of the Zambezi River is a massive wildlife sanctuary.
The River’s edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe, including ebony and fig trees. Further inland is a floodplain fringed with mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn trees and huge acacias. The hills which form the backdrop to Lower Zambezi National Park are covered in broadleaf woodland.
Even though the Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4092 square kilometres, most of the game is concentrated along the valley floor. There is an escarpment along the northern end which acts as a physical barrier to most of the Park’s animal species. Enormous herds of elephant, some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the river’s edge. ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are common. The Park also hosts good populations of lion and leopard, and listen too for the ubiquitous cry of the fish eagle.
The park gently slopes from the Zambezi Escarpment down to the river, straddling two main woodland savannah ecoregions distinguished by the dominant types of tree, Miombo and Mopane: Southern Miombo woodlands on higher ground in the north, and Zambezian and Mopane woodlands on lower slopes in the south. At the edge of the river is floodplain habitat.
History of the Lower Zambezi National Park
Zambia lies landlocked between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, shaped like a butterfly and covering about 752,610 square kilometers. The Lower Zambezi National Park – located in southeastern Zambia - was declared a national park in 1983, serving as a private park of the Zambia president before that.
Because it was private for so long, the park was protected from mass tourism, thus sustaining its pristine wilderness. Due to the CITES ban on the world ivory trade and because of the presence of ZAWA teams carrying out law-enforcement patrols daily, the park and its wildlife population (especially elephants) have remained remarkably stable ever since.
Where is Lower Zambezi National Park
The Lower Zambezi National Park lies on the north bank of the Zambezi River in southeastern Zambia. Until 1983 when the area was declared a national park, the area was the private game reserve of Zambia's president.
The lower Zambezi River runs downstream from Kariba Gorge to the Mozambique border. The lower stretch of the river on the northern shoreline of the Lower Zambezi National Park is surrounded by Game Management Areas (GMA’s).
This park lies directly opposite Mana Pools National Park (which in itself is situated within the larger World Heritage Site and even larger Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve).
This part of the valley with its riverine forests, broad flood plain and woodlands in the hills towards and beyond the escarpment provide excellent habitats and the birding is spectacular year round. Access into the National Park during the green season is available but restricted. Just two camps stay open year round. Another option is to canoe the shoreline during the rainy season – late November to mid-April.
Dry season from May to October sees the wildlife congregating near the river in the dry season and everyday sightings of large, majestic Zambezi elephants are assured. Lions are also spotted frequently, as are leopard, and packs of wild dog also frequent the area. Buffalo, plains game and antelope are very common. With a birding checklist of nearly 400 species there’s no shortage of photographic opportunities.
The park itself is ringed by a much larger game management area (commonly referred to as GMA); there are no fences between the park and the GMA and both animals and people are free to roam across the whole area. The attraction of the Lower Zambezi park and its surrounding GMA is its remote location.
When to Visit Lower Zambezi National Park
The best time is mid season from June to September, but all lodges and canoeing operators are open from April to November. Royal Zambezi Lodge and Kayila Lodge is open all year. Fishing is at its best in September / October.
How to Get to Lower Zambezi National Park
The existing lodges and canoeing operators provide the best access to the Park. They all offer pick-ups from either Lusaka or Chirundu (where there is a small motel) or Kariba in Zimbabwe. The Chongwe River demarcates the western boundary of the Park and can be accessed from Chirundu along a rough road (4x4 recommended), crossing the Kafue River by pontoon just beyond Gwabi Lodge. From April is a pontoon that crosses the Zambezi from Luangwa Town to Kanyemba in Zimbabwe and to Zumbo in Mozambique. All at the Zambezi/Luangwa confluence.
Things to Do in Lower Zambezi National Park
Drifting silently in a canoe past the riverbank allows you to get surprisingly close to birds and animals without disturbing them. Nothing beats getting eye-to-eye with a drinking buffalo, or watching dainty bushbuck tiptoe towards the river’s edge. Excitement comes as you negotiate a herd of grunting hippos or hear a sudden ‘plop’ as a croc you hadn’t even noticed slips into the water nearby.
Most of the camps and lodges have canoes, so you can go out with a river guide for a few hours. Longer safaris are even more enjoyable; ask your lodge what is available.
Most lodges offer wildlife-viewing activities by boat or by safari vehicle and are not fenced. Keep in mind, however, that while theoretically on offer, most of the lodges in the Game Management Area (GMA), especially those closer to Chirundu than to Chongwe Gate, don't take their wildlife drives in the park proper.
The main entrance is at Chongwe Gate along the southwestern boundary. The southwestern sector of the park is the easiest to reach and the most scenic, and has excellent wildlife viewing, so as you might expect, it’s a popular area. As you go further into the central part of the park, the surroundings become wilder and more open and there’s more chance of having the place to yourself. Although the park is technically open all year, access is impossible in the rainy season and most lodges close down from at least mid-December to the end of February.
The elephant population was ravaged by poaching until the early 1990s, but thanks to the efforts of Conservation Lower Zambezi (www.conservationlowerzambezi.org), an organisation funded by the area's lodges and private grants, they are making a strong comeback now, with the surrounding Chiwa Game Management Area particularly dense with elephants. However, despite regular anti-poaching flights and regular ZAWA patrols, illegal hunting remains a big concern. Hence here you'll likely find elephants more on the aggressive side, so take absolute care if you're driving, especially given the road is tight.
The eastern part of the park is different in character as here the hills are close to the Zambezi and there’s virtually no flood plain. The park’s eastern boundary is the dramatic Mpata Gorge where the steep hillsides plunge straight into the river, and the only access is by boat.
The best time for tiger fishing (strictly catch and release) is September to December but it's still possible during other months. Rods, reels and even bait can be supplied by all the lodges and camps.