Kafue National Park with Green Safaris

Robyn Simpson | May 15, 2024

Exploring Kafue with Ila Safari Lodge:

Situated in the heart of Zambia lies Kafue National Park, a sprawling wilderness that beckons adventurers with its untamed beauty and rich biodiversity. Far from the well-trodden tourist trails, Kafue offers a truly immersive experience for those seeking to connect with nature in its purest form.

Ila Safari Lodge’s Infinity Boma From Above.

Being the largest national park in Zambia, one of the best parts of going on safari is the rare chance of encountering another game-viewing vehicle. This is because the park is massive, spanning 22,400 square kilometres (about the size of Wales or Massachusetts), and has very few lodges and camps. Unlike other over-people-populated parks in Africa, you won’t find yourself waiting in line for a sighting. In places like Busanga Plains, there are so few camps that you might spot more lions than people.

Winding through the core of Kafue National Park, is the mighty Kafue River. This lifeline sustains a myriad of ecosystems, from lush floodplains to dense woodlands, creating a haven for an astonishing array of wildlife. 

Overlooking parts of this life-giving water is Ila Safari Lodge—a true gem in the Kafue’s crown. Ila Safari Lodge stands proudly as Green Safaris’ first-ever property. It is here that founder, Vincent Kouwenhoven, fell in love with Zambia and decided to dedicate his life to it. Ila is a representation of this commitment, as well as the group’s passion for sustainability and preservation. 

Read more about Green Safaris Conservation Foundation here.

Ila’s Floating Spa.

Wildlife Encounters & Activities in Kafue:

Ila Safari Lodge is so intertwined with the wild that guests need not travel far to get what they came for: animals, from elephants to leopards, frequent the lodge’s surroundings and are often spotted from the decks of Luxury Safari Tents, Ila Safari House, Ila’s Infinity Boma, and even, from the pool. 

Ila’s Pool Overlooking The Kafue River.

That said, Ila’s team members and qualified guides are experts in getting guests even closer to nature. For example, embark on an e-boat safari along the river’s meandering channels, where sightings of hippos, crocodiles, and myriad bird species are virtually guaranteed. As the sun dips below the horizon, the call of the African fish eagle echoes across the water, a quintessential soundtrack to this pristine wilderness. And the perfect backdrop for a sundowner on the water. Clink! 

A Sundowner Cruise On The Kafue With Ila.

For birding enthusiasts, one of the most captivating sights is the swirling cloud of colour created by the carmine bee-eaters. These stunning birds, with their vibrant plumage and graceful aerial acrobatics, are a true highlight. 

From strategically positioned perches overlooking the river, carmine bee-eaters launch themselves into the air with breathtaking agility, capturing flying insects on the wing with astonishing precision. They are particularly adept at catching bees, wasps, and other stinging insects, which they subdue by repeatedly striking them against a branch before swallowing them whole.

Carmine Bee Eaters In Action.

Kafue’s Big Game:

For guests with big game goals, Kafue is a haven. Four of Africa’s Big 5 are found here (rhino excluded). An incredibly special feature is that Kafue is home to Africa’s highest wild dog population. African wild dogs, also known as painted wolves or painted dogs, are classified as endangered. To witness them in such vast numbers, in a park not marked by tourist traffic, is a massive privilege. 

One of the most iconic residents of these parts is the Kafue elephant. Known for their impressive size and spicy demeanours, these elephants roam freely throughout the park, their presence shaping the landscape around them. Witnessing a herd of these magnificent creatures as they traverse the plains or bathe in the river is a truly unforgettable experience, highlighting the importance of conservation efforts to protect their natural habitat.

The Elephants Of Kafue.

Stargazing & Photography In Kafue:

This region is also a photographer’s dream. From grasslands to waterways, diversity reigns supreme. But, don’t forget to look up. Minimal light pollution contributes to unparalleled views of stars, best described as “out of this world”. Ila Safari Lodge has a stargazing deck atop its impressive Infinity Boma, showcasing Magellanic Clouds—two irregular dwarf galaxies visible only in the southern hemisphere. Guests not adept in stargazing can call upon Ila’s knowledgeable guides, who will impressively show them the world beyond Earth. 

Stargazing Atop Ila’s Infinity Boma.

Quick Kafue Facts:

  1. Size Matters: Kafue National Park is Zambia’s largest national park, covering an impressive 22,400 square kilometres (8,650 square miles). Its vast size encompasses a diverse range of habitats, from riverine forests and grassy plains to miombo woodlands and marshes, making it a hotspot for biodiversity. The size of the park coupled with the low density of lodges means that guests rarely see other vehicles when exploring, and queuing for sightings is never an issue. 
  2. The Mighty Kafue River: The park is named after the Kafue River, which flows through its heart. Stretching over 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles), the Kafue River is Zambia’s longest river and a lifeline for countless species of wildlife. Its meandering channels and seasonal floodplains provide vital water sources for animals and support an abundance of aquatic and birdlife.
  3. Home to the Kafue Lechwe: One of Kafue’s most iconic inhabitants is the Kafue lechwe (Kobus leche kafuensis), a subspecies of the southern lechwe antelope found nowhere else in the world.
  4. Predator Paradise: Kafue National Park is renowned for its impressive predator populations, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs. The Busanga Plains, in particular, are known for their high density of predators.
  5. Avian Wonderland: With over 500 species of birds recorded within its borders, Kafue National Park is a paradise for birdwatchers. From colourful bee-eaters and majestic fish eagles to elusive shoebills and rare wattled cranes, the park’s diverse habitats support an astonishing array of avian life.

Quick Ila Safari Lodge Facts: 

  1. Accommodations: Guests have a variety of accommodation options to choose from, including Luxury Couples Tents (sleeps 2), Luxury Family Tents (sleeps 4) and exclusive use of Ila Safari House (sleeps up to 14). 
  2. Activities: Activities include daily game drives in an e-vehicle (for silent safaris), unique bush meals, walking safaris, e-boat cruises, lunch and sunset cruises, fishing, lounging at the infinity pool, and being pampered at Ila’s floating spa (contact the reservations team for information on what’s included in your booking and what is additional). 
  3. Sustainability: Ila Safari Lodge implements various sustainable practices, including its use of electric vehicles and boats, solar power, the use of grey water, and the use of sustainable building materials such as locally grown bamboo (to combat deforestation) and bricks used from abandoned termite mounds. Single-use plastics are banned. Ila Safari Lodge was the first in Zambia to introduce electric vehicles and cruises. 
  4. Conservation & Community: Ila Safari Lodge boasts a conservation itinerary which welcomes guests to get involved in various community projects that the lodge supports, funds, or started including visiting local schools, exploring the vegetable garden, and meeting key partners like Panthera, who protect the park’s predators. 
  5. Dining: Prepare to eat well when visiting Ila, which celebrates organic produce deliciously (plenty of which is harvested from Ila’s own vegetable garden). Expect everything from hearty breakfasts in camp to fine dining dinners plus unique meals out in the bush, with stunning locations selected and set up by expert guides. 

Kafue’s Best Kept Secret: 

For those seeking a more terrestrial adventure, the Busanga Plains—Kafue’s dazzling secret— beckon with their vast open spaces and abundance of wildlife. Here, herds of antelope roam freely, pursued by cunning predators such as lions and cheetahs. 

A Walking Safari On The Busanga Plains.

Lions are a particularly special sighting here, with (now) famous prides adored for their dominant behaviour. Seeing a lioness showcase her water-hunting prowess to cubs is a spectacular scene to behold, indeed. 

Seasonal Highlights In Kafue:

As the seasons change in Kafue, so too does the landscape. During the dry season, from May to October, the vegetation thins out, making wildlife easier to spot as they gather around water sources. This is also the best time for traditional game drives, as animals congregate around permanent waterholes. 

In contrast, the wet season, from November to April, brings lush greenery and vibrant birdlife as the rains transform the landscape into a verdant paradise. It’s a time of renewal and regeneration, as the cycle of life continues unabated in this untamed wilderness.

In between seasons, guests visiting Chisa Busanga Camp are primed with the unique opportunity to witness both lion and lechwe jumping over still-sodden plains. Who said big cats won’t swim? The spectacle makes hunting all the more thrilling, with hippos and crocodiles never far from the action. 

The hippo population is so healthy here that one Green Safaris guide, Newton, once described the sheer abundance of these water-loving beasts as being akin to a great herd of buffalo depending on the planes. 

Kafue’s Most Unique Place To Stay:

The Busanga Plains is a place defined by profound peace. For this reason, at Chisa Busanga Camp, quiet synergy with nature, where you can truly unwind in this hidden-away home, is valued. To preserve this, only guests aged 12 and above are allowed. However, when guests reserve exclusive use of the camp (booking all four tents, accommodating eight people), younger travellers are joyfully welcomed.

Four iconic Nests, built on stilts and sustainably built from foraged local materials, await. Chisa is the Nyanja word for “birds nest”, and the rooms were inspired by the weaver bird nests that decorate the trees here. Sitting on a small tree-lined island, the camp uses only solar power, as do the game drive vehicles used to explore the watery dambos beyond.

Chisa’s Iconic Nest Accommodations.

Venture deeper into the heart of Kafue, and you’ll discover hidden gems such as the Ngoma Forest. This ancient woodland, with its towering trees and dappled sunlight, is home to elusive leopards and playful troops of monkeys. Take a guided walking safari through the forest, where expert trackers will reveal the secrets of this pristine ecosystem and share their intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna that call it home.

More Things To Do In Kafue:

Between breathtaking sightings, Chisa’s passionate team ensure that every moment is worthy of forever memories. Dining is taken to new heights, here, with bush meals set up on the grasslands and, even, beneath a fallen fig tree—whimsically illuminated by fairly lights. If you’re not eating and exploring, the camp is honed for deep restoration, providing a reprieve from everyday distractions. It is this, perhaps, that makes this location that much more desirable. 

Famous Fig Tree Sundowners at Chisa.

Quick Busanga Plains Facts: 

  1. Seasonal Transformation: The Busanga Plains undergo a remarkable transformation with the changing seasons. During the dry season (May to October), the plains dry up, revealing vast expanses of golden grasslands dotted with iconic sausage trees. This is the best time for game viewing, as wildlife congregates around the remaining water sources, offering incredible sightings.
  2. Predator Hotspot: As one of Africa’s predator hotspots, the Busanga Plains offer unparalleled opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to observe these apex predators in their natural habitat. Witness the drama of a lion pride on the hunt, the stealthy movements of a leopard stalking its prey, or the lightning-fast agility of a cheetah in pursuit of its next meal. 
  3. Ancient Baobab Groves: Scattered throughout the Busanga Plains are ancient baobab groves, silent sentinels that have stood witness to centuries of wildlife migrations and changing seasons. These iconic trees, with their massive trunks and gnarled branches, provide essential shade and refuge for wildlife, making them focal points for wildlife viewing and photography. 
  4. Seasonal Elephant Migrations: During the dry season, the Busanga Plains become a magnet for elephants migrating from surrounding areas in search of water and grazing. Witness the awe-inspiring sight of these majestic giants as they traverse the plains in large herds, creating iconic silhouettes against the backdrop of the golden savannah. 
  5. Birdwatcher’s Holy Grail: The Busanga Plains are a haven for birdwatchers, boasting an impressive diversity of avian species. From the rare wattled crane and African skimmer to the majestic crowned crane and secretive Pel’s fishing owl, bird enthusiasts will delight in the opportunity to spot these feathered treasures.

Quick Chisa Busanga Camp Facts:

  1. Accommodations: Guests have the unique opportunity to stay in Chisa’s iconic Nests. There are four nests, each sleeping two people. There is a Nest with a lift for those who require it. The camp can be booked for exclusive use, in which case, the minimum age requirement of 12 years old falls away. 
  2. Activities: Activities include daily game drives in an e-vehicle (for silent safaris), unique bush meals, walking safaris, birding, and lounging by the plunge pool. A highlight is Chisa’s famous fig tree sundowners. 
  3. Sustainability: Chisa Busanga Camp is operated entirely off solar power and makes use of electric game vehicles. The Nests have been built using sustainably sourced local materials and were built to blend in with nature. 
  4. Conservation & Community: Chisa Busanga is affiliated with and supports various conservation projects, including The Zambian Carnivore Program, among many others. ZCP is dedicated to conserving large carnivores and the environments in which they live, through a combination of conservation science and actions, education and capacity building. Researchers are invited to Chisa Busanga Camp so that guests can find out first-hand about carnivore conservation in Kafue and South Luangwa national parks.
  5. Romance: Chisa Busanga Camp is a highlight for guests seeking a romantic getaway or honeymoon destination. Its secreted location, small numbers of guests, and age limit cater to a truly magical and intimate time away. 
  6. Dining: Prepare to eat well when visiting Chisa, which celebrates organic produce deliciously. Expect everything from hearty bonfire breakfasts in camp to fine dining dinners. Meals can be enjoyed in the main camp or set up privately in guest rooms. Plus, unique meals out in the bush are fantastic, with stunning locations selected and set up by expert guides.

Curious About Kafue?

In Kafue, nature reigns supreme, and the rhythm of life beats to the pulse of the wild. It’s a place where time stands still, and the wonders of the natural world unfold before your eyes. So, pack your bags, leave the beaten path behind, and embark on an adventure of a lifetime in the breathtaking beauty of Kafue, Zambia’s hidden gem.

Enquire about your next Green Safaris adventure here.

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