Liuwa Plain National Park

"A land unchanged by time"

Watch a flock of cranes swirl rhythmically over a sea of wildflowers in the clear morning sun. Listen to the distant rumble of an afternoon thunderstorm gathering on the curved horizon. Take a deep breath and catch the scent of the long grass as a soft breeze whispers through it. 

Feel humbled amid the second-largest migration of wildebeest, thousands of zebra, hyenas in clans of 50 or more, a lion pride with an inspiring history, or a speeding cheetah teaching its cubs how to hunt – welcome to Liuwa Plains.

What is the history of the Liuwa Plain National Park?

Liuwa Plain National Park in Western Zambia has one of the oldest conservation histories in Africa, dating back to the 19th century when the King Lewanika of Barotseland appointed his people to be the custodians of the park and its wildlife.

They maintain that sentiment today, with an estimated 10,000 people legally living within the park – Liuwa Plain NP continues to be a prime example of how people and wildlife can co-exist and benefit in a shared landscape. 


What’s special about the Liuwa Plains? 

Apart from the stunning landscapes of the Liuwa Plains National Park with its vast open flatland crisscrossed by water holes, a visit to this part of the world provides a stunning spectacle that we can tell you about but really needs to be seen to be believed.   

Each year, Liuwa hosts the second largest wildebeest migration on the continent, numbering around 30,000 individuals – this is one of the most glorious events on the planet that offers photographic opportunities galore. 

But this was not always the case. Before African Parks assumed management of Liuwa in 2003, in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the Barotse Royal Establishment, wildebeest and zebra were in steep decline, grasslands were threatened by rice fields, and all but one lonely lioness remained, “Lady Liuwa”.

In 2008, African Parks began a series of lion reintroductions to reunite this last lioness with her kind, and thus new life began as she slowly joined a pride that grew to 10 lions. Over a similar period, eland and buffalo were also reintroduced to the park and the plains game began to increase, providing a healthy prey base for the lions, as well as for the cheetahs and hyenas.

As a result of effective law enforcement, poaching levels subsided and community land-use plans were implemented along with sustainable fish harvesting and other community projects, providing alternative livelihoods for local people. Sadly, 2017 saw the natural passing of Lady Liuwa who lived to the ripe old age of 18, but she left behind a legacy of a small but growing pride of lions, living their lives together on Liuwa’s flourishing plains. 


What animals are present in the Liuwa Plain National Park? 

Lady Liuwa may sadly no longer be with us, but her descendants are among the main attractions in Liuwa Plain. As of 2021, there were 13 lions in the park, along with roughly 20 cheetahs, over 350 hyenas, 30,000 wildebeest, 4,000 plains zebras, and 120 buffalo. 

The blue wildebeest that migrate into the park from Angola each November may not be quite as blue as you imagine, but watching huge herds travelling together is a spectacular sight. 

There is also excellent birding on offer with over 300 bird species, including plenty of pelicans, storks, and plovers that remain year-round, while each wet season brings huge numbers of migratory species into the Liuwa Plain NP. 


What is the best time to visit? 

While there’s never a bad time for a Liuwa safari, the shifting weather patterns found in this western province mean that depending on what you want to see and do there are certain periods that are better than others. 

The rainy season between November and April tends to gather in intensity after December, so there is a short window of time just before where the park bursts into life with the early rains and calves begin appearing – which also means greater opportunities to see hunting predators in action. November also tends to bring dramatic cloud formations that paint a simply astonishing backdrop to these vast plains making it perfect for photography. 

By January, the rainy season is in full swing, and parts of the park are often impassable due to flooding, which can make visits difficult. The early dry season, usually between May and July, offers the best bird-watching opportunities as they feast on fish in the receding water holes, while the later dry season from August to October sees the park slowly dry up along with much of its vegetation. But as the rains gradually appear later in this period, you’ll witness massive herds of wildebeest return to the park through the northern corridor. 


What is the Kuomboka Ceremony?  

The long wet season between January and April comes with plenty of logistical issues when it comes to moving around the park, but a visit to the Liuwa Plain NP during this period might well coincide with one of Southern Africa’s most visually stunning ceremonies. 

The Kuomboka Ceremony – which translates with wonderful directness as ‘get out of the water and onto dry ground’ – is thought to be over 300 years old and sees the Lozi King (known as the Litunga) and his entourage travel from the flooded plains to the higher situated palace in two enormous canoes. 

The ceremony, which takes place near the end of the wet season when the water levels are at their highest, is a riot of colour and absolutely should not be missed if you happen to be in the area.  


What activities are available?  

Game drives are unquestionably the main draw here as you crane your neck for a glimpse of Lady Liuwa’s lion pride, large herds of zebra, and lots of wildebeest. Night drives are also popular and offer that slightly unnerving and yet incredibly thrilling sensation of being out under the African stars in the middle of nowhere – with wild animals all around you.   

There is also a strong sense of community in and around Luiwa and it’s possible to experience cultural dancing, traditional fishing, and boating activities. 


How do I get to Liuwa?  

The Liuwa Plain National Park is situated in the western province of Zambia just over 600 km from the country’s capital Lusaka. A self-drive trip to the park is a wonderful experience, but there are certainly a few things you need to know before setting out. 

Firstly, the journey should only be attempted between June and mid-December, after which you run the risk of running into significant flooding. You will need a 4×4 and a decent amount of supplies just in case and while the journey can technically be done in a day, most people choose to break it in two with a stop either in the Kafue National Park which is closer to Lusaka, or Mongu, which is closer to Liuwa. 

If you don’t fancy the drive, don’t worry. We’ll be happy to organise transportation on your behalf and if you happen to be staying at the King Lewanika Lodge – the only lodge within the park’s boundaries – there is a complimentary 15 minutes helicopter ride that will not only get you into the park quickly but also give you a spectacular sweeping view of this fabulous location. 


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