Mainly known for the impressive Victoria Falls, Zambia has a few other secrets that will be sure to impress and surprise visitors.
One of Africa’s best-kept wildlife secrets is the Kasanka Bat Migration in northern Zambia. While the Wildebeest migration in the Kenya Masai Mara and the Tanzania Serengeti is on most safari-lovers’ bucket lists, the Kasanka bat migration in Zambia is in fact the largest migration of land mammals on Earth.
When the bats arrive from the moist, tropical forests of the Congo basin between October and December each year, the skies over Zambia’s Kasanka National Park darken with the sheer number of bats in the sky. During this time, about 10 million straw-colored fruit bats descend into a tiny patch of evergreen swamp forest.
This natural phenomenon, unique to Kasanka, lends itself to some truly astonishing birdlife sightings. The migration attracts large raptors like crowned eagles and martial eagles as well as vultures that take advantage of the easy prey available to them over this time. The crowned eagle regularly nests in the surrounding trees of the dense forest staying close to the food supply for their hungry chicks. Using their sharp eyesight, they spot their prey from kilometers away and make their move.
The park offers an incredible diversity of landscapes, from swamps to grassplains and forest. This remote and pristine wilderness area also offers a rich diversity of animal, bird and plant life, including several rare species such sitatungas, wattled cranes, Ross’ louries and blue monkeys.
Outside of the bat migration season, there are very few visitors to this park, which means that accommodations options are limited.
• Wasa Lodge, with its seven chalets overlooking the lake, enables travelers to experience the heart of Kasanka. There are plenty of unique and exciting activities on offer at Wasa Lodge. Guided walks take travelers to explore the park’s swamps, forest, and Lake Wasa. They can visit the Bat Forest, see nocturnal creatures on a night game drive and enjoy countless birding opportunities. Canoeing or boating safaris and visits to the local school and village are also available.
• In the western half of the Kasanka National Park, Luwombwa Lodge is located beside the permanent Luwombwa River, making it ideal for guided canoe trips. It’s a lovely place to stay but very rustic.
From Kasanka, travelers can visit the incredible Bangweulu Swamps. Bangweulu, meaning “where water meets the sky,” is a perfect description for these community-owned, protected wetlands. The wetlands are home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest its natural resources and who depend entirely on the richness the park provides.
Bird-watchers to Bangweulu can view the rare and prehistoric-looking shoebill as well as hundreds of other species. They can also meet members of the local communities, who migrate seasonally with the water levels and depend on the marshlands to sustain their traditional way of life, and can visit the local villages and fishing camps to see sustainable livelihood programs in action, such as traditional fishing methods and bee-keeping.
South Luangwa National Park is also only 90 minutes away by light aircraft from Kasanka, making it a perfect combination for a safari that includes the bat migration. Experts have dubbed South Luangwa one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.
Need to know for travelers:
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.
Getting to Kasanka: Most international visitors choose to fly directly into Kasanka by private charter as the park has its own airstrip. It is a about a 90-minute flight from Lusaka, an hour from Mfuwe in the Luangwa, and just 45 minutes from Ndola.
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.
Tap water in the major towns is purified and perfectly safe to drink. In the more remote areas always boil it first, except if you’re staying at a lodge or hotel where drinking water is boiled already. Bottled water is readily available in the bigger towns.
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.
The KAZA joint visa for Zambia and Zimbabwe is available at all major ports of entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe. For more information about the visa, go to https://www.zambiatourism.com/access-granted-the-new-2-for-1-kaza-univisa/.
All foreign nationals who require a visa can apply online via the e-visa facility at https://evisa.zambiaimmigration.gov.zm/#/.
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