You are planning to self drive to the Liuwa Plains National Park in Zambia. Excellent idea, by the way. I loved my stay there. However, you are not sure how to get there? Also, you have no idea what to expect in the far Western side of Zambia. This blog post will help you settle the nerves. It contains all the info you’ll need to drive to the Liuwa Plains National Park from Katima Mulilo or Mongu if you are coming from Lusaka.
After crossing the border into Zambia at Katima I commence the drive to Liuwa Plains National Park. In Katima, on the Zambia side, I couldn’t find an ATM or fuel. The fuel makes sense as it is considerably cheaper on the Namibian side. You can also buy a SIM card using cash. I exchanged Namibian dollar for Kwacha with the money changers at the border. They gave me an acceptable rate.
Once you exit the final customs checkpoint on the Zambian side, turn right and you’ll end up at T junction. If you turn right here you’ll cross the Zambezi by bridge (no charge) and head to Kazangula. If you turn left, you’ll head north on the M10 towards Sioma, Senanga & Mongu. The first council boom gate collecting council tax (ZMW50) is a few kms up the road. You paid for this at the border. Be sure to have your receipt on hand and you should pass without hassle.
My Overnight Stop
I spent my first night at the Kabula Tiger lodge. The lodge is clearly marked on the Tracks 4 Africa map and Maps.me app. There is a large sign on the main road as well. From there it is about 4-5km of bush driving before reaching the lodge. The gravel road is good and no 4×4 was required this time of the year.
I opted to camp. They have beautiful green lawns and lots of shade. The sites also have a place to braai, seating and a tap with non-potable water. There are hot communal showers, flush toilets and an area to do washing/laundry. Currently, they are charging R183pppn for camping. For some reason rates are in South African rand.
As the name suggests they offer tiger fishing. Boats and barges are available for rental at decent rates. The highlight of the lodge must be the large deck, with its impressive view of the Zambezi river. Perfect for an evening sundowner.
Ngonye Falls and Sioma Bridge
From there I drove directly to Mongu. Stopping at Ngonye falls and then Sioma bridge which takes you over the Zambezi river. About a kilometer before the Sioma bridge there is a turn off to the left that will take you to Sioma village. The falls are located on this road before you reach the actual village. There is a large sigh on the road that will show you where to turn.
From there you’ll reach the small reception building, pay the entry fees (ZMW50 for me) and take a short hike to the falls. We were unable to reach the lookout point to see the main falls due to the high levels of water. The best time to visit and view the main falls are from December.
Back to the M10, I crossed the Sioma bridge, passed through the police checkpoint and stopped at the little shop on the other side. I walked back to the bridge to take a few videos and photos of the mighty Zambezi. If you are using the M10 heading north, this is the point where you’ll cross the Zambezi river. There is a lodge as well as a few campsites in the vicinity.
The road between Katima and Senanga is in a good condition, with random potholes. It is scenic, with small villages dotted all along the road. Locals, especially on bicycles, and animals are ever present on the shoulder of the road, so be aware of your surroundings at all times.
The Senanga Roundabout
About 10km before the Senanga roundabout you’ll pass through the toll gate. It is compulsory for all vehicles, depending on size, to pay a toll. Mine was KWZ20. The road ends in a roundabout. Turning left takes you to Senanga where I found fuel and a few basic shops. I was also stopped by the police. All they checked was my TIP and let me be on my way.
Going right takes you to Mongu. At this point you’ll also start seeing the plains on the horizon and realise why it is known as the Liuwa Plains NP. There are a few very bad spots on the road, more locals and animals, and big trucks, so be cautious.
Surprised by Mongu town
After a long, but scenic drive you’ll reach Mongu the capital of Western Zambia. I was surprised by what I found in here. A small mall with a very large shoprite, hungry lion, MTN, PEP and a few more shops. I even managed to buy airtime at the shoprite using my credit card.
However, there are no notable camping available in town so I opted for a night at the Mongu Country Lodge. ZMW500 gets you an ensuite room with AC, fridge, wifi and bfast. Note that everything is very basic. They do have more expensive options.
In town they have a number of petrol stations (ZMW23.95/lt), ATMs including ABSA and Standard Chartered. You’ll also be able to buy spares and do tyres if needed. And for some reason there is a large collection of old land rovers roaming the streets.
Final Stretch to Kalabo
Finally, you’ll do extremely scenic 70km stretch to Kalabo. Note the speed limit on this section is restricted to 60km/h. Praise to the Zambians for their tenacity to build a road through and not around the floodplains. You’ll cross 26 bridges in 30kms of road. I tried counting… After the amazing views on offer from this section of road, you’ll reach a toll station (ZMW20) and from there an older road with potholes.
This road ends in a T junction, turn right and follow the road into the village of Kalabo the gateway to the Liuwa Plains NP. I stayed a few nights at the Golden Lodge. At ZMW100pppn there is nothing golden about the place 🙂 The building and rooms scream for love, attention and a coat of paint. The friendly staff as well as fridge, AC and hot showers make up for it. The ZMW150 and above rooms are ensuite.
If you stay to the right and follow the road all the way to its ends you’ll reach the Liangungu River. This is where you’ll take the ferry into the Liuwa Plains. You cannot enter this park from anywhere else.
And this is how you drive to the Liuwa Plains National Park from either the Katima Mulilo border post or Mongu.