Kasanka National Park – Home of the Bat Migration
A trip worth remembering into the greenest national park I have visited in Zambia to date. And this visit came during the hot season at the end of October which typically sees places in Zambia looking dry. What I have come to realise though, is that the Central Province into Luapula Province is very green and gets a good amount of rain each year.
Kasanka national park is in Central province and is approximately 6hrs drive away from the capital city Lusaka. The drive down was not problematic because of the nice roads and we took it easy listening to music and ensuring we had a cooler box full of cold drinks to keep us entertained. If you are visiting from abroad, I would recommend hiring a car and doing the drive yourself because the only other alternative for getting here is chartering a plane (yes you heard that right)! Of course, if money is not a biggie, go ahead, but it is not the most accessible option!
I have always been curious about Kasanka and what magic it offers but the opportunity had never presented itself for me to visit. But this year I knew that I needed to see the bat migration which is an amazing privilege is to witness. Every year from the end of October to mid-December 10million straw coloured fruit bats will descend into a patch of evergreen swamp forest inside the national park. Can you even begin to imagine what a marvel that is to see?! Our trip was the last weekend of October and we witnessed five to six million bats descent into the area. In hindsight I am glad we went during the period before the masses of tourists begin to arrive, because I hate crowds. It was also special witnessing the bats with only a few other people.
There are a couple of accommodation options; Wasa lodge which has the easiest accessibility to the bat viewing hides, and Luwombwa camp which is further away (and cheaper too so I would probably stay there next time depending on room type because I am fussy)! We stayed at Wasa lodge because we didn’t want to be too far away from activities and therefore have to wake up extra early in the morning (bear in mind for the morning bat viewing excursion to the BBC Hide you have to be up by 3.30am), and we wanted full board because our normal life is hectic and Luwombwa is a self-catering camp. What I learnt later from our amazing guide Marley (who is such an expert on trees and birds FYI) is that if you choose the self-catering option at Luwombwa you can hire a chef.
Accommodation costs during the bat migration at Wasa Lodge are pricey! We paid $560 for two people for two nights full board with 2 activities included. In addition to that, bear in mind you must pay $15 per person each time you go to see the bats. They do not distinguish between residents’ rates and international rates and all rates are in dollar. I asked them why and the rationale is that because the park is run by a trust and they know that the bat migration draws in the masses, this is a time for them to raise funds to run the park efficiently and to also improve and upgrade the lodges and services. Once I heard that, I felt a bit better because as a Zambian I do want to contribute to the betterment of Zambian parks. We booked our trip through Ntanda Ventures Ltd who were extremely helpful with specials for other times of the year as well. You can also book directly through the Kasanka Trust website.
So, onto the accommodation – you’ve paid $560 but please do not expect luxury! The chalets are clean but basic and there is no aircon or fans because they use solar power to run the lodge. I can see that the trust is really pushing to make improvements to Wasa lodge, they’ve even just built a new chalet which is encouraging and once those improvements are done, I would happily go again.
What I loved most about Wasa was the warm hospitality from everyone in the staff, it really feels like a family and they go above and beyond for you. The food was also yummy with the chef making a great effort, and the views from the dining area are to die for! We sat on the veranda overlooking Wasa river lazily chatting, pointing at spur-winged geese and drinking champagne. It was fantastic and an extremely chilled break.
Kasanka National Park does not have big cats but does have the sitatunga which are indigenous to the area, it was interesting to see how they looked because I’d never heard of the animal before. We went out on drives to the bat hides and only managed to see kudu and various species of birds, so also go with an open mind that you won’t see a lot of animals. There are elephants in the park but because the park is so green with an abundance of water, they aren’t limited to which waterholes they can visit, thus making them more difficult to spot.
I think every Zambian should witness this at least once in their lifetimes and I would implore you all to attempt this trip. I know that prices for residents are off-putting because they charge in dollars during peak time which I think is absolutely ridiculous, but I will lobby to ensure that changes in the future. I am extremely passionate about Zambian travel and exposing it to Zambians who will then in turn hopefully set out there and visit a national park. For me, I believe it is our collective responsibility as Zambians to know what is in our national parks and how to protect it and simply to ENJOY it. It is also a great leisurely and relaxing activity that people should be exposed to as alternatives for international trips or staying in their hometowns.