Busanga Plains: Zambia's Vast 'Plains of Plenty'

Our Collective

Melissa Siebert


Speak the words ‘Busanga Plains’ and superlatives start flying. ‘Secluded and special’…’raw nature’…’some of the most pristine, diverse habitat in Africa’…’the crown jewel of Kafue’…

Zambia isn’t usually a first-time safari destination – but maybe it should be. Especially its Kafue National Park, larger than Kruger, and offering in its far north the Busanga Plains – a vast, remote seasonal floodplain with grasslands punctuated by palms and sycamore fig, and rich with game. Paired with a visit to iconic Victoria Falls 640 km to the south, what could be a better introduction to Africa?

A stay at either Shumba or Busanga Bush Camp, Wilderness Safaris’ two properties in Busanga, lands you on wooded islands in the plains’ midst, with wildlife on your doorstep and infinite views from your deck. Operating just five months of the year (June-October) due to the inundation, the camps – Wilderness Safaris’ presence – have helped reduce poaching in the area, a scourge for decades. Shumba employs a former poacher, now turned to maintenance and conservation. With reduced threat, wildlife has proliferated in number and variety, offering spectacles hard to equal.

Lions are perhaps the stars of the drama on the plains. Take a swamp boat if you’re there before the sinuous blue channels dry up, and you’ll likely witness lions leaping across the water. With the abundance of ungulates there – more than 20 different species, ranging from the tiny blue duiker to hefty eland and buffalo – lion have plenty of prey. Shumba, the more luxurious of the two camps, means ‘lion’, and the local prides – whose members sport names like Killing Machine, Scarface, and the gentler Shy and Little Prince – are a feature of your visit. Many guests keep up with news of the Busanga lions long after they’ve returned home.

A day at Busanga brings many other creatures into focus. As the morning mists lift off the plains, hundreds of red lechwe and puku materialise, their shapes revealed with the dawn. Other local antelope species include the rare roan, sable, and oribi and the more common kudu. Huge hippo concentrations when the water is high look like giant stepping stones among the water lilies. There’s a wide variety of other plains game and predators; you may spot cheetah, serval, side-striped jackal, zebra, blue wildebeest, buffalo, wild dog, or elephant – though the latter often cleave to the miombo forests further south.

Birdwatching in Busanga is a thrill, with more than 500 species on hand, including impressive water birds such as the magical fish eagle and a mix of flamboyant storks, herons, and cranes.

You’ll see a vast array of game at ground level, whether in camp, on a game drive or in a swamp boat, but even more from the air. A hot-air balloon ride – offered from either of Wilderness Safaris’ Busanga camps – really delivers the plains’ incredible scale and saturation of wildlife. An unforgettable chance to ‘soar above the roar’.

You can’t leave Zambia without a trip to Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ – the largest water curtain in the world. The Zambezi River crashes down some 90 metres into a basalt gorge, sending spray into the ether, visible from miles away, a sight that has wowed travellers for centuries. Wilderness Safaris’ camp, Toka Leya, nestles nearby on the banks of the Zambezi, an oasis of calm and beauty where you can practice yoga on the river’s edge or relax in the spa, if not out cruising on the river, game viewing in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park or chasing an adrenalin rush at the Falls, whether bungee jumping, white-water rafting, or braving helicopter flips. Or not…

Many call Zambia ‘the real Africa’. Maybe ‘surreal’ is more appropriate – as it’s rare to see pristine wilderness on such a grand scale, with such concentrations of game. Busanga Plains leaves its mark, again and again. As Shumba guide Isaac Kalio wrote of his return there this year: ‘I finally arrived…my heart racing at the thought of being back in my most special place…All I could think of was the thrill of seeing the Plains at first light…’

Written by Melissa Siebert

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