"The antithesis of a desert, the Zambezi Region is the enigmatic cap of Namibia where four major African rivers converge on the northern border. It is a wetland ecosystem bursting with wildlife you’ll find nowhere else in the country"
Formerly known as the Caprivi Strip, Namibia’s Zambezi Region is a wetland paradise full of unique birdlife and home to some of the rarer land mammals, like the elusive sitatunga. It’s the north-eastern-most territory of the country, reaching out like a 450-kilometre-long arm between Botswana in the south and Angola and Zambia in the north. At its easternmost tip is Kasane and just beyond that, Victoria Falls, so falls right into southern Africa’s most popular safari hub, yet it remains blissfully uncrowded. It is a mishmash of rivers and islands and there are a number of national parks protecting the unique habitat and water adapted species that call it home.
You can explore the Zambezi Region in combination with other northern Namibia destinations, like Damaraland and Etosha National Park. It is the total antithesis of the desert, which makes up the rest of Namibia, so seeing it unveil itself after thousands of kilometres of dust and sand is quite the mind-boggle. Of course, where there’s water, there is life, so expect to see an explosion of creatures, great and small. Elephant, buffalo, hippo, and crocodile are some of the major residents of the area, and the plentiful antelope population naturally means there are predators in their wake. But this is not a place frequented like the Okavango Delta – it is never crowded because it is off the beaten track, which is one of the reasons we love it.
Rivers of the Zambezi Region
The maze of islands and channels that make up the Zambezi Region can be attributed to four major rivers: the Cuando, Kubango, Zambezi, and Chobe. This network of water systems contributes to the immense concentration of wildlife here and has sustained the lives of the people of the Zambezi for thousands of years. Here’s a brief breakdown of these four rivers, which you will encounter in the national parks of the Zambezi Region:
The Cuando and Kubango rivers start in Angola and descend to the Caprivi Strip and then Botswana. You’ll see the Cuando written as Kwando, too, which is what it is known as in Namibia. The same goes for the Kubango River, which is more commonly referred to as the Kavango in Namibia. The Kwando filters into Botswana’s Linyanti Swamp and when it is in full flood, it feeds the Chobe River, which in turn joins the great Zambezi River. The Kavango descends into Botswana’s famous Okavango Delta, where it meets the Kalahari Desert and sustains an enormous diversity of animal life. So, you can see how all these waterways are interconnected.
The famous Chobe River runs along the southern border of the Caprivi Strip between Botswana and Namibia, and the Zambezi River runs along the northern border of the Strip between Namibia and Zambia. The easternmost tip of the Caprivi Strip arrives in the small Zambian town of Kazungula and this is where the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers meet. This little border town is also the meeting point of Namibia from the west, Botswana from the south, Zambia from the north, and Zimbabwe from the east.
Khaudum National Park
Here’s one for the real 4×4 adventure seekers! Khaudum borders Botswana, on the far western end of the Caprivi, and it is an entire area of Kalahari sandveld. Sand is one word we could use to describe this wild and largely forgotten national park, and self-drivers shouldn’t attempt it unless they have experience. It really is a remote wilderness area, far off the beaten track, so it is (blissfully) quiet, but that often means wildlife is skittish.
Many people are put off visiting Khaudum because it is so rough and there isn’t much in terms of vehicle support, plus, you aren’t likely to be rewarded with up close wildlife encounters.
There are plenty of elephants and an incredible diversity of species which use this unfenced park as a migration corridor between the Okavango Delta in the east and the Cubango River in Angola. Namibia’s legendary desert lion expert, Dr Philip Stander, started his research in the wild Khaudum before moving westwards to northern Damaraland.
The appeal is in the “wildness” and the feeling of experiencing such an unvisited part of rugged Africa. Khaudum campsite has received a good revamp recently and there are two reasonably comfortable accommodations just outside the park entrances.
Mahango Game Reserve
The Mahango Game Reserve forms part of the Bwabwata National Park and is the first protected area you’ll encounter if you explore the strip from west to east. Geographically, Mahango is located at the start of the Okavango panhandle, which extends into Botswana and feeds the Okavango Delta.
There’s very little in the way of infrastructure. In fact, there are just two roads and only one of those – running along the Kavango River – is suitable for a 2WD. If you’re adventuring on road in Namibia, you should opt for a 4WD anyway, just so you don’t eliminate some of the less accessible (and more exciting) areas.
Mahango is earmarked as an Important Birding Area according to BirdLife International, so comes highly recommended to our Twitcher community. It is known for its baobab trees and it’s just 15km from Popa Falls, which is the region’s most famous attraction.
Divava Okavango Resort & Spa will give you the pool-with-a-view and outdoor shower vibes you want at a location like this. There is no overnight accommodation in the reserve itself but take a nice picnic and enjoy it in a shady spot along the river to make a day trip out of it.
Bwabwata National Park
At over 6000 square kilometres, Bwabwata is the largest park in the Zambezi Region and is indeed the icon of the safari experience in this part of Namibia. It is a critical part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which links Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana and is an important wildlife corridor. Wild dogs in particular are a special sighting here, where they have established a stronghold thanks to the work of conservation groups, like the Kwando Carnivore Project, which focuses its human-wildlife conflict mitigation here.
While the Zambezi Region has pristine natural areas, it is also the home of the Caprivian people. Travelling through the area by road, you can expect to meet plenty of locals and their domestic animals along the main road. It’s an important part of the cultural landscape of Namibia.
Bwabwata has come a long way and it continues to impress those who discover it. It benefits from the presence of the Kwando River in the west and the Okavango River in the east and supports an impressive array of free-roaming wildlife. During the dry season, elephants in particular are drawn to the rivers, and naturally game viewing is best in winter.
Mudumu National Park
Mudumu National Park occupies just over 700 square kilometres, touching sides with Botswana along the Kwando River. The river is the lifeblood of the reserve and its lagoons and tributaries feed a whole ecosystem of plant and animal life in the area.
It’s super basic in terms of safari infrastructure – which is something you should expect throughout the Zambezi Region – but the appeal is in the lack of other tourists and the authenticity of an African experience. There are only two permanent accommodations in the park, and both are well maintained, awesomely located in the bush, and equipped to give you comfort, but not luxury.
Mudumu is another “must” for birdwatchers, particularly during summer when the migrants have returned. This time of year is a challenge in tropical parts of Africa like the Zambezi Region because of the oppressive heat, humidity, insects, and rainfall, but if you’re here to tick off a chunk of the 430-odd bird species, that shouldn’t bother you!
Special sightings at Mudumu include sitatunga and the spotted-necked otter in the waterways and lagoons. There is no shortage of elephant and hippo, of course, but the presence of predators might be heard more than seen. There are a lot of villages around the national park and a professional cultural guide can take you to the nice places to meet some of the locals and buy their souvenirs if you’d like.
Nkasa Lupala National Park
Perhaps the most rugged, yet elite in terms of safari experience, Nkasa Lupala National Park is a gem of the Zambezi Region. It is most comparable, visually, to the Okavango Delta. An intricate maze of the Kwando-Linyanti river system, this small national park is in the southernmost region of the Caprivi Strip with Botswana’s Linyanti swamps across the unmarked border.
Elephant, puku, red lechwe, buffalo, hippo are among the many different wetland species supported by this habitat, but anyone visiting the Zambezi Region should know that it’s far less commercialised than Botswana and the animals are wilder and less habituated. The approach to vehicle-based safaris and walking safaris here is to immerse yourself in the natural world, not to create encounters with sought after species. Adrenalin pumping, up-close meetings with Africa’s Big Five is better found in the likes of Zambia, Zimbabwe or South Africa.
Katima Mulilo is the capital city of the Zambezi Region and is where you’ll go to stock up on supplies if you’re on a self-drive adventure. Located on the Zambezi River and on the border of Zambia at the eastern end of the strip, it’s the biggest little city around, so make the most of it, but bear in mind it’s not really developed for tourism. Rundu, which is the westernmost supply point is 500km away and what you’ll find in between won’t offer much.
While the town itself might only be useful for things like fuel and groceries, its location on the Zambezi River means that natural attractions are not far away. There are one or two nice tented lodges and a houseboat to stay at and enjoy tranquil river front views, wandering wildlife and boating and fishing activities.
A point of interest for our birdwatchers is that in 2016 a pair of yellow-throated leaf-loves was spotted just outside Katima, which is about 200km south of the southern boundary of their range!
Chobe Kasika Conservancy
All the way at the eastern tip of the Zambezi Region, just a stone’s throw from Kasane is the Chobe Kasika Conservancy – the floodplain between the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers before the two rivers meet at Kazungula. Kind of a big deal on the southern African landscape!
Chobe Water Villas is our accommodation of choice here and it’s pretty exceptional. You’re unlikely to find real luxury throughout the Zambezi Region, but this place has all the bells and whistles, so enjoy! Make the most of sunset cruises on the Chobe River, look out for African skimmers, carmine bee-eaters and tons of wading birds, plus, of course, all the large wetland mammals and river reptiles.
Chobe National Park it literally across the river from Kasika and safari excursions into Botswana territory are offered but require you to go through immigration. It’s all smooth sailing and a part of the process, so don’t be put off. This is where Namibia meets Botswana in a premier wilderness location. It’s the crown of the Caprivi.
Unlike the rest of Namibia, the Zambezi Region gets rain! Between December and February, it can bucket down properly in the form of afternoon thundershowers, so while we love the rain, it can ruin a boat cruise or a fishing excursion – plan accordingly.
When to Go
= Best = Good = Mixed
Why we like it
Excellent place of water-based activities like boat cruises and tiger fishing.
A prime destination for birders with habitat for some of southern Africa’s most sought-after species.
The only place you’ll see hippo, buffalo, and crocodile in Namibia.
Remote and off the beaten track, so very low tourist density.
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