​Expert Reviews – Bangweulu Wetlands

Sort By: Most helpful Rating 1-7 of 7 Reviews
Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: October

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

3 people found this review helpful.

Where water meets the sky
Overall rating
3/5

Bangweulu means ‘Where water meets the sky’. A lovely description of this extraordinary wetland area, home of one of Africa’s most iconic birds, the shoebill. The only way to get to the heart of the wetland is by mokoro – wooden dugout canoe; you just sit back and take it all in while your guide poles you silently through the reeds. You’ll see lots of other birds too in this watery wonderland, including wattled crane, goliath heron, blue-breasted bee-eater and maybe a black heron using its wings in a unique technique to create a shadow-casting canopy when fishing.

Contrary to the diversity of the birds, there isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to mammals. I was mainly interested in seeing the endemic black lechwe and I wasn’t disappointed. Even before reaching the wetland, I saw thousands of them on the floodplains. These gracious antelope are adapted to marshy conditions and seeing them run at full speed through deep water is a phenomenal sight. This is also prime habitat for the sitatunga, a smaller and much more secretive water-loving antelope. African Parks has recently re-introduced several cheetahs to the wetlands and I can only imagine how exciting it will be to watch these sleek cats hunting on the open floodplain.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Winter

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

2 people found this review helpful.

Home to the shoebill
Overall rating
4/5

One of Africa’s most important wetlands, this vast mosaic of lagoons, papyrus-fringed channels, seasonal floodplains and wooded islands stretches over some 10,000km², running south from Lake Bangweulu. It differs from many protected areas in Africa insofar as it comprises a network of community lands, all of which is overseen by a respected NGO called African Parks. As a result, large numbers of local people still live in the wetlands, legally harvesting it for fish, honey and agricultural projects, and tourist development and conservation are managed in collaboration and consultation with local communities.

The southern floodplains of Bangweulu can be explored in a 4x4 during the Dry season. The most prolific large mammal here is the black lechwe, the most handsome of the three extant subspecies of this semi-aquatic antelope. Although the black lechwe’s range is restricted to Bangweulu, it is locally very common, and we saw several herds numbering 100-plus individuals. Other large mammals present in Bangweulu include elephant, buffalo, hippo, zebra, tsessebe, and roan and sable antelope, but we didn’t see any of them, and frankly they are very unlikely to be encountered on a casual visit. Cheetahs have been reintroduced, and since they are radio-collared, they are quite likely to be seen if you ask the rangers for coordinates.

The main attraction of Bangweulu is its prolific birdlife. It is known particularly for hosting Africa’s most southerly population of the shoebill, a bizarre avian heavyweight notable for its massive clog-shaped beak and eerie gray feathering. Bangweulu is estimated to support around 500 shoebills (around 10% of the global population of this vulnerable species), but they tend to retreat deep into the swamps during the Dry season, and are far more likely to be seen when the water is at its highest, from around January to June.

Although we took a dugout trip into the swamp, we were there at the wrong time of year for shoebills. All the same, the birding was highly impressive, and in addition to large flocks of common aquatic birds, we saw several localized species, notably blue-breasted bee-eater, swamp flycatcher, western yellow wagtail, Holub’s golden weaver and Katanga masked weaver.

Expert
Nana Luckham   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: June

Nana is a travel writer and author of multiple guidebooks, including the Lonely Planet guides to Africa, Zambia & Malawi and South Africa.

1 person found this review helpful.

Watery wilderness with endless views
Overall rating
3/5

A massive wetland area of lagoons, floodplains, and reed islands adjacent to Kasanka National Park, Bangweulu is the place to come to experience exquisite birdlife, including the rare Shoebill stork, in absolute peace.

Hippos and crocodiles lurk in the waters here, and another major attraction is the semi-aquatic black lechwe – there are an estimated 100,000 in the swamps, and on my last visit I saw an enormous herd of the nimble antelopes darting across on the floodplains.

Shoebill Island Camp, a collection of safari tents, is the place to stay. It takes a huge effort to get here but I found the endless horizons and stunning walks over the reedbeds to be well worth the trip.

Expert
Brian Jackman   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: July

Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.

1 person found this review helpful.

In the last footsteps of Livingstone
Overall rating
3/5

Bangweulu – “the place where the earth meets the sky” – is the deep and secret heart of Africa. It is also steeped in the history of David Livingstone, who died here in 1873 after seven years searching for the source of the Nile. Today Bangweulu’s wildlife is the magnet that lures visitors to these remote wetlands in northwest Zambia. Herds of black lechwe, an antelope you won't see anywhere else in Africa, graze in huge numbers among the termite mounds of the Chimbwi floodplains, together with reedbuck, oribi and tsessebe. Flocks of cranes, storks, pratincoles and pelicans fill the skies in numbers beyond counting. But to spot Bangweulu’s most iconic denizens you must press on into the great fen itself – 2,500 square miles of deltas, papyrus and clear water channels. Only then will you spot the rare, swamp-dwelling sitatunga antelope, and the ghostly grey shoebill stork that sits at the top of every bird-watcher’s wish list.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: May

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

Sunrises, shoebills and striking black lechwe
Overall rating
3/5

Bangweulu grows on you the longer you’re here. At first, it seems pleasant enough, a flat region with waterways, plains and fishermen’s reed huts. But stay a while and you’ll feel its soul. These wetlands are characterized by lakes and water levels that shrink or swell up to 20km between seasons. The sunrises are spectacular, like sky on fire, mirrored perfectly in the water. For birders, as well as some fabulous species like wattled cranes and pelicans, the big draw is the shoebill – some 60-100 live here and the best times to see them are between April and June. I was actually greeted by one (albeit a tame, rescued one) at the manager’s house on my arrival, and then saw five in one afternoon in the Bulanda swamps. Endemic black lechwe, handsomely dark antelopes, dominate the scenery, splashing across the sodden Chimbwi plains in their thousands. There is other wildlife here too – we saw elephants, buffalo, zebra and various antelopes – but they’re not always easy to see and conservation organization African Parks is relocating several hundred animals here that will add to the wildlife experience.

Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: October/November

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

Land of the Lechwe
Overall rating
3/5

The Bangweulu wetlands are destined to become Zambia’s answer to Botswana’s Okavango Delta in the future, but there are some substantial differences at this early stage. Although Bangweulu is home to some 75,000 endemic black lechwe along with the enigmatic shoebill, it has suffered badly at the hands of poachers during the last couple of decades. Elephant and buffalo herds have been severely depleted, while lion have all been eradicated. Under the direction of enterprising African Parks Network the area is definitely on the up, but with a resident community of 90,000 fishermen living within the swamp, Bangweulu still needs to overcome some serious challenges before it’s truly worthy of being spoken about in the same breath as the Okavango Delta. It is, however, an excellent destination for avid birders and Africa aficionados looking for an off-the-beaten-track safari experience. While watching lechwe dance across the mirror-calm shallow water is mesmerising, I found that the only way to really appreciate the scale of the swamp and size of the herds was by taking a scenic flight over the wetland and its surrounding grasslands. The bird’s eye perspective is unforgettable.

Expert
Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: November

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

Enchanting waterways and ugly-sister storks
Overall rating
4/5

The soggy terrain around Lake Bangweulu, which lies in the far southeastern section of the Congo River basin in northern Zambia, is popular with water-loving birds. The prospect of seeing shoebill storks, the region’s lugubrious-looking signature species, draws determined birdwatchers to these lovely reedbeds and waterways, where there are also to flamingos, herons, kingfishers and ibis to admire.

For me, the vast herds of black lechwe are just as compelling an attraction. But while the sight of these graceful antelopes galloping though the wetlands, water flying everywhere, may be one of Zambia’s most powerful images, you really need to be in a helicopter to experience it for yourself. Overall, accessibility is a problem in Bangweulu – the swamps may be every bit as rich in biodiversity as the Okavango Delta, but in practice very few visitors get the chance to explore them.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.3/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 0
  • 4 star 2
  • 3 star 5
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
Write a User Review