Kasungu National Park
(Entrance gate: early-18.00 daily, USD10 for international visitors, USD7 for international residents, USD1 for Malawians per 24hrs, and free entry for accompanied children under 12. Daily fee for private vehicles USD3 to USD15 depending on weight)
Kasungu National Park is the closest national park to Lilongwe, and Malawi’s second largest park at 2,316 sq km (1250sq miles). It lies at approximately 1000m above sea level on average. The park protects an area of Brachystegia woodland along the Zambian border west of Kasungu Town. It was established as a forest reserve in 1922, designated a wildlife reserve in 1930 and granted full national park status in 1970.
The landscape consists of miombo woodland and grassy river channels known as dambos. A number of rivers flow through the park and the most important of which are the Dwanga and the Lingadzi. They are the main water sources that support its ecosystem. Especially in the hot and dry season from September to November, when water levels begin to drop, forcing the animals to stay close to the park’s remaining waterholes.
Kasungu National Park also boasts several prehistoric sites, including an iron-smelling kiln, rock paintings, the remains of fortified villages. One of the most breathtaking views in Kasungu is from Black Rock, a hill to be climbed up where the whole of the park stretches endlessly before you. For climbers, Miondwe, Wang’ombe Rumen, Singwe and Chipiri Hills provide a perfect opportunity to stretch a few muscles.
At Lifupa there is a good lodge with fine camping close by. With a good map, it is possible to drive around the park without a guide. Access to the park has been greatly improved in recent years and it is relatively easy to reach from Lilongwe (approx. 100 miles/170km). Around the end of the wet season of March, the park closes for the month as tracks are washed out and become inaccessible.
Kasungu was once the most popular game viewing destination in Malawi, but poaching has reduced the number of some species of animals. General game viewing is poor by comparison with Liwonde, Majete, Nyika or Vwaza national parks.
Although it’s better to arrive without too many expectations of the wildlife, there is still wildlife to be seen. Antelopes are widespread. There is a large population of hippos in the lake at Lifupa in front of the lodge. Predators include jackal, leopards, servals and hyena, and they are most active and can be heard particularly in the evening as they roam the park. Elephants are still present, but it is said to have dropped to over 50 in 2015 owing to the increase in poaching. It is home to other animals including small herds of buffalo and zebra, sable, roan, kudus, impala and hartebeest. Recent sightings of African wild dog in the park are cause for excitement, though you’d be incredibly lucky to spot them. Rhino and lion populations that were once flourishing have been completely wiped out.
Getting there and away
Access to the park has been greatly improved in recent years and it is relatively easy to reach from Lilongwe, about 170km. The entrance gate lies 38km from Kasungu Town along the dirt S114, which is usually navigable in any vehicle. (In fact, the main danger along this road is not getting stuck so much as skidding off it) From the park entrance gate, it’s another 22km to Lifupa Conservation Lodge. Without private transport, it’s best to take a taxi or moto-taxi from Kasungu Town. Lifupa Conservation Lodge can help arrange transport as well.