Zambia’s Best Kept Secret.
The Luapula Province could easily be defined as Zambia’s best kept tourism secret.
This province has such a picturesque landscape that holds the largest concentration of major waterfalls, wetlands, and lakes in Zambia.
The whole province is literally a water-full haven of adventure that deserves its spot in the narrative of Zambia’s tourism. Here are a few gems I have experienced in the province, and these are not even the only ones out there.
The Samfya Beach on Lake Bangweulu
Samfya lies along the highway leading to Mansa, the provincial capital of Luapula province. The small town provides an entree for visitors to enjoy the place where the water meets the sky, the Lake Bangweulu. Samfya offers fishing opportunities, access to boats that sail further into the lake, but it is best known for having one of the finest inland beaches that Central Africa has to offer.
Located about 40 kms north of Mansa lies the Mumbuluma Falls. The Mumbuluma is one of the more visitor-friendly waterfalls as it is not much of a hustle to explore because it has two successive cascades with shorter drops and shallow pools which makes for a thrilling jump, swim or even a shower of sorts under the falls.
After you leave the Mumbuluma falls and drive past the Musonda Falls heading north, you will see the Luapula river cascading almost as a series of rapids that culminate into the Mambilima falls.
The Mambilima Falls is the smallest of the falls I have seen in the Luapula province, but it is so serene and graceful.
I especially appreciated that the Mambilima does not make a big splash, but the current is still so strong as can be seen from the Luapula River flowing downstream, heading toward its mouth at Lake Mweru.
Lake Mweru lies on the northern end of the Luapula Province and forms part of the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is also the mouth of the Luapula River which originates from Lake Bangweulu and the known source of the Luvua river which flows into the DRC. Lake Mweru is rich in aquatic life with some yummy tasting fish and sightings of crocodiles and hippos much further inland. There are several islands on the lake and its banks are largely unspoiled with settlements and fishing boats dotted around.
50kms east of Lake Mweru lies the Ntumbacushi Falls, formed by the flow of the Ng’ona river. Ntumbachushi is preceded by three smaller cascades upstream which eventually give way to the main waterfall that has two grand fronts. I was able to see both sides on my recent visit, but I could only imagine how beautiful it looks when the two fronts merge at the peak of the rain season. I loved how captivating it was to experience the different sides to this river through the series of waterfalls because it offered more than I initially expected. The Ng’ona is a river that keeps on giving, even as it flows into the reed laden Luapula valley in the horizon.
The Lumangwe is one of the larger falls in the Luapula province. As you drive to the waterfalls, you will get to cross a truss bridge over the Kalungwishi river, which forms the boundary between the Luapula province and the Northern province at most points. At the time of my visit, I was able to see the smoke rising from the Lumangwe falls right from the parking lot and I was overjoyed to behold what felt like miniature version of the majestic Mosi-Oa-Tunya, with the same design of handrails / viewing point boundaries
Unlike the Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the Lumangwe Falls has a healthy supply of water throughout the year as there is a high concentration of water bodies in the region that feeds the major rivers. The Lumangwe has three focal viewing points that give different experiences; one at the top of the falls right before the plunge, another near the car park which gives a180 degree view of the waterfalls and the boiling point view which showcases the sheer brilliance of the waterfall.
The Kabwelume Falls lies just downstream from the Lumangwe falls, also on the Kalungwishi river. The stone-laden area from the parking lot transitions into wooden foot bridges that cross several streams before you eventually get to the breath-taking view of this majestic waterfall.
This scene is the stuff of imagination! I never ever thought it would look this surreal and dreamy, this waterfall is truly enchanting to experience. The waterfall is uniquely shaped with the extreme right section having two steps of water falling and the left section of the waterfall having almost three separate sections of water all cascading into an almost horseshoe-shaped depression below the viewing plateau. I was gleefully drenched by an unending gentle haze of ‘smoke’ from the different sides of the waterfall, I could not help but stand in reverent awe at the grandeur of this piece of paradise.
The Luapula province is also home to the rich traditions of the descendants of Lunda empire as it plays host to the Kwanga festival in Samfya and the Umutomboko traditional ceremony in Mwansabombwe. The Umutomboko is held toward the end of July and celebrates the triumph of the Lunda people as they crossed into Zambia from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Words and images by Bongani B. Kumar