Sitting comfortably on 10,000 square kilometres of varied terrain in the southeastern part of the DRC, is the exquisite Upemba National Park. This is the second-largest park in the DRC and is often referred to as the “forgotten park”. It has most certainly earned its status as a UNESCO biodiversity reserve.
The lower reaches of the park are bordered by the Lualaba River and located within a deep depression, characterised by gleaming lakes and swampy marshlands surrounded by water-tolerant vegetation. Upemba plays host to some of the most significant wetlands on the African continent.
At the epicentre of lower Upemba National Park is Lake Upemba, known for its tiny islands and waterfront areas frequented by wildlife. The elevated Kibara Plateau defines the higher sections of the park and is notably drier than the lower reaches.
Such incongruent terrain gives rise to some of the country’s most astounding landscapes. Visitors are rewarded with sights of cascading waterfalls in the depression, and Afromontane grasslands in the upper regions of on the plateau.
Infrastructure has been put in place to make the park a safe destination. This includes adequate security measures to invite tourists as well as a network of roads, bridges and ferries.
Lake Upemba isn’t that deep - just more than three metres - but its waters provide sustenance for the fauna and flora of the park with papyrus and water caltrop typically occurring in and near the body of water.
The bio-diverse region of Upemba supports numerous species of wildlife. Interestingly enough, the only zebra herds found in DRC are located in Upemba National Park. Visitors can expect to see oribis, baboons, the Katanga impala, cheetah (extremely rare) and the Upemba lechwe (endemic).
The intricate system of lakes, wetlands and swamps provide an ideal habitat for amphibians, water-birds and fish. The unique elephant fish and the Schmidt's snouted frog are two unusual species found in the area. The avifauna close to Lake Upemba is noteworthy. This is where visitors will see Miombo rock thrush, flycatchers, sparrow weavers, Angola lark, Dickinson’s kestrel, bee-eater and chestnut owlets.
In total, there are 30 species of fish and 1,800 species of fauna and flora found in Upemba National Park.
Upemba National Park enjoys a short rainy season, which is from December to March. This is when the marshlands and lake basin floods. The heaviest rains are estimated to occur in February and March.
From March to June the water levels are still high, but when the dry season arrives (October to January) the water level of the lakes drop. The best time of year to visit is during the dry season, which still enjoys occasional light rain.
Visitors are drawn to Upemba National Park because of its puzzling topography and vivid vistas. The best way to cover a vast area is to organize a guided game drive across the elevated plateau, where it’s possible to spot a variety of game such as baboons, zebra, and other general game.
The lower, water-logged reaches of the park are ideal for fishing. Here visitors can fish for Tilapia and learn how to cook it the local way. Boating is yet another fantastic way to take in the landscape and is ideal for bird watching. Waders, kingfishers, and fishing eagles tend to hover in the shallows.
Hiking is a popular activity in the more mountainous section of the park in the Kibara Mountains. The unrivalled views of the depression below from this vantage point are spectacular.
Upemba National Park is located in the Katanga Province, which has an abundant supply of accommodation options. Most visitors opt to stay in well-known hotels and lodgings within the province as staying inside the park is not an option.
There are campsites and bandas just outside of the park. The main type of accommodation in Katanga Province includes hotels in the town and bandas (thatched lodgings) outside of the town.