There are three ways of getting into this area: by road, by air and by boat – or any combination of these. Most visitors stay at one of the private camps as a base, and go for game-viewing drives, walks and trips on the river from there. Arriving by air is not only the fastest means of transport, but often the most economical as well. Planes land at one of the two airstrips in the valley: Royal Zambezi and Jeki with the drive to and from the lodges being an activity in itself. A few lodges can arrange for transfers by road and river from Lusaka, though this tends to be very expensive.
More economical, for those with their own vehicle, is to drive to Gwabi Lodge and arrange to be collected from there by boat; again, this is an experience that is an intrinsic part of a trip. Alternatively, the well equipped can drive themselves all the way (see below), but this is neither an easy nor a fast option.
Finally, there are popular canoe safaris that run along both sides of the river, sometimes using simple temporary 'fly' camps at night, and at others basing themselves at one of the specialist lodges or campsites along the river.
The last option is for the adventurous and well equipped – to drive in with their own vehicles, either staying at lodges or fully equipped with all their own supplies and camping gear.
The roads into the park need a 4WD vehicle (ideally two, for safety's sake) but are not difficult driving in the dry season, though the going is very slow. Get detailed maps of the whole valley before you leave Lusaka, and pack a compass and GPS. It would be wise to get a permit before you arrive, from the National Parks office in Lusaka or Chilanga, though you can usually get one at the scout's camp at the entrance to the park itself. Permits cost US$20 per person per day, plus US$15 per day for the vehicle.
To find the right track, take the turning off the main road just before Chirundu and follow the signs to Gwabi Lodge. Where the sign points left, indicating that the lodge is 2km ahead, continue straight on to reach the pontoon which crosses the Kafue River into the Chiawa GMA. The village of Chakamaka, by the pontoon, has a small and very basic grocery, but don't raise your expectations. Then for the most part it's a simple case of sticking close to the river, and following the main track. Initially, you'll be driving alongside the fertile fields of the river valley where maize, paprika and beans are the staple crops, and past small villages where children variously wave shyly or shout 'Hello', while elsewhere the chant 'Sweets, sweets' echoes through the houses. The western entrance to the national park, Chongwe Gate, lies about 67km from the pontoon. Once inside the national park itself, the terrain levels out into a broad plain that continues for several kilometres, inhabited only by plains animals and birds, before eventually dropping down into albida forest where shallow lagoons among the trees attract brightly coloured saddle-billed storks.
Masochists might like to know that there's a much more difficult approach possible via the Great East Road. You'll certainly need permission from the National Parks office in Chilanga to attempt this route, and it would be wise to take a guide for most of the way. The road starts just beyond the national park's boundary (as indicated by a tsetse-fly barrier) and after about 22km leads to the park gate, and nearby scout's camp. You'll need to collect a guide from here if you wish to continue. The road soon heads for Chakwenga (a disused old mine), about 60km inside the park, and then drops over the escarpment. It then becomes steep, little-used and very overgrown. This isn't an easy option at all, but the track does eventually lead down into the main game-viewing area on the valley's floor in the Mushika area.