Getting there & away
Mongu Airport (GPS:AIRMON) used to be served twice a week by the old Eastern Air. However, there are no services that I know of now – and chartering a plane (Livingstone or northern Kafue would be closest) to get here would be very expensive.
Several buses link Lusaka to Mongu every day – expect a minibus to cost around Kw75,000/US$15 and a larger, slower bus to be about Kw60,000/US$12. There is also a postbus that serves this route, so ask at the post office for details. A very slow service also plies between Livingstone and Mongu, via Sesheke; it leaves twice per week during the dry season. Ask at the bus station for details (try GBR Bus Services) – it's beside the old market.
Hitching to Mongu on the Great West Road is possible for the determined. Hitching to get around the surrounding countryside is very slow and difficult – but it is how most of the local population travel.
Driving west to Sandaula on the Zambezi
There is one main route to Kalabo – the new all-season road which heads west on a causeway, across the floodplains. It's currently a huge construction project. It'd be wise to ask around in Mongu about the road's current state before you leave, and expect travel to be very difficult (or impossible) when the floodplains are wet, between about December and July.
To get to this road, head west from the main Mongu crossroads, over the hill, past the post office and turn left down towards the harbour. There you'll clearly see the road dropping down on to the Barotse floodplain in front of you. Remember to fill up with fuel at Mongu before you leave; there are no fuel stations west of here.
If the tarred road on the causeway isn't yet finished, but the conditions are dry, then you'll find sections where you have to drop down, off the causeway and on to parallel tracks on the floodplain. There are plenty of people to ask, all heading roughly between Mongu and the ferry, so it's difficult to get lost. However, until it's completely finished, the sand can be very deep and troublesome – so a high-clearance 4WD remains essential.
About 12.3km northeast of Mongu's harbour area, you'll reach Lealui
(GPS:LEALUI). This should be a ten-minute drive when the tar's finished, though may be a two-hour slalom through a construction site if it's not.
Lealui has always been the isolated summer palace of the Litunga and a centre for the Lozi administration. Visitors are advised to show courtesy and respect, even if it doesn't appear to be different from any other small African village. Now, with the accessibility brought by the road, Lealui will probably lose a little of its mystique – and the convoys of swish black Mercedes with darkly-tinted windows that whisk unseen royalty past you on this road will change from 4WDs to saloon limousines!
A little over 10km northwest of Lealui, you'll reach the ferry (GPS:FERRY3) across the Zambezi, at Sandaula – although when the bridge over the river is completed, this is likely to disappear.
Nyaminyami and the Mongu–Kalabo road
Contracts signed in March 2002 started the construction of a 74km tar road from Mongu, via Kalabo, to the Angolan border which, when competed, will completely open up wet-season access to impoverished areas west of the Zambezi and into Angola.
In 2002 the estimated cost of this project was around US$42 million – financed mostly by aid donations, including a soft loan of US$4.3 million from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, US$4.3 million from the Kuwait Fund, US$3 million from the OPEC Fund, and US$3 million from the Government of Zambia.
The project planned to connect Mongo and Kalabo, and ultimately Lusaka, with Angola – spanning not only the Zambezi River, but also the width of the Zambezi floodplain, about 35km of raised causeway above low-lying plains that are seasonally inundated when the river breaks its banks. Initially it was to be completed by February 2004.
However, some sections were washed away in 2003, and then the 2004 floods were exceptionally high, washing away a further 20km of the partially-constructed causeway. This caused a major re-assessment of the design; it was decided to triple the number of (huge) culverts that run under the road, and also to raise it by a couple more metres. However, a recent hydrologists' report suggested that the section on the east of the Zambezi River (from the Zambezi to the canal) wasn't strong enough to support a road, and funds for the project are starting to run seriously short.
Despite these problems, construction is proceeding. It's likely that at least the 22km east from Kalabo to the edge of the floodplain, and the short entrance section to Mongu harbour, will be complete by the end of 2004. The rest of the project will take at least until 2006 (if not longer).
Perhaps the road's builders are now beginning to realise what their predecessors at Kariba Dam already knew – that Nyaminyami, the old river god of the Zambezi Valley's Tonga people, is very hard to tame.
Driving south to Senanga
This clear wide tarmac road was badly pot-holed when I last drove along it; let's hope that it's repaired to a higher standard than it was built to in the first place!
Driving north to Lukulu
There's a good tarred road for 15km north of Mongu, basically as far as the Litunga's winter palace. Then there's nothing more than vanishing local tracks across the Barotse floodplains between there and Lukulu. These are passable in the dry season – see the Lukulu sections for directions – and otherwise consider driving to Lukulu on proper, all-weather roads via Kaoma!