This small town by the Luanginga River is the gateway to Liuwa Plain National Park. Kalabo is a rambling group of dwellings. The name is derived from the Lozi word silambo
, meaning 'paddling stick'.
Coming from Mongu, you'll first enter a wide main street lined by grand old buildings with verandas, most in various states of decay. It usually seems very quiet, though clearly the shopkeepers have active imaginations with the originally-named 'Just Imagine Restaurant' and the 'Hard Work Makes Dreams Come True Restaurant'.
Kalabo also has a basic government resthouse and a mission with a large hospital (GPS:HOSPKA). Note there is no fuel available in Kalabo – and you'd be well advised to buy all your supplies in Mongu before you arrive.
Stop to ask directions for how to get down a series of sandy roads to reach Kalabo's harbour, where there is a small pontoon (GPS:HARKAL) over the Luanginga. The fare recently increased to US$8/Kw40,000, reflecting not the 'Heath Robinson' state of this one-car pontoon, but the realisation that soon more people might be coming to Liuwa. (Alternatively, late in the dry season, the river can be forded – with local guidance on where to cross.)
There's a convenient general store entitled 'Manel Restaurant' on the right as you enter the harbour area, and opposite that is a small basic café overlooking the harbour – ideal for those long waits whilst people fetch the pontoon owner for you!
National Parks' Office
Of vital importance to most visitors is the National Parks' Office (GPS:NPKALA) here – where you used to stop to buy your permits and to arrange for a scout to accompany you. However, in 2004 this was taken over by African Parks who set up a new office, conveniently beside the harbour
(GPS:HARKAL). Now most people drop in there to get their permits for the park.
As the nearest town to the Angola border, Kalabo has an immigration officer – his small office is behind some of the shops near the harbour, on the left of the Luanginga pontoon. Even if you're not entering or leaving the country, he will usually collar you to check your passports, and ask you questions about your movements. In my case, he was also curious to find out if I wanted to surreptitiously buy diamonds or gemstones! (The correct answer to this was 'no' – as I was keen to see Liuwa, rather than the inside of a local police station.)
Now copies of the forms that he requires are also held in the African Parks' office beside the harbour – so you can fill out all the necessary paperwork whilst buying your permits for the park.