Best Time to Visit Zambia
As always with Africa and our approach to tailor-made travel, we will need to first see which parks you would like to include on your Zambia Safari and what wildlife you are hoping to observe. As with Botswana there are considerable savings to be made on a Zambia Safari outside of peak season and the wildlife viewing is still spectacular. As a general rule it is hot and wet from December to April, with heavy downpours in the late afternoon or evening. From May to October it is dry and becomes progressively cooler; especially at nights. Then the heats starts to build from September through to November before starting the whole cycle over again. Of course, as the dry season progresses and the water sources become fewer and fewer, the game and its predators become more concentrated and produce more regular sightings; especially of the big cats and African wild dogs.
January – I am sure you will read other articles about this month being the height of the rainy season in Zambia and the many unsealed roads which crisscross Zambia’s national parks are unpassable; or at least very challenging to drive on. However, there are some operators who organise specialist safaris in the ‘emerald season’ and use a combination of internal flights, short road transfers and then boat safaris to discover another side of this incredible wildlife destination. Though the rainy season is generally less productive for wildlife, that is not to say you will not see any. Many mammals give birth from December to March and therefore your chance of seeing offspring take their first steps in the green oasis of the parks increase.
February – A few of the camps in the world famous South Luangwa national park stay open in the rainy season and offer spectacular boat safaris inside the park. Due to the higher river levels, visitors are able to explore the flooded Mopane forests and also enjoy the many birds which are attracted to the life giving waters. South Luangwa is also one of the only parks in Zambia with game-viewing roads that remain drivable during the rainy season. It is pretty much impossible to self-drive any of Zambia’s other national parks during February, so South Luangwa’s boat and partial vehicle access makes it an excellent February destination. Expect afternoon thunderstorms, high humidity and for there to be more insects around.
March – The emerald season continues but the rain intensity of the previous 2 months is not there and especially in the south of the country, you will notice less thunderstorms and rain activity during the day. River levels are often at their highest in March and April and this is another reason why many roads inside the national parks are closed. South Luangwa boat safaris remain a great option and you would definitely see Victoria Falls at its most powerful, although not all activities will be open due to the high volume of water flowing through. Birding probably at its best in the wet season, with many summer migrants around – including iridescent Carmine bee-eaters
April – This month is certainly not considered a prime game viewing period, but when you dig a little deeper, there is a lot to like about planning a Zambia safari in April. The rain season is pretty much over and the cooler weather – especially night-time temperatures – add to the comfort factor as you travel around the country. April and May are called Zambia autumn low season and there are often excellent discounts to be had at the wildlife lodges which remained open. Driving safaris are still not possible in most of the national parks, but the fly-drive safari is still a winner in South Luangwa and the lush scenery and superb birding attract a few ‘off the beaten track’ visitors, looking for authentic experiences with no crowds.
May – A stunning month for scenery and photography at famous sites, such as Victoria Falls and South Luangwa. Some key predators like African hunting dogs give berth at this time of year and you may be incredibly lucky to be staying near one of their dens. Although great precautions will be taken to ensure they are not disturbed and close approaches are rightfully not allowed. The lush vegetation can make spotting predators more challenging, but the cooler nights encourage more leopards to hunt and patrol their territories and with South Luangwa lodges and camps all offering night drives, you may get lucky with a sightings of this beautiful big cat.
June – Careful planning based on seasonality of wildlife viewing and choosing the best locations is part and parcel of what we do. However, we are also requested by our clients to organise a safari just before the high season, which often offers discounts on both international flights and the Zambia wildlife lodges themselves. June would be that month where it can all come together to create a perfect safari experience. South Luangwa is the godfather of all walking safaris in Africa and with the day time temperatures still cool and some of the lush undergrowth starting to die back a little, there could be no better time, or better place, to take your first Zambia walking safari. The more adventurous can try multi-day mobile safaris where guests walk between temporary camps, through some of Zambia’s most pristine wildlife areas.
July – We are definitely in high season now and the rates at the famous wildlife lodges in South Luangwa reflect that. Nearly all of Zambia’s famous national parks are open for both organised vehicle safaris and self-drivers. Depending on how late the rains were, there may still be some tricky patches in Kafue; but the wildlife viewing is now top notch for predators and the cool nights mean that morning walking safaris are a great way to get close to nature. Take a fleece, or better yet a windproof jacket, for early morning walks and game drives, as this is the coldest month of the year in Zambia.
August – The holiday season continues with super weather for game viewing and visitors coming to locations like South and North Luangwa, Kafue and Busanga plains, to see lots of big cat action and maybe with some luck, African painted dogs. Throughout August, the weather remains dry and clear. Expect cool mornings and warm afternoons that gradually climb over 30°C by the end of the month. It is still a good time to see leopards in South Luangwa National Park, while the evenings remain cool and they continue to begin prowling at dusk. The drying landscapes will start to affect local migrations of both prey and predators, as they move towards rivers and year round sources of water.
September – This is the month when things start hotting up in Zambia and by the end of the month camping style safaris may feel a little warm during the day. As the various water bodies start to dry up in the wildlife sanctuaries, the movement of predators – particularly the lion prides – becomes more predictable and with a longer stay in the parks, you may have the privilege of following a lion family for several days. In Liuwa Plain National Park the first wildebeest appear in September; although you will have to wait to October and November to witness the herds at their maximum size. For adrenaline junkies a visit to Victoria Falls is great in September as the full run of the white water rapids can be done from just below the falls. In early September morning temperatures are still comfortable and
October – Now the heat of the day feels intense and if is certainly not a month to travel if you struggle with hot temperatures. Choosing river side lodges – which may also be good for game viewing – is a good option to escape the heat of the day in between safaris and a mixture of vehicle safaris and maybe boat safaris on the Lower Zambezi may be a better option than ‘exposed’ walking safaris in the relentless sun. This is one of the most popular months for serious photographers, as both prey and predators converse on the permanent water sources providing a lot of action to big cat lovers. In Liuwa Plain National Park the wildebeest are gathering, and by the end of the month their numbers may be many thousand strong.
November – A Zambia safari in November can be an unpredictable affair so suits clients with an adventurous spirit who do not mind if wildlife viewing plans have to change because of sudden rains. Global warming is making predicting weather patterns and the start of seasonal rains more and more challenging and some clients looking for a good deal on lodge accommodation, take the gamble that the rains in early November will not be too strong and they will still enjoy some amazing wildlife encounter. Two amazing wildlife migrations happen during the month of November. Firstly, you have approximately 50,000 wildebeest on the move looking for fresh grass on the Liuwa Plain in the west of the country. Then secondly, you have up to 10 million fruit bats arrive from the Congo and descend on Kasanka national park to feed on the fruit in the mushitu swamp forest.
December – This is the start of the main rainy season in Zambia and many safari lodges will close for the entire wet season. However, some do stay open and offer exceptional rates to attract people looking to experience a different type of Zambia wildlife holiday. The lush new grasses attract many different species of herbivores and their recently born offspring. Expect heavy downpours at any time and the temperatures to be around 30 Celsius with high humidity. Adventurous travellers may head up to Lake Karibu and stay in a houseboat to enjoy the experience of the wet season. It can still be a rewarding time to visit, especially for bird lovers, as the migrant species return in full force and the breeding season begins in earnest next to the re-charged swamps and lakes.
Zambia Wildlife Holiday – What is Special About a Zambia Safari
What makes a Zambia Safari so special? Zambia is a country which attracts the safari purist; with some of the best walking safaris in Africa and a rich history of low impact camps and stunning wildlife, it is no wonder that wildlife lovers return again and again to see some of the most well managed national parks in Africa. In addition, the Zambian goverment is fully committed to quality tourism within the National Parks and protection of the resident wildlife. My visit in 2010 also showed a gradual but welcome emergence of black Zambians becoming managers or owners of new safari lodges, which in many other parts of Africa is glaringly missing and reflects badly on African tourism in general.