Zambia remains arguably Africa’s most underrated safari destination, home to a wide range of incredible landscapes and abundant wildlife within its vast National Parks. From the open savannah, forests and floodplains of the South Luangwa to the vast Kafue National Park and the breathtaking Lower Zambezi, dominated by the eponymous river, it really does offer something for everyone. More experienced safari goers will revel in the chance to visit more off the beaten track parks such as North Luangwa, Luambe and Liuwa Plain – home to amazing wildlife and just a tiny handful of places to stay. Of course, no visit to Zambia would be complete without a few days at the iconic Victoria Falls and whilst water levels and the range of activities fluctuates throughout the year, it remains a wonderful place to spend a few days and round off a doubtless memorable safari through this hidden gem of a destination.
Many of the principal parks are almost entirely closed at this time owing to the high levels of rainfall received and associated challenges with accessing camps.
A handful of camps in the South Luangwa remain open, focusing on river journeys along the swollen channels of the Luangwa River. Known as Emerald Season, this is an amazing time of year for birders to spot the 400 and more species that are found here. Game viewing can be challenging, but the abundance of lion and elephant means that they are often still spotted.
The Liuwa Plain National Park in the west is open with visitors able to see huge herds of zebra as well as their attendant predators, roaming the plains.
Water levels at Victoria Falls are rising rapidly but a wide range of activities remains available before they reach their peak.
Emerald season remains in full swing with hot, wet days experienced across much of the country.
Water levels at Victoria Falls continue to rise and some of the activities which rely on lower water levels, including rafting, cease to operate. Walking tours can see visitors get very wet but they remain an attractive option.
Further afield the migration season in Liuwa Plain continues to thrill visitors who make the journey to this remote corner of the country and hardy travellers who head down to the Lower Zambezi can enjoy some superb fishing as well as marvel at the stunning landscapes. The opportunity to enjoy river journeys through the South Luangwa continues although this is the hottest and wettest time of year to be there.
The hot and wet summer continues to exert its grip on Zambia, although there is a noticeable easing in the rain and temperatures start to drop, with nighttimes especially becoming more bearable.
Many camps remain closed across the main National Parks, but river journeys are still offered in the South Luangwa, albeit with their scope a little more limited as water levels recede. Eagle-eyed visitors will notice more activity around the parks as operators are rebuilding and restocking their lodges for the upcoming safari season.
Water levels at Victoria Falls reach their peak as the floods from the summer rains reach the Upper Zambezi in earnest, sending up to 9,000 cubic metres of water crashing over the precipice every second. The spray can be seen from many miles away and is an especially spectacular sight for guests flying in to Livingstone.
Change is in the air across Zambia as National Parks and camps all prepare for a full scale opening, whilst Victoria Falls remains a spectacular sight as the peak flow continues down the Zambezi River.
The temperatures start to drop noticeably and rainfall eases as well, but many camps still remain closed across the main parks, albeit with them getting ready to go in May and June.
From the camps that are open in the South Luangwa guests can enjoy some hugely exciting wildlife sightings, with the herds of plains game starting to bring their young in to the more open areas which naturally brings the predators of the valley – most notably lion, leopard and wild dog – to the fore.
Equally some hugely exciting wildlife encounters can be enjoyed from the camps open in the Lower Zambezi National Park, especially right along the banks of the river where elephant come to drink and feed. Low season prices still apply across most safari camps so it is a superb time of year to travel.
Safari season starts to move into full swing now, with almost all camps open across the 3 major National Parks; South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue.
Walking safaris start to become a possibility as the bush thins out and underfoot conditions become much drier, so visitors are able to enjoy one of Zambia’s signature activities and get really up close and personal with some of the smaller inhabitants of the bush.
General game viewing is rapidly improving as well, with consistently good big cat sightings across the parks and larger herds of elephant starting to be seen as surface water sources start to become more scarce across the parks.
At Victoria Falls water levels remain high, albeit they are past the peak and will start to drop rapidly as the dry season commences in earnest.
Most camps still offer lower pricing and plenty of special offers, so it remains an excellent time of year from a value perspective.
More adventurous and in-the-know safari goers will be thrilled that the Busanga Plains, a mystical area in the far north of the Kafue National Park have now seen water levels drop sufficiently to allow the handful of camps that operate there to open come June. Home to large herds of red lechwe, lion and leopard amongst others, this is a truly magical part of Zambia and one not to be missed.
Game viewing continues to improve rapidly across the rest of Kafue, as well in the South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi, with elephant and wild dog sightings becoming especially good.
At Victoria Falls the drop in water levels becomes more noticeable and the walking tours improve as there is less spray on the walkways.
Prices remain on the low side for the quality of the game viewing experience, so it remains an excellent time of year to be here from a value perspective.
The first month of Zambia’s peak safari season, July brings in cool, clear days that are perfect for game viewing. It is the first month where you really notice the green landscapes, a legacy of the long summer rains, turning to yellow and brown and game viewing across the country continues to improve as the bush thins out.
Elephant sightings in particular become very good as the large breeding herds for which Zambia is renowned move to the riverside areas in search of reliable water sources. Big cat sightings remain superb across the main parks, especially in the South Luangwa which is renowned as one of the best places in Africa to see leopard.
The final piece of the safari puzzle that is Zambia fits in to places as the North Luangwa National Park camps open their doors for visitors allowing for a very wild safari experience. A handful of camps retain their lower season pricing so there are still some bargains to be had if you plan carefully.
Safari season is very much here in Zambia now, with camps often full and visitors able to enjoy amazing wildlife viewing wherever they go.
Whether you are exploring by vehicle, on foot or out on the Zambezi and Kafue river in boats and canoes, this is a superb time of year to be here with animals wherever you look. As water sources continue to become more scarce, wildlife congregates in huge numbers by the rivers and it is a time of year where you can see some amazing interactions – lion trying to hunt hippo in the South Luangwa amongst them.
Water levels going over the Zambian side of Victoria Falls have fallen to virtually zero, although the deeper channels on the Zimbabwean side do still have water going over them. The end of August tends to be when Livingstone Island trips offer the chance to swim in The Devil’s Pool – an instagram-worthy moment where you bathe on the very edge of Victoria Falls.
Much like August, September is an outstanding time to be on safari in Zambia, with the days at their coolest and the threat of rain virtually non-existent.
With wildlife staying out in the open much longer it is perfect for either full day game drives to take advantage of the conditions, or an afternoon spent in one of the specially sited wildlife photography hides which are becoming a more prominent offering at many lodges.
Equally, it is a great time of year to head out on dedicated walking trails safaris within the South Luangwa, where you will spend 3-5 days exploring on foot and camping overnight in the bush. Kafue is at its absolute best come September, with especially strong lion sightings on the Busanga Plains a huge draw.
Water levels at Victoria Falls are at their lowest by now and will remain so until towards the end of the year, so thrill seekers can enjoy all manner of activities and the white water rafting is especially good at this time.
Change starts to come about in October, with days getting noticeably hotter and rain storms can happen towards the end of the month.
For many camps this is their last full month of being open, so a final chance to enjoy areas such as the Busanga Plains, the North Luangwa and Luambe National Parks. The main camp in the Liuwa Plain National Park reopens after closing for the dry season when the game disperses, so keen safari-goers can get back to search for lion and the unusually large clans of hyena which are such a feature of the park.
The Lower Zambezi must get a mention as being outstanding for safaris in October with huge volumes of herbivores and predators found around the Zambezi River, as well as the tributaries that run in there from the surrounding escarpment.
Victoria Falls remains a delight as well, with the low water levels in the river allowing for sandbar picnics and sundowner drinks from the lodges further upstream.
There is a distinct winding down of operations across many of the lodges across the start of November as the pack-up for the rainy summer season.
A small handful of lodges around the more accessible Mfuwe area of the South Luangwa remain open, continuing to offer game drives before the rains arrive in earnest, after which they will revert to the boat safaris that they offer at the start of the year. The Liuwa Plain National Park remains a more than viable option for experienced safari-goers who want to experience something very different and whilst the game viewing here can be challenging on occasion, it is a remarkable spot to spend a few days.
The perennial favourite that is Victoria Falls continues to offer an amazing array of activities as well as a superb spot to relax for a few days after a busy safari.
As another year in the bush draws to a close, temperatures continue to soar and rainfall becomes an almost daily occurrence, rapidly filling the vast rivers which are such a feature of the Zambian National Parks.
For the few lodges that remain open the focus shifts almost entirely to river activities and guests can enjoy exploring the lush green landscapes that offer superb birding as well as surprisingly good predator sightings.
Further afield Liuwa Plain remains a great choice for visitors looking for a very alternative safari experience and the low water levels at Victoria Falls still allow for a huge array of activities as well as some time to relax in the sunshine.
As you will be able to see, Zambia is without doubt one of the more seasonal safari destinations within Africa, with large parts of the country inaccessible during the summer rains, although some camps do remain open. The “shoulder” seasons of April-June and November offer some of the best value safaris anywhere in Africa with amazing wildlife sightings on offer, whilst the peak season is as good as anywhere that the continent has to offer. Zambia may not have the reputation of its more illustrious neighbours Botswana and Tanzania, or indeed Kenya, but it is a worthy candidate for being the most underrated safari destination in Africa and it remains hard to beat from a value perspective. A genuine True Travel favourite, please speak to one of our team of Africa Travel Designers to plan your trip in more detail.
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