When is the Best Time to Visit Zambia? We Break It Down…

When is the Best Time to Visit Zambia? We Break It Down…

A visit to Zambia is truly captivating – surely unforgettable, in every sense of the word. However, your experience with the country is likely to be different depending on the time of year that you choose to visit. For those who are perhaps anxious about when to go, we have simplified matters by providing some guidance on a month-by-month basis. Fear not, for the wilderness and wildlife awaits you regardless!

JANUARY

As many of Zambia’s visitors will be hoping to go on a land safari, in this respect, January is among the worst times to visit. The month marks the peak of the summer rainy season and as such, it’s very difficult to get around. Closures are everywhere! However, you may be able to take advantage of the wet weather (and pleasant temperatures) to enjoy a boat safari in the South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa River allows for exploration because the waters are high enough to allow access to the woodland groves. Here, the rains will add to the experience. The flow of Victoria Falls is also affected by the rains, making everything even more dramatic. Just think of the spectacular photographs!

Kafue National Park in the Green Season - Ila Safari Lodge

When it comes to wildlife, although spotting animals generally more difficult, it’s actually a lovely time to see babies learning the ways of the world –most mammals actually give birth from December to March. It’s also an amazing time to see bird life - but be warned, this does bring pesky insects to the nation.

 

FEBRUARY

February unfortunately follows in January’s footsteps, with yet more storms and disruptions making roads washed out and near impossible to pass. This time of year is called “Emerald Season”, and, as suggested for January, it is also a great time to enjoy the boat safaris in South Luangwa National Park.

Devil's Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Birds can be seen in their droves, and there should be a good amount of herbivorous animals to tick off the bucket list. However, predators are difficult to spot at this time of year – though those with a keen eye might well manage. If seeing these big animals is imperative, you should wait until later in the year.

 

MARCH

Hurray! March brings about the end of the wet season, however, storms do still occur with less frequency. Water levels are at their highest at this time of year because the country is left with the remnants. This does means that unfortunately, exploration by road is still very hard, and so you most likely won’t be able to drive deep into the heart of the parks. The boat safaris are still a wonderful option, particularly for photographers who may enjoy the striking skies. Birds are even more fascinating in March too, as they prepare for their annual winter migration.

Leopard in the Lower Zambezi, Royal Zambezi Lodge

If you’re hoping to visit Victoria Falls, you won’t be able to be particularly adventurous, as it is not the time for white-water rafting, and nor can you swim in the famous Devil’s Pool, because the high water levels deem it too dangerous. However, you could still make a visit –during March, it really suits its namesake: Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”. You will get incredibly wet if you’re at ground level, but you can avoid this if you wish with a helicopter ride over the top of the falls. Utterly breathtaking!

 

APRIL

April is not prime game-viewing season, but it’s an amazing time to visit nonetheless. The weather is drier, cooler and clearer, too. The vegetation is still lush and green, without the downpours, however, there may still be flooding making park access tricky in parts. Predators remain tougher to spot, but birds are still to be found in abundance.

 Sundowners at Busanga Plains Camp

April also sees the annual Kuomboka ceremony in the Western Province. The local Lozi people flock from the Zambezi floodplain to higher ground, and there are drums, music and colourful festivities in the name of summoning thousands to literally “get out of water”. The King and Queen then board barges to begin a procession upstream. Visitors are welcome, however, you must show respect to the locals and their customs.

If you’re visiting Victoria Falls, don’t forget your poncho! The roaring waters will make visibility difficult on foot, so once again, we recommend viewing by helicopter.

 

MAY

May in Zambia is almost unmissable, as the rains fade into oblivion. The country could not be more stunning at this time of year, with the lands looking lush and Victoria Falls in full flow. The majority of the southern parks, camps and lodges are back open, including the Lower Zambezi National Park, and access to them is far simpler thanks to the fact that the dirt roads are drying. Self-drivers can now drive through here without a worry! Watch out for the roads in the north, because they are often still impassable.

Bull Elephant in front of Chiawa Camp, Lower Zambezi

This is not yet the prime time for game viewing, however, as thick vegetation makes the animals harder to see. You still have some great chances though, especially because the elusive leopards are best spotted between May and August. For the best opportunities, head to South Luangwa.

Victoria Falls may allow for some white-water rafting now, but Devil’s Pool will still be closed.

 

JUNE

At last, Zambia is entering prime safari season, but it’s still not the busiest time and so you may beat some of the crowds. June’s weather is ideal, not too hot and not too cold, but you will need warm clothing for morning adventures! At this time of year, it’s a great time for walking safaris, if you are able, and for these you might want to visit Luangwa Valley, with its experienced guides and incredible wildlife. The Bangweulu Wetlands are also worth a visit, because the floods are still slightly present and so you might catch a glimpse of the rather strange shoebill. Elsewhere, the Busanga Plains are beginning to dry out and offer plenty of treats, such as elephants, buffalo, leopards and lions.

Male Lion at Busanga Plains Camp

Again, Victoria Falls offers some white-water rafting, and the Devil’s Pool is yet to reopen –but guided walks to Livingstone Island are typically back by the month’s end.

 

JULY

Welcome to peak season! Thinning vegetation makes for some out-of-this-world game viewing experiences, so it is the best time to go on safari. However, July is also the coldest month, so do bring something to wrap up warm in on chilly nights. Travel is easy at this time of year, with no rainfall and dry roads. You can fly in or self-drive; both are viable options.

Chongwe River Camp, Lower Zambezi National Park

If you are interested in local culture, check out the annual Mutomboko Ceremony which occurs during the last weekend of the month. The Lunda people host a two-day music and dance extravaganza. Foreigners are welcome, but as it’s near Lake Mweru (very far north), it might be a little too far to venture.

At Victoria Falls, the views are awe-inspiring, as there is less spray to block your view of the water raging into the gorge. You can now white-water raft as you please, and there’s not long to wait until you can access Devil’s Pool, just in case you’re sticking around until August.

 

AUGUST

Peak season is still in full swing, and safaris at this time of year are utterly spectacular. The weather will be cool and dry, and the lack of vegetation means visibility is excellent. Animals can be spotted in abundance, often venturing in search of water sources as the surface water evaporates. This is an amazing opportunity to see them living in their natural habitats. Leopard lovers can still see them prowling in South Luangwa National Park, or you can choose to do walking safaris with local experts instead. In fact, safaris of all kinds are brilliant this month, across all of the country’s parks.

Bushcamp Company Sundowners, Lower Zambezi

It’s even a wonderful fishing month, and you might wish to combine this towards the end of the month with a cultural trip to the Likumbi Lya Mize Ceremony, near the town of Zambezi. Locals celebrate the passage of young boys in their journey to manhood, and it’s very colourful. Expect to see lively dances in painted masks and headdresses.

Further down the Zambezi River, the flow at Victoria Falls is beginning to gradually decrease. This makes for possibly the best time to go white-water rafting, and you will have far less restrictions. And, for those dreaming of dabbling in Devil’s Pool, it reopens in August and you can take tours once again. You can swim right up to the edge, and it is incredible.

 

SEPTEMBER

The heat is on by September, and the animals are feeling the pressure. Water resources are scarce, leaving vulnerable animals exposed and devoured by predators as their prey. Fish become easy meals too, their natural habitats having been dried up and destroyed. You can see plenty of animals close to water sources, including majestic and often elusive lions. Wildebeest herds are common, too.

Male Lions in the Kafue at Shumba Camp

You will most likely struggle in the heat, and so cooling off in a pool in the afternoons is advised, especially if you’ll be taking a walking tour, which is still a wonderful idea, even in the burning sun. Not only are the colours beautiful, there’s so much to see as well.

Victoria Falls from Zambia

And, just like August, September is an exhilarating time at Victoria Falls. Partake in white-water rafting or that all-important trip to Devil’s Pool to gaze down at the gorge.

 

OCTOBER

October is still peak safari time, but be advised, it’s not for the faint-hearted if you can’t stand the heat! Temperatures can be oppressive, even reaching above 40 degrees. Water is even more scarce in many places, meaning there are so many animals to see, from the herbivores, to buffalo, elephants and more. They are very thirsty, but they also like to seek shade. This is also time of the annual wildebeest migration in the Liuwa Plains, which is a sight to behold from King Lewanika Camp.

Wild Dogs in the South Luangwa

Victoria Falls now offers yet another reason to visit, which is often just simply to cool down! Activities are still an option for you, and the flow tends to be going strong. Elsewhere, October is the start of crocodile nesting season, but we do not recommend a swim with them!

 

NOVEMBER

“Shoulder” season is here, and the weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes the rains start early, sometimes they do not. It’s a difficult time to visit –you might strike lucky and catch open lodges, but many will already be shut for the wet season. If the rains do start, the roads again become basically impassable. Fly-in visits are your best bet, as self-driving can be dangerous.

Drinking elephants, late in the dry season

Temperatures remain hot, and quite honestly, the rains can be somewhat of a relief. Spring is finally here, and with that, new baby animals start to arrive. The wildebeest migrations continue at Liuwa Plain National Park, and the fruit bat migration in Kasanka National Park sees millions upon millions of bats flying high in the skies to pastures new. It is safer to visit with a guide, so that you don’t get caught out.

Wildebeest Liuwa Plans, credit Andrew Macdonald

Sadly, Victoria Falls are potentially disappointing in November. Rafting is all good, but you might miss the marvellous flow over the falls. However, you can take guided walks, and experience the magic of Devil’s pool.

 

DECEMBER

With the arrival of December, Zambia is in the midst of rainy season once again. It’s still quite hot and humid, but there will be downpours nonetheless. Now is the time that many lodges and camps without any fly-in access close for the season, and there may be floods. Few safari opportunities are available, but as you may have gathered, the rains do attract the birds! Plus, the year has gone full circle back around to January, because December is the month where we again begin to see lots of mammals with their newborns.

Sindabezi Camp beneath a stormy sky, Upper Zambezi River

Victoria Falls are still fantastic for white-water rafting at this time of year, but be warned –there may actually be no water at all on the Zambian side. You can visit Devil’s Pool though, and it’s recommended that you take a trip to Zimbabwe, to get a chance to see one aspect of the Falls in full flow.

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