Classic Zambia Safari & Victoria Falls
The best that Zambia has to offer, from wildlife watching at national parks, to adrenaline activities at Victoria Falls.
Zambia has two distinct seasons - the dry winter season and the summer wet season - and they play a crucial role in determining the best time to travel to Zambia.
The dry season is the best time for safaris in Zambia. The prime wildlife viewing starts in June but really comes alive from July to October, as the country’s waterways begin to dry up and animals are lured out to the main riverbanks. The remote North Luangwa National Park also opens from around June to October, allowing visitors to access Zambia’s unspoiled wilderness.
The rains have usually retreated by May, leaving the country illuminated in gorgeous fresh greenery which tapers into golden hues as the arid weather sets in. The cooler temperatures are perfect for walking safaris, particularly in South Luangwa, the mecca of bushwalks.
July to September is the best time to see the iconic Victoria Falls, as the thundering flow is in full source, visibility is excellent and you can take a dip in Devil’s Pool, go white water rafting and visit Livingstone Island.
October is still a great month for wildlife viewing, but it is the hottest month and temperatures can get quite unbearable. If you can handle daytime temperatures above 40°C, you’ll see some incredible predator action as big game battle it out for food and water by the river banks.
The wet season can be a difficult period as the heavy rains make roads impassable and many lodges close. It’s a poor time for wildlife viewing as animals intersperse back into the forests, hiding in the dense vegetation.
It’s a fantastic time for bird watchers as many migratory species return in full force and the breeding season begins in December. You’ll also have the chance to see newborns as most mammals give birth from December to March.
Although most of the country becomes inaccessible, some lodges offer a fly-in safari option and can take you out on some wonderful boating safaris.
November marks the start of the rains, although wildlife enthusiasts may still like to catch the two great migrations of up to 40,000 wildebeest from Liuwa Plain National Park and an estimated 10 million fruit bats from Kasanka National Park.
The Victoria Falls dry up from around October and although you can still swim in Devil’s Pool and visit Livingstone Island, you won’t see the full thundering spectacle on the Zambian side. The falls begin to flow again around January, as the Zambezi River fills up from the rains.
January is the peak of Zambia’s summer rainy season, meaning frequent downpours and hot, humid temperatures averaging 30°C in the day and 20°C at night. The heavy rains make travel difficult as roads become muddy and impassable, and many camps close during this period including all camps in North Luangwa National Park.
Some camps in South Luangwa National Park, Kafue National Park and the Lower Zambezi do stay open but are extremely quiet during this low season. Although driving safaris are almost impossible, it’s a great time to take advantage of the rising waters with a boat safari.
You’ll have a harder time spotting wildlife however this is the best time observe a spectacular array of birdlife. You’ll also have a better chance of spotting newborn animals, as most mammals give birth from December to March.
The Zambezi River is beginning to flow in early January and by the end of the month, it should be once again thundering over the Victoria Falls, with good views from the ground and air. Although once the water level rises too high, the famous Devil’s Pool closes. This natural infinity pool usually closes by late January and doesn’t reopen until August.
February is very similar to January with hot weather and heavy rains, making travel around the country almost impossible. The best way to get around this is with a fly-in safari directly to the lodge, although many camps are closed during this period.
Some lodges in South Luangwa, Kafue and the Lower Zambezi remain open and they offer spectacular boating safaris during the ‘emerald season’, when the landscapes come alive with lush greenery.
February is a great month for birdwatching and you’ll have a chance of spotting baby animals quickly learning how to fend for themselves in the wild. However, wildlife sightings in general are still rarer during this time, as animals hide in the thick vegetation.
The Victoria Falls puts on a brilliant show by February as the Zambezi River is in full flow. The thundering rapids makes white-water rafting unsafe in many sections of the gorge and the clouds of spray and mist can make the falls difficult to see, so a helicopter tour is best. Devil’s Pool is also usually closed by February.
By March, the rains of the summer wet season are beginning to ease, although water levels are still at their highest, making many roads impassable and driving safaris nearly impossible. If you’d like to visit during the wet season, the best solution is to fly-in to South Luangwa National Park, where some camps remain open and offer amazing boating safaris.
You’ll glide through the flooded woodlands, searching for game and marvelling at the lush vegetation that bursts into life during the ‘emerald season’. It’s a bird watching haven as the smirking shoebills return to the Bangweulu Wetlands around March and thousands of birds are getting ready for their winter migration.
Zambia’s Lozi people are also preparing to take their annual migration during the Kuomboka Ceremony which literally means ‘to get out of the water’. In late March or early April, the Lozi move from their summer home in the Zambezi River to higher ground in Limulunga, their drier winter home. You can witness a wonderful ceremonial procession as the king and queen lead the journey in their large, decorated barges.
April is the last month of the rainy season with easing conditions, however many roads will be impassable and fly-in safaris are still the best option. The landscapes are in full bloom, meaning you’ll find it difficult to spot wildlife, as the animals hide in the thick vegetation.
However, you can take spectacular boat and canoe safaris along the overflowing water channels and you’ll also spot a cacophony of fantastic birdlife. It’s also a great time for a photographic safari, as the gorgeous greenery and dramatic skies make an excellent backdrop for your photos.
The Kuomboka Ceremony of Zambia’s migratory Lozi people usually begins in late March or early April. A grand procession is held before the king and queen board huge, adorned barges, beginning their journey to their higher and drier winter home in Limulunga.
The Victoria Falls is in full thundering glory by April, with most of the gorge hidden under the churning white spray and most white water rafting activities unsafe. Your best option is to take a flight over the falls to see this majestic spectacle.
By May, the summer rains have receded leaving Zambia lit up in a brilliant display of lush greenery. This is a gorgeous month to visit for photography and boating safaris and late May also heralds the beginning of the walking safari season in South Luangwa National Park. The humidity has receded and daytime temperatures average 25°C to 30°C, while the nights drop to around 15°C.
The Victoria Falls is also at near peak flow, living up to its local name of Mosi-oa-Tunya - ‘The Smoke That Thunders.’ You’ll see an explosion of white spray, making it difficult to see the gorge, and white water rafting can only be done downstream, so a helicopter tour is a fantastic option.
May is still not the best time for wildlife viewing due to the abundance of vegetation, although you’ll be able to see plenty of birdlife including the unique shoebill in the stunning Bangweulu Wetlands. It’s also a particularly good month to spot leopards in the South Luangwa National Park.
With the winter dry season now in full swing, June brings pleasant temperatures and excellent wildlife viewing. Despite this, many camps and lodges are still very quiet, so this is a great time to experience a safari with hardly anyone else around.
Cooler weather, clear days and thinning vegetation make June one of the best months for a walking safari. Try out this wonderfully immersive experience in the South Luangwa National Park, the original home of the walking safari. By mid-June, you can also venture to the remote North Luangwa National Park, where a handful of operators run walking safaris through this pristine corner of true wilderness.
By late June, most safari roads have reopened across all the parks, and you’ll have a great chance of spotting big game. It’s also a great time for a fishing trip in the Kafue River and Upper Zambezi River, where bream and tigerfish can be found.
It’s also great time to see the Victoria Falls, although white water rafting is still restricted to lower downstream and Devil’s Pool is closed. It’s usually possible to take guided walks onto Livingstone Island by the end of June.
Marking the beginning of Zambia’s peak season, July is a popular month for good reason. Most dirt roads are now functional, paving the way for thrilling game drives into the bush, while thinning vegetation makes it easier to spot wildlife.
You’ll have an excellent chance of sighting elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, roan, red and black lechwe and sable antelope. It’s a fantastic time for fishing, with prized bream, yellowfish and tigerfish roaming Zambia’s waterways.
July also has excellent weather - there’s no rain and it’s also the coldest month in Zambia. Daytime temperatures still average 25°C to 30°C although the nights and mornings can be quite chilly, so pack a warm and windproof jacket.
The Victoria Falls put on a magnificent display in July and less spray allows for clearer views into the gorge. White water rafting is also starting to open in the rapids closer to the falls.
For those travelling in Zambia’s far north, the annual Mutomboko Ceremony takes place in the last weekend of July near Lake Mweru. The two-day festival is held by the Lunda people to celebrate their arrival into Zambia from the Congo and involves plenty of music and dancing.
With superb weather, exceptional wildlife viewing and fishing, wonderful cultural celebrations, walking safaris and Devil’s Pool reopening, August is the ultimate month to visit Zambia.
The country’s vast waterways are beginning to dry out, making for fantastic wildlife viewing as animals are lured towards the permanent water sources. Birdwatching is also excellent as many species, such as the marabou stork, circle the dried up pools in search of trapped fish to gobble up. Keen anglers will find large bream, yellowfish, tigerfish and catfish within Zambia’s lakes and rivers.
It’s a fantastic time for walking safaris, particularly in the Luangwa Valley, and night game drives offer great chances of spotting the elusive leopard during this month. Devil’s Pool, the natural infinity pool of the Victoria Falls, usually reopens in August and you can also begin taking white water rafting trips right under the falls.
In the last few days of August, you can witness the Likumbi Lya Mize Ceremony near the town of Zambezi, a colourful five day celebration of the Luvale people to honour their boy’s passage into adulthood. You’ll witness vibrant Makishi dancers in decorated masks and dazzling headdresses.
The days are getting hotter with daytime temperatures reaching up to 35°C and the nights hovering from 15°C to 20°C. Zambia’s waterways continue to dry up, and wildlife gets easier to spot as they congregate around the major rivers and lakes. Lion sightings are particularly common and the first wildebeest also appear in Liuwa Plain National Park.
September is still a great month for walking safaris, as you can venture out in the cool mornings. It’s classified as the dry winter season, but you’ll see bursts of autumnal colours as the mopane forests of the Lower Zambezi and Luangwa valley become cloaked in bright red and yellow leaves. The vast grasslands also fade to a golden hue which tends to glimmer in the twilight.
It’s still an excellent month for fishing, although the hotter days can make long days out on the boat challenging. Cool off in the Victoria Falls, with Devil’s Pool open for thrillseekers who wish to float right on the edge of the mighty falls. It’s also a fantastic time for white water rafting below the falls and along the Zambezi River.
October is the hottest month in Zambia with temperatures soaring to over 40°C. If you’re willing to brave the sizzling heat, October is an excellent month for wildlife viewing. Hoards of animals are forced to gather around the permanent water sources and it’s common to see lions resting in the shade by the water.
It’s the start of crocodile nesting season and you’ll also see large populations of buffalo and elephants, while thousands of hippos fight for position in the shrinking rivers.
Wildebeest continue to gather in Liuwa Plain National Park and they’ll number in their thousands by the end of October before their migration out of the plains in November and December. It’s the best month to catch giant tigerfish in Lake Kariba, although the heat can be challenging.
Head to Victoria Falls for a thrilling white water rafting trip down the rapids and a refreshing dip in Devil’s Pool. The flow is beginning to slow down and sometimes there is no water at all on the Zambian side, so be sure to plan a day trip to the Zimbabwean side which will still have a spectacular flow.
Renowned for its unpredictable weather, November heralds the start of the summer rainy season. It’s still extremely hot with daytime temperatures of 40°C, although when the refreshing rains set in the temperatures drop slightly to averages of 30°C and 35°C.
The rains once again cause havoc, making dirt roads impassable and forcing many lodges to close. It’s a time of revitalisation as the landscapes burst into bloom with flowering baobab and mopane trees, newborn animals appear, migrant birds return and great migrations occur.
Zambia has two spectacular wildlife migrations in November. Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration gets moving from Liuwa Plain National Park, with up to 40,000 blue wildebeest thundering south to greener pastures. Meanwhile, ‘Africa’s greatest mammal migration’ is in full swing in Kasanka National Park, as around 10 million fruit bats perform their annual migration from late October to early December.
Due to the dry season, the Victoria Falls may have no flow at all, but you can still swim in Devil’s Pool, go white-water rafting, take a guided walk to Livingstone Island and see the cliffs of Batoka Gorge.
The summer rainy season is in full swing in December, cooler temperatures of around 30°C and heavy storms which make travel difficult. Dirt roads become impassable and many lodges are forced to close due to flooding.
The Victoria Falls have dried up with no flow on the Zambian side, but there may be a trickle on the Zimbabwean side. You can still go white water rafting, take a guided walk to Livingstone Island and swim in Devil’s Pool.
The rains allow the wildlife to retreat into the forests and grasslands, as they are no longer forced to fight for scarce water sources. This means it’s difficult to spot animals and the muddy roads makes game drives nearly impossible.
It’s a great time for birding, as the migrant species have now returned in large number and breeding season has begun. It’s also a wonderful time to spot newborn wildlife. It’s also important to note that there’s a ban on all river fishing in Zambia from December to March, except for Lake Tanganyika or Lake Kariba where you can fish all year round.