Hear the roar of the thundering Victoria Falls, feel the adrenaline while white water rafting down the mighty Zambezi River, or take a leisurely game drive in the leopard country of South Luangwa. This is Zambia, a country rich in natural beauty and wildlife, including lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and yet largely devoid of tourists – which makes it one of Africa’s best-kept secrets.
And for the savvy traveller looking ahead of the curve, it is the perfect African destination to have an authentic safari experience. But when is the best time to head to Zambia. Well, the answer is not always straightforward, says Michael McCall, Sanctuary Retreats’ Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia. “Zambia is one of those countries that offers up some great safari experiences year round, so it will depend a bit on your interests and what parks you want to visit. The best time for one person may not be so appealing to another.”
Here is Michael’s guide to what to expect each season.
May to October Dry Season – Winter
The best time for game viewing in Zambia is normally during the dry season, May to October. According to Michael, “South Luangwa National Park is generally regarded as Zambia’s premier safari location and Sanctuary Retreats has two properties in the park. Our clients find that the winter months are the best times to visit South Luangwa because there’s very little rain during this period, causing animals to congregate around the Luangwa River, one of the last surviving sources of water. This can lead to lots excitement with lions and leopards taking full advantage of other animals coming for a much-needed drink.”
If you are planning travel during to Victoria Falls in September and November (or early December), Michael warns that there may be no water coming over the Zambian side of the falls, in which case you’ll need to cross over to Zimbabwe to see the main falls. On the plus side, certain activities such as white-water rafting are only on offer when water levels are low, and this is also the perfect time to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool – a natural rock pool right on the edge of the falls.
Michael’s Top Tips for the Dry Season
µ Although it’s the high season, parks are generally not overly crowded, with the exception of Victoria Falls.
µ Even better, game viewing is at its best because there’s less vegetation, with many animals gathering around waterholes, making them easier to spot.
µ There’s likely to be no rain, with clear blue skies and few mosquitoes.
µ There are way fewer mosquitos when it is cooler (June – July), but as soon as it starts to warm up around mid to end of August mosquito numbers increase.
µ October can get very hot in South Luangwa as it’s at low altitude.
µ Mornings game drives can be cold, and during June to August, especially, it’s best to pack some warm clothes or layers.
November to April Wet Season – Summer
The rainy season is also known as the Green Season as the bush is beautifully green and lush. However, the downside according to Michael is that game viewing can be a little trickier as the vegetation is so thick, and many animals also move away from the major water sources they frequented in the dry season.
“By mid-November in South Luangwa National Park the rains arrive, causing the reserve’s greenery to burst into life – a truly spectacular sight. But animals start to spread out again, and can be more difficult to spot as the bush thickens. On the plus side, it’s the perfect time for bird lovers to visit as birdlife explodes, and it’s also the birthing season for mammals.”
While quite a few lodges in this region are closed from mid-November to April, due to the inaccessibility of many parts of the park, the stately and luxurious Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge remains open all year and is the perfect base during Green Season.
Says Michael, the best time to visit Victoria Falls on the Zambia side is at the end of the rainy season (March – May) when the Zambezi River is in full flood and the falls are at their most spectacular. “Be prepared to get soaked by the spray!”
Michael’s Top Tips for the Wet Season
µ It’s a brilliant time to see lots newborn animals.
µ It’s also the best time for bird watching and migratory birds.
µ While there is plenty of rain about, it mostly takes the form of short showers late in the afternoon, and is rarely continuous for more than a day or so.
µ The scenery is greener – and spectacular, and it’s low season, meaning lower rates.
µ Zambia’s premier park South Luangwa and Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge stay open year round with all weather access roads.
µ From October to December the Victoria Falls might just be a small stream on the Zambia side. The greatest flow of water is from March to May, but the spray sometimes gets too strong and blocks the view to the falls.
µ There are more mosquitoes when the weather is warmer so always travel with some DEET strength mosquito repellent.
No matter what time of year you are planning to visit, now is definitely the time to book a trip to Zambia with Sanctuary Retreats’ Stay Longer, Pay Lessextended stay offer – stay at one or more of its African camps and lodges in 2016 and 2017 and save up to 40%.
Stay 3 – 4 nights at any combination of Sanctuary Retreats African camps and lodges including one or more of its Zambia properties and save up to 30%.
Stay 5 – 7 nights and save up to 35%.
Stay 8+ nights and save up to 40%.
µ Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge is normally priced from US $390 per person per night twin share.
µ Sanctuary Puku Ridge Camp normally priced from US$450 per person per night twin share.
µ Sanctuary Sussi & Chumi Camp is normally priced from US$650 per person per night twin share.