Best Times to Travel in Zambia

Elephant visiting the pool at Kasaka LodgeElephant visiting the pool at Kasaka Lodge

Welcome to Zambia - a country that boasts abundant wildlife, beautiful sights, breathtaking lakes and wetlands, and of course the magnificent Victoria Falls. As with any country, there are certain seasons in Zambia that are best suited for special interests than others are.

Wildlife Rhythms

Between February and April, the vegetation in Zambia has been rejuvenated and is wonderfully lush. The animals are in prime condition and the dust has been washed from the air creating good conditions for photography.

Access, however can be a real problem during this 'green season', with only limited activities available. Animals can also be difficult to spot compared to the dry winter months.

Best Times to Visit the National Park and Reserves

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park:

park is hometo numerous antelope species, Zebra, Giraffe and the recently acquired White Rhino.Visitors to the park can enjoy excellent photo opportunities.

Different times of the year will provide completely different experiences of the Falls region. Peak flood season is around March and April and the full power of the falls can be experienced in all its glory. As the floodsdecrease the view of the falls gets better and better through the year, but is at it's lowest, around November and December.

South Luangwa National Park:

Seasonal changes are very pronounced in Luangwa. The dry season begins in April and intensifies through to October, the hottest month when game concentrations are at their height.

Warm sunny days and chilly nights typify the dry winter months of May to August. The wet season begins in November as the leaves turn green, and the dry bleak terrain becomes a lush jungle.

Kafue National Park:

Game is best sighted in the dry season from April to October, but the beauty of the park is at its best after the rains in the first half of the year. Many of the parks internal roads are inaccessible between November and April.

Lochinvar National Park:

Anytime of the year is accessible although care is needed in the wet season after heavy rains.The profusion of birds is extensive during the wet season when migrants arrive from the north. The game however is easier to spot in the dry season. The park is a year round paradise for bird watchers and photographers.

Nyika Plateau National Park:

Anytime of the year is good for a visit to Nyika Plateau National Park. The warm seasonis from September to May, rains fall between December and March. When the sun goes down, even in summer, it can get very chilly.

The cold season is from June to August and frosts may occur. Lots of warm clothing is essential at this time. The best colours occur from November to March after the rains have come, the rolling brown hills turn into carpets of green and flowers spring up everywhere. Migrant birds also expand the bird population dramatically. Game viewing however is better in the dry season.

Birding

Many bird species are found only in Zambia, while others migrate here during the winter to feast on the abundant seeds, fruits, and insects brought by the seasonal rains.

The rainy season in the region of South Luangwa Valleylasts up until the end of March and the migrant birds arrive in droves. Birdwatching is superb in the Valley. Near the end of the dry season, when the river and oxbow lagoons begin to recede, hundreds of large waterbirds can be seen wading through the shallows.

Around the same time, just before the rains set in, in November, the Palearctic migrants from Northern Europe and the intra-African migrants arrive to exploit the feeding opportunities that the warm rainy season brings.

These include the Red chested Cuckoo, White Storks, European swallows. Swifts, hobbies and Bee-eaters, as well as birds of prey such as the Steppe eagles and Steppe buzzards that come all the way from Russia. A special sight is the hundreds of brightly coloured Carmine Bee-eaters nesting in the steep sandy banks of the river.

With about 400 of Zambia's 732 species of birds appearing in the Valley, including 39 birds of prey and 47 migrant species, there is plenty for the birdwatcher to spot, whatever the season.

Botany

Zambia's vegetation forms a patchwork of grassland, woodland and swamp. Within these broad categories are numerous distinct plant communities, the most dominant of which is miombo woodland.

Covering nearly 3 quarters of Zambia, this deciduous woodland thrives on the generally poor, acid soils of the plateau. One of its distinctive trees is Brachystegia which produces rich, autumnal colours in early spring (September) before the new leaves gradually turn yellow and then green.

Regions of Zambia:

Lusaka has a pleasant climate with warm summers, mild winters and plenty of sun. The months October to November can get fairly hot in Lusaka. The best times to visit the Lower Zambezi and Lake Kariba is from June to September. Game viewing by boat is possible year round, although from late October, temperatures can become unbearably hot.

Angling in Lake Kariba is best from September to October when Tiger fish are more active. Bird watching, although excellent year round is particularly rewarding from December to April.Kasanka National Park which is in the Bangweulu Region is open year round. Bird watching is particularly good during the wet season when the migrants are around, which is from November to March and game viewing is best from May to October.

Climate

The general height of the land gives Zambia a more pleasant climate than that experienced in most tropical countries. There are 3 seasons:
  • cool and dry from May to August
  • hot and dry from September to November
  • warm and wet from December to April
Only in the Valleys of the Zambezi and Luangwa is there excessive heat, particularly in October and, in the wet season, a high humidity. In the warm wet season, frequent heavy showers and thunderstorms occur, followed by spells of bright sunshine.Plants grow profusely and rivers and streams fill up almost overnight. During the cool dry season, night frosts may occur in places sheltered from the wind. The countryside dries up gradually and grass fires, fanned by high winds are a feature of this time of the year.

In depressions, radiation occurs on cloudless nights. Temperatures rise high during the hot, dry season but new leaves appear on the trees before the start of the rains and new grass brightens the countryside. The main growing period of woody vegetation is between August and November.In the cool season the prevailing wind, dry south easterlies come from the southern hemisphere belt of high pressure. Invasions of cold air from the south-east bring cloudy to overcast conditions. During the hot season maximum temperatures may range from 27 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees Celsius.

Most people visit Zambia during the dry season from May to November. There is a greater choice of camps, lodges and activities available during this period, and getting around is much easier compared to the wet season.

Wildlife also tends to be more easily spotted at this time - the vegetation is less rampant and obscuring, while animals oftengather near shrinking water sources. If you do visit during the middle of the dry season, remember that this is Zambia's winter and it can get very cold at night.
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