As with most safari destinations in Southern Africa, Zambia has a distinct dry season from May to October that signals the best time to visit for game viewing. So that’s the quick and dirty answer.
But sometimes you cannot visit at that time. Or you are choosing between say, May and August. So this article delves a little deeper…
Both the shoulder season (and parts of the wet season) have their advantages as well. If seeing the Victoria Falls at it’s most thunderous is your only priority for example, then we recommend you visit at the start of the dry season. But if you’d like to combine amazing game viewing with Victoria Falls, then July to September is usually the best time.
Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, shares the same climate as that of the wildlife areas of South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi. See the average max and min temperatures, and average rainfall for Lusaka below.
Dry Peak Season – mid June to September
The dry season is often considered the best time to visit Zambia. If it’s an unforgettable wildlife experience you are after, then this is certainly true. Especially when the temperatures start to rise and water sources are scarce (September). The animals congregate around these spots, making game viewing a very rewarding activity.
And although the majority of the dry season is actually in “winter”, this is hardly the sort of snow-shoveling kind that you may be used to. In fact, it’s not really cold at all! The days are sunny and clear, with cooler temperatures in the evenings and mornings.
It is actual a wonderful time to be active, enjoy a walking safari or spend some hours out on a game drive.
This is best visited earlier in the dry season. As the dry season progresses, the water flow over the Falls on the Zambian side starts to decline, especially from mid to late August onwards. Then the Victoria Falls may not be as ‘impressive’ as you will have seen in so many photographs. But on the Zambia side of the Falls, September through to November is the best time to take a dip in the famous Devil’s Pool and take part in adventurous low-water white water rafting.
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Shoulder months – Mid October to mid November, April to early June
Traditionally October is still considered a peak season month. Indeed the game-viewing in October can be every bit as good as July to September. But we dont think it ios such a good time to go. The run-up to the wet season gets seriously hot. You need to be able to cope with hot conditions. Some safari operators have started to make October a shoulder season month. We agree with this!
The rains usually arrive some time in November. So if the very hot (and muggy) weather doesn’t bother you, then you’ll be rewarded with great deals and dramatic skies. Plus the thunder storms give welcome relief to the heat.
After the wet season (see below), the flood-plains start to dry out again in April. The roads are remade into more remote areas. And then they reassemble the seasonal bush camps.
The start of the new season (April & May) is a good time to save some money. Plenty of lodges have tempting deals on offer. And from late April the rains have subsided, the birdlife is thriving, and the landscape is luscious and green after the wet season.
But many of the bush camps only open at the end of May so an earlier trip will not give you so much choice. And mosquito activity is at its peak during this time so anti-mosquito protection in the form of correct clothing is important.
Victoria Falls – late May and June is a great time to visit the Falls. The water levels are very dramatic but the spray is not as all-consuming.
Wet Season – December to March
The rains start to fall from mid November through to March, with the wettest months being January and February (these months are especially not the best time to visit Zambia).
Indeed many of the Zambia more remote bush camps are ‘closed’ during the rainy season from mid November to March. As the ground becomes too water-logged for supply vehicles to even get there, let alone to operate game drives.
But there are some opportunities. The camps in the central South Luangwa stay open. And as so much of the more remote areas of the park are water-logged, the animals tend to congregate where’s there dry land. So game-viewing can be surprisingly reasonable, through generally animals are harder to spot in the dense bush.
The scenery is lovely and green, and watery! Babies are being borne (as it is easier for them to survive at this time of year.) It is also an amazing time for keen birders to visit. There is much more of a focus on walking and boating as well as game drives.
October to December is not a great time to visit as it is at its lowest (in late November). If you do go, try to visit the Zimbabwean side which is better at this time of year, visit Livingstone Island and enjoy the river activities on the Zambezi.
However by March the Victoria Falls is at its fullest. And it is a sight (and sound) to behold! But not so much for keen photographers as your gear will get wet very easily from the spray.
Here’s a quick summary for time-pressed readers:
Best time to go
June to September – all parks in Zambia except Liuwa Plains
Good for: Wildlife safaris, walking safaris, Victoria Falls (not so much September)
July to August – game reserves are still not over-crowded
Good for: Wildlife safaris, walking safaris, river cruises on Lower Zambezi
November to April – many lodges close during the wettest months
Good for: Amazing birdlife, newborn babies and boating safaris on the Luangwa River.
May, June and August – temperatures are moderate with little to no clouds and rainfall
October (very hot and muggy), and January and February (wettest months)
If you found this useful, you might also be interested in reading some of our other articles related to Zambia safaris:
‘When is the best time to visit Zambia’ is written by Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a travel and safari company specializing in African tailor-made itineraries. We have special rates with all the hotels and game lodges. Booking through us will cost you no more than booking direct, and sometimes less. So our expertise and knowledge comes at no extra cost to you! Contact us now….