Zambia is situated mainly on a vast plateau and has three of Africa’s largest rivers – the Zambezi, Kafue and Luangwa – as well as one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the Victoria Falls, which it shares with neighbouring Zimbabwe.
The main safari areas are centred around these great rivers. The iconic South Luangwa National Park in the east is the best known of the safari areas and is one Africa’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries – an area of unspoilt wilderness with ox-bow lagoons, woodlands and valley plains hosting huge concentrations of game including elephant, buffalo, lion, giraffe, hippo, and over 400 species of birds. It is also well known for its good populations of the elusive leopard, with leopard density is said to be double that of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. This is where the Africa walking safari was pioneered.
Kafue National Park, covering 22,500 sq km, is one of the largest in Africa. Its northern sector is remote, wild and diverse with vast tracts of pristine wilderness and huge open plains. With more than 150 species recorded, mammals are abundant and diverse, with regular sightings of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and cheetah, hippo and good numbers of plains game; birdlife is equally abundant with nearly 500 species recorded, including more than half the world’s population of wattled crane and many species that do not occur elsewhere in southern Africa.
The Lower Zambezi National Park stretches in a narrow swathe from the Chongwe River in the west to the Luangwa River in the east. Its distinguishing features are the rugged escarpment to the north, the river itself, and its numerous islands, lagoons and floodplains which attract most of the abundant wildlife. The most outstanding aspect of this area is the range of activities on offer, which include excellent walking, motorboat and canoe safaris in addition to the more usual vehicle safaris by day and night.
At 1708 metres wide Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of water in the world and drops more than 100 metres into the sheer Zambezi Gorge, arguably one of the greatest and most awe-inspiring sights on Earth. Columns of spray can be seen from four miles away and the falls can be heard from 12 miles away! Zambia shares the falls with its neighbour Zimbabwe but the Zambian side of the falls is less commercialised. As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, a visit to Victoria Falls is an essential part of any Zambia or Zimbabwe safari and there is a wide range of activities around the area, including boat trips on the river, birding walks, and game drives in the nearby Musi oa Tunya Park.
Zambia has a semi-arid climate, with hot, wet summers and mild, dry winters. The rainy season runs from October to April, and most of the rain falls between December and February. The national average rainfall is 700 mm per year.
Temperatures are generally warm to hot year-round. The hottest months are October to March, when average daily temperatures range from 29 to 35 degrees Celsius. The coolest months are June to August, when average daily temperatures range from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius but minimums can down to 2-3 degrees. It is worth pointing out that it can get especially hot in the lower Zambezi Valley from October onwards and the soil content can make it very difficult to get around during the rains so most camps and lodges close between November and April.
The best time to travel on safari is between May and October.