One of Southern Africa's key safari destinations, offering top notch walking safaris

Zambia is one of the pre-eminent safari destinations in Africa and is one of the best places to undertake walking safaris – after all, it was where they first started, in the South Luangwa National Park during the 1950s.  The number of safari camps have proliferated since those days, but there are acres and acres of space here and it’s still possible to get completely off the beaten track and enjoy safaris that are really authentic, in the company of exceptional guides and camp crews. 

Zambia contains several note-worthy national parks, which contain different habitats and ecosystems, and a good approach is to combine two of these on a single trip. Victoria Falls can be visited very easily before or after a safari and provides a stepping stone to head into Botswana, which many do on a single trip.

Malawi is also on Zambia’s doorstep and is reached by a short flight from South Luangwa, or directly from Lusaka – Lake Malawi is a brilliant chill-out destination where you can shed safari dust and unwind after all those early bush starts!

Walking Safaris in Zambia

The South Luangwa and North Luangwa National Parks are the home of Zambia’s walking safaris and some of these count among the best in Southern Africa. Whilst many camps offer walks, not all camps necessarily have good walking, and it pays to be selective. The Luangwa Parks are “National” Parks, which means that anyone can obtain a permit to enter, although many areas are off-limits to self-drivers and lodge vehicles. In South Luangwa, most camps are located along the Luangwa River, with the highest concentration near the middle, where the Mfuwe Bridge provides the main access. However, South Luangwa is vast and the further one heads out towards the extremes, the quieter the park becomes – many areas are not accessed. North Luangwa is noted for being very undeveloped. We’ve hand-picked walking safaris which we consider to be authentic, well led and managed, which offer immersive walking experiences in remoter corners of the park.

Complete Itinerary Ideas

For most visitors, Zambia is primarily a safari destination and itineraries usually entail visiting one or two of the country’s major national parks, particularly the Luangwa Valley (South and North Luangwa National Parks), the Lower Zambezi National Park and Kafue National Park. Common extensions are west to Victoria Falls, possibly going into Botswana, or east into Malawi, especially to Lake Malawi for a post safari “beach” break. The itineraries below are just suggestions that we think work well and will hopefully provide inspiration.

Very broadly, Zambia’s climate can be divided into two main seasons – a summer rainy season between December and April, with January and February being the wettest months (although it’s not that wet), and a dry season between May and November.  The latter is the easiest time to travel, not least because you are unlikely to encounter rain and can expect blue skies, but also you are likely to see game more readily. That said, you can go on safari during the summer, and many do. A good number of camps are open all year round and there is still plenty to see – the summer is a good time for birding, and there are a number of specialist safaris, eg. Robin Pope’s River Journeys, which are focussed on the “green” season.

The summer period is typically characterised by days that start out hot and sunny, which can then be interrupted by cloud build-up during the early afternoon, followed by sudden, isolated, heavy outbursts of rain. This helps moderate temperatures in the peak summer, which is not the hottest time of year. That is reserved for October (referred to as “Suicide Month” by locals) and early November, when temperatures in lower lying areas such as the Luangwa Valley, the lower Zambezi Valley (particularly) and Lake Tanganyika can get very hot, and on occasion reach over 40 deg.C in the shade.

The dry season is when most safari-goers travel to Zambia, particularly August and September which are the peak game-viewing months and when camp prices are the highest – water becomes scarce in the bush, with shallow lagoons and dambos drying up and forcing wildlife to rely upon perennial rivers to sustain life. Walking safaris start opening up in May, with some more specialist safaris commencing in June, and run through to the end of September or into early October. 

May through to July are also good months to go; although wildlife is not as prolific as in August and September, as it’s more spread out, you’ll still see a lot and have the advantage of being able to walk for longer owing to the lower temperatures; be prepared for cool, verging on “cold” evenings through June and July and into August, and maximum temperatures of around 25 deg. C in the higher parts of Zambia (eg. Livingstone) and 30 deg.C or so in the lower lying areas such as the Luangwa valley or Lower Zambezi.

From then on the heat builds up, culminating in very high temperatures by the end of October.  One can still go on safari during October, and wildlife viewing is good owing to animals’ dependency on perennial rivers over this period, but visits to the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi valleys do pose heat challenges. However, higher parts of Zambia, including Livingstone (Victoria Falls), are generally cooler and more tolerable – switching your safari interest to reserves in this region (Victoria Falls National Park and Hwange in Zimbabwe, and into Botswana to the west) is quite sensible over those few weeks.

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