Zambia is an excellent safari destination, and most of the high-profile animals are relatively easily seen. South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue are particularly good for leopard sightings, but wild dog and cheetah are harder to see. Black rhino is only present in North Luangwa and white rhino only in Mosi-oa-Tunya.
Zambia has several interesting, endemic sub-species including Thornicroft's giraffe, Cookson's wildebeest and Crawshay's zebra. The Kafue lechwe and the black lechwe are specials in specific swampy areas. Most lodges offer night safaris and Zambia is one of the best countries to see some of the nocturnal animals such as porcupine, genet and bushbaby.
Best Time for Wildlife Viewing
The best wildlife viewing time coincides with the dry season (May to October) when water is scarce, and animals congregate to waterholes and rivers. The bush is less lush at this time, and animals are easier to spot. From October until the rains, it can be unbearably hot. Some roads become impassable during the wet season (November-April), and several parks and camps close at this time.
The Weather & Climate
The Dry season in Zambia is a lovely time to visit – it’s divided into a cooler period (May to August) and a hotter one (September and October). Zambia is right in the tropics and gets lots of rain in the Wet season (November to April). If you arrive then, you’ll find that many areas are cut off, and that most camps in Kafue, Lower Zambezi and the more remote parks have shut down. Not the Mfuwe section of South Luangwa, however, which you can visit at any time of year. The further north you go, the earlier the rains come and the later they leave, while the eastern and higher areas get more drenched than the western and lowland areas.
South Luangwa National Park is Zambia’s most-visited park. This is because four of the Big Five are easily seen here: the lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo (only rhino is missing). That makes it a real treat if it’s your first safari. But the park also gets lots of repeat visitors because it’s home to a great number and variety of different animals. You get to see all this on wonderful game drives and walking safaris, led by some of Africa’s best guides.
You can’t miss seeing big herds of elephant and buffalo in South Luangwa, and probably some lion and leopard too, because there are so many animals here. A couple of them you won’t see anywhere else except in Zambia: Thornicroft's giraffe, Crawshay's zebra and Cookson's wildebeest.
South Luangwa is one of the most beautiful parks in southern Africa, especially when the late-afternoon light reflects off the Luangwa River. Locally known as 'The Valley', it is incredibly scenic too. It’s a mix of mopane and miombo woodland, acacia shrub, grassland savannah and riverine forest. A walking safari will give you time to really appreciate it.
Lower Zambezi National Park is set in the Zambezi Valley, on the northern bank of the Zambezi River. Mana Pools National Park hugs the river on the Zimbabwean side. The mighty Zambezi is an icon in Africa and this park won’t disappoint. The wildlife is plentiful, with four of the Big Five easily spotted (rhino is absent). The real attraction is canoeing on the Zambezi. There is nowhere else where you can see such variety and sheer numbers of animals from this exciting vantage point.
Buffalo and elephant are abundant and spend time on the small islands and sandbanks in the river. The park is home to some impressive tuskers and big herds regularly cross the river. Lion and leopard are easily spotted and you might come across wild dog as well. For those paddling, most memorable are the thousands of hippo that inhabit the river channels and the enormous crocs lying on the banks.
The park's main feature is one of Africa's most famous rivers – the Zambezi. The northern boundary of the park is the Muchinga escarpment, which forms an impressive backdrop to the river in the valley. The river is fringed by sandy flats, mopane woodland and acacia shrubs. Leadwoods, figs and ebonies are just some of the beautiful trees that dot the landscape.
You have to stand in the middle of Kafue National Park to understand just how big this place is. It’s one of the largest parks in Africa. You also have to stay here for at least a few nights to realize how wonderfully peaceful it is. Fortunately, it’s not hard to experience all this, as the park is an easy drive due west from Lusaka. The animals can be quite shy, but you’ll still see loads of wildlife. Four of the Big Five are easily found, only rhino is missing.
Kafue has a lot of wildlife. Elephants tend to be shy, but are common. Lion and leopard are easily spotted as well. What makes Kafue a great destination, though, is its wealth of antelope species. Huge herds of red lechwe – in the thousands – can be found in the swamps. Puku, greater kudu, oribi and waterbuck are all common, and the rare roan antelope is present in very sizable herds as well.
The Kafue River and the streams that flow into it are lined with forest and make for a beautiful view on a boat cruise. Away from the rivers, there are patches of miombo woodland and swamps. The vast Busanga Plains are in the far north of the park. You can’t explore these floodplains in the Wet season, but for the rest of the year you can enjoy the wildlife here.