Last updated 29 Mar 2020

For many travellers a safari in Africa is high on their bucket list, providing a chance to see big game animals in their natural habitat. With 20 national parks and 34 game management areas, Zambia in Southern Africa is the ultimate safari destination.

Safari-goers in Zambia can see – amongst many more – one of the largest bat migrations in the world, the second-largest wildebeest migration on earth, a unique species of giraffe and spot the big five (elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard). Look for a unique safari experience with less crowded national parks? A safari in Zambia is ideal. Here’s where to go on safari in Zambia.

Zambia giraffes zoo

Giraffes in Zambia

South Luangwa National Park

Home of the walking safari

South Luangwa National Park is located in the Eastern province of Zambia. It is one of the most wildlife-rich national parks in the country with more than 400 species of birds and over 60 different animal species to see including antelopes, lions, elephants and more. South Luangwa is the only place in the world to see the Thornicroft species of giraffe as well as the Cookson’s wildebeest.

The best safaris in South Luangwa National Park

There are various types of safari offered at South Luangwa National Park. Walking safaris are a speciality of the park, and were pioneered by renowned conservationist Sir Norman Carr in the 1950s and 1960. They continue to be one of the most popular ways to view wildlife in the park. On a walking safari, guests can see lions, leopards, elephants and learn about the flora of the park. It’s not all about big beasts however; a walking safari will allow you to get up close with a termite mound and learn about Zambia’s ecosystem.

Game drives are generally offered twice a day at most safari camps and lodges in South Luangwa. A typical safari day begins around 6am and lasts about 4 hours. Guests can expect to see elephants, zebras, antelope and more. After sunset, some lodges and camps offer two-hour night game drives. This is a good time to see nocturnal animals such as honey badgers and porcupines, alongside the chance to witness a lion or leopard hunt.

Another type of safari offered in South Luangwa is hides. These are camouflaged and protected areas where guests can watch the animals at a safe distance without interfering in their activities. It can be thrilling watching a lion prowl or an elephant bathe up close from a hide.

A canoe safari on the Luangwa River is one of the best ways to see the region’s abundant birdlife as well as elephants, crocodiles and hippo. Birding enthusiasts can also book safari experiences focusing on birdlife led by expert ornithologists.

South Luangwa lion

A lion in South Luangwa National Park

When to visit South Luangwa National Park

Zambia has distinct seasons which impacts when you can go on safari. The peak safari season is between July and October when Zambia is dry. This is also the best time to see wildlife.

During the emerald season (which coincides with the rainy season) of November-March, camps have cheaper rates as some lodges close due to heavy rains making some parts of the park inaccessible. However, Mfuwe in the southern part of South Luangwa national park has all-weather roads and remains open throughout the year. Although it is harder to spot wildlife during this time due to increased water sources and vegetation, guests can expect to see lots of baby elephants, zebra, antelope and wild dogs. Leopard and lion sightings are also possible.

The best time for a photo safari in Zambia is during the emerald season as the park is full of colour which contrasts with the lush green vegetation. It is also a great time for bird watching as rivers are full and animals head to watering holes.

May, June and November are known as the shoulder season. The weather is pleasant for walking safaris and bird watching enthusiasts can spot canine bee-eater birds as they begin nesting.

Luangwa Valley Baboon standing guard for his troop

Baboon standing guard in Luangwa

Where to stay in South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park offers luxury, mid-range and budget accommodation to suit any traveller’s needs. Most luxury accommodations prices are all-inclusive, which means game drives and meals are included.

Mfuwe Lodge offers guests the chance to see elephants which regularly pass through the reception between late October and mid-December on their way to the mango trees around the property.

For budget-conscious travellers, Marula Lodge offers dorm-style rooms, ensuite double and twin rooms as well as tents. All-inclusive packages are also available. Thornicroft Lodge and Croc Valley Camp are also great budget-friendly options.

How to get there

Most safari-goers in Zambia will fly into Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. To get to South Luangwa from Lusaka, there are several options. Zambian airline Proflight has seasonal flights from Lusaka and Livingstone to Mfuwe town. Lodge and camps provide pickups from Mfuwe airport to their accommodations. Guests should contact their accommodations in advance to schedule pickups.

Renting a vehicle from Lusaka and driving to South Luangwa is also possible. The trip takes about nine hours or more depending on which camp in the park is being visited. A 4x4 vehicle is recommended, especially in the rainy season. Buses to Mfuwe can also be taken from Lusaka’s intercity bus stop.

Zambia South Luangwa A young cute Plains Zebra Equus quagga in a grassland

A young plains Zebra in South Luangwa National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park

Canoe safaris on the might Zambezi

Found in Zambia’s southern region, Lower Zambezi National Park was named the world’s first carbon-neutral national park in 2016 after a joint collaboration with lodge operators under the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.

Named after the Zambezi river which runs through it, the park provides a lifeline for more than 60 mammal species and 378 types of bird. Animals such as elephants, leopards, buffalo, waterbuck ( a type of antelope) and wild dogs can be spotted in the park.

Going on a canoe safari in the Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi is best-known for its canoe safaris, which take place on the Zambezi river. Guests can book 3-5 day canoe safaris which involve overnight stays at bush camps along the riverbank.

A canoe safari allows you to get to some of the more remote parts of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Your canoe safari guide will direct you through the waterways, where you’ll encounter big game including elephants, hippos, crocodiles and baboons. Most canoe trips are self-supporting and you’ll be wild camping along the riverbank or on isolated islands.

You’ll be expected to canoe your own boat, so a reasonable level of fitness is required, although most canoe safaris won’t expect you to have previous experience. Expect to get on the water just after sunrise, break for lunch and an afternoon siesta and spend the rest of the time marvelling at the Lower Zambezi’s incredible wildlife.

Some operators offer participatory canoe safaris which can last for a shorter duration such as a half-day. Animals that are usually seen on canoe safaris include hippo, elephant, crocodiles, baboons, waterbuck (a type of antelope) and more.

Traditional day and night game drives are offered as well as walking safaris. Additional activities include tiger fish catch and release fishing, boat cruises and sleep outs.

Zambia Zambezi hippo

Lower Zambezi hippo

When to visit the Lower Zambezi National Park

From April to November, all camps in the Lower Zambezi National Park are open. For people that enjoy fishing, the best time for a visit is September and October. Wildlife is best spotted from May to October, although the heat in October can be excessive. Camps that are open during the rainy season (November to March) are Royal Zambezi and Kayila Lodge. Birdlife is in abundance during the emerald/rainy season as migratory birds return for the breeding season and there are new births of antelope, elephant, warthog, zebra and more.

If you’re interested in canoeing, the best time to go on a canoe safari is during the dry season, particularly if you want to head into the more tricky routes around Mana Pools. However, it is possible to take a canoe safari year-round.

Zambia Zambezi river aerial

A view over the Zambezi river

Where to stay in the Lower Zambezi

Luxury accommodation includes Chongwe River Camp, the Sausage Tree and Potato Bush Camp, the Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro and the Royal Zambezi Lodge. These lodges are all inclusive which means activities and meals are included.

Mid-range options include Gwabi River Lodge, Mount Hermon Safari cottages and Kiambi Safaris.

Travellers should bear in mind that not all accommodations have wifi and most are run on solar power to offset carbon emissions.

How to get there

Zambian airline Proflight flies to the Jeki and Royal Zambezi airstrips where guests can arrange for pickups with their lodge or camp. Proflight also flies from Livingstone and Mfuwe to Jeki and Royal Zambezi, so if you’re combining a trip from Victoria Falls or South Luangwa with the Lower Zambezi, it is possible. Proflight runs seasonal flights, so travellers should check the airline’s schedule in advance.

Driving from Lusaka or Livingstone is also possible by renting a car. The journey from Lusaka takes at least three hours (depending on where the lodge in the national park is located), making it an ideal weekend trip from the capital. 4x4 vehicles are recommended especially in the rainy season.

Kafue National Park

Game drives and spectacular sunrises

Kafue National Park is Zambia’s largest national park, covering an area of 22,400 sq/km and stretching over three provinces; North Western, Southern and Central. It is also the oldest national park in the country, established in 1924 by conservationist Norman Carr. The park is named after the Kafue River which flows through the park for more than 250km.

Kafue National Park sunset scene

Sunset at Kafue National Park

The best safaris in Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park is so vast that the safari options vary based on the location of a camp a traveller is staying at. For a different safari experience, head to the Busanga Plains in the North West corner of Kafue National Park, which is the only place in Zambia where you can take a hot air balloon safari. The season runs from August till the end of October. From the hot air balloon, guests can see the red lechwe (a medium-sized type of antelope), wildebeest, lion, zebra and hippo. The lions in the Busanga Plains are famous for their ability to climb trees and were featured in the National Geographic documentary Swamp Lions. Busanga also has the largest herd of buffalo in the park, with around 600 thundering around. Guests staying at Shumba and Busanga bush camps get a complimentary hot air balloon ride.

Game drives are offered in the morning and evenings in all parts of the park during the peak season (July to October). Walking safaris can also be done in the park through lodges and camps. Boat rides can also be done.

Kafue National Park is a haven for bird watchers with almost 500 species of birds which include the fish eagle, the saddle-billed stork and more.

When to visit Kafue National Park

Peak wildlife viewing season in Kafue National Park is between July and October. At this time, the rates are highest. Note that the Busanga Plains are inaccessible during the rainy season (November-April) while the Itehi-Tezhi part of the park is accessible year-round. Due to Kafue National Park’s being 1100m above sea level, it is cooler than the national parks located in the Luangwa and Zambezi valleys, particularly in the winter months (June-August). If visiting during that time, warm clothing should be packed.

Zambia Kafue NP leopard2

Leopard in Kafue National Park

Where to stay in Kafue National Park

Most properties in the Kafue National Park are located on the banks of the Kafue River. During the rainy season, some parts of the park become inaccessible, such as the Busanga Plains. All year lodgings are available at Mayukuyuku camp.
Mukambi Safaris runs three camps in the Kafue National Park; Mukambi Safari Lodge, Fig Tree Bushcamp and Busanga Plains camp. Other high end lodging options include the Musekese camp and Ntemwa-Busanga bush camp. Budget accommodation can be found at the Musungwa Lodge.

How to get there

It is possible to drive from Lusaka to Kafue National Park, with the journey length depending on which lodge or camp is being visited. The closest part of the park to Lusaka is the Northern section which takes between 4-5 hours to drive to.

If you’re heading deeper into the park to places like Busanga, consider a private charter flight. These land at airstrips such as Chunga, Lufupa and Ngoma.

Kafue National Park is also accessible by road via Livingstone, with the drive taking a long twelve hours.

Kafue National Park Puku calves

Puku calves in Kafue National Park

Kasanka National Park

True wilderness

Kasanka National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Zambia. Found in the Central Province in the northern part of Zambia, Kasanka is run through a public-private partnership between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the Kasanka Trust.

Safari-goers coming to Kasanka can expect a more remote, ‘wilderness’ style safari with fewer visitors and unique wildlife.

Kasanka National Park’s annual bat migration

Kasanka National Park offers walking safaris led by a guide around the Wasaka Lake or smaller lakes such as Wasa II and Kalemba. A typical day at Kasanka begins with a game drive to the pontoon where sitatunga (a rare, swamp-dwelling antelope) can be seen. Next, you might take a game drive or canoe safari, or visit the huge red mahogany trees in Kasanka.

Most visitors to Kasanka go to experience the annual bat migration which occurs from November to December. An estimated 9 million fruit bats migrate from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the park to feed on the fruits of the masuku tree, an indigenous Zambian fruit. The Kasanka bat migration is billed as the second-largest mammal migration in the world. The best time to see the bat migration is at either sunset or sunrise, when the light highlights the millions of flying bats. Your guide will take you a tree hide high up, where you’ll be able to witness the migration up close.

There is also an option of a hiking safari which runs for four nights, with many stopping at Fibwe hide to view birdlife. There are close to 500 species of birds at Kasanka including pel’s fishing owl, the African blue crane and more.

There are plenty of non-safari things to do in Kasanka. Try visiting the David Livingstone Memorial, which commemorates the place the 19th-century explorer died in his quest to find the source of the Nile. Another point of interest is the Nsalu caves, which feature rock paintings from the stone age period.

A day trip to the Kundalila Falls can be included in a visit to the Kasanka National Park. The falls are a beautiful single drop falls set in a forest deep in the Muchinga escarpment.

Zambia kudu

Kudu in Zambia

When to visit Kasanka

The park is open throughout the year, and the emerald season is perfect for birdwatchers. From July to August, wildlife such as elephant, hippo, sitatunga and puku can be spotted. It is also a great time to do a walking safari as the weather is pleasant. Between September and October, game drives, as well as canoe safaris, can be done.

Where to stay in Kasanka National Park

Kasanka National Park has just three lodges. Wasa Lodge is the closest to the airstrip and to the entrance of the park. It is also the closest to the hides to view bats in the forest. Guests staying at the Wasa Lodge have incredible views of the Wasa Lake, where animals such as hippo, sitatunga and puku can be spotted.

The Luwombwa Lodge is located on the Western side of Kasanka National Park. This is a good place to see birds such as the black-breasted snake eagle and raptors. The nearby Chifukwe plains are home to antelope such as reedbuck and sable, as well as frequent sightings of zebra and buffalo.

Those on a tighter budget can camp either at the Kabwe, Pontoon and Bufumu campsites located in the park.

How to get there

Kasanka National Park is accessible by road. The drive from Lusaka takes between five to six hours. Alternatively, there is a landing strip in Kasanka. The Kasanka park team can arrange private charter flights for guests.

Liuwa Plains National Park

Zambia's forgotten safari park

Liuwa Plains National Park is located in the Western Province of Zambia in the upper plains of the Zambezi river. It is one of the oldest conservation areas in the country and was designated protected land by the ruler of the Lozi kingdom around 1880. It is also located in one of the most remote areas of Zambia, making it one of the least visited parks in the country. However, it should be on every safari lover’s list due to its excellent populations of lion, cheetah and the annual wildebeest migration.

Safaris in Liuwa Plains

Morning and evening game drives are offered, walking safaris, and seasonal canoe safaris. A sleepout can also be arranged. Guests can expect to see lions, hyenas, wildebeest, cheetah, zebra and abundant birdlife.

A trip in March or April to Liuwa can be combined with a one day trip to Mongu to witness the annual Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi people of Western Zambia. The traditional festival involves the King, his Queen and his subjects migrating from the lowlands of the Zambezi to the highlands in a large black and white striped boat.

Zambia tiger fishing cropped

Tiger fishing in Zambia

When to visit Liuwa National Park

Although Liuwa National Park is open from April to December, visiting before June can only be done via plane due to heavy rains and flooding. From June to December, a 4x4 vehicle is required. Guests who want to experience the wildebeest migration should plan their trip between November and December.

Where to stay in Liuwa National Park

King Lewanika Lodge is the only permanent, luxury accommodation in the park, with open plan views over the plains. Other accommodation includes campsites owned and run by the local community, who are assisted by the African Parks organisation. Four campsites – Kwale, Lyangu, Katoyana and Sikale – are located in the park. All four offer chances to spot different types of wildlife. Guests at Sikale are more likely to see wildebeest as they take part in the great migration. Katoyana also offers the chance to see wildebeest as well as lions and hyenas, while at Kwale, buffalo sightings are common. Lyangu guests can see hyena, lechwe and wildebeest. The Sikale is the most basic type of camp with no running water or flush toilets.

How to get there

Proflight offers seasonal flights from Lusaka, Lower Zambezi’s Royal air strip and South Luangwa’s Mfuwe airstrip to Kalabo, the closest town to the Liuwa National Park. These flights run from 2.5hours at the shortest (Lusaka to Kalabo) to 3.5 hours (Mfuwe to Kalabo). If staying at the King Lewanika Lodge, guests are transported to the lodge via a fifteen-minute helicopter ride.

Where to go on safari in Zambia

Mazuba Kapambwe

Mazuba is a freelance writer from Zambia whose travel writing has appeared on CNN Travel, Unearth Women, Culture Trip and several in-flight magazines. Her travel podcast Mwende Bwino (Go Well) was recently featured on Conde Nast Traveler’s website and listed as one of the top five Zambian podcasts. Mazuba co-wrote the Lusaka Arts and Culture guide produced by the National Arts Council of Zambia.

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