We don’t like to have star pupils, but Zambia is up there with our favourite destinations on the continent. Subject to a whole host of (unfair) rumours, we’re here to dispel every single one of them and impart some of our pearls of wisdom for planning a Zambia safari whilst we’re at it. If you haven’t yet decided what time of the year or where to go in Zambia, have a peek at our mini-guides first, and then delve into our Zambia travel tips below. If one thing’s for certain, you’ll be fully equipped to ready, set, BOOK!
How to get there
The first of our Zambia travel tips is a big one: international flights. To start your adventure, you’ll need to fly to the capital Lusaka, the arrival and departure point of all long-haul flights. Emirates have one flight a day from Dubai, which connects nicely with flights to the major safari destinations on national airline Proflight Zambia. They’ll also allow you a larger luggage limit if you book on the same ticket (win) and they’ll help you if any flights are delayed (win win). Other options are to fly to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, or Johannesburg on BA or South African Airways, and connect to Lusaka.
The good news is that national (and only) airline Proflight Zambia flies to every major safari park, so combining different destinations in Zambia really couldn’t be easier. The catch is that most flights arrive and depart from Lusaka so you’ll fly back to the capital and swap planes on almost every journey. That said, Proflight has introduced direct flights from the South Luangwa (Mfuwe airstrip) to the Lower Zambezi (Jeki), so change is in the air. If you do, however, have to connect in Lusaka, it’s a simple process and the wait time is short. Alternatively, if the timings just aren’t working out, have a look at chartering your own plane. No, we don’t think you’re a millionaire, but chartering a plane isn’t as expensive as you might think and can often save a lot of time and hassle – which is exactly what makes it one of our top Zambia travel tips.
How long should I go for?
It’s one of our most commonly asked questions and only right that we should address it on our list of Zambia travel tips. Generally when it comes to safari, the longer you can travel for, the better! In Zambia, there’s an enormous variety of camps and lodges, safari styles and activities and to stay for only one night in each place simply wouldn’t be worth the effort. A classic, 10-day trip, like this one here, is our typical starting point for Zambia and includes some time at world-famous Victoria Falls, the Lower Zambezi and two different destinations in the South Luangwa. But, if six days is all you have, you can make that work too. Simply choose one or two locations that work well together and do what’s important to you, like this short but sweet trip to the South Luangwa.
A note on seasons
The weather. Always important yet never guaranteed and the one thing that everyone seems to disagree on. Luckily, Zambia has quite a distinct ‘safari season’ (see our month-by-month guide for a more in-depth look at this), of June to October. The majority of the parks and reserves (bar Liuwa Plain, which is all but closed in August and September) are in their most iconic states and even the tiniest of bush camps are open. It’s the perfect weather for walking safaris and big game viewing and a lovely time to visit. Conversely, Victoria Falls is in full flow from January to June, and if you’re in the market for boating safaris, February and March in the South Luangwa will be your best bet. The moral of the story? There’s something fabulous to see in almost every month of the year – you just need to decide what suits you best.
Next on our list of Zambia travel tips is not to rule out the country for a fantastic family safari. East Africa often takes the top spot for multi-generational trips, but over the last few years a crop of new houses have popped up in Zambia that cater brilliantly to families of all ages. In the South Luangwa, Flatdogs Crocodile Nest is one of the best family houses we’ve come across, and Chongwe River House in the Lower Zambezi is a practical yet incredibly stylish choice. Lodges in Zambia don’t necessarily have ‘Kids Programmes’ but the majority of guides are family men (and belly-achingly funny) and have a knack of making the bush come alive for children. The only rule to note is that officially, children under the age of 12 cannot go on a walking safari.
How to combine the beach
Our last Zambia travel tip is all about the beach. Well, sort of. Zambia is a landlocked country and the closest coastline is the Indian Ocean on the eastern side of the continent. Getting here isn’t out of the ordinary; you’ll simply fly from Lusaka to Johannesburg (an overnight may be involved) and then on to your next destination, whether that’s picture-perfect Mauritius or an off-the-beaten track gem on Mozambique’s untouched coast. Time + Tide, famous for their Zambia lodges, also have sister lodge Miavana in Madagascar, offering a lovely (if expensive!) ‘bush and beach’ choice for Zambia. Our favourite option is, however, Lake Malawi. Dotted with hidden beaches and dreamy coves, spending some time by the shimmering water feels like the best type of beach break and, depending on which lodge you choose, there are plenty of activities on offer too. Have a look at this itinerary for how to incorporate it to your Zambia safari and try adding Kaya Mawa, an idyllic retreat on a mango-strewn island in the middle of the lake – you won’t look back!