When to Go
The best time to visit Zambia for first-timers is the dry season, from May through September. The roads are easy to navigate, the bugs are down, the weather is consistently dry, and the animals are easier to spot, without the benefit of thick foliage cover and dispersed water sources. By October it starts to get very hot, and then the rains come from November through April. Experienced visitors to Africa know that the wet season can also be interesting. In between the strong but temporary downpours, the sky can be deep blue (instead of dusty and hazy) and the grass and foliage a bright green. Although the bugs (mosquitoes, tse tse flies, etc) may be worse, the landscape photographic opportunities may be better, as the land is less barren and brimming with life.
From North America, the two primary ways to get to Zambia are to fly from New York or Washington DC to South Africa (South African Airways and Delta) and connect to Lusaka, or to fly to London and then directly into Lusaka on British Airways.
Upon arrival in Lusaka, we stayed at the Intercontinental. After a flight this long, this 4 star property is the perfect place to catch up on some sleep and enjoy a good breakfast before departing for one of the parks. Rates start around $250/night.
Zambian Airways and Proflight both offer scheduled flights to Mfuwe (for South Luangwa). Proflight also offers service from Mfuwe to Lower Zambezi (to one of 2 airstrips, depending on the location of your lodging), and back to Lusaka. Both airlines also serve Livingstone from Lusaka.
In South Luangwa, the Mushroom Lodge enjoys a fantastic location, close to the park entrance but somewhat removed from the main road, and directly on a lagoon. Rack rates range from $390pp in the off-season to $550pp in the high season. The lodge offers game drives and walks, and even has a nice swimming pool, where you can swim while watching zebras, waterbuck, baboons, impalas, elephants, and other wildlife. The lodge is also the site of the personal retreat of the former president of Zambia, and is one of the few Zambian lodges that is open year-round.
Chongwe River Camp is a perfect luxury escape, adjacent to Lower Zambezi National Park. The lodge offers tiger fishing on the Zambezi, canoe safaris, game drives, and fine food and wine prepared by an attentive staff. Rates start at $600pp, and the lodge is only open during the dry season from April through October.
Two great choices in Livingstone are Tongabezi Lodge and the new David Livingstone Lodge & Spa. Tongabezi is a special place on the shores of the Upper Zambezi outside of town, and its unique style has attracted discerning travelers for over a decade. Some activities, like sundowner cruises and game drives, are included. Rates average around $435pp. The brand-new David Livingstone Lodge also has a good location on the upper river, and along the road to the falls. It’s less of a boutique option than Tongabezi, and you’ll find some mass-market travelers there, but it’s main common areas and pool deck are of a high standard. Rates start at $222pp.