A sunset cruise on the Lower Zambezi is a highlight on any trip to this region. Not only does the expansive river offer a welcome coolness from the heat on land, but the islets and sandbanks throughout the waterways are teeming with wildlife. The setting of fresh water, muddy banks and greenery also make for capturing gorgeous photographs of birds, animals and the landscape in its’ entirety.
On my recent trip to the lodge I was delighted to see an abundance of hippo, elephant with calves, croc, heron, baboon, warthog, fish eagle and kingfisher, as well as the breathtaking escarpment set against a massive setting sun in fiery gold, orange and red hues. On our sunset cruise we passed local fishermen, fishing villages, lodges and fellow visitors & guides who all offered cheery greetings from across the water. The cool spray off the river and the arrival of early evening provides welcome and refreshing coolness for both man and creature.
Returning back to the lodge after sunset, we are welcomed by a campfire and a refreshing beverage or two.At 7.30pm a delicious dinner is served overlooking the gently lapping river. Hippo start to frolic as the light fades and a male lion’s powerful call can be heard from across the other side of the river, in Zimbabwe. The perfect ending to a memorable day on the Zambezi.
If you are an early riser, you can really take advantage of the welcome coolness of the Lower Zambezi at dawn. Around 5.30am the majestic call of the kingfisher can be heard across the vastness of the river. Boisterous baboons can be heard on the Zimbabwean side, and hippos offer the occasional grunt, unwinding after the nights activities. The sky graduates from a hazy gold to pastel blue and the water starts to glisten in ripples, as fishermen and visitors head upstream for the promises of the new day.
After a welcome cup of coffee or tea, and a snack, its time to hop into the vehicle for an early morning game drive in the local GMA (game management area) or Lower Zambezi National Park. The wildlife is often most active in the cooler morning hours of the hotter months, where day temps can hit 40 degrees!
Expect to see an abundance of impala and elephant as well as nimble waterbuck, warthog, wildebeest, crocodile, zebra, lion and more. I also saw plenty of carmine bee eater, varieties of hornbill, yellow billed egret, guinea fowl and a couple of fish eagle perched high on bare and exposed tree branches. What I was most struck by was the relaxed nature of the wildlife on the Lower Zambezi, especially the lion and elephant. This made it a pleasure to capture beautiful photographs and take in the experience fully, without feeling like an intruder.
By 9am the heat is building rapidly, and the most natural thing to do is head back to the welcoming shade at camp, and enjoy a late and relaxing breakfast overlooking the river.
When planning your trip to Zambia and it’s beautiful parks and wildlife hotspots, it’s important to consider the seasons to ensure you get the most out of your trip. Game spotting is at its best in the drier months, when foliage is sparse and animals gather around diminishing water sources, yet in the wetter months the landscape is lush and an abundance of migratory birds are an absolute delight to behold.
The climate in the capital, Lusaka, is representative of the climate found in the higher areas of central and southern Zambia, such as Kafue National Park. South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi National Parks are located in lower-lying valleys and follow similar weather patterns, but are considerably hotter. Temperatures increase by about 6°C for every 1000m you descend (or 3.5°F per 1000ft).
Zambia, situated in the tropics, receives good rainfall, and has a dry season from May to the end of October and a wet season from November to April. During this wet season, many areas become largely inaccessible by vehicle, and most camps in these areas close down. The higher areas in the East generally receive more rain than western and lowland areas.
The Dry Season (May – Oct) ~ Winter
This can be divided into the cool dry season (May to August) and the hot dry season (September and October).
There is little to no rainfall during the entire winter and humidity is very low.
- Days are bright and filled with sunshine.
- Wildlife will congregate around waterholes when other water resources become scarce.
- The chances for malaria are lower since there are fewer mosquitos.
- Humidity is at its low point, making the heat less bothersome (except in October).
- Warm clothing is recommended for early morning game drives, which can be cold.
The Wet Season (Nov – April) ~ Summer
- The landscape is lush and green.
- A time for new-born animals
- With the appearance of migratory birds, birdwatching is at its best.
- Game viewing is not as good as during the dry season as the foliage is thicker and water more abundant
- Some roads become muddy and hard to drive on.
- The heat and humidity can be intense
High tourist season: June – October
Low season: January – June
Best weather: April – September
Less-favourable weather: October – Feb (humid & rainy)
Highest rainfall: Dec/January
Best time for game watching: June – October
Best time for bird watching: Excellent year round but particularly rewarding from December to April.
Best time for tiger fishing: Sep – mid November
Zambia is a bird lovers paradise, with one of the highest concentrations of bird species on the African continent. The Zambezi River, the natural boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, attracts an abundance of birdlife, considered to include as many as 400 species.
One can experience the vast array of birdlife on a walking safari, equipped with binoculars and an experienced guide, ensuring your safety and offering knowledge on the various species. Another fantastic option is to go on a boat or canoe safari, and gracefully drift down with the Zambezi current, book, camera and checklist in hand. You will also spot other exciting game from the river.
Bird spotting is great year round but the period just before the summer rains is considered to be a prime bird watching time, when the local bird population swells with the arrival of migrant species from Europe and beyond. Colourful carmine bee-eaters flock in their hundreds, to nest along the river banks, and is just one of many delightful sights.
Expect to see a vibrant array of kingfishers, lovebirds, parrots, hornbills, fish eagles, sunbirds, hawks, buzzards, honeyguides and many, many more!