Traditionally October is one of the busiest if not the busiest month for safari camps here in Zambia. For a long time I have wondered about the reasons, and why not November?
October… Yes the game is there. Everything is pretty parched and dry so animals are often far more present around any water still available. But it is hot – really hot. Here in the Kafue we at least have a bit of altitude, down in the valleys of the Zambezi and the Luangwa it gets pretty extreme. But even here the mid-30s are normal.
The smoke and dust are at their peak: proper rain has not been seen for 6 months and it shows. The airborne dust and smoke from bush fires make for pretty sunsets and sunrises but make for lousy long lens work! It is not as extreme as say the Hamattan in West Africa, but still it adds to the sense of heat.
Us humans, we also get affected. Temperatures and tempers rise. Camps have often been flat out for months and there is an air of waiting. Waiting for the rains and waiting for a breathing space. Just a few weeks earlier we were offering hot water bottles and blankets. Now we are being asked for thin sheets and gallons of cold water.
And then at the end of the month (usually) the rains break and things begin to change. It doesn’t pour each and every day – far from it. Showers and electrical storms sweep in and quickly disappear. Everything starts to green up and November turns into what is, for me, the best month of all.
The dust and smoke is washed from the air and everything becomes clearer and more vibrant. The advantages of safari in November are many, the disadvantages are few.
- Lush green vegetation rather than parched brown. The grass is still not so high that it hinders visibility though.
- Animals are still present near large sources of water as there hasn’t really been enough rain for them to disperse.
- New birth: many animals birth at the onset of the rains in order to ensure the young are coming into a world with plenty to eat.
- Migratory birds are here in numbers. Not just the Palearctic migrants but also intra-African ones.
- Most roads are still accessible. This depends massively on where you are. The Kalahari sands of Liuwa are not a problem but the black cotton soil of Busanga will be by late November!
- The onset of the rains lowers the temperatures dramatically. November is much cooler than October (which is the hottest month in Zambia).
- Clear skies for photography, star gazing and just good old watching.
- Lower visitor numbers make for more relaxed visits. Often you might be alone in the vehicle or have a camp to yourself. The heat and busyness of October are over: relaxed guides and managers and staff!
- If you plan well, some of Zambia’s highlights can be combined. This includes the Kasanka Bat migration (in terms of numbers it is the largest mammal migration on earth!) and the gathering of wildebeest herds in Liuwa Plains.
So those are the advantages. What about the disadvantages? Well there are not many to be honest. The rains are sporadic and getting a touch damp now and then will not be the end of the world. You might end up delaying activities a couple of times or parking under a tree for a while. Hardly an ordeal.
- Occasional rains. Take a lightweight poncho and an ortleib dry bag for electronic gear. It will cost you very, very little.Not all camps will be open so choices might be limited. On the other hand this means lower visitor numbers.
- Not all roads and tracks will be driveable in some areas.
- Vic Falls (or Mosi Oa Tunya) will be at its least dramatic. Whichever way or whenever you go it is still a very large impressive waterfall. However we firmly believe that planning a trip to Zambia just around the falls is a myth perpetuated by those that don’t know the rest of the country.
So that is our thoughts on November and why it really is the best month for a safari here.