Monday
Aug102015

When is the Best Time to go on an African Safari?

Figuring out when to go on an African safari can be a complicated undertaking whether you're familiar with the African continent or not. Which country has the best safari? Is the game-viewing standard across the board? What is the best time of year to go on safari in Tanzania or Botswana? What is the weather like in South Africa? Where should I go on safari to avoid crowds? These are just a few of the questions you have to consider when planning an African Safari. This comprehensive safari calendar guide should help you in your decision process.

The color-coded table highlights when to go on an African Safari based on common weather patterns and game viewing. The table highlights when to go on safari in East Africa and when to go on Safari in Southern Africa. Below the table we highlight what you should expect on your African Safari for each country throughout the year.

EAST AFRICA - When should you go on a safari in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Zanzibar

For Kenya and Tanzania, its important to know that many if not most safaris in this region follow the path of the Great Migration, the greatest movement of mammals on the planet where wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and giraffe migrate across eastern Africa in response to weather change and in search of food.

When it comes to Tanzania, the Great Migration takes place over the course of the entire year, you just need to know where the animals are and when. The main rainy season takes place from the end of March through May, where you can expect afternoon tropical downpours. The dry season falls from June to October and is a perfect time to visit Tanzania - especially because it coincides with one of the most exciting parts of the Great Migration - the Grumeti River crossing (See our post on the Great Migration to find out why). We similarly recommend a visit to Tanzania from December through February as this marks the birthing season for most of the ungulates - such as the zebra and wildebeest - and you'll most likely get the chance to see young calves take their very first steps. 

FUN FACT: Wildebeest are born to run, and as such, will take their first steps within minutes of being born, before running alongside their mothers within just an hour. 

These same migrating herds cross into Kenyan territory, specifically the Maasai Mara region, for a much shorter period of time, from July/August until October. With that, we will say however that recent years have seen an extension to this time frame as the animals are arriving as early as June and not departing until November or sometimes later. To learn more about the best way to experience this extraordinary natural phenomenon also recognized as the 7th Natural Wonder of Africa, again, visit our post on the Great Migration calendar.

Kenya has 2 major wet seasons - the 'long' rains from April to June and the 'short' rains from November to December. The time period marked by long rains is not ideal for game-viewing in the region but these months are succeeded by a cool, temperate season - synonymous with the arrival of herds from the Great Migration. So, if game is what you're after, the best time to visit Kenya is from July to October, with August being the climax point as migrating herds and their predators (lions, hyenas, cheetahs) increasingly fill the Mara. As for the shorter rains, they are followed by an opposing season of hot and dry weather from January to March, perhaps too hot for a comfortable safari but absolutely perfect for diving and snorkeling just off the coast and throughout the 115 pristine islands of the Seychelles. This is also the best time to see Kenya's magnificent bird life.

Zanzibar has a similar weather pattern to Tanzania (as it lies off the Tanzanian coast), though it does tend to be slightly more humid. Temperatures vary significantly according to altitude and location but the long dry season from June to October generally boasts clear skies and sunny weather - thereby making it the best time to visit. We will add however that the short dry season, from December through February, can be just as beautiful, as rains during this time are much lighter off the coast than on the mainland. 

Rwanda is similarly divided by 2 rainy seasons - the first from March to May with heavy rains and the second from October to November with slightly lighter rains. The in-between months mark a drier period but with Rwanda's pleasant tropical climate, always comes the possibility of rain. 

When to go on safari in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Namibia

May to to mid-October is the best time to go on a safari in Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa. The summer in the Northern Hemisphere means the Winter in the Southern Heisphere and its the perfet time for an African Safari. The temperatures are cooler, the game is active and grasses are shorter and dryer allowing visitors to see the game much easier.

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere means autumn in the South. By this logic, summer in southern Africa falls from mid-October to mid-February, during which the region sees a lot of rain. Following these rains, from February to April, is a dry and green season where the residual 'rain pans', essentially large water holes, are a huge draw for some of the region's most incredible wildlife. Elephants in particular love these mud-bottomed pans and watching them play and interact with each other is a huge treat. These months are also a great time to visit Namibia and Botswana. 

The month of May means floodwaters for the Okavango Delta in Botswana and it translates to one of the most exciting times to watch the wildlife, as they've been greatly anticipating this moment all year. It is important to grasp the extraordinary nature of the Okavango Delta - the world's largest inland delta amidst the great Kalahari Desert. Now, pair this fascinating natural phenomenon with yet another - the seasonal flooding of the Kalahari. And to top it off, the region is home to a variety of extraordinary species - hippo, crocodile, lion, leopard, hyena, wild dog, cheetah and more. As the floods gradually fill the dry, scorched riverbeds, the surrounding area comes to life, flora and fauna alike. 

These molapos, or seasonal swamps, are virtual edens for the wildlife, attracting great flocks of birds and massive herds of zebra, giraffe, buffalo and impala. In August, the elephants can be seen feeding on the fruit of the palm tree. The gathering of so many animals in such a condensed area can understandably lead to busier crowds, but, this is the Okavango Delta at its prime and it's beautiful regardless. It's essentially the party of the year, so don't miss out. 

In spring, the trees begin to flower and the molapos are taken over with waterlilies - it's natural beauty at its finest. 

December through February are by far the hottest months in Southern Africa, effortlessly reaching highs of 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The Okavango Delta sees heavy rains during this time, rendering it off-season. The same goes for Zambia, as these months mark its 'Emerald Season', accompanied by flooding rains, forcing many camps to close and making roads impassable. It's lush and green and beautiful but the animals have moved on and access is difficult. So rather head to the Kalahari Desert, as this period marks the best time to visit. These months also mark the majority of rainfall for the Kalahari, but keep in mind we're talking about the desert, the heaviest rains are relatively low and long sunshine hours are barely affected. 

When to Go to The Cape in South Africa 

We've separated the Southern Cape from the rest as it operates independently, hosting weather patterns unlike anywhere else in Southern Africa. From November to April, though it's raining everywhere else, the Cape is oddly hot, sunny and dry - aka perfect vacation weather. We always recommend the Cape for Christmas & New Year's (and just in general, we love it there) but the secret of its charm is out so expect other vacationers. By the end of February however, most visitors head home and you suddenly have access to better rates and uncrowded world-class beaches. 

April to June sees cooler weather with an increase in rainfall. This is the best time for a hiking holiday in Cape Town as the days are typically crisp and clear. It's also the best time for a foodie trip to Cape Town. Cozy, fireside-friendly, rainy days lead to lively indoor markets and easy reservations at the otherwise fully-booked top-notch restaurants. (To learn more about some of our favorite places to eat in the Cape, visit our post on Cape of Good Eats) The ensuing months, June and July, are pleasant but wildly unpredictable, locally coined as the 'four seasons in one day' time. 

July to September marks the arrival of migratory whales along the coastline and is thereby the best time for whale watching in Cape Town. In fact, if whale watching is of particular interest, make sure to ask us about the opportunity to book your own private plane and trail a migrating blue whale along the continental shelf. We have and continue to design extraordinary signature experiences to make your travel as special and unique as possible. 

July to November is also the best time to go on a South African Safari in Kruger National Park - Kruger is the flagship of South African parks. It extends across nearly 2 million hectares and is home to an astronomical number of species including 147 mammals, 507 birds, 114 reptiles, over 300 trees and more. South Africa is also the stomping ground for 80% of the world's white rhino population, giving you the opportunity to catch sight of one of these incredible prehistoric creatures in their natural habitat.

Drop us a line at hello@epicroad.com and let us plan a one of a kind, spectacular safari for you and your loved ones.  

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