Which Time Of Year Is Best For An African Safari?
So you have decided it is finally time to embark on an unforgettable adventure, a once in a lifetime African safari. Likewise, you may be a return visitor unable to resist the allure of this incomparable land of abundant wildlife and vast, open wilderness. No doubt you have an idea of where you want to go but now the big question on your mind is which time of year is best for an African safari?
This is without hesitation one of the most common questions we are asked on a weekly basis. Therefore, you would imagine we are well versed and have the answer at the tip of our tongues, right? Well, not quite. We wish it was as simple as recommending the best time to visit a European beach holiday destination where if there is no rainfall, long days of sunshine, and warm temperatures you are good to go.
The tricky thing about answering the above question is it’s fraught with a plethora of variables as well as subjectivity. First of all there is the challenge of understanding what one means by the word ‘best’, a word very much open to opinion and preference. Indeed, your idea of best may not be that of another guest. Conventional wisdom would suggest go when the area is teeming with wildlife but with this comes a greater volume of other tourists. I personally prefer to go in the shoulder season when although the wildlife abundance is less there still remains lots of animals to see and I as good as get the run of the land to myself. Other travellers I know would prefer to see as much wildlife as possible. Then we have the challenges associated with the generic term ‘an African safari’. The African continent is huge with a diverse topographical make-up and climatic patterns, not to mention the unpredictability of wild animal behaviour and movement. Each country, and indeed national park and wildlife reserve is unique so the best time of year for one may not necessarily be the best time for another.
Despite these challenges it is an area we love to understand and to share with you. To overcome the subjectivity of the question we first aim to understand everything about you and what you want from your African safari. By this stage we should also have an idea of where you want to go so this helps us be much more specific when making recommendations for the best time to travel. Sometimes guests are very restricted to the time of year they are available to travel. In this case we provide suitable recommendations to ensure they are in the best place for their chosen time of year.
The next stage is to understand your goals and what you would like to experience on safari. We discuss several factors with you to enable us to make accurate recommendations that exceed your expectations. The following points are some of the factors we will consider.
- Historic climate patterns (temperature and average rainfall)
- Wildlife and birds migratory and movement patterns
- Abundance and biodiversity of wildlife
- Availability of suitable accommodation
- Availability of safari activities
- Tourist traffic
- Bush appeal
I think it is important to acknowledge at this stage that although there is a best time to travel there is unfortunately never a perfect time. You will never get the best of all the factors you desire as you will learn in the following paragraphs.
But surely you can give me some idea of roughly the best time to travel I hear you say? Of course, and I have divided the following paragraphs into the typical dry season, green season and the transitional shoulder seasons.
The Dry Season
The dry season, as its name suggests, is characterised by very little to no rainfall and clear, blue skies. Temperatures on average are colder than the wet season months. You can expect chilly mornings during June to August, especially in Southern African countries as it is the height of their winter. The mercury recovers quickly and peaks in October when temperatures can reach an average 35 degrees Celsius.
Wildlife is generally in abundance as both resident and migratory animals congregate around waterholes due to a lack of water out on the plains. For those wanting to see an abundance of wildlife this is undoubtedly the best season. However, it does have its drawbacks. Prices are hiked in the peak months and may be up to 3 times higher than some months in the green season. The bush takes on a parched appearance and certainly isn’t as attractive as in the verdant green season. The dry and dusty atmosphere can be hazy which makes photography more challenging.
The promise of abundant wildlife attracts more tourists and therefore the parks are busier with safari vehicles vying for the same sightings. As we only use high-quality outfits the impacts of this can be minimised to some extent but there is certainly less of an authentic and exclusive feeling when compared to the green season.
The Green Season
The green season, also known as the wet season, is the time of year when rainfall is at its highest and the bush is lush with fresh, green vegetation. Although rainfall is undeniably higher at this time of year it is in most areas characterised by afternoon thunderstorms and very rarely rains all day. The life-giving rains bring a freshness to the bush and it is the time of year when it is at its most aesthetically beautiful. Temperatures are usually higher, as is humidity.
Wildlife viewing is less predictable and offers less abundance at this time of year. Those animals that congregated around the waterholes during the dry season are desperate to depart to new pastures in search of fresh vegetation. With standing water available almost everywhere animals are no longer tied to permanent water sources so disperse over vast areas of wilderness leaving only resident game behind. The impact on wildlife viewing varies from reserve to reserve. Some parks are known as dry season parks as the park empties of wildlife in the wet season whereas others will maintain a strong resident game population throughout the year. Wildlife viewing can also be challenged by thicker vegetation and high grass concealing game. The wet season does have some advantages over the dry season when it comes to wildlife viewing. Namely, the wet season is often the best time for birding as tens and hundreds of migratory species flock to the parks of Africa. With a promise of water and plentiful food, herbivores choose to give birth to their young at this time of year.
The wet season is also excellent for accommodation availability and prices can be discounted by up to three times those of the peak dry season rates. This can make even the most exclusive and sought after camps and lodges affordable. Tourist traffic is usually at its lowest at this time of year, therefore crowding around sightings is unlikely and therefore provides a more authentic, wilderness experience.
It is worth noting that some accommodations and even national parks close to visitors during the wet season. Those that remain open may have a restriction of activities due to safety concerns.
The Shoulder Season
The shoulder season is usually a month that transitions the wet season into the dry season and then dry season into the wet season and so on. It offers a halfway house between the two seasons. You get the best of both worlds. It is often a good season to travel as it offers arguably the best value. The weather is often reasonable and game is either beginning to return after the wet season or remains after the dry season and prices may be as low as those of the wet season and significantly lower than those in the peak dry season.
I hope you have found this article insightful and although it is beyond the scope of this particular piece to discuss the specifics of each country you will find a best time to visit section linked to each itinerary. This offers specific guidance related to the countries, national parks, and game reserves included in each itinerary. Please also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by clicking the links in the page footer to keep up to date with future blogs.