When planning a safari holiday in Africa, picking the best time to go is incredibly important depending on what you want to experience. Whilst wildlife-watching is available all year round, it is important to take into consideration the weather, what particularly you want to experience and your budget. For instance, if seeing the Great Migration is on your wish-list, visiting Kenya when the herds have already departed is less than ideal.
As each country is different, we have compiled the best times to go on a safari depending on the destination, but remember, every safari holiday, no matter when you go, will be one to remember.
A safari holiday in South Africa is one of the most popular trips here at Newmarket Holidays. Combining an incredible wealth of wildlife, delicious food and world-class wines as well as beautiful landscapes, it offers something for everyone.
When planning a safari, the dry season, between May to October is ideal. The shorter grass can make wildlife easier to spot with the warmer climate encouraging animals to congregate around the watering holes . Whilst these months are winter in South Africa, the days are warm however at night it can be a bit cooler.
The wet season in South Africa runs approximately from November to April. The vegetation is lush and green and the birdwatching is phenomenal, as well as more baby animals to spot between January and March. Expect the national parks to be busier around December and January when there are school holidays. The weather in the wet season is hot and humid with bursts of rain.
Whilst May-August tend to traditionally be the best time to visit, March and April are also a good option, especially when looking for value for money in South Africa. Whilst these months fall in the wet season, the crowds tend to be fewer, it can be more affordable and the weather is still pleasant. Kruger National Park is home to the big five and one of the most popular national parks that people visit when planning a safari so going slightly off-season can be a great option, especially on a budget.
Kenya, home to the Masaai Mara, one of the most sought out safari destinations in the world. Kenya is part of Eastern Africa which has more things to consider when planning a safari holiday.
The Great Migration, when the herds move across the Maasai Mara towards the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania occurs between July to September. This is a breath-taking time to visit, offering the chance to watch the infamous great river crossings, with wildlife-enthusiasts flocking to Kenya during these months. For many, the migration is a must-do experience and visiting outside this time is a non negotiable. However be aware that prices can be more expensive at this time of the year and there will be far more people in the safari parks.
Kenya has a fantastic wealth of safari experiences all year round, so visiting outside the migration period will still ensure a memorable Africa holiday. January to March is a great time to visit. It is dry season in Kenya, with the shorter grass offering better visibility for spotting the big five stalking the savannah.
There are two different rainy seasons in Eastern Africa with April-May bringing the ‘long rains’. During this period some safari camps are closed however during the ‘short rains’ between November and December, there is just the occasional shower with accommodation staying open. There are generally far fewer crowds this can also be a good time to see new-born animals.
Returning to southern Africa, Zimbabwe follows a similar seasonaility as South Africa. For a safari holiday in Zimbabwe the best months across all of the national parks are the dry season between May and September. Hwange National Park attracts large elephant herds especially in September and October and if you are lucky you may see them congregating around the watering hole.
November in Zimbabwe is an absolute delight for nature enthusiasts. Witness the transition from a dry landscape to a lush, green paradise as the rains arrive. This time of year also brings cooler temperatures, making it perfect for an adventurous safari experience.
No trip to Zimbabwe is complete without visiting Victoria Falls. The ‘smoke that thunders’ is best photographed from May to September when spray is not blocking the views and the water level is lower - also great for rafting opportunities.
The low season to visit Zimbabwe is between November and March, where Southern Africa’s summer tends to bring humid, higher temperatures and the water level of Victoria Falls is higher. However this does mean prices tend to be lower and birdwatching is also at some of its best.
Similar to Zimbabwe, Botswana is best visited between May and September during the dry season. Chobe National Park is famous for its elephant herds and these are best spotted during these months especially around the watering holes. The Okavango Delta, with its famous waterways accessed via a traditional mokoro
January to March will have heavier rainfall, with wildlife being more dispersed. However prices are often lower and the landscapes are lush and green. April can be a good alternative, the shoulder season before the the dry winter season. The Okavango Delta water levels have started to rise before flooding during July.
Picking when to go
Whatever time of the year you decide to visit Africa will leave you with memories for life. Make a list of what you want from your holiday, whether its seeing the big five, chasing the migration or seeing a specific animal. Do you have specific dates you can visit? If so you might want to compare Southern and Eastern Africa as the experience will differ depending when you can go.
You should also take into consideration the types of climate that you prefer or how busy a destination may be. If visiting Africa without the crowds is a priority, opt for low season or shoulder season - just before high season begins.
Still undecided? Why not get in touch with us and we can help you plan an African safari holiday of a lifetime.