May sees southern Africa entering its autumn period, with the onset of slightly cooler, dry weather compared to the hot wet weather of the waning summer. East Africa is in the middle of its long rainy season, with bouts of unpredictable weather.
Be sure to pack lightweight clothing to cover exposed areas, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and high factor sun lotion. And, of course, keep a raincoat nearby, for the odd shower. Read this article for a complete safari packing list and this article for more about the seasons in Africa.
The southern African deciduous bushveld trees start turning yellow, and some are shedding leaves. The previously verdant green grass and shrubs are reverting to dry stalks – meaning that it will soon become easier to spot wildlife. But wildlife viewing can still be patchy in places because the vegetation is still relatively dense and there are remnant pools of surface water to keep the wildlife scattered.
Expect fewer tourists and lower prices than during the peak safari months, and many lodges further away from easily accessible areas still offer discounts at this time of year. Read this article about finding more affordable lodge accommodation based on the time of year: How to find luxury safari lodges at a discount.
Please be aware of mosquitoes and wear long sleeves and long pants during the twilight and dark hours, sleep under a mosquito net and apply some form of mosquito repellent liberally. We recommend that you take precautionary prophylaxis during this period – please consult your doctor.
Places to consider for your May safari
Cape Town and the Garden Route are now enjoying mild autumn weather, and although the long hot summer days are gone, you can still enjoy the beaches and outdoor lifestyle. And of course, there are no festive season queues, meaning excellent opportunities to wine, dine and chill on the beaches. Perhaps combine coastal celebrations with some bush time? Read more about bush & beach combo safari to Cape Town and Kruger.
The Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa is good for all seasons, and May is no exception. The national park is busy throughout the year, and we recommend instead the private reserves on the western edge of the park, where privacy adds to the experience. Excellent guiding increases your chances of spotting the Big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes).
Also in South Africa, we highly recommend a safari to Madikwe Game Reserve. Not only is this a malaria-free area, but it is also an excellent place to spot the Big 5 and other sought-after species such as cheetahs, wild dogs and brown hyenas.
In Botswana, the dry season has commenced, and the annual Okavango Delta floodwaters are on the move southwards from their source in the Angolan highlands. However, in May the water is still in the northern regions and has not yet reached many of the lodges. Only lodges with permanent deep-water channels offer water activities such as boating and mokoro outings during May.
The adventure capital of Victoria Falls, on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, is open for business throughout the year, and a must for any serious Africa-fanatic. During May the river is high, so expect to be drenched in spray and deafened by the thunderous noise of water cascading over the edge of the falls and into the gorge below.
In Zambia, floodwaters from the annual deluge of rain that makes much of the country tough to access for 4-5 months of the year have receded, and areas such as the Luangwa Valley and Kafue National Park are now opening up for business. The seasonal bush camps of South Luangwa National Park are a particular treat for seasoned safari-goers and walking safari enthusiasts.
The Zimbabwe safari season is also in full swing now, with Hwange National Park attracting large numbers of elephants, lions and other species that are attracted to the pumped water and Mana Pools National Park providing some of the best elephant and wild dog encounters on foot.
EAST AND CENTRAL AFRICA
If you visit in May to view the Great Wildebeest Migration, you will find the herds in Tanzania’s southwestern Serengeti. The ‘long rains’ are here, so you are going to need your rain jacket. The wettest part of the day is the evening. The rainfall makes the plains slippery, and vehicles without 4×4 mode will battle to go anywhere. During May, you are most likely find the herds between Moru and Mokoma, moving towards Lake Magadi. The calves born earlier in the year are getting bigger and stronger, and the herds are covering greater distances each day.
Kenya’s Maasai Mara is now enjoying the later stages of its ‘secret season’ when tourists are few, and resident predators get to ambush the large numbers of prey species that do not follow the herds. Resident species such as Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, impalas, warthogs, topis and Coke’s hartebeests are fair game for the big cats made famous by BBC’s Big Cat Diaries. For many Kenyan locals, this is the best time to be in the Maasai Mara.
Zanzibar is enjoying their annual long rains, so for those that prefer cloudless skies, we suggest that you avoid the islands during May, and instead head for Seychelles, where the southeast trade winds keep the rain away and herald the onset of the dry season.
May sees heavy rains in the areas for mountain and lowland gorillas, chimps and golden monkey trekking and so we suggest delaying your primate experience until after the big wet.
Read other ‘Safari in Africa’ month posts:
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TRAVEL WITH AFRICA GEOGRAPHIC
Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Search for your ideal safari here, or contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation.