Safari in June, July & August
‘When is the best time to come on safari?’ This is an excellent question, but, like most good questions, it doesn’t have a simple answer. Africa is a vast continent straddling the equator, boasting six time zones. The upshot of this is a vast area of profoundly differing vegetation, climates, topography and animal life that occupies the myriad niches provided by these variations. The good news is that there is always a good safari season in Africa. You just need to be aware of what you want to see and where you’d like to see it – then the ‘when’ becomes pretty simple.
We’ve split the periods, rather arbitrarily into four – see the other three periods at the end of this feature. These roughly equate with the seasons (such as they are in the areas far enough from the equator). As you will see, however, there is overlap and Africa, being Africa, always offers unpredictability and excitement.
Overview – June to August
This is by far the most popular travel time in much of Africa. It is high-season and most places are priced accordingly. But it is high-season for a reason. Wildlife viewing in Southern Africa is superb, with cooler temperatures allowing for full days of exploring. The floodwaters have arrived in the Okavango and conditions in Zambia and Zimbabwe are perfect. In East Africa, the Great Migration is congregating for the final push up into the Mara – epic river crossings, abundant life – one of nature’s most gobsmacking spectacles.
This is Southern Africa’s most popular time for safaris. It is winter, but in most places, this means chilly mornings and comfortable middays, which allow for full-day excursions and magical picnics in the wilderness that would simply be unpleasant in the sweaty, insect-riddled summer. In the Greater Kruger area of South Africa, the trees are losing their leaves and the water is concentrating, which means much more predictable and reliable wildlife viewing. The winter colours – fading greens and soft yellows – complement the gorgeous wildlife for photographers. The risk of malaria is also negligible.
It can be cold up on South Africa’s highveld (Madikwe Game Reserve), so bring warm clothes or be prepared to satisfy the lodge curio shops’ yearly budgets. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Kalahari are often cold at this time of year, but the days can be warm with excellent sightings as the land dries and the vegetation becomes sparser. That said, the central Kalahari can be rather dusty and priced for the high season.
This is not a great time to visit Cape Town, the Garden Route or the winelands. It is the height of the rainy season – storms borne on driving northwest winds that gave the Cape of Storms its name, batter the coastal areas. That said, if you fancy red wine next to log fires in beautiful, albeit wet, surroundings, the Cape can be good fun at this time and you may well find some great discounts at the more fancied spots.
Namibia comes into its own in the cooler weather. Etosha National Park boasts those iconic scenes of thirsty animals descending on the waterholes and elephants coming out of the salt pan like ghosts – covered in the white, salty dust. Exploring the desert from Swakopmund or any other desert launchpad is excellent on warm winter days. Sossusvlei is chilly in the morning and evening but warm in the middle of the day – a perfect time of year to climb some of the world’s tallest dunes and bask beneath a sky so crisp, it feels like you can see to the end of the universe.
In Botswana, the Okavango Delta floodwaters arrive around July and this magical inland delta turns into the mosaic of crystal channels, green islands and magic wildlife that has made it one of the world’s most popular safari destinations. In Chobe National Park, the elephants are back on the river banks, Savute Game Reserve’s long grasses are receding and game viewing is spectacular. Now is also a great time to explore Makgadikgadi National Park, where you can access the desolate pans and, early on, the massive herds of the zebra migration are on the pans before heading off to the west.
Zimbabwe’s busy safari season is also kicking off with the coolth. In Hwange National Park, the herds of buffalo and elegant sable gather at the waterholes, attended by the inevitable predators. As the waterholes dry away from the Zambezi, Mana Pools National Park becomes a focal point for animals seeking to slake their dusty winter thirst. Victoria Falls, where there is lots of water on the falls and perfect conditions for rafting downstream, is a perfect launchpad for a safari in Zimbabwe, Botswana or Zambia.
In Zambia, the water is gone, the animals are out on the plains – South Luangwa National Park and Kafue National Park are into the height of their safari seasons. There is great walking and game driving to be done in the relatively short Zambian safari season with fantastic opportunities for photography.
The lowlands of Malawi, much like the rest of the region, are dry and very pleasant in these cooler months. Despite the so-called winter, Lake Malawi and the islands boast spectacular conditions, while Liwonde National Park is an excellent safari complement. You’ll have cool if slightly hazy weather. The Nyika Plateau, with its incongruous alpine conditions, is fascinating in winter but be aware it can be frigid given the altitude.
The safari season is hotting up in the northern and western Serengeti National Park. In June, the wildebeest of the Great Migration are mating in the western corridor before swirling their way north over the course of the month to reach the border with Kenya and the Maasai Mara. July and August will see thundering herds in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the northern Serengeti with repeated crossings of the Mara River. Be aware that this is carnival safari season – for wildlife and human. The predators are gorging on the herds and the sheer abundance of herbivores will leave you speechless with amazement. But there are also a lot of people. If you are prepared to enter into the spirit of the season – a giant celebration of life – then the tourist numbers will not bug you and there are always places to escape to for solitude and wilderness. Also, remember that the migration is not set in stone – it is unlikely that any wildebeest will read this – herd movements vary with weather, grazing and the whimsical ways of the wildebeest.
Once you’ve had your migration fill, a calmer, more varied experience in Laikipia is just the ticket.
In Uganda, it is generally cool, dry and clear. Murchison Falls National Park offers great variety, including boat trips on the Victoria Nile, safaris, sightings of the bizarre shoebill, spectacular primate viewing (monkeys and possibly chimpanzees). This is also the best time of year for trekking for gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and chimpanzees in Kibale Forest National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
This is also the busy season for all of Rwanda’s famous parks (Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park). You will pay a premium for accommodation and gorilla trekking, but the incredible experience is likely to leave you feeling you’ve spent your dollars wisely. In Nyungwe National Park, it is dry, but chimpanzee trekking can be iffy (better in the wet season when there is fruit on the trees).
Ethiopia, especially the Bale Mountain National Park and Simien Mountains are accessible – but wet – so visits to these areas should be limited to the fit and those who don’t mind too much mist in their photos.
For the seasoned safari traveller, a trip into the Congo basin is an adventurous and rewarding option. Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Congo Brazzaville boasts western lowland gorillas. June and July is the best safari season to visit up-and-coming Gabon for mandrils in Lopé National Park and Loango National Park for possible sightings of chimpanzees and gorillas, forest elephants, forest buffalo, hippo and leopard. Often the animals will visit the pristine beaches and this period is also good for whale watching.
While the Trade Winds make Seychelles less than optimum at this time of the year, Zanzibar, and the Bazaruto and Quirimbas archipelagos are paradises with great temperatures. Whales abound off the Mozambican coast until September.
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