January in Africa means long hot days, the odd thunderstorm, and vibrant green landscapes. This is the breeding season, and there are young animals and birds everywhere! The bush buzzes with excitement and abundance. In contrast to the short, dark days in the Northern Hemisphere, Africa celebrates the New Year with colour and vibrancy.
Expect fewer tourists and lower prices than during the peak safari months, although local school holidays in South Africa can result in national parks and coastal areas being crowded for the first half of January. Many lodges further away from easily accessible areas offer discounts at this time of year, so be on the lookout for special rates. Some lodges are even closed for a month or two. Read this article about finding more affordable lodge accommodation based on the time of year: How to find luxury safari lodges at a discount.
Wildlife viewing can be patchy in places, particularly if the early rains have been good, but bird-watching is at its peak because of the presence of summer migrants. This is an excellent time to enjoy the smaller things celebrating this time of plenty, such as the emergence of frogs and tortoises from their dry season hibernations, and the convergence of eagles, snakes and even leopards to feast on flying ants that emerge to start their breeding cycle.
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.
Please be aware of mosquitoes and wear long sleeves and long pants during the 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 January safari
Cape Town and the Garden Route are in full festive season party mode, with excellent opportunities to wine, dine and chill on the beaches. Note that prices will be at peak season levels. Perhaps combine coastal celebrations with some bush time? Read more about a bush and beach combo safari to Cape Town and Kruger here.
The Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa is good for all seasons, and January is no exception. The national park is busy throughout the year, especially during school holidays, and we recommend instead the private reserves on the western edge of the park, where privacy adds to the experience, and 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, painted wolves and brown hyenas.
January is also a great time to visit just about anywhere in Botswana, as many lodges offer good green season discounts – although again sightings can be few and far between. Be aware that the annual Okavango Delta floodwaters from the Angolan highlands have receded, and only permanent deep-water channels still offer water activities such as boating and mokoro outings.
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.
EAST AND CENTRAL AFRICA
January sees the herds of the Great Wildebeest Migration heading south towards the Ndutu area in Tanzania’s southern Serengeti, in anticipation of the nutritious green grass after the first rains. If you want to find the wildebeest in January, Naabi Hill and Lobo are the places to look. Many females in the herd are heavily pregnant at this point and moving towards greener grasses is of top priority.
Kenya’s Maasai Mara is now enjoying 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 have recently calved, or are about to – easy picking 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.
Islands such as Zanzibar, Seychelles and Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago are superb in January, making a combined bush-and-beach vacation an irresistible choice. Again though, be aware of large volumes of local festive season travellers and possibly look to travel during the second half of January.
Trekking for mountain gorillas, chimps and golden monkeys in Uganda’s Park and Kibale National Park and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is now at its best after the rainy season, and the views across the mountains and volcanic lakes go on forever.
For lowland gorilla trekking, head out to Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Congo to tick off these gentle giants plus other specials such as bongos, forest buffaloes and forest elephants.
For bird-watchers, January is a time of plenty in Uganda and Rwanda. The Albertine Rift endemics are there to be ticked off, including highly sought-after avian jewels such as green broadbill and green-breasted pitta.
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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.