Written by: Claire Birtwhistle
People plan for years to go on an ‘African safari’. For some people, it is the trip of a lifetime and requires saving and planning. Most people travelling to Africa for the first time also have extremely high expectations as to what they think they’ll experience. If there’s no leopard in the lodge’s lobby, the trip is a failure. Well, not quite, but you get the idea.
Contrary to what some people believe, Africa is not a country but a continent… the second largest in the world, to be more precise. This means that different African countries will have vastly different attractions, and different peak seasons to experience them. A common question that travellers ask is: “When is the best time to go on a safari?” And we always respond: “It depends on where you’re going!”
If you measure the success of a safari by how many animals were seen and how easy they were to find, then Botswana is your wildlife ‘goldmine’. Game viewing is at its best during May to October. During these dry winter months the game viewing is consistently excellent as animals are easier to spot due to the bare land and are also generally concentrated around the ever dwindling water sources.
Wildlife tends to disperse to Chobe’s Savute region and the Kalahari during the rainy summer months from January to April. These regions offer excellent summer game viewing opportunities, especially since they lie on the migration path of many animals.
Recently featured on National Geographic’s ‘Top 10 places to see wildlife in the world’ list, Uganda certainly is an African microcosm. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to approximately half the 750 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild and the Kibale Forest is one of the best places to see chimpanzees.
Uganda has a cooler climate than one would think, considering its equatorial setting. Although gorilla trekking is considered a year-round activity, the best time for it is during the dry seasons in January to February and June to September. Uganda also boasts the Big Five and game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons when the wildlife is concentrated around water sources.
To read more about chimpanzees and gorillas, see: Africa’s Great Apes
When one thinks of wildlife in Tanzania, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the image of one and a half million wildebeest charging down vertical river banks into crocodile-infested rivers.
The Serengeti migration is an annual event, but witnessing this spectacle is a matter of being in the right place at the right time depending on where the herd is and what the rains are doing. The best time for wildlife sighting in Selous, Ruaha and Katavi is during the dry season from June to October.
For more on Tanzania’s Ruaha, read: A Walk on the Wild Side.
Zambia offers amazing wildlife opportunities from September through to mid-November, which is the end of the dry season. Large herds of buffalo, elephant, zebra and impala congregate in the Lower Zambezi Valley making the best of what is left of the water sources.
There is a distinct difference between the dry and rainy months in Zambia. The rainy season brings with it flooding as this is an annual event on floodplains, and both people and wildlife have adapted to this. Most of the lodges in Zambia are closed during this time of year as the roads become impassable.
This beautiful country also boasts one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – Victoria Falls. The best time to visit the ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ or ‘the smoke that thunders’ is in March and April after the rainy season. The mere mist from the thunderous spray coming off the falls will be enough to drench you to the bone, and the sight of the mighty waterfalls is awe-inspiring.
To read more about Victoria Falls, see: Vic Falls – Africa’s Adventure Capital
Think vast savannah, dramatic lakelands, mountain highlands and abundant wildlife. Kenya is one of the most well-known African safari destinations. The best time to go on safari in Kenya and experience a huge density and diversity of wildlife is July to October. This is when the annual migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and gnus descend on the Masai Mara National Reserve, with predators close behind.