Where to safari when – our African calendar
Africa is enormous, 4,500 miles north to south as the rather weary crow would fly. The second largest continent on earth, it spans the entire expanse of the tropics, and the northern and southern temperate sub-tropical zones too. With the world’s biggest desert, its oldest and driest desert, one of the largest expanses of tropical rainforest, snow-capped and glaciated equatorial mountains, extinct and active volcanoes, intensely alkaline lakes and massive freshwater lakes, enormous swamps, and vast expanses of fertile savannah, it’s a continent of incredible variety and fecundity. The climate varies from country to country, as do the breeding and migration patterns of the wildlife so to help you decide when to travel we’ve put together an Aardvark Safaris’ calendar of ‘where to safari when’. It’s not exhaustive so if we don’t cover something that’s of interest to you just get in touch and we’d be delighted to help:
JANUARY TO MARCH
With a few regional exceptions this is a great time for a safari with plenty of countries offering great weather and wildlife viewing.
With generally warm to hot dry weather, clear skies, and fewer other visitors around, it’s a superb time of year for wildlife and activities in Kenya and northern Tanzania.
The great wildebeest migration will be somewhere on the vast short grass plains in the southern section of the Serengeti while the neighbouring Masai Mara has astonishing amounts of every sort of animal, with a green hue to the grasslands it’s very beautiful and not as busy as later in the year. Laikipia and Samburu are probably at their very best after the short rains in November, tinged green with fresh grass and vegetation bursting into life.
If scaling one of Africa’s iconic mountains is on your ‘to do’ list, January, February and the first half of March are among the best times to climb Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzoris.
It’s a really good time to be in Ethiopia, and several religious festivals including Timkat, or Epiphany, can be seen, alongside fascinating culture, history, and endemic wildlife.
The dry weather makes this is a wonderful time for gorilla and chimp tracking in Rwanda and Uganda, and it’s also possible to find the chimps in Mahale National Park in Tanzania.
Africa’s entire East coast is wonderful, with great weather, clear seas and good diving. It’s a great time for kite surfing in Kenya and Zanzibar, and it’s also when whale sharks visit the waters around Mafia Island.
This is one of the best times of year to visit Odzala in the Congo and see the amazing amount of forest wildlife, including lowland mountain gorillas, living there.
With some regional variations, this is a good time of year in various places, although it can be hot.
The Kalahari Desert which spans South Africa, Namibia and Botswana is at its best for wildlife viewing, with large herds of herbivores gathered on the rich seasonal grasslands and numerous predators taking advantage of the abundant food. It’s also when the Makgadikgadi Pans and Nxai Pan in Botswana (both within the Kalahari eco-system) host a huge seasonal migration of zebra and wildebeest.
South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari offer excellent scenery and wildlife at this time; with meagre rainfall, the weather will not spoil a safari here. The Cape region is superb, with hot dry weather and long days.
This is the best season of the year in Maldives.
APRIL TO JUNE
Lovely for safari in Southern Africa and a good time to visit the Indian Ocean.
Ethiopia is still excellent in April and May, as it has a different climate to the rest of East Africa itself (the rains here don’t usually begin unitl June).
April and May are the wettest months in Kenya and Tanzania and many lodges close as a result.
This is one of the most beautiful times of year, with clear dry weather, wonderful colour and air clarity, a bit of green from the rains, and healthy well-fed wildlife – it’s a photographer’s dream.
Victoria Falls, which can be visited from Zimbabwe or Zambia, is at its greatest volume in May and June.
Namibia is at its scenic best and little visited too. This is probably the best time of year for star gazing as the sky is so free of dust and haze.
The Okavango Delta is beginning to fill with water from Angola; this part of Botswana is very beautiful and provides superb photographic opportunities with consistently excellent wildlife viewing too
Mana Pools in Zimbabwe and the Lower Zambezi across the river in Zambia both open up again. Zambia’s South Luangwa becomes more accessible, and some of the remote safari bush camps reopen in the second half of May.
Liuwa Plains in western Zambia offers excellent birding, and it’s a great time to see shoebills in Bangweulu Swamps in northern Zambia.
It’s one of the best times of year in Mashatu Game Reserve, in the corner formed by the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Malawi becomes better and better as April gives way to May, and on into June. Wildlife viewing and the climate for hiking on the big mountains and plateaus is wonderful and the beaches on Lake Malawi are fabulous.
This is a good time of year in the Indian Ocean, with Mauritius, Seychelles, southern Mozambique and Madagascar all having little rain, gentle winds, and good weather.
JULY TO SEPTEMBER
With a few exceptions, this is an excellent time of year for a safari holiday across much of Africa with superb wildlife viewing, dry weather and warmth rather than heat. The Cape coast can be stormy and cool in July although warming up nicely by September and worth considering for the whale watching season between August to early November.
The great wildebeest migration is readily found in the northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara, and the magical singing wells come back into use at Sarara in northern Kenya.
Tarangire, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale Mountains national parks in Tanzania are coming into the best time of year for wildlife viewing and climbers will enjoy Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and the Rwenzoris now.
Gorilla and chimp tracking in Rwanda and Uganda are excellent.
This is also a good time of year for kite-surfing on the Kenya coast and on Zanzibar, as the southeast trade winds blow steadily
This is one of the two best times to visit Odzala in the Congo with lower rainfall and temperatures than much of the rest of the year.
Safaris in North and South Luangwa get better every week as the volume of water in the river declines and the bush dries out, making wildlife easier to spot. Predator action is more and more visible, and great pods of hippos begin to congregate in the deeper parts of the river. This is the best time of year for walking safaris in the Luangwa Valley. You won’t need to be a birder to enjoy flocks of bright carmine bee-eaters as they arrive in September to nest in the river banks in Luangwa, Mana Pools, the Lower Zambezi, and Botswana. It’s a good time for African skimmers too, which can be seen on the Zambezi and in the Okavango Delta. Busanga Plains in Zambia’s Kafue National Park become traversable, and offer excellent wildlife viewing in wonderfully remote and beautiful surroundings.
Mana Pools and Lower Zambezi are at their best for canoeing and walking. Hwange National Park is also excellent with superb wildlife viewing now, in particular huge herds of elephant gathering as the bush dries out, but with plentiful plains wildlife and good numbers of predators. It’s when you might catch a glimpse of elephant standing up on their hind legs reaching for the protein rich pods of the winter-thorn tree.
Victoria Falls is probably at its best as a spectacle now, with reduced flow meaning less spray and a better view of the falls themselves. There is still sufficient water flowing over the edge to make it an incredible awe inspiring sight, and it’s also an excellent time of year to raft down the rapids here.
Chobe and Linyanti region along the northern border of Botswana see thousands of elephant coming to drink from the big rivers every day as the supply of water away from the river dwindles.
Wildlife viewing in Etosha, Damaraland and the Skeleton Coast regions of Namibia gets better and better as the days pass.
Whales can be seen close to the Cape coast in South Africa, around the Bazaruto Archipelago in southern Mozambique, and along the length of the eastern coast of Madagascar.
The Namaqualand regions and fynbos habitat in South Africa’s western and northern Cape, and Namibia are often a sea of colour with millions of wild flowers erupting into bloom in late August or September
Madagascar is superb, with good access to all parts, fine weather and good wildlife viewing.
Seychelles and Mauritius are both lovely places to be, as is Mozambique.
OCTOBER TO DECEMBER
While October can get very hot in southern Africa, it’s an outstanding time of year for wildlife viewing, as the animals all regularly come to the few remaining water sources to drink, and there is little leaf remaining on the deciduous shrubs.
Ethiopia is great with green farmland and bush, clearer air and spectacular views.
Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are all terrific in October with the proviso that there’s a chance of some rain towards the end of the month. The Masai Mara is always superb for a safari whether it’s the ‘right’ time of year or not, and the absence of other people and vehicles and being able to have this stunning landscape to oneself easily makes up for the chance of a bit of rain. The great wildebeest migration is generally heading from the Masai Mara and the Mara river towards the short grass plains in the south of the Serengeti, where the wildebeest and zebra like to give birth. It’s an exciting dynamic time of year here, and once the rains begin the birdlife is swelled by migrants too. There is a chance of rain across East Africa in November, but the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater never lose their magic, and can thrill at this time too, especially as far fewer people travel.
Tanzania’s Tarangire, Katavi, Nyerere and Ruaha National Parks offer superb wildlife viewing now, with water restricted to a few sources only. The chimpanzees are lower down the Mahale mountains in October and November, making it a bit easier to see and follow them
Gorillas can still be seen in Uganda and Rwanda, but there’s a chance of rain year round in the equatorial mountains.
Zambia is magnificent in October, very hot in the Luangwa valley, but the wildlife viewing is spectacularly good. Similarly the Lower Zambezi is hot but fantastic for wildlife. A significant number of more remote safari camps close at the end of October because of the risk of getting stranded when the rains start and the roads become impassable. October to December is one of the best times to be in Zambia’s wonderfully remote Liuwa Plains, as the grasslands are ablaze with flowers and thousands of wildebeest migrate in from the region by the Angola border.
Zimbabwe is at its best too, with Mana Pools, Lake Kariba, Hwange, and Gonarezhou National Parks all superb in October. They remain excellent into November, until the first rains fall.
Botswana is very hot but absolutely superb for a safari throughout this period; the wildlife viewing in October is especially intense as food and water become more restricted, and thousands of elephant can be seen along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwando rivers in the north. Once the first rain falls, usually in November, many of these elephant scatter into the extensive forests south of the rivers, looking for fresh food and water. At this time, the land in this arid country instantly turns green as a small flush of grass appears almost overnight following a shower. It’s a stunning time of year in the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti, Selinda and Kwando region.
Namibia is excellent throughout this time, but can also get very hot later in the year.
South Africa offers first rate wildlife viewing everywhere, and the Cape and Western Cape coast is simply fabulous. The whales can be seen until around mid-November most years.
Mauritius, Seychelles, and Mozambique are all wonderful beach destinations throughout.
In Madagascar, lemurs have their young in October and November, and because the bush is dry and leafless it’s the best time for bird watching too. Whales can be seen in the south until mid to late November.
Let us know if you would like any more information on where to safari when, or if you would like some itinerary ideas incororating any of the above, and we would be delighted to help. Give us a call, or drop us an email and we’ll respond as quickly as we can – usually on the same day. We very much look forward to talking to you.