When Is the Best Time to Go on Safari in Africa?
Africa is a vast, spectacular continent that offers so much for those who want to experience wildlife in its natural habitat.
Planning a safari to Africa needs careful planning and research. The continent covers two hemispheres and climates vary from region to region. You also need to work out what you want to see: the big five, Great Migration, gorillas, birdlife, etc.?
To help you plan the perfect time to make the most of your safari adventure, here’s a month-by-month guide to the seasons and the best countries to visit in those periods.
Deciding the best time to go to Africa depends on what you want to see and which countries you want to visit. The weather is an important factor when making this decision, so it’s a good idea to understand how the seasons work.
Africa is a vast continent covering the north and south hemispheres, which are divided by the Equator. Although the north hemisphere can be divided into four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – most of Africa typically has two seasons: wet and dry.
The most popular time to go on safari anywhere on the continent is during dry season when it’s easier to see animals as they congregate around depleted water holes. The dry, dusty roads are also easier to navigate. The seasons differ according to the different regions.
Dry season: November to April
Wet season: The south has two rainy seasons: April to mid-July and September to October. The north has one: July to September
Dry season: June to November
Wet season: December to May
Dry season: June to September
Wet season: November to March
Dry season: April to October
Wet season: November to March
Here’s a month-by-month look at the best countries to visit for an unforgettable safari.
January to February
January on the Serengeti is the first preparation stage for the Great Migration. If December’s rains have been good, it’s time for the wildebeest and zebras to gain their strength and graze on the grasses.
January is also birthing time. During this period, thousands of wildebeest calves are born each day. Witnessing a wildebeest or zebra giving birth must be one of the most precious and unforgettable safari experiences, and it’s certainly possible if you plan your visit in January.
However, vulnerable calves and herds focusing on grazing also offer prime opportunities for predators. This is an ideal time to see the big cats, hyenas, cheetahs and wild dogs as they track down and attack the herds.
Although it’s rainy season, Botswana offers an abundance of lush greenery and an alternative experience for the seasoned safari goer.
Calving season is in full swing and it’s a good time to see big cats stalking springboks and impala mothers with their newborns. The Kalahari at this time of year is a bird lover’s paradise. Watch flamingos flock around lakes and migrating birds such as kingfishers, swallows and bee-eaters swooping in their thousands.
The green season is also time for herds to gather and commence their Great Migration. Especially impressive is the zebra migration through the wetlands to the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Over on the western side of Africa, Rwanda enjoys a brief dry season in January and February. As well as offering good hiking conditions and a lower risk of malaria, it’s also the perfect time for trekking through the rainforests to see mountain gorillas.
These magnificent animals are among the most endangered in the world, so seeing them in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime, humbling and emotional experience.
Another East African gem worth visiting at this time is Uganda. Protected mountain gorillas here can be found in two specific areas: the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the Virunga Mountains, also home to the endangered golden monkey, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Gorilla trekking is strenuous though, so ensure you’re fit enough for the adventure!
March to April
Although it’s still technically wet season, March and April are ideal times to visit Kruger National Park in South Africa. Temperatures are pleasant, not too hot and not too cold, there’s plenty of birdlife to see, and animals contentedly graze on lush, green grasses.
As South Africa is the perfect year-round holiday destination, it’s a great time to combine your safari with a trip to the Cape Winelands, Cape Town or have a beach holiday in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
April is the best time of year to see the spectacular Victoria Falls, which lie between Zambia and Zimbabwe. During wet season, over 500 million litres of water cascade down into the Zambezi River, generating so much spray it can be seen from 30 miles away.
There’s also a fair amount of wildlife to spot in and around the Falls, including baboons, warthogs and hippos in the Zambezi River.
March and April is the perfect time to see wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage Simien Mountains, which contains a breathtaking mix of soaring mountains, valleys and gorges.
The park is home to some extremely rare species including the gelada baboon, the walia ibex goat and the Simien fox. Other animals living here include leopards, jackals, hyenas and bushbucks.
May to June
The climate in May is fabulous: warm, dry and mild. Herds of zebra cross the Kalahari to reach the wetter north, and massive herds of elephants can be seen along the Chobe River. As the weather becomes drier, there are fewer mosquitos and a lower risk of malaria.
May is a shoulder month in Zimbabwe, when wet season blends with dry. Days are warm but not too hot, and it becomes drier as June approaches. Nights are chilly but not yet freezing, so it’s a comfortable time of year to go on a safari.
The land is still green but drying out quickly, so wildlife viewing is far easier. Animals begin to congregate around rivers and water holes, and it’s peak time to spot the big five.
You can see our Zimbabwe itinerary here.
May is a good time to spot the big five in the big game country of the Eastern Cape. The region is malaria-free so it’s the perfect safari destination for families. Here you’ll find lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos.
May to June is also an ideal time to combine your South African safari with an Indian Ocean beach holiday in Mauritius or the Seychelles.
If you want to witness the Great Migration in June, then the Serengeti of Tanzania is where you need to be. Every year over two million wildebeest and zebra migrate north from the dry plains of the Serengeti to the grasslands of the Masai Mara in Kenya, in search of food and water. It’s during this time that smaller groups congregate to form mass herds. It’s also mating time for wildebeest.
The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular natural events you’ll ever see, and the river crossings are particularly dramatic. The first crossing takes place at the Grumeti River in Tanzania, usually in June. The herds not only face the perilously strong currents, but also the snapping teeth of hungry crocodiles lying in wait.
July to August
Those who survive the Grumeti River crossing gradually make their way north to the Masai Mara in Kenya.
However, before they get there, they have to face another perilous river crossing: the Mara River, which runs along the Tanzanian and Kenyan border, and separates the Serengeti from the Masai Mara.
Although crossings happen until October, late July is considered the best time for guaranteed viewing. Literally thousands of wildebeest queue up along the banks of the Mara River before taking a Russian roulette style plunge into the waters where crocodiles lie in wait. It’s a gruesome sight, especially watching vultures feast on leftover carcasses, but it’s still one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events that, once witnessed, is positively life changing.
Rwanda’s long, dry season lasts from June to September when clear, sunny skies make it an ideal time to see mountain gorillas. The best place for trekking on foot is in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes in the Volcanoes National Park, the location for the famous film Gorillas in the Mist.
September to October
If you want to go on a chimpanzee trekking safari, it’s best to wait until September, when the rainy season begins. Food is more abundant than in the dry season, so chimpanzees are easier to find. The best place for chimpanzee trekking is Nyungwe National Park, which is home to 13 species of primates including beautiful blue monkeys that live in the treetops. The best place to stay is the Nyungwe Forest Lodge where you can see the tremendous views of the forest from your bedroom window.
As wildebeests and zebras finally reach their destination, the Masai Mara plains are filled with massive herds, followed closely by their predators. The season is dry and the weather cooler, making it an ideal time for cheetah and lion spotting.
The dry season also means that water is scarce, so animals will congregate in large numbers around waterholes, rivers and lakes. Vegetation is low at this time of year, so it’s easier to see the animals from a distance.
September and October are two of the best months to enjoy Zambia’s wildlife if you don’t mind daytime temperatures in the 30s. The dry season is coming to a close and large herds of elephants, buffalo, impala and zebra gather around the dried-out waterholes to drink what’s left.
As well as the best time to enjoy wildlife at the Hwange National Game Reserve, September and October are the best months for a white water rafting adventure on the Zambezi River. At this time of year, the water is low and the rapids are fast, making ideal rafting conditions for those seeking an extra thrilling adventure.
November to December
Although the dry season is considered the best time to view animals, don’t disregard the wet season, especially if you’re an avid bird watcher.
One of the greatest spectacles you’ll see during this time is flocks of pink flamingos that gather on the saltpans of Etosha National Park. Also look out for parrots, bare-cheeked babblers, swallow-tailed bee-eaters and migrating birds from the northern hemisphere.
If you’ve ever visited the Kalahari in the dry season, then you should return in December; the transformation is spectacular. The arid, dry earth is now covered in lush, green grass and the dry water holes are filled to the brim.
The green season is the time to witness the world’s longest migration of zebras, when thousands journey more than 500 km across Namibia to Botswana.
Although the rain is unpredictable, it’s usually confined to late afternoon thunderstorms, which can be spectacular.
Towards the end of the year, the life cycle starts all over again. At this time, visitors get the chance to see wildebeest, springboks and buffalo giving birth. The Kalahari in December is prime hunting and feeding time for predators, so you’ve a chance of seeing lions, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards in action. This is nature at its cruellest and most spectacular.
In November, migrating herds begin to make their way back south to the Serengeti Plains. If you’re visiting North Tanzania at this time, you’ll get the chance to see plenty of wildlife. Tanzania is the perfect year-round safari destination and, being on the East Coast of Africa, is easy to combine with a relaxing Christmas beach holiday at Zanzibar.
Although the Great Migration is over, the Masai Mara still offers excellent wildlife viewing. As it’s technically low season, visitor numbers are fewer, so none of the national parks feel overcrowded, and accommodation in Kenya is easier to find.
For more information and advice on the best times to go on a safari in Africa, contact our True Luxury safari experts. We’ll help plan your perfect African safari adventure.
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