The Best Time for African Safari
Much is made of the best time for African safari, as if the animals pack up and vanish at certain times of the year. In most destinations the experience morphs through the year, dictated by extravagant seasonal changes. But wildlife doesn’t follow a 12-month schedule. Animals have no notion of months and live at their own pace. In Africa you’ll discover the rhythm of the wild, a rhythm that will whisk you away from traditional calendars.
This rhythm is unpredictable. It can blur seasons or change at rapid speeds. It can keep you suspended before catapulting you into something new. It is nature and it is why Africa is such an unforgettable place to visit. So we don’t like to think in terms of a best or worst time to go on safari, especially when you stay in private concessions. We prefer to think of safari as an invitation into a different world, where the experience will be different dependent on when you visit, not better or worse. And considering how the wilderness is changing, we believe the best time for African safari is now.
There is No Best Time for African Safari
Picture the scene. Dawn has broken and a huge herd of elephants are conspicuous along the horizon. But the guide stops the vehicle. Silence. There’s nothing here, why have we stopped? Then a rustle. Something is moving, but what? Keep watching. It takes time for your eyes to adjust. Then it only takes a glance for your heart rate to rise. A cheetah is stalking a small herd of impala. You’re watching one of African safari’s great scenes, a hunt play out in the high grass.
This high grass is typical of the green season, which isn’t usually recommended for a safari because denser foliage makes it “harder” to spot wildlife. But when visibility is limited, wildlife isn’t as easily interrupted by you. So the guide takes you a little closer. Higher grass makes it easier for cats to hunt. And safari is far more exhilarating when the predators are moving, rather than simply basking the morning away. Although it’s unlikely you’ll encounter great wildlife densities during the green season, a safari is often more intimate at this time. So we will always argue that the the best for African safari is now, not a particular time of year.
Essential Reading: Dry Season versus Green Season
All mammals need food and water. When rains fall in Africa the landscapes transform; grass rises, forests flourish, rivers flow, floodplains extend and wildlife celebrates. Africa becomes green. There’s an abundance of food and water sources. So the wild mammals spread out, finding their own bounty at a time of least competition. The grazers graze and the predators prowl, bringing incredible energy and enthusiasm to the land. It’s a perfect time to bring a new generation into the world – green season is the time to see calves and cubs – and the blossoming landscapes have a rare, ephemeral beauty.
The rains happen a little differently across Africa but the meteorological pattern is consistent. Landscapes gradually dry up. Savannah turns barren, swamps become basins of cracked ochre mud, deserts extend their grip. The height of dry season is the most competitive time of the year. Animals cluster around the little food and water that remains. Most will call the height of dry season the best time for African safari. It’s just the easiest time for spotting and encountering a thick density of wildlife. Competition bring a tension and drama that’s clearly felt in the air. Yet dwindling resources mean animals must conserve their energy and they won’t be as active in the green season.
The Best Time for African Safari Could Be the Dry or Green Season
In an ideal world most mammals want a green season all year around. This creates the famous migrations, animals following the rains to maximize their supply of food and water. Elephants around the Kalahari, wildebeest in the Serengeti, smaller ungulates in savannah ecosystems. Witnessing a migration is one of Africa’s great highlights, epitomizing seasonal changes. But the animals never vanish, even if they are not migrating.
So the best time to visit the Serengeti for the migration could be ten months of the year because the animals are always there, in their large herds, on the move and making their journey.
BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR SAFARI IN THE DRY SEASON
BEST TIME FOR AFRICAN SAFARI IN THE GREEN SEASON
Animals Don’t Disappear During the Off Season
Not all mammals are wanderers. Like any family unit, some stay close to home while others seek new pastures. And while the wanderers may come back with stories, most mammals don’t venture too far from their home. So while some argue the best time to visit Kenya is July and August, when wildebeest have migrated to the Masai Mara. We think the opposite. That’s just the busiest time to visit Kenya. For 12 months of the year there’s a thrilling abundance of wildlife on show. The best time for African safari in Kenya is while this abundance still exists.
The big cats are territorial and must protect their range, feeding on whatever chooses to pass through; their thought is on expanding territories, not following migratory prey. For example, during the great wildebeest migration it’s only hyenas and vultures that actually follow the herds (hyena are unique in letting rival clans pass through their territory, but will fight if any clans try and stay).
Only a few species have the stamina for such long journeys. Imagine walking 300 miles for fresh food, then 300 miles back home? Sometimes it’s best not to stray too far from home comforts, especially if you are prey to many. So while the large (elephants) and numerous (wildebeest and zebra) may move, the general animal population sees little change throughout the year. It’s how you encounter these animals that changes with dry and green seasons.
The Best Time for African Safari Doesn’t Matter With Private Concessions
Back to that scene, cheetah versus impala in the high grass. Put the binoculars away because the spotted cat walks straight past the vehicle. Up ahead, a male impala with impressive horns faces up to the danger, protecting his harem. Captivating and charming you watch the scene unfold. But how did the guide know to stop here? Indigenous guides understand their homelands like only locals can. They understand where different species like to live and hide. They know the wilderness’s pathways and secrets, just like you know how to navigate the urban landscape of home. And because a concession is never crowded with visitors, the best time for African safari is usually 12 months of the year.
The guide has seen this cheetah before and recognizes a small scar on its left cheek. The private concession is this guide’s neighborhood, a tract of land that’s intimately understood through many years of exploring and experience. So yes, it may be harder to spot wildlife during green season in a national park. But not in a private concession, not with guides showing you what is their home as well as the animals’. Every season just offers a different angle. So come back six months later and this same cheetah is readily spotted on open plains, but from further away.
More people go on safari during the dry season as they think this is the very best time for African safari. National parks can get crowded at this time, especially famous ones like the Masai Mara. And it doesn’t feel as special when 12 other vehicles interrupt your experience. Private concessions have the same restrictions on visitor numbers every day of the year, so they never get crowded. By imposing rules on the number of vehicles per sighting, they preserve privacy even during the most popular weeks of the year. The only change is in price, with peak months attracting peak prices.
The Best Time to go to Africa
That will depend on where you go. This detailed destination guide explores the best time to visit South Africa. Many will tell you that June to September is the best time to visit Botswana. We don’t necessarily agree and our detailed Botswana guide explores different times of year in more depth.
Traditionally the best time to visit Tanzania is the dry season but we’ve been on many safaris in Tanzania’s green season, and witnessing live births is quite an experience. Before settling on a month, read our insider guide to safari in Tanzania. Likewise, the best time to visit Kenya depends on what you want to see.
Best Time to Visit Africa – Month by Month Guide
Africa will put on a show, whenever you want to travel. There is no bad month, no bad time to be amid nature’s greatest theater. The argument is simple for us: the best time for African safari is now.
A safari can work around you. Organizing a family vacation can be difficult enough, without having to time it around wildebeest giving birth on a grassland that’s 10,000 miles away. Nature’s rhythm also has the ability to add an extra layer of magic. Seasonal transformations create the most extravagant spectacles, transient scenes that quickly move on but linger long in the memory.
One of the best times for safari in Tanzania as the wildebeest start calving in southwestern Serengeti, creating easy prey for hungry, resident predators. Southern Africa is at its hottest but the days are long, meaning you can see and do more with the same amount of time.
Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans are flooding, a surreal spectacle in a remote and off the beaten track wilderness, contradicting a month which is not usually considered the best time to visit Botswana. It’s hot and dry in most of East Africa, hot and occasionally wet in most of Southern Africa. Visit a private concession at this time of year and the safari will bring reward.
East Africa’s landscapes are almost desolate as they await transformation. It’s the driest time of year in this region, and the best time for African safari in the dry season. However, just note that if the thunderous rains start early it will be wet from mid-March onwards. March is one of the best times of year to visit South Africa, as there’s a nice climate in both coastal and interior areas. Botswana and Namibia are beautiful after the rains.
A month of seasonal change. Southern Africa’s landscapes show an almost kaleidoscopic splendor, some still green, others increasingly dry, everywhere transforming before your eyes. This is the wettest month in East Africa and many destinations or lodges close down completely, made inaccessible by the weather.
Botswana and Namibia are noticeably cooler now that it is winter, meaning they appeal to a larger audience (if you are from the Southern United States then a Southern African summer won’t be beyond your norm). It’s peak flow at Victoria Falls and you can’t escape the power of this spectacle. Many East African destinations remain closed but the rains should be relenting.
June is up there as the very best time for African safari. The Okavango Delta has flooded, creating a surreal oasis in the Kalahari desert. Elephants fill the Chobe. It’s dry across the continent yet East Africa still has a beautiful green feel, and transformation is accelerating across Southern Africa, bringing many serendipitous scenes.
Traditionally July is known as the best time of year for an East African safari, especially as it is when wildebeest are queuing up to charge over the Mara River. Classic dry season conditions can be found all across Southern Africa as well. This means a huge surge in tourism, which is magnified by US and European school summer breaks. July is certainly a fine time to go on safari but avoid the crowds by sticking to private concessions. You need to book early for this time of year, up to 12 months in advance.
Like July, private concessions are highly recommended at this revered and popular time of year. In particular, those around northern Botswana like Linyanti and Kwando put on a dazzling show. Like June and July, the options for malaria-free safari are greatest during these dry months in Southern Africa.
Africa awaits the rain yet most of the tourists have gone back home. It remains dry and mild across most of the continent and there are some surprising scenes to find in private concessions. We think it’s an underrated month, regardless of your safari dreams; it’s one of the best times to visit Africa, regardless of your safari interests.
Warm and clear on the coast, dry and relatively cool in the bush, spring flowers blossoming all over…South Africa’s beauty is truly alive in October, but don’t discount Botswana at this time of year either, especially given the enchanting solitude. East Africa has its short rains now, which shouldn’t be off putting either. All in all this is up there as the best time for African safari.
Seasonal changes mean safari is at its unpredictable best. Battles and births, rivalries and roving mammals…who knows what you will encounter. Storms are beginning in Southern Africa while East Africa should continue to welcome a spray of rain here and there. It all adds up to an ideal time to go.
Christmas and New Year is usually a time for family. A family safari is best in the private concessions, away from the surge of people that fill the national parks at this popular time. Some say that December is the worst time for African safari; we think it’s an ideal time for mixing wildlife encounters with shared family moments.
Plan My African Safari
Africa’s wildernesses are defined by nuance. So while we can generalize about the time to visit Africa, the true answer to this question is dictated by your interests.
We can talk you through all the options in far more depth, whether you can only travel in a certain month or are passionate about visiting a certain destination.