African safari scene with diverse wildlife in Hwange National Park

The Best Time to go on an African Safari: A Country-by-Country Guide

written by
Sue van Winsen
Sue van Winsen

One of the most magical things about going on an African safari is no two trips are alike. The wildlife you see, the landscape, and the weather are ever-changing, which means that no matter how seasoned a safari-goer you are, each and every experience will be vastly different from the one before.

The timing of your safari is one of the most influential aspects and will to a large degree shape the kind of experience you can expect to have. For the most part, the winter months bring cooler and drier conditions – great for long days out on safari, while the summer months bring the rains, transforming the landscapes into an emerald green and signalling a time of abundant food, which in turn prompts animals to give birth to their young. With this in mind, it is difficult to truly judge when is the best time to go on an African safari.

That said, in Africa, nothing is predictable and while you can have a broad sense of what to expect, you should also prepare to be surprised. But, with a healthy degree of adaptability and presumption that even the best-laid plans sometimes go off course, this is Niarra Travel’s country-by-country guide on the best time to go to Africa on safari.

Safari vehicle in lush greenery, typical African safari adventure.

Botswana

Best time to go on safari in Botswana:

May to October for abundant wildlife

November to April for photography and birdwatching

Truly a country transformed by the seasons – and by rainfall in particular – Botswana’s famous Okavango Delta turns into a wetland wonderland between May and October each year, as the waters of the Okavango River pour in to create the world’s largest inland delta. Interestingly, this also coincides with the driest season for Botswana which means perfect long days to explore this incredibly rich and unique ecosystem.

From November to April, the Okavango Delta dries up, and the rains start to fall as the temperatures rise for the Southern Hemisphere summer season. This is a great time to travel to Botswana if you are interested in photography and bird-watching, as the summer migrant species return.

If you are planning to visit the Makgadikgadi Pans, the summer season from November to March also brings huge migratory herds of zebras and big flocks of flamingos.

Tourists enjoying an African safari camp in Botswana’s wilderness

Kenya

Best time to go on safari in Kenya:

June to October for the Great Migration

January to March for the secret season

The arrival of the megaherds of the Great Wildebeest Migration, which make their annual trek from the Serengeti into the Maasai Mara in search of fresh grass, is one of the key factors in determining the most popular time to travel to Kenya.

Highly unpredictable in terms of the start and end dates, generally the herds will start to be seen in June, departing Kenya by October. The iconic river crossings that generations have watched in wildlife documentaries take place during these months and are a huge draw to the park. June to October are also the driest months in Kenya, with pleasant, cooler weather.

However, if you are not set on seeing the Great Wildebeest Migration, Kenya’s ‘secret season’ runs from January to the end of March, where the days are punctuated by frequent short rain showers. You will have far more choice in terms of availability of accommodation, the landscape will be lush and green and filled with the abundant wildlife that stays in Kenya throughout the year.

A giraffe's head towering above the trees in the savannah

Namibia

Best time to go on safari in Namibia:

May to October for enchanting wildlife congregations

Truly a year-round destination, many of Namibia’s attractions remain unchanged through the seasons, with only the weather being a factor to take into consideration. With much of the country being desert, very hot conditions are to be expected in the summer months which means most of your safari activities will take place in the early mornings and evenings.

Winter and Spring from May to October are considered to be the best time to visit Namibia on safari, but you should be prepared for icy nights and early mornings in June and July with temperatures regularly dropping below freezing. These are the dry months and are a particularly good time to visit Etosha National Park as the wildlife congregates around available water sources.

Cultural interaction during an African safari in Namibia.

Rwanda & Uganda

Best time to go on safari in Rwanda & Uganda:

Gorilla trekking year-round, but drier from June to September

The East African countries of Rwanda and Uganda are both known for gorilla trekking, which is available year-round. Both countries are close to the Equator which results in less variation between the seasons, but the trekking conditions will change somewhat depending on when you go. Generally, the dry season runs from June to September which means less slippery mud on the forest trails, but rain can be expected at any time of the year.

Intense gorilla trekking experience, a unique African safari activity.

South Africa

Best time to go on safari in South Africa:

Region-dependant

The diversity of South Africa means you can expect completely different weather in different parts of the country at the same time. The northern areas, where you will find the iconic Kruger National Park and the hub of the country’s safari operations, has dry winters and wet summers, with June to September being the most popular season. Days are sunny and temperate, while conditions are refreshingly cool at night, and vegetation is less dense making wildlife far easier to spot.

The southern part of the country, including the Cape where you will also find several safari destinations has a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and dry summers – and if you are planning to pair your safari with some time at the coast, you can watch migratory whales gather off the coast from October to November and enjoy gloriously sunny days.

Cheetah sibella cubs playing samara karoo reserve south africa

Tanzania

Best time to go on safari in Tanzania:

June to October for the Great Migration and good visibility

April to May and November to December for ‘Green Season’

With year-round attractions, Tanzania can be visited in any season, but you should be guided by what you are hoping to get out of your experience when deciding on the best time to go.

If you are hoping to see the Great Wildebeest Migration, it is usually at its most dramatic and concentrated in the Serengeti in June and July, while the calving season when as many as 8,000 baby wildebeests can be born in a single day happens in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in January and February. This is a time when you are likely to see plenty of drama, with predators always in close pursuit hunting the abundant and easy prey.

Essentially, for a first-time safari-goer, Tanzania’s dry months from late June to October would be the best time to go, when wildlife is easiest to see, however the ‘Green Season’ from April to May and November to December is when the Serengeti is less crowded and the landscapes are at their greenest and most scenic.

Wildebeest roaming freely, captured during an African safari in Tanzania

Zambia

Best time to go on safari in Zambia:

May to November for incredible nature and walking safaris

Of all the Southern African safari destinations, Zambia is perhaps the most impacted by the seasons, with a dramatic change in the environment throughout the year. This is most pronounced in South Luangwa, which is completely inaccessible during the rainy season which runs from December until April, with camps and lodges closing during this time.

Safaris resume between April and May with warm, clear days starting to dominate, drying out the wet earth. The prime safari season runs from June to August, the perfect time for game drives and incredible walking safaris.

Guide leading a walking safari near Thorntree River Lodge, Zambia.

Zimbabwe

Best time to go on safari in Zimbabwe:

May to October for abundant wildlife

November to April for photography and birdwatching

Like much of the rest of Southern Africa, the autumn and winter months are often considered the best time to visit Zimbabwe, when the weather is cooler and animals are easier to spot as they gather near available water in many of the national parks, including Hwange and Gonarezhou. If you are planning to visit Mana Pools National Park, the dazzling crimson-coloured carmine bee-eaters nest on the riverbanks from August to October and are a stunning sight.

The rainy season from November onwards brings beautiful and dramatic storms, incredible sunsets and abundant birdlife, although you will have to contend with hotter weather. Another factor to take into consideration is whether you are planning to pair your Zimbabwe safari with a visit to the Victoria Falls, which can be viewed year-round but is at its most powerful from February to May.

Zebras grazing, a serene moment on an African safari in Zimbabwe

Whether you have a safari destination in mind and need help working out the ideal time to travel, or if you are set on specific dates and need advice on which country will deliver the best experience, our team of safari specialists are ready to help. Simply get in touch on +44 (0) 20 3821 5994 (UK),+1 (833) 215 9353 (US), or at explore@niarratravel.com and we will start planning your unforgettable African safari.

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