One of the most important questions you’re going to ask yourself – or a travel professional – when considering a trip in search of the Big Five or to trek through tropical forest in search of mountain gorillas is what’s the best time to go on safari in Africa.
Get it wrong and you can end up bogged down because of the unsurfaced roads of the national parks or find hiking trails closed off for the season. Get it right and you’ll discover locations where animals big and small gather at waterholes to quench their thirst before battling it out to stay alive for another night on the plains.
To make it easy to know the best time to go on safari in Africa we’ve created this short introductory guide. Since most safaris center on countries in east Africa (including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) and southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana and Namibia for example) that’s where we have focused our attention.
How the Seasons Affect the Best Time to Go on Safari in Africa
When it comes to the best time to go on safari in Africa there are a couple of points to take into consideration with regard to the continent’s seasons. For the most part you can forget thinking about spring, summer, fall and winter.
Instead, you need to think about wet and dry seasons. Going on safari in the wet season is possible, and the landscape can look lusciously green. It’s also an excellent time to go on safari if your main concern is ticking off the long list of bird species that live in or visit Africa. However, some roads might be closed off because of the rains, and animals tend to be more sparsely located since water is easier to come by.
During the dry season Africa’s iconic animals tend to congregate around what few waterholes remain, making sightings all the easier for both tourists and predators. But it also increases the number of other safari vehicles you’ll encounter on a game drive.
It’s also worth noting that the seasons are flipped in the southern hemisphere. While this isn’t particularly noticeable in the equatorial belt covering Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, it does play a part on the best time to go on safari in Africa further south. It means Christmas is at the peak of summer – and accommodation can get booked up months in advance within national parks. Conversely, the winter occupies the months around June through to September.
Best Time to Go on Safari in East Africa
As the home of Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo Valley national parks, as well as the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro, there’s plenty of reason to go on safari in east Africa. The region experiences two dry seasons each year, separated from one another by two wet seasons.
The short dry season runs from roughly December to February, and the long dry season from around June until September. The long dry season is the most popular time of year to visit the region on safari, since it coincides with the Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. Dates for either dry season are not fixed and vary slightly from year to year. You should also still expect the odd rainy day even when on safari at these times of year.
The rains that occur between March and May are generally considered the heavier of the two rainy seasons. Both March through May and October to November see at least double the amount of rainfall as the dry seasons. Gorilla trekking can be more difficult at this time of year as forest paths become slippery, although individual families tend to stay at lower altitudes in the mountains, reducing the distance you’ll have to trek to reach them.
You should expect minimum temperatures of around 16°C (60°F) and highs of 29°C (84°F) year-round.
Best Time to Go on Safari in Southern Africa
The open veld of southern Africa also has some stunning safari options, including the world-famous Kruger National Park.
Unlike east Africa, southern Africa has just one rainy season annually. In South Africa it occurs between the start of May and the end of August. In much of the rest of the region, it’s the reverse, with the wettest months being November through to March or April – the region’s winter. Rains rarely affect plans for long, since they tend to fall as afternoon showers, giving you plenty of other opportunities during the day to practice your photography skills.
Christmas is also something of an exception. Despite being within the rainy season it still attracts plenty of people looking to get away for the festive season. Another advantage of going on safari at this time of year is the fact it is the period when many antelope species, such as wildebeest and zebra give birth to their young. It’s a spectacle which provides added interest to both safari goers and predatory species such as lion and leopard.
The best time to go on safari in Africa here is however still generally thought to be the dry season months of May until October. The peak of this season is between June and September, coinciding with school summer vacation periods in much of the world. It should therefore be avoided if you’re looking for a feel of exclusivity. It can also see temperatures under sunny skies of 32°C (90°F), which can be a little hot for some travelers, especially children.
For more on game drives and what to expect on safari in Africa, take a look at our dedicated information page.
The best time to go on safari
The main factors which will define when is the best time to go on safari in Africa for you will be the seasons in east and southern Africa. Although traveling in the wet season sounds like an instant no-no, the season does have its advantages, as we’ve outlined. Equally, there are several reasons to explore the plains and forests of Africa during its dry seasons too.