Most believe the best time to go on an African safari is during the dry season, which runs from June to October (for the majority of African safari hotspots). At this time of year, animals are easier to spot as they congregate at water sources.
However, the wet season also has its merits for a thoroughly enjoyable African safari. During these months there are fewer visitors to the parks, offering a more private safari experience, where you can enjoy the abundance of wildlife, birds and green savannah in relative seclusion.
How to time your safari in Africa
One of the most difficult decisions to make while planning a safari is deciding the time of year to visit. The truth is, it all depends on what kind of wildlife you want to see, your specific destination, your price range, and your weather preferences.
We specialize in East African safaris, so have focused our attention on this region.
Keep reading to learn more about the unique offerings of an African safari during every season.
The best time to go on Safari in East Africa
Most tourists choose to go on safari in East Africa during the winter months of June to October. At this time, the weather in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) is typically dry and sunny, making it excellent for spotting wildlife on game drives.
The coldest months in this region are during the dry season, which falls between June and October, with average temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit).
March through May and October through December are the rainiest seasons, and the wettest month is usually May. The driest and hottest month is January.
Check out our country-by-country guide below…
When to go on a safari to Kenya
- January to March: The dry season offers great game viewing and cheaper prices, a win-win.
- April to June: A safari might be muddy during the peak rainy season, but this is the best time to beat the crowds and get the most value out of your trip.
- July to September: This is the most popular (and most expensive!) time for a safari, as this is the best time to see the wildebeest herds on the move during the Great Migration.
- October to December: This short rainy season is ideal for spotting baby animals and migratory birds.
When to visit Tanzania
- January to March: Animals are fewer in Tarangire National Park, but birds are plentiful during this time of year.
- April to June: As Tanzania’s rainy season, you can see newborn animals at lower prices.
- July to September: Dry season provides the best wildlife viewing, but with this comes higher prices.
- October to December: This short rainy season offers more affordability and fewer crowds. You also can see the migration herds making their way through central Serengeti.
The best time to visit Uganda
- January to March: One of the best times for a safari is in January and February when conditions are excellent for game viewing. It gets rainier in March, and with the rain comes fewer crowds. Even with the rain, you will still likely see quite a few animals.
- April to June: While April and May are typically wetter months, June marks the beginning of another dry season, ideal conditions for a safari.
- July to September: July and August provide the perfect weather for trekking to see gorillas and chimpanzees. In September, the rainy season begins again.
- October to December: While October and November have lots of rain, December is the beginning of the next dry season, creating ideal safari conditions.
When to go on a safari in Rwanda
- January to March: Expect a rainy season in the Nyungwe Forest, with a few dry patches in January. Look for discounts on gorilla permits during this time of year.
- April to June: In the Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park, April and May are the rainiest months of the year.
- July to September: This is the driest weather of the year, and it’s perfect for gorilla and chimpanzee trekking. This is the best time to go on an African safari in Rwanda.
- October to December: October and November are stormy in the Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park, but December offers a break from the rain.
What to expect from Africa’s weather
Africa’s seasons are very different to those of Europe and north America. And although the continent’s climate can appear too complicated to understand at first, it’s actually very simple.
Instead of four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) with different weather conditions, Africa’s climate is best divided into wet and dry seasons. This is especially true in the destinations of the best Africa trips such as Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda in east Africa.
This is because these nations lie on or very near the equator, splitting the Earth into its northern and southern hemispheres. Countries north of the equator roughly follow the seasonal differences of Europe and north America, while those south of this imaginary line see their seasons flipped by comparison. It means Christmas isn’t dominated by colder weather, but by the height of summer.
Close to the equator itself, countries can be said to have their very own regional climate, which is dominated by the arrival and departure of annual rains.
What are the best months for African safaris?
Given Africa’s intriguing seasonal variabilities, the best months for an African safari are the end of June until October of each year. Heading out on a safari during these months will see you exploring during the long dry season.
From a human perspective, temperatures tend to be some of their lowest of the year, and you might even want a sweater for those early morning game drives. But June to October is also the best time to go on an African safari from the animals’ perspective.
The reason for this is that animals are easier to spot. The vegetation of the plains dies back as the season progresses, so there are less places for animals to hide. At the same time, the lack of water requires animals to seek out remaining waterholes, and driver-guides will know exactly where you’ll be able to find them. Then add to this clear skies perfect for photography and mesmerizing sunsets, and you’ve undoubtedly got the best months for African safaris!
The downside of traveling between June and October is that their superb conditions make them the most popular months to visit east Africa. Prices tend to ramp up for flights and accommodation, and there will be more vehicles seeking out those epic animal encounters on the plains.
Even so, June to October can’t be faulted. But for a full month by month breakdown of reasons to head out on safari, just keep reading!
The start of the short dry season makes January a great alternative pick for a safari. Tanzania’s Tarangire is known for its birds, and Kenya’s Maasai Mara starts to fill with new life as various antelope and herbivore species calve.
During this time of the year, you will experience high temperatures and zero rainfall on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This weather is ideal for spotting wildlife. To see newborn animals, check out Kenya in January. Fresh rain creates greenery that supports the annual baby boom in this country.
February is the prime green season in Tanzania, where you can spot packs of wild impala, a rare thing to see any other time of year.
Looking for a very special valentine’s day gift? Look no further than Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park in February.
A few thousand zebras make their way from Botswana to Namibia, a total of 480 kilometers. This journey is the longest migration of any African mammal, and this is best seen in southern Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans.
Take advantage of the drier weather conditions to go chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest.
April marks the startof the wet season and offers cooler temperatures, making this a quiet time in the parks. But don’t let that put you off! You will still see plenty of Kalahari lions and migratory birds during this time of year, plus you’ll enjoy a discounted rate.
There’s no doubting May is another wet month. It isn’t usually considered the best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda, but their mountain forest homes are pretty wet year round and cooler temperatures can bring gorilla families closer to camp. Amidst the wet season, flora and fauna thin out, revealing wildlife formerly hidden by foliage. Botswana in May boasts healthy animals, lower prices, and a good amount of vegetation.
The rains begin to ease, making the end of the month a great option for those looking to avoid peak season. This month is the best time to visit Victoria Falls in Zambia. The lower water levels mean that less spray will obstruct your view of this spectacular waterfall.
July is the height of the dry season in East and Southern Africa, making this one of the best times for a safari. Botswana turns into a wetland, and scenic flights can offer you the best views of this scenery.
Probably the most popular month for gorilla trekking tours in Uganda and Rwanda. Elsewhere, the mass herds of the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park are at their most impressive, making it one of the best times to visit Tanzania.
Wildebeest and zebra participate in the Great Migration, creating iconic African safari scenes as the animals cross the Mara River. This is a popular time for safaris, as visitors want to experience these scenes, so the crowds of tourists can be off-putting.
September is another popular choice for safari viewing as the dry season continues in East and Southern Africa. The Great Wildebeest Migration moves into Kenya’s Maasai Mara, drawing in with it an impressive array of predators such as lions just waiting for their chance to pounce. Walking safaris and leopard sightings are typical in South Luangwa in Zambia during this time of year.
Showers dominate October’s weather. As the month progresses, Africa’s plains take on a whole new look as plants and grasses regrow. This makes October an increasing favorite with second and third time safari goers. This month is the best time for an African safari for those who want a more remote viewing experience.
Temperatures begin to rise along with more rains in Southern and East Africa. For those who love birdwatching, check out Mahale Mountains National Park in western Tanzania, featuring plenty of migratory birds, butterflies, and roaring waterfalls.
While December has lots of rain and high temperatures, you can still see an abundance of wildlife during this time, plus the crowds are fewer. The Masai Mara has plenty of greenery and elephants, and you will also be able to experience a luxury safari experience for a fraction of the cost.
When is the best time to trek with gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda?
The best time to trek with gorillas in Rwanda is during the long dry season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October. In Uganda, the best time to trek with gorillas is during the country’s two dry seasons, either between January and February or from June to September.
Gorillas can be hard to track, and during the rainy season, muddy paths make it tricker to locate the animals. Therefore, it’s best to avoid the rainy season in Rwanda and Uganda from March to April and October to November.
Because their habitat has been significantly reduced, gorillas don’t have very far to roam and can be seen as a year-round attraction. But be aware that the trek to find them can vary significantly in length, from 2 hours to 8 hours each way.
You can find chimpanzees year-round in Western Tanzania and Uganda.
Like gorillas, chimpanzee safaris are more challenging during the rainy season due to the muddy paths. However, chimps might be easier to locate during the rain because they don’t have to travel too far to find water.
The rainy season is from February to June and November to mid-December. For better photos, visit during the dry season, from July to October and December.
You can find plenty of birds in East Africa between January and March.
The best destinations for bird-lovers include Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
You will see lions year-round in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.
Tanzania’s national parks also offer many lion sightings; the high season spans from July through October.
From June to November, the Cape coast in South Africa comes alive with southern-right whales, along with humpbacks and orcas. Much of the sea life can be seen from the shore, so there’s no need to spot marine life via boat.
The Great Migration
The best times to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration are August and September, and you will also be more likely to see a river crossing during these months.
What time of day is best for a safari?
The best time of day to see abundant wildlife on a safari is early in the morning and in the evening before the sun goes down. The animals are more active either before the sun comes up or as the sun is setting. As a bonus, the temperatures will generally be milder during these times of the day.