What’s the best time to go on a safari? This is undoubtedly the most asked question we receive. The answer? You can safari year-round in Africa but undeniably some places are better than others at certain times of year.
When you should go on a safari depends on many factors including what you are hoping to see and your budget as well as wildlife movements and weather patterns .
We recommend speaking to the team for advice based on your individual circumstances, but to give you some ideas of what we like to do when and why, please read our quick safari by the seasons guide below!
You can see detailed information about sub-Saharan safari destinations in our country guides here.
South Africa is a good option during these months of the year – it is autumn in the southern hemisphere which means South Africa’s Cape is usually beautiful during the Easter holidays enjoying mild dry weather which can continue right throughout May. Temperatures tend to hover around 20 degrees which is perfect for self -drive and sight-seeing. It’s still warm enough to eat alfresco and walk the beach.
This time of year offers other substantial benefits too – as well as being cooler, it is much quieter and accommodation rates are lower then during the peak months of November to February. However, if you’re hoping to see whales, they don’t tend to arrive in their masses until July time although you may be lucky…
Greater Kruger, South Africa’s most famous safari destination is entering its prime time, which stretches from April/May until October – rainfall subsides, the bush starts to die back and wildlife is usually more prolific/easier to find as it congregates around known water sources.
Combine your Kruger safari with time on the beach in neighbouring Mozambique (also good from April/May onwards), or with the Cape coast.
Looking for a beach escape? The Seychelles are glorious March – May. This time of year marks the end of the north-west monsoon and Manta Rays start to gather in the channels around the islands.
The shores of Lake Malawi would be another excellent choice from April onwards as the weather becomes increasingly clear and warm. Days on the lake and nights beneath the stars can be combined with a safari in Majete and/or Liwonde.
We also like bush and beach combinations during the Easter holidays in East Africa – for example, the Masai Mara and Diani Beach. This choice is not governed by the weather however which can be changeable at this time. Rates are very competitive March-May with many special offers, which reflects the unpredictability of the aforementioned weather – the long rains can arrive at any time from March onwards and usually last well into May. Downpours can be sudden and heavy but often clear to bright sunshine. The long rains start in the west and sweep towards the Indian Ocean coast, often not arriving on the coast until early May. Rates are as low as they go at this time of year on safari. Baby animals are everywhere and the landscape is increasingly lush and green. Elephants love to play in the rain. A Samburu day in late May/early June, after the rains, is a truly wonderful thing.
In Southern Africa the rains come earlier, from November to March leaving the parched Kalahari Salt Pans in Botswana refreshed. Easter is one of our favourite times to visit this area.
Victoria Falls is also resplendent following the rains and you can see it in Full Flood at this time of year – the sheer volume and power of water surging over the Falls means the view is often obscured by spray and walking the Rainforest trails is a very wet activity! You can try your luck at seeing a Lunar Rainbow if full moon occurs at the time of your visit. This is a dramatic time to visit the Falls.
UK SUMMER June to August
For the majority of safari destinations, this is the optimum time to be in Africa, with the exception of Cape Town and the Cape coast.
You really are spoilt for choice! June is our secret season when conditions are excellent but visitor numbers (and airfares/lodge prices) are not at their maximum until July/August.
Go gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda, see dramatic river crossings in Kenya/Tanzania as the Great Migration moves from northern Serengeti to the Masia Mara, stake out a waterhole in Namibia’s Etosha, enjoy walking safaris in Zambia or Zimbabwe’s legendary Mana Pools, or float down the serene channels of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The trademark weather pattern of this season is cool, dry and clear.
For beach lovers, the Indian Ocean coast offers good visibility for diving and snorkelling and the southern ‘Kusi’ breeze helps to cool you down. Humpback whales start to migrate along the Kenyan coast from July/August.
UK AUTUMN September to November
September is one of our favourite times in East and Southern Africa – the short rains do not tend to arrive until November and with the migration on the plains of the Mara throughout September into October you are likely to be treated to some exceptional wildlife viewing both here and in the northern Serengeti in Tanzania.
Southern Right Whales collect off the Cape coast of South Africa to calve with the Hermanus Whale Festival held in late September – while humpbacks can also be seen in Cape waters. Temperatures start to soar providing wonderful respite from the autumn chill in the UK. Outdoor concerts and picnics begin as the weather warms.
September is a plum month for Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. October sees the highest density of wildlife as water sources shrink. Temperatures are at their peak in October – it can be very hot and dry – and Victoria Falls can be reduced to a trickle at this time of year before the long rains arrive in November so if you want to combine the Falls with a safari the optimum time to visit is really June to August. Weather can be unpredictable in November, however many of the seasonal mobile camps stay open for the first week or so.
Looking for a beach break? We love Mauritius in September/October.
UK WINTER December to February
East Africa is the place to be. Catch up with calving on the Serengetis southern plains in Tanzania, enjoy the white sands of the Spice Islands and Kenyan coast with water visibility at its best for snorkelling and diving.
Uganda is also a good option in January/February time and is the next best time of year to go gorilla trekking after June-September, which is considered peak gorilla season.
If you’re looking for heat – South Africa’s Cape is celebrating the Southern Hemisphere’s summer sunshine, with January and February the hottest months of the year (expect the thermometer to sit around 30 degrees+). Safaris in the malaria-free Eastern Cape are fabulous but further north in Kruger you can expect very wet and difficult conditions with impassable roads – something to consider as safari vehicles tend to be open style with very little protection from the elements.
Don’t rule out Southern Africa – like Kruger, it is in the grip of the wet and warm Green Season throughout the UK Winter (this means sudden downpours, dramatic skies and a lush landscape), however, in some areas such as Chobe, the Okavango and Hwange there are excellent permanent camps open year-round, offering very good deals. On safari you’ll be rewarded by many migratory birds and this is the time for young animals to be born.
Food on a safari holiday should be a real highlight. You can enjoy private breakfasts in the heart of the African wilderness, dine out under the stars and eat from the brai around camp fires. Many of our camps and lodges offer delicious ‘a la carte’ menus, others ask for your preferences before arrival so they can ensure you enjoy everything they prepare. Most have terraces that overlook rivers or water holes, or private verandas where you can have an intimate, romantic meal.
Real Africa has always understood the importance of good food. This is one reason why we’ve donated to the only cookery school in Kenya dedicated to training local Masai as chefs capable of running the kitchens of lodges and camps in the reserve.
We also like our clients to try some of the local specialties and delicacies, as much a part of Africa as the animals and birds. Some things however we don’t serve as standard. They are a little to exotic for the menu but are available for the intrepid (and very hungry).
– Mopane worms. Botswana. These grubs are a popular delicacy in Southern Africa and get their name because they feed on the leaves of the wild mopani or mopane trees. They are the caterpillars of the Emperor moth. They are hand-picked in the wild before their innards removed they are dried. These can be eaten raw as a quick snack or soaked and boiled to rehydrate, before frying until crunchy or cooking with onion, tomatoes and spices and serving with sadza. Delicious.
– Termites. A bit crunchy. Have a toothpick handy.
– Ostrich egg omelette. Plenty to go around…
– Biltong – sun-dried meat from various animals that can be very chewy if you get a bad bit.
– Cattle blood. Kenya. An artery is nicked, blood spurts into a gourd and it is drunk hot before it congeals. An important food source for the young herdsmen in the wastes of Norhtern Kenya that gives they sustinence without hurting their cattle.
– Tera Sega. Raw meat. Ethiopia. The ethiopians used to like their meat fresh and would slice it from a still living animal.
– Giant bullfrog. Namibia. Move over the French, these have decent sized legs.
– Nsenene (Grasshoppers) Uganda
– Supu, Tanzania. A soup made with the lungs, heart and liver of a goat, as well as the stomach, intestines and tongue of a cow.
– Mice. Zambia
– Kapenta. Malawi. These are tiny sardine-like fish; originally from Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, which have been introduced into other African lakes, including Lake Kariba. They are usually sun-dried. The dry fish must be fried gently, otherwise it becomes bitter and smells burnt. In fact the best way to prepare them is probably to make an onion and tomato sauce and then add the fish.
Did you know that Sport Relief (www.sportrelief.com) is coming up soon on the 18th March 2016? We are big supporters of this charity for the vitally important work they do in Africa. Have you made a donation yet? Or are you taking part in a sporting event at the weekend?
On the theme of sports and getting fit we thought we would take a look at some sports that you can do whilst on holiday in Africa. Africa is not just about safaris you know – it is actually a fantastic place for a sporting holiday.
In fact many top athletes head off to Africa to do their training. Marathon runners in particular head into the high hills of the Western Great Rift Valley in Kenya to make the most of training at altitude and hope to become as fit as the world beating athletes that grew up there such as Wilson Kipsang . Other athletes head to Africa to make the most of the wonderful climate and the training facilities that can be found across the continent.
For the truly energetic you could base yourself in the gorgeous Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. These mountains provide a stunning backdrop to all kinds of sporting activities including hiking, rock climbing, mountain-biking, white-water rafting, horse-riding and kayaking. A stay at Cathedral Peak would put you in the heart of the action and the hotel can organise most of these activities for you.
Those of you who fancy something more sedate might think about golf. South Africa is home to some of the best golf courses and championship venues in the world. There are just too many to mention but I have highlighted a few of the best. On the Garden Route you can play golf at Mossel Bay with stunning views over the sea and Fancourt is another well-known golf resort in the area that can be combined with a holiday in this area. If the Cape Winelands appeal more then you can play at Stellenbosch making the most of the excellent dining and wine in this area. Cape Town is also home to many great courses so you could combine a city break in this wonderful and vibrant city with your favourite pastime. Up in Sun City near Johannesburg you have the option of playing on the fabulous Gary player course or the famous Palace of the Lost City course. This would work really well with a safari in the Kruger National Park or Pilanesburg as both are close by.
If water-sports are more your thing then how about scuba diving in Mozambique or swimming in the warm waters of Zanzibar. Deep sea fishing or sport fishing is also widely available in both these places. Windsurfing, sailing and sea-kayaking are available at some of the larger hotels and resorts along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts. And South Africa is one of the best places in the world for surfing. Try the resorts on the Garden Route.
If gentle exercise is more your cup of tea then how about a walking safari in Zambia? Or a stay in a nature reserve in South Africa such as De Hoop where you can get out walking with a guide every day or swim in the pool or play tennis? These are a fantastic way to see the wonderful wildlife but also to keep you mobile and fit and healthy at the same time.
It’s Valentine’s Day this week and we have some great ideas for those of you who are stumped for a good gift or looking for a truly romantic gesture.
Kenya is home to a truly Out of Africa experience and as this year sees the 30th anniversary of that wonderful film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford we think it’s perfect for a Valentine’s Day celebration. If you haven’t got time to get there this year then maybe you could book it now for a trip later in the year – after all who doesn’t like to receive a pair of tickets to a romantic destination as a surprise?
We recommend staying at many different romantic lodges and tented camps in Kenya. One of the most romantic is the recently opened Angama Mara in a private conservancy on the edge of the world famous Masai Mara National Park.
This is an incredibly romantic place because of the absolutely breath-taking views. These are so spectacularit’s almost impossible to drag yourself away from the camp to go on safari! Each tented suite enjoys a 180° view over the beautiful Masai Mara stretching out far below. The Masai Mara is the best-known game reserve in the world, home to the Big Five and the world famous Migration which runs from July to October of each year and also the home to some truly stunning African scenery. The Out of Africa back-story adds romance and the tented suites are decorated in traditional romantic safari style with extra touches of luxury making it feel even more special. The staff at Angama Mara also go out of their way to make sure your stay is special and you will have some incredible memories to take home with you.
Other than Kenya two of our other favourite places for romance are the intimate and luxurious tented safari camps of Botswana and the luxury hotels on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Lake Malawi. In both these places we can off the exceptionally romantic experience of sleeping under the African night sky in a star bed. You can’t get more romantic than that!
This little camp is a hidden jewel on the Xudum River in the Okavango Delta. The area is home to a long line of little islands dotted with lush greenery and trees interspersed amongst the rivers and lagoons. As you would expect the Okavango is filled with wonderful wildlife and you can take the camp’s glass bottomed mokoro canoe to make the most of it. The camp is tiny with only seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents each with an en-suite bathroom. The tents are well spaced apart which means they all feel very private without being too far from the main camp area. New for 2016 are the amazing Star Beds which allow you to sleep out under the Botswana stars. With no light pollution the star gazing here will blow you away and the star beds means you can do it in style!
Nkwichi, is a really wonderful secret that we are not sure we want to share – but we will! It really is a wonderful paradise tucked away on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi. There are 8 secluded beaches set along a stretch of the beautiful Rift Valley coastline which are all around Nkwichi. Not only do you have easy access to stunning beaches and crystal clear warm waters along the lake but also to some untouched wildlife and inland scenery. The accommodation at Nkwichi is also very romantic as you stay in lovely chalets and house set around the resort. Tucked away in the treeline, each chalet is unique. All individually are individually designed and built using local materials to blend in to their surroundings, they deliver absolute luxury in a natural setting. This means they are really private and romantic with 4 poster beds and rock-pool baths carved out of local boulders and all of them have mesmerizing vistas of the lake. Nkwichi is also home to a fabulous star bed which means you can also sleep out under the stars. If you don’t fancy that then you can still enjoy a private dinner on the beach. Lake Malawi is often called the Lake of Stars so it really doesn’t come more romantic than that!
Do you and your other half disagree on what holiday to book? This is the time of year, when the days are long and dark, when most people are looking into booking their big holiday for the year. It’s hard enough trying to decide where to go and how much to spend but it can be a total minefield if you and your partner want completely different things.
Hands up – who wants to lie on a beach but has another half who wants to be active? Who wants to enjoy fine food and drink in a luxury hotel but your partner wants to rough it in the great outdoors? Does one of you hanker after bright lights and city breaks but the other prefers fantastic scenery and wildlife?
Well I have the perfect solution for those of you with this dilemma – South Africa!
It may be a cliché but South Africa really does have something for everyone. If you want a city break with luxury hotels, fine food and wine, nightlife, shopping and galleries then Cape Town is the place for you. Cape Town is not only a vibrant and exciting city but it is also surrounded by amazing scenery. Accessible from Cape Town is a wide range of scenery from mountains to vineyards, beaches to bush and incredible wildlife including whales, sharks and dolphins. While you are relaxing on the beach, visiting galleries, enjoying a superb lunch or shopping your partner could be sailing, fishing, shark diving, taking a helicopter flip, whale watching or golfing. You see what I mean? There aren’t many places in the world where you can do all this in one place!
If one of you wants great beaches and the other wants to go on safari then this can also be done easily in South Africa. (Actually Kenya or Tanzania are also good options as you can easily combine a safari with a beach stay on the coast or on Zanzibar.) The world famous Garden Route is chock full of beautiful beaches and you can stay at Knysna or Plettenberg Bay two small but lively beach towns surrounded by amazing scenery. Combine this with a few days on safari in one of the 5 star private game reserves in the Eastern Cape and you can both be happy!
If one of you wants to experience the great outdoors then staying in a tented camp on safari or a lodge tucked up high in the stunning Drakensberg Mountains are both excellent choices. If you are is super sporty then you can play golf at one of the numerous golf courses all over SA, go surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay on the Garden Route, go shark-diving in Cape Town, mountain biking, horse-riding or hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains, fishing, whale watching, dolphin spotting all along the Garden Route – the list is endless. If the other half is not so keen then there are plenty of alternatives on offer in all of these places.
If you also cannot decide on what kind of accommodation you both prefer perhaps you could mix and match and combine both your preferences? If you do one of our wonderful self drive holidays you have a huge range of choice. You can stay in everything from private luxury villas to boutique bed and breakfasts. We have eco-lodges, luxury hotels, self-catering apartments, safari lodges, city hotels, beach resorts, bed and breakfast accommodation, country houses, vineyards – the list is endless. You can find our full range in the Lodge Library.
If you would like to talk to one of our experts about your holiday dilemmas then just give Paul, Helen or Lily a call –we are very good at finding the perfect solution!