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.
The Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other plains game in search of fresh grazing between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is the largest overland migration in the world involving over 1.5 million animals.
Catching up with the Great Migration is a spectacle on many people’s bucket list. The first image that comes to mind for many may be the river crossings, particularly the dramatic crossing of the Mara River, the last obstacle before reaching the Masai Mara (July-September time). However, being on the Serengeti’s southern plains in the early part of the year for calving is another excellent time to see the migration .
The migration is not one super herd but a collection of herds moving in different directions and at different speeds. The herds move in search of fresh grazing and so their progress is dictated by rainfall. With rainfall becoming increasingly erratic the path and timings of the migration has become a little more unpredictable in recent years but you can expect to see the migration in Tanzania for around 75% of the year and in Kenya for 25%.
The annual cycle is punctuated by a number of key events – calving being one of them.
Calving season on the Serengeti’s southern plains
The migration arrives and stays on the Serengeti’s southern plains and on the edges of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between January and March annually.
During these first few months of the year the wildebeest are grazing on the nutrient rich short grass following the short rains in November. This is the perfect arena for giving birth to their young – the grass is still low enabling them to see predators more easily, and the new shoots are soft and full of goodness, thanks to the fertility of the volcanic soil in this region.
Remarkably virtually all the wildebeest calve within a 3 week window which usually falls between late January and late February. Around 8,000 calves are born each day at the peak of the calving season.
Compared to the rest of the year, the herds are fairly sedentary while they feast and calve so this is an excellent time to observe them.
Predator density at this time on the southern plains is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. Many predators also raise their young at this time, with young wildebeest the perfect target for young cubs learning survival skills.
What to expect
-Epic views – short-grassy savannah studded with rocky ‘kopje’ outcrops – sometimes punctuated by the occasional Serengeti leopard or cheetah.
-Noise! Wildebeest have the nickname ‘gnu’ and this is the sound you will hear.
-Fabulous wildlife sightings with the chance to see predators and predator/prey interaction – short grass means good visibility.
When should I book if I want to visit during calving season?
If you have your heart set on a specific week, particularly in February and around school half term, then you should try and book a year in advance – camps are small and it is high season offering good weather and excellent wildlife sightings so the earlier you book the more likely you are to secure your dates and preferred camp.
If you are flexible then 6-9 months in advance is ideal.
Where to stay and for how long
We recommend lodges around the Ndutu area in the first three months of the year.
There are a number of excellent mobile camps including the Serian Mobile, Lemala Ndutu and the Asilia mobile camps. Sanctuary Kusini, Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ndutu Lodge and the new Ndutu Kati Kati tented camp are permanent options in this area. Depending on the position of the herds and the timing of your visit we also recommend the high quality Lemala Ewanjan and the excellent Elewana Pioneer Camp in the south-central area.
2-3 nights at one camp is the minimum amount of time we recommend – you could easily stay longer. It is great to combine a stay in Ndutu with a camp in the south/central or central area of the Serengeti for a contrast (these areas have excellent resident wildlife), or how about combining your Serengeti experience with a visit to other parks on the Northern Circuit? (Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire).
Tented camps are very comfortable offering walk-in tents, ensuite bathroom and an outdoor seating area. Camps vary in size, luxury and budget.
You can expect a 7 or 8 day safari trip to Tanzania including the Serengeti to cost anything from £2,040 per person plus international flights (Small Group Escorted Tour) to over £4,500 for a luxury private safari. (Please note: during the migration months these prices rise).
What will the safari day look like?
Custom safari 4×4 vehicles are used to view the migration. You rise just before dawn, and have a snack before heading out with your professional guide on your morning safari for 2-3 hours before returning for a hearty breakfast in camp. In private concessions you may head out with a picnic breakfast.
If you fly-in to your camp, camp vehicles are usually shared with other guests (there are a few exceptions). If you are enjoying a drive-in safari with a private vehicle and driver/guide then you have the luxury of your own space.
You have the day to relax at camp, enjoy lunch and view wildlife as it comes and goes. Some camps offer additional activities during the day.
After a light afternoon tea you depart on the afternoon game drive, usually at about 330pm until sundown around 6/630pm. In private concessions your vehicle can stay out beyond sundown and you can night drive. It is also possible to off-road in the private concessions of the Serengeti.
Can I combine a migration trip with the beach?
Yes – December to March offers lovely weather for the beach, and good water visibility for diving/snorkelling. Zanzibar is the most easily accessible destination from the Serengeti and offers a wide range of lodges.
By March the plains have usually started to dry out and food is depleted so the herds start to move north and west on their epic journey to Kenya, pausing only as they reach the rivers that block their path.
This is the next phase of the migration…
If you are thinking of a wildlife holiday to Africa please contact us on 01603 964 730 or email email@example.com
You can find further information about the sub-Saharan destinations we visit on our website.
The Greater Kruger is an unfenced wilderness in South Africa , stretching over 400km from north to south. It combines private reserves and the national park and is known for high densities of lion, leopard and elephant. There are many ways to explore this wonderful and very accessible region which is at its peak between May and October during the long cool winter months. A safari in Kruger lends itself perfectly to being incorporated into a longer holiday in Southern Africa.
Here, we review our recent stay at MalaMala as well as giving general information about the Kruger and how to combine it in your holiday.
Three distinct camps (Main Camp, Sable Camp, Rattray’s Camp) stretch out along the Sand River in the vast MalaMala Private Game Reserve. The reserve is sandwiched between the famous Sabi Sands region of Greater Kruger and Kruger National Park itself -it is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa, comprising 13 300 ha (33 000 acres). The borders are unfenced allowing wildlife to migrate unhindered. The size of the reserve ensures guests enjoy an exclusive safari experience – you’ll see other MalaMala vehicles and anti-poaching teams going about their work but very little other traffic.
This area is known to be one of the best in Africa for seeing leopard. Guests have a good chance of seeing the MalaMala Big Seven (Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Wild Dog).
The setting is very beautiful with the Sand River in front of camp. The reserve has lots of contrasting scenery with dramatic granite kopjes (punctuated with klipspringer), mud holes perfect for white rhino and buffalo wallowing, the river for crocodile, hippo and elephant, open plains, forest, huge sausage trees and statuesque euphorbia candelabrum.
The camp can be accessed via fly-in from Johannesburg (and Cape Town), either fly and transfer via Skukuza (about an hour’s drive away) or Nelspruit KMIA (2 hour road transfer) or a private charter to the airstrip moments from camp.
We hired an SUV in Johannesburg and stopped off in Hazyview for a night (staying at Rissington Inn – an easy 4 hour drive mostly on the N12, from OR Tambo) which then made MalaMala a simple 2 hour drive the following morning. The first hour or so is on tarred road, we then registered at Shaws Gate, paying our park fees, to enter the reserve area. There is an undulating dirt track which is well sign -posted with plenty of passing places. We came across this beautiful male leopard within moments of starting our 20km journey to MalaMala. We also saw elephant and white rhino along with many antelope and zebra.
Accommodation and style
We stayed at Main Camp, the largest of the three camps, which consists of 19 luxury air-conditioned thatched rooms and suites. The lodge has been on this spot since the 1930s, originally a hunting lodge and converting to conservation and photography in the 60s – the first to do so. The camp was completely refurbished in 2018 and transformed from the old-school and old-fashioned hunting lodge style, to a beautiful far more contemporary property – the refurb has been sensitive with the historic exterior, boma, where Nelson Mandela has dined and various artworks all preserved.
Travelling as a family we stayed in one of the Waterhole Suites. Other rooms/suites face the other direction towards the Sand River. The children had their own twin room and bathroom which led to a huge double bedroom, bathroom with bath and shower and wonderful outdoor shower.
Along the front of the room and accessed from both bedrooms by sliding glass doors was a wooden deck looking over the waterhole where we had hippo, nyala, kudu and mongoose as visitors. Rooms are extremely comfortable and stylish, retaining an African flavour with a natural colour palate, porqupine quill lamp and wildlife artworks. There are many thoughtful touches, for instance umbrellas in the hall, USB ports, extensive mini bar and fresh ice, a sweetie jar for the children. Closets had lighting, towels were fluffy and complimentary bath products smelt divine.
Sable and Rattray’s camp are smaller and quieter. No children under 12 are permitted at Sable Camp and no children under 16 at Rattray’s Camp.
MalaMala is open year-round. Visiting in April we knew it was the end of the rainy season and the bush would be very lush. As expected the weather was rather unpredictable. One day we had blue skies and temperatures of 38 degrees and the next it was 22 degrees cloudy and raining – we quite enjoyed the contrast – we still saw amazing wildlife, the landscape was beautiful, and even when we got soaked on the morning drive we knew we were returning to lovely hot showers, coffee and breakfast!
May to October (the cool dry winter) is considered the peak time for this area – the bush starts to dry out and die back, and weather is more consistent and reliable. Wildlife is easier to see as it gathers around the water sources and is not so easily concealed by the bush. If you are keen to combine a safari in Greater Kruger with a stay in Cape Town then April/May and September/October are the best months.
The safari day
The daily schedule changes with the seasons – for our stay we would be woken at 515am, for tea/coffee and a light snack on the deck at 545am with other guests, before departing at 6am. We would usually be back at camp for a hearty breakfast by about 9am.
After breakfast there is time to relax and enjoy the camp – for instance the swimming pool with its glorious views over the Sand River. It’s lovely to sit and read, or watch the wildlife come and go from the waterhole. We’d have lunch about 1pm – lunch is delicious!! Depending how much you indulge you may need a lie down afterwards…
Breakfast and lunch are both in a buffet format and very high quality with a good choice. Where possible we dined alfresco on the deck. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juice, a hot buffet including pancakes or waffles and fresh breads. Lunch always included a lovely selection of salads plus cold meats, quiche and condiments as well as a hot option, for example, a curry. There was a choice of desert from fruit salad and ice-cream to lemon meringue.
In the afternoon we would meet at 3-315pm (more bite size treats on offer plus tea/coffee and cold drinks) and leave at 345pm, returning to camp at around 7pm. On one evening we did stop for sundowners out on the reserve but wildlife viewing certainly takes priority here. Pre dinner drinks and nibbles would be in the bar at around 745pm with dinner following. We enjoyed gathering in the bar and completing the ‘sightings board’ each evening with all the guests and rangers – a very communal activity.
Dinner is chosen from a set menu with Michael the barman suggesting suitable wine pairings from the delicious range of South African wines. We enjoyed a candle-lit dinner on the deck on our first evening and joined fellow guests around the camp fire in the ancient boma, beneath the jackalberry tree on the following evening. Members of staff presented a cake and sang traditional songs around the fire to help one couple celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
The staff added greatly to our experience from the efficient management team of Nerine, Alex and Vusi to the waiting staff such as smiling Stephalina with 22 years service. Everyone gets to know Michael-the-barman, who is a joy. Our guide was Thabisani from Richard’s Bay – he was a lovely chap, a skilful driver and very knowledgeable – we even learnt some Zulu and Shangaan in two days. We enjoyed talking to him about all manner of things from culture to wildlife. It is customary for rangers to join guests for breakfast and sometimes at other meals as well.
The folder in the room dodges the question of tipping and leaves it very much at the discretion of guests which we can understand as it is a tricky one. For many people, a safari holiday is the most expensive trip they will ever make but if you can tip then it is hugely appreciated by the staff. As a very general budget we usually work on $10-$30 US per person per day. You tip your guide/ranger directly with the ‘golden handshake’ at the end of the stay, and place your contribution for behind the scenes staff into the tip box (usually at reception).
The vehicles are completely open allowing for unrivalled wildlife viewing. They have 3 rows of 2 seats meaning everyone had a great view. They are very comfortable and the camp has steps to help those with reduced mobility get in and out more easily. There is a central hatch between each pair of seats for putting your camera or binos. In here you’ll also find blankets and ponchos. There is also a place to put your water bottle (each guest is presented with a smart named metal water bottle on arrival and can refill this with still or sparkling water from the main deck water station as needed).
Sabi Sands is known to be one of the best places to see leopard in Africa but we really did not expect to come across one within 5 minutes of driving through Shaw’s Gate! This was one of three leopard sightings during our short 2 night stay. We also had the joy of observing a pack of 8 Cape Hunting Dogs (wild dogs) as they socialised and warmed up on the tarred airstrip as the sun came up. I was not expecting to see cheetah with the bush so dense but we were treated to a fascinating face off on the last morning between an injured male and a hyena.
We enjoyed numerous and incredibly rewarding white rhino sightings, seeing several young with their mothers and being able to watch really interesting behaviour.
We saw elephant on the way to MalaMala and caught up with a lovely big bull on one of the afternoon drives but we had to work hard to see any others which is unusual for this area. We were rewarded for our patience in the end with one the most memorable elephant sightings I’ve ever had – a huge herd on the move surrounded our vehicle just before sundown – there must have been at least 80 elephants with lots of babies. It was incredibly special – you can see the short video clip on our social media feeds (Facebook; Instagram; Twitter).
Lion were equally elusive – one large pride had been feeding on a rhino carcass for a couple of days (died from natural causes) on the neighbouring conservancy of Londolozi and continued to feast there during our stay, not appearing until we left! (We managed to see fabulous lion feeding on a buffalo kill further south in Kruger National Park.)
Antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, hippo and many different bird species were all easy to see. We even saw a crocodile in the river. The most unusual sighting had to be the honey badger as it raced across the track right in front of us.
Value for money
Make no mistake, MalaMala is at the top end of the safari spectrum. Rates included all meals, drinks, game activities and WiFi. Hospitality, food and drink, guiding and accommodation were all exceptional, generous and wildlife sightings were rich and varied.
South Africa is an excellent holiday choice currently – the South African Rand is about 18 to the Pound (April 2019) so you can enjoy a diverse holiday combining a few days on safari with time on the Cape coast for example, for really good value, in comparison to other destinations.
Staying in a private reserve permits off-roading and the chance to have very close wildlife encounters. You can also drive at night. If you are on safari in the national park you are limited to using the set road routes and you can only drive between sunrise and sunset. They each offer very different experiences.
We offer many different camps and lodges in the Greater Kruger covering a range of price points, from small tented camps such as Garonga and Honeyguide to luxury lodges including MalaMala, Arathusa and Motswari. Please speak to us for advice.
Wild weekend – how we like to incorporate a safari to Greater Kruger within a holiday
How long to safari? 2 nights is really too short – we prefer a minimum stay of 3 nights in any one camp so you can really have a chance to see as much as possible (Kruger is a vast area so it also works well combining stays in different locations as we did).
Whether you fly-in or drive-in there are many ways to combine safari time in Greater Kruger within a longer holiday. Here are a few ideas:
Stay in the Cape – fly from Johannesburg or KMIA Nelspruit to/from Cape Town. Kruger and the Cape are best combined April/May or September/October.
Visit Victoria Falls – you can fly on to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg or to Livingstone (the Zambian side of the Falls) from KMIA Nelspruit making for a fabulous cross border holiday.
Escape to the beaches of Mozambique or Mauritius – there are many options here – you can travel by road from Southern Kruger across the border to Maputo in about 3 hours, for beaches in Southern Mozambique, or you can fly to Vilanculos for the Quirimbas. Alternatively you can overnight at Johannesburg airport and fly to the island of Mauritius.
Go golfing – wish list golf courses are within reach of Kruger including Leopard Creek on the southern edge. Sun City is also easily combined with a safari to Kruger.
Take the train – two of the world’s most luxurious trains operate in southern Africa out of Pretoria including the Blue Train and Rovos Rail. The Blue Train has a special Kruger itinerary as well as a 2 night journey to Cape Town. Rovos operates to Cape Town as well as a special golf and safari itinerary.
Explore by car – self-drive the stunning Panorama route in Mpumalanga or connect south to Durban to explore the battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. The Drakensberg Mountains are another option.
Looking for a malaria free safari option? South Africa has several malaria free Big Five reserves – speak to us about Madikwe or the Eastern Cape.
It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down!
In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.
In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!
Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.
Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).
Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions.
Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)
Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve. Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.
Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!
Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.
The new BBC1 series The Hunt, narrated by Sir David Attenborough looks at predation in the natural world. Viewers are transported at 9pm on a Sunday evening to a range of wonderful locations around the world to witness real-life dramas unfolding before their eyes.
Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill writes on the BBC website, “the kill itself isn’t interesting, because once animals have killed, the story’s over. What is interesting is the build up, the strategies adopted by both the predators and prey. This has never been looked at in detail, and that is the aim of The Hunt”.
At the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair, where we exhibited in November, we were lucky enough to enjoy a talk in the Expert Theatre and meet BBC wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, who worked on Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, also produced by Alastair Fothergill. Doug told us that it takes on average 450 days of filming to get enough footage for a one hour episode. Taking such stats into account the team here at Real Africa has even more reverence for the BBC’s latest sensational wildlife series.
Catch the next episode of The Hunt, Nowhere to Hide, on BBC 1 on Sunday at 9pm. The episode follows cheetahs, bald eagles and lions on their hunt for prey in the exposed plains landscape with much of the 60 minutes filmed in Africa.
So where are the best places in Africa to see some of The Hunt’s leading ladies?
Cheetahs are diurnal, hunting in the morning and afternoon, and can be seen perched on termite mounds, rock kopjes and even on safari vehicles on occasion in order to survey the horizon – they can see prey 5km away and accelerate from 0 to 64kmh in just three strides. The Hunt filmed cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara – we would recommend the Mara or the Serengeti to see these beautiful cats in action.
Leopards are more tricky to see being nocturnal and relying on ambush. They need to get within 4m of their prey to be successful. Leopards are most often spotted draped in umbrella acacias in East Africa or on night drives when their eyes shine brightly. Zambia’s South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see leopard as is Sabi Sands in South Africa’s Kruger.
Lionesses …well, put it this way, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t seen a lion/lioness in the Masai Mara. The Marsh Pride were made famous by the BBC Big Cat Diary series and can still be observed hunting in the Mara along with many other prides. The Hunt filmed specific lion behaviour, as they stalked zebra in Namibia, in Etosha, another excellent place to see them, especially during the peak of the dry season in September and October when game congregates around waterholes. When it comes to lions, you have a great choice, from Kenya and Tanzania, or the lions of Duba Plains, Botswana to the prolific Luwi Lions of Zambia’s South Luangwa, or Cecil’s offspring in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. You can even see them in trees in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park and Uganda’s QE National Park.
Nile Crocs– Get to the Grumeti River in the Northern Serengeti between July and September and you will see plenty of giant Nile Crocodiles feasting on wildebeest as they make the crossing from one side to the other enroute to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Murchison Falls in Uganda is another great place to observe these beasts.
Ethiopian Wolves– With only around 500 of these long-legged fox-like creatures remaining in the highlands of Ethiopia, you have to be lucky to get a glimpse. Give yourself every chance by staying in the Bale Mountains at the wonderful Bale Mountain Lodge.
Wild Dogs-The formidable wild dog or painted dog thrives in packs of around 6 to 20 dogs, roaming open plains and woodland. Wild dogs are also endangered but the Linyanti region is Botswana has very reliable sightings with several packs denning in the area. Another good place to try and see Wild Dogs is in Zambia’s South Luangwa – but, as I well know, the dogs move very quickly, with incredible stamina, and can be elusive so it doesn’t always work out. I spent a week trying to see them in Zambia – saw their prints, heard them, glimpsed them but never quite managed to catch up with them! The positive news is that in the last ten years the wild dog numbers in the valley have increased. By the way…I saw everything else when I was there, from lions chasing impala into jeeps and leopards sheltering from the rain in thorn bushes…
Watching wildlife is of course, unpredictable so although we can’t guarantee you’ll witness a sequence like the cheetah taking a wildebeest calf during your safari holiday, we can ensure we use our expert knowledge, experience and wonderful guides to get you to the best places at the best times for what you want to experience.
Here are our Top Five recommendations for places to catch some serious safari action.
1.TANZANIA – THE SERENGETI
The Serengeti promises a special safari whenever you go, with the wildebeest migration making its circular journey year-round . However, the southern plains of the Serengeti play host to calving season during January and February and is said to be the best place in the world to observe cheetah hunting.
During a dramatic 3 week window, starting in late January depending on the arrival of the rains, the wildebeest have their calves with thousands being born daily, long legged and unsteady as they take their first steps on the short grassy plains of the Serengeti, their nursery.
During these key few months, this area of the southern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to Africa’s densest concentration of predators. The big cats patrol the grassland waiting for an opportunity to strike. Cheetah sightings are especially good along with large prides of lion while other predators like hyena and caracal can also be seen.
If you are keen to witness stalking behaviours then heading to the area around Ndutu in February would be our number one recommendation – many would say that this is the absolute best time to be in the Serengeti.
Mobile camps come into their own, moving to be within reach of the migration and offering an authentic ‘Out of Africa’ safari experience. Our favourites include Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti South, Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp and &Beyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas. Mobile camps are seasonal tented camps which move depending on the location of the herds.
If you prefer a permanent camp then we would recommend Ndutu Safari Lodge, Lake Masek Camp and Sanctuary’s Kusini Camp but there are several lodges and camps in this area so do ask!
The Masai Mara is synonymous with big cats. The Marsh Pride came to life on our screens during the BBC Big Cat Diaries – you can even stay, like the BBC film crew did, at Governors Camps in the Mara, well placed for visiting the Marsh Pride. Several big cat projects are based in the Mara including the Mara Predator Project, the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project as well as a Spotted Hyena research centre so this is a indication that the area is rich with wildlife.
Research in the 1990s by Joseph Oguto showed that there were roughly 3 lions per 10 square kilometres in the Mara, the largest pride of 48 being the Talek Pride. It is true that lion numbers have dropped by around a third in the last twenty years, as they have all over Africa but the Masai Mara is still one of the very best places to see these beautiful big cats.
Visit the Mara between July and October when the Great Wildebeest Migration is in the vicinity and chances are you may see something very special. We recommend staying in one of the private concessions as opposed to within the National Reserve itself. The main reserve has many lodges, often quite large ones, and as such can see high vehicle densities at peak times. In the private conessions which work in partnership with the local Maasai communities, visitor numbers are restricted to 1 guest to around 350 acres allowing for a more exclusive experience.
You’ll find lovely small lodges, classy mobile tented camps like Saruni Wild and Alex Walker’s Serian as well as affordable riverside camps like Karen Blixen Tented Camp on the Mara River, one of our favourite ‘good value’ tented camps in the Mara North concession, which bridges the gap between the tiny, top end lodges/camps and the larger 3 star lodges/camps in the national park.
For observing predators and their prey the Masai Mara is a fabulous place to safari.
The best time to be in Etosha for wildlife is in the peak of the dry season when vast numbers migrate to waterholes (August – October). As the dry season progresses the landscape becomes increasingly arid and by October, the hottest month, can be quite dusty. It is at this time that the BBC film crew captured the incredible footage of lions hunting – with the swirling dust storm confusing their prey and masking their scent.
Many of our clients choose to explore Namibia on a self-drive itinerary over 16 or so days with a 4×4. You can also explore with a flying safari.
Duba Plains in Botswana is famous for its clashes between lions and buffalo in particular. The special thing about the Duba lions is that they hunt during the day allowing visitors to witness them at work rather than simply lazing in the shade. Many will remember the film made by the Jouberts about the lions of Duba and it is a stay at the Joubert’s camp, Duba Plains, with just six ensuite tents that will get you close to the lions here.
When the film was made there was one big pride, the Tsaro pride but in the last few years this pride has split into two so interactions in the area are transforming all the time and are rather unpredictable. However Duba Plains is still rated one of the best places to see lions hunting.
Safari elsewhere in Botswana and I don’t think you will be disappointed. Linyanti is a good choice for seeing predators with the guiding teams focused on finding lion, leopard and cheetah – night drives are possible from Lebala Camp which sits in a private concession and wild dogs den in the area. Lebala is on the plains/marsh and combines well with sister camp, Lagoon, which sits on the banks of the Kwando river.
South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see predators. The Luwi Sand River, close to Nsolo Bush Camp is where several lion pride territories overlap, while leopard use the dry river bed a bit like a super highway. South Luangwa is one of the few National Park’s allowing night drives with trackers and spot lights which gives you a good chance to see leopards actively hunting.
This area is very unspoilt with few vehicle tracks in the area and much of the exploration done on foot with guided walking safaris. Accommodation is in seasonal bush camps which are erected for the duration of the dry season between May and October time. This means minimal disturbance to the environment and as a result wildlife is prolific. For lion, leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog (if you are lucky!) this area is truly fabulous.
DID YOU KNOW? BBC wildlife cameraman, Simon King, and crew stayed at Robin Pope’s Nsefu Camp in the Luangwa’s Nsefu sector when filming lion hunting buffalo.
Tell us what you are keen to try and see and we will be able to give you independent advice on the best time of year, the best guides and the best lodges/camps to visit in order to realise your specific ambition. You can call us on 01603 283 517.