Africa has about 1,100 species of wildlife including the big five, ranking it among the top wildlife tourism hotspots in the world. However, there are specific times of the year that is best for enjoying Africa’s rich wildlife heritage. This differs from one African country to another and depends also on the weather conditions at the time. With two distinct kinds of weather, dry and wet seasons, the best time for Africa travel depends on the experience you want to have.
The warm, temperate, or tropical climate of most African coastal cities is great for vacation. However, most people are in for the unbeatable Safari experience the continent has to offer. From the great Wildebeest migration in Tanzania to the historical Zebra journey in Botswana, here are the best months for Africa travel.
#1 July to October – The Great Migration – Mara River Crossing
Sub-tropical regions like Botswana, Namibia, and parts of South Africa are dry during this period. As the lush green vegetation dwindle and watering holes dry up, animals are forced out of hiding. This is the best time for game viewing as most wildlife cluster around the few remaining watering holes.
In Kenya and Tanzania, one of the most captivating wildlife events takes place during these months. It is the Mara River crossing which is part of the Great WIlderbeast migration. Over 1.5 million wildebeest and thousands of other wildlife gather together at the Northern banks of the Mara River. The actual crossing could take days because the animals are naturally reluctant to plunge into the river. This is not unusual considering there are predators lurking beneath the river. This experience has been described by many to be one of the most dramatic events in nature.
#2 April to May: The Great Migration – Second Phase
The second phase of the Great Wildebeest Migration kicks off around April and last up to May. The animals migrate towards the Northern parts of the Reserve in preparation for the dry season. Long columns of Wilderbeast and other animals can be seen stretching from miles away. While this is happening in Tanzania, the Nxai Pan Zebras are equally making their return journey back to the Chobe River, North of Botswana.
#3 December to January: The Great Zebra Migration
From December to January, thousands of Zebras numbering up to 30,000 migrate south into Nxai Pan in Botswana. The migration is triggered by the onset of the wet season. As the wet season comes to an end around March, the animals begin the second phase of their journey.
The round trip is estimated to be about 480km and it is considered the longest distance covered in wildlife migration. This event is less popular compared to the Great Wildebeest Migration. However, it is without doubts one of the most spectacular wildlife events. At this same time of the year, the Serengeti WIldebeest are returning to southern parts of the reserve.
#4 September to February: Nesting Turtles and hatchlings
The coastal regions of East Africa are sprawling with nesting turtles during this period. The warm summer climate is ideal for the loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and green turtles. The female turtles typically lay their eggs at night which makes it difficult to spot them. But if you are lucky, you may just be on time to see the hatchling dig their way out after 3 months.
#5 February to April: African Beaches
Northern Africa is usually hit by dust storms during this period. So, it is best to avoid the Sahara regions of Africa. But, the mid-summer weather favors the coastal regions. It is just the perfect weather for lazying around on the beach.
#6 November to March: Whale shark sighting
This is the peak season for whale shark sightings in Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania. These sharks come to the channel between the Island and the coast to feed on planktons. The planktons are found close to the surface and it is possible to see the sharks as they feed. Although they can be seen all year round, most common sightings occur within this period.
#7 October to December: Baby Lemur Season
The warm October temperature brings with it new life in Madagascar. Madagascar is known for its unique animal species. One of these is the Lemur. During this time, the Lemurs and their babies come out from hibernation. This season is ideal for photographers and nature lovers who would like to see one of these adorable creatures.
Which African Country is best for a Safari?
Tanzania is by far the best African country for Safari. It is home to the Serengeti National Park which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. It is also the stage for the greatest natural event on the planet “The Great Wildebeest Migration”. Tanzania offers safari seekers the thrill of a lifetime. It has a landmass of 1.5 million hectares with an ecosystem that spreads across the borders of Tanzania, through the Mara River into Kenya. The vast landscape of grassland, rocks, and woodlands of the Serengeti makes it easy to watch wildlife in their natural habitat.
Talking of wildlife, Serengeti park has one of the highest populations of Big Mammals. It has more than 500 species of birds which is sure to excite bird lovers. In addition to this, the park is sprawling with the African Big Five, which is the highlight of most Safari tours. The abundance of prey means that predators thrive in this environment. This explains why the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem has the highest population density of lions compared to any other Safari in Africa.
What is the best time of the year for an African Safari?
The African safari is governed by two seasons, the wet and dry seasons. These seasons determine the landscape and the behavior of wildlife in the safari. It is the prevailing force behind events like the mass migration of wildlife that takes place in Serengeti and Khruga reserves. The best time for an African Safari is during the dry season. At this time, most safaris become dry, and very few waterholes remain.
Also, the lush green landscape of the safari is slowly being transformed into an arid land due to inadequate rain. When this happens, most of the animals in the safari are forced out of hiding in search of food and water. The absence of vegetation also makes it easy to spot these animals as they move in groups and gather around the few remaining waterholes. It is the best time for Africa travel especially if you want to see all of the African big five in action.
For Safaris in Southern Africa, the dry season begins around April and lasts till October. The weather is cool and warm during this period and only gets warmer towards the end of October. Safari countries in this region include Namibia. Madagascar, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. East African Safaris have an entirely different weather pattern. The dry season in this region starts around June and lasts till September. Notable Safari countries in East Africa are; Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda.
When Should I go to Kenya or Tanzania?
Kenya and Tanzania are Safari countries in East Africa and popular Africa travel destinations. The Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National park in Tanzania are the most popular safaris in these countries. Both reserves are part of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem which is the hub of the Great Wildebeest Migration. In fact, it is by the banks of the Mara river that the heart pumping and dramatic Mara crossing takes place.
The best time to travel to these countries will be during the dry season between July and October. However, if you don’t mind the rain, you can also visit between December and January. At this time, the wet season has started and the animals will be returning back to southern Serengeti to breed. This is the beginning of the calving season that will last up to February or March.
African Safari is indeed a heaven for safari lovers and wildlife photographers. Its vast ecological diversity provides an opportunity to witness nature at its best. The dry season is the best time for game viewing in the Safari. It is also the best time for Africa travel. Well, the best time to visit Africa is every time your heart yearns for it. Have you been to Africa before? Share your experience with us in the comment box below.