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A Seasonal Guide To Planning Your Botswana Safari

With an enviable 300 days of sunshine a year, Botswana is a year-round destination but anyone planning a safari should note that it's not always benignly warm and sunny.

Living in Botswana, I had to get used to the Kalahari's sub-zero winters as well as white-hot summer days. I've had my camp washed away by flash floods, been stuck in axle-deep mud and pelted by hailstones.

There's plenty of weather in Botswana and given the effect it has on the country's wildlife - triggering migrations for example - an understanding of Botswana's seasonal nature is essential if you want your expectations met. If you were planning a Botswana safari to see thousands of elephants on the Chobe River in February, read on.

Botswana Seasonal Guide - watch game from the water
Experience exceptional game-viewing from the water
Botswana Seasonal Guide - animals gather at the waterholes
Dry season makes for busy waterholes
Botswana Seasonal Guide - dress according to the season
Dress according to the season

JANUARY/FEBRUARY

These two months are together for a simple reason: they're wet. Rumbling afternoon downpours soak the country while the wildlife is either hidden in thick vegetation or wanders off into the remote back country. It's also hot and quite humid, though not tropical.

Considered the poorest time for game viewing, a "Green Season" Botswana safari can nevertheless deliver incredible game viewing and bird watching. Many antelope give birth (great for predators), migrations are in full swing and the bird watching is sensational.

Head for Botswana's Kalahari parks - the Central Kalahari, Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pans - to see migrating zebra, elephant and buffalo; the Chobe's Savuti region is also great at this time.


MARCH

Game viewing is getting better as the rains ease and animals return to more accessible dry season areas. Vegetation is still thick and temperatures are hot though not as baking as earlier in the year. However, with so much water lying everywhere, March means mosquitoes. Indeed, March and April are the months with the highest malaria risk, especially in the Chobe River/Zambezi region.

The Kalahari region is still worth visiting, and although it can be a bit hit and miss in Botswana's other reserves, bear in mind that this is Botswana: there are always animals!

Botswana Seasonal Guide - relax around the fire
April and May are pleasant: the temperature cools down and the rains dry up

APRIL/MAY

Arguably the best months to visit Botswana: expect an afternoon shower or two but most days are warm and the nights cool as the rain disappears for the next four months. The landscape is still green but seasonal waterholes are rapidly drying up and animals are arriving at permanent water sources like the Chobe River, Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve.

Poised just before peak season, this is a great time of year to go on a Botswana safari. You'll get all the classic destinations but with fewer other visitors compared to the next few months. The game viewing is often as good as prime time and you'll make big savings on accommodation.


JUNE/JULY

Behind Botswana's flawless blue winter skies lies a surprise: it's really, really cold. Admittedly it's not Siberia and by lunchtime you'll probably be in shorts and T-shirt and wondering what all the fuss was about, but night time temperatures can dip below freezing and you'll be wrapped up in blankets on your early morning game drives. But there is no rain, very few mosquitoes and the game viewing is beginning to get as good as they say it is.

Go to the Chobe National Park; the private Linyanti, Kwando and Selinda reserves; Moremi and the Okavango Delta - the latter destination is now in full flood and delivering great game viewing.

Botswana Seasonal Guide - poling through the delta in a mokoro
Poling through the Delta in a mokoro
Botswana Seasonal Guide - a variety of accommodation to suit all seasons
The Delta's water-based camps
Botswana Seasonal Guide - quadbiking in the Kalahari
Quad biking in the Kalahari is best done in the dry season

AUGUST

Temperatures are on the increase as are visitor numbers. But so are concentrations of game - peak game viewing season has arrived. The withered and trampled vegetation no longer hides everything, seasonal waterholes are empty and animals are getting seriously thirsty. Great herds of antelope, elephants and buffalo begin to crowd the banks of rivers and permanent waterholes while Botswana's big predators stake them out.

Go the Chobe River and Savuti regions of the Chobe National Park; the Linyanti, Kwando and Selinda reserves; and the Okavango Delta, especially on its dry-land fringes in Moremi and adjoining private reserves.


SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER

Despite being at the end of Botswana's cool dry winter, September and October deliver some of the hottest weather of the year and an occasional thunderstorm. It's classic dry season stuff: baked and leaf-stripped landscapes; stifling days and sultry nights; and blinding sunshine.

Time to stay away? On the contrary: if you can handle the heat, game viewing at this time ranks among the best in Africa. Huge numbers of animals and their ever attendant predators are clustered around meagre water and grazing sources: you could enjoy once-in-a-lifetime sightings. Read our blog Elephant Eaters of the Savuti to see how just wild things get in Botswana's deep dry season.

The Chobe River is unmissable at this time of year and it's also the best time to go to the Linyanti, Kwando and Selinda reserves. Moremi Game Reserve and the private Okavango Delta reserves can be very rewarding as well.

Botswana Seasonal Guide - Zebra migration in the Savuti
The Zebra Migration in November as the herds move towards the Kalahari

NOVEMBER

Unpredictable November could be wet or dry - it all depends on the timing of the rains but it will be hot. A dry November makes for excellent waterhole game viewing. However, if there is early rain, many animals disappear en masse into the inaccessible back country - almost instantly - for fresh grazing and away-from-the-lions waterholes.

Most Botswana safaris in November stick to the established, dry-season destinations; game viewing will be good but concentrations of animals may be lower than expected.

DECEMBER

Summer is here and so is the rain: Botswana's exhausted brown landscape turns green, the air is filled with chattering migrant birds; impalas and springboks all drop their lambs; and animals move across the country to take advantage of new food and water sources.

It's a great month for a safari - hot but not baking, wet but not soaking. Head for the Chobe's Savuti region, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Nxai Pan or Makgadikgadi Pans National Parks. You'll see big cats and wild dogs wreaking havoc among antelope herds, stripy zebra migrations and some of the best bird watching south of the Zambezi.

 

Botswana Seasonal Guide
Elephant rides at Botswana's legendary Abu Camp are just one of the things you can experience on your safari.

BOTSWANA SAFARI RECOMMENDATIONS

We've done the planning for you: here are our top recommendations for an unforgettable Botswana safari.

  • Journey Through Botswana: Explore two of Botswana’s top attractions, the Okavango Delta & Chobe’s Savuti Channel, on this romantic 7-day fly-in safari. A major highlight of this trip is the elephant-back safaris offered at the uber-luxurious Abu Camp.
  • Extraordinary Botswana ExplorationA perfect safari for the discerning, adventurous traveller: 2 luxurious lodges in Botswana’s pristine wilderness areas: the Makgadikgadi & the Selinda Reserve. This 7–day journey offers an incredible fusion of cultural experiences, contrasting wildlife, top-quality service and the freedom of space.
  • Botswana Fly-in JourneyVisit two luxurious Okavango Delta lodges and an "Under Canvas" mobile camp in the wild heart of the Savuti on this romantic 8-day safari. The emphasis of this trip is fantastic game-viewing & wonderful local hospitality.
  • Best of Namibia & BotswanaDividing your time equally between the stark, otherworldy beauty of Namibia and world-class game viewing in private Botswana reserves, this 2-week fly-in safari adventure is one of the best and most luxurious ways to experience the highlights of Southern Africa.
  • Botswana & Mozambique Idyllic EscapeThis superb 14 day African safari combines exceptional game viewing at three of Botswana’s top lodges with the barefoot luxury of a private tropical island in Mozambique. Featuring hand-picked lodges, specifically selected for their uniqueness, this tour is a must-do if you're coming to Africa on a celebratory trip.

 

Written by Dominic Chadbon. Connect with him on Google+.

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