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A Green Season Safari Guide

In safari-speak, the Green Season is defined as the 'quieter' time when Africa's summer rains fall, turning the dry savannah plains green and lush. Once seen as a time for travellers to stay away, the Green Season is actually one of the best times to be on safari.

Firstly, it's when extraordinary natural events occur: migrations kick off, the birthing season begins, and chattering flocks of migrant birds arrive. Photographers will love it: the rain-washed air is crisp and clean, the colours fresh and the cloud-stacked sunsets are monumental. And for action-photographers, Africa's predators make regular kills on the teeming grasslands - it's a time of dramatic encounters. 

It's also a time when you may have the wilderness much to yourself. Visitor numbers drop significantly in the Green Season, ensuring a far more intimate and personalised experience than in chock-a-block peak season. Factor in low season rates, and you have the opportunity to experience iconic destinations without the crowds, and classic accommodation without the peak season premium.

Then there's the weather. Don't be put off by the Green Season's nick-name: 'the rainy season'. In Africa, the rains fall in the form of afternoon thunderstorms that depart as swiftly as they arrive, leaving behind long periods of sunny weather. Temperatures are considerably more pleasant than those of icy mid-winter or the baking late-dry season, and tempered by a touch of humidity. Evenings and early mornings are cool and comfortable - you'll need little more than a light jersey on game drives.

And though it may be rainy on occasion, it certainly isn't quiet.

A Green Season Safari Guide - elephant at a waterhole
With abundant food and water, the rains herald a season of plenty for all.

The advent of the rains still rates as one of my favourite times of the year. The first drops arrive at the tail-end of the dry season, when the heat and dust hang like a suffocating blanket and the parched landscape resembles a tinderbox, waiting for a flame. Animals have been making longer and longer journeys between grazing and water and a build up of static electricity charges the atmosphere. Stress levels rise and tempers snap - even humans feel the pre-rains pressure.

After weeks of tension, clouds begin to appear on once empty horizons. They become larger and more promising before being chased away by the wind, dashing the hopes of those have been anxiously watching the sky.

A Green Season Safari Guide - lion in the grass
This lion king's tawny coat contrasts beautifully with the lush backdrop, while clouds add depth and perspective to the scene.

When the rains do finally arrive, the transformation is almost as immediate as it is astonishing. Antelope that have been patiently waiting to drop their young do so en masse, and everywhere there are exuberant signs of emerging life. Bare earth suddenly throws up a carpet of emerald green grass, shallow sandy basins transform into bird-filled wetlands, and flowers burst into colourful bloom.

This all combines to create a delightful sense of joie de vivre that permeates everything. Antelope lambs skip around their mothers’ heels, birds whirl and sing in the sky, and the landscape swops its usual brown hues for every imaginable shade of green. For predators, it is a time of plenty. With such an abundance of easy prey, they grow sleek and fat all summer long - storing nourishment for the hard, dry season to follow. I have seen a leopard with five separate kills stashed in different trees, each with a hopeful looking hyena sitting below. 

A Green Season Safari Guide - leopard in a tree
Predators take advantage of the abundance of newborn antelope- this leopard had several kills stashed in different trees - ready for another day.

You will, however, need to think about timing. Predicting rain in Africa is not an accurate business, but as a rule of thumb, I suggest visiting a month or so after the Green Season starts. The grass is still relatively short, making animals easier to spot, and the larger herds may not yet have spread out among the many new sources of water.

A Green Season Safari Guide - beautiful ice-cream sunset
Pans fill with rain water, providing a plentiful resource for wildlife and granting photographers some superb gifts: silhouettes, clouds and reflections.
A Green Season Safari Guide - Botswana sunset
Sunsets in summer are spectacular, where the clouds are lit up dramatically by the last rays of the sun, providing a wonderful spectrum of colours

Where do you go for green season adventures? Places like Botswana's Okavango Delta, South Africa's Kruger Park and Zambia's Luangwa Valley have resident animals that don't migrate, and these destinations are fantastic for returning visitors who want to see the difference between a winter and summer safari.

Places like Botswana's Kalahari reserves, however, depend on the rains to stimulate a migration of animals into the region. The opportunity to see the arid semi-desert come alive as herds of wildebeest, zebra and springbok arrive to give birth and feed on new sweet grasses is a life-affirming experience. The abundance of plains game attracts a multitude of predators, which guarantees an extraordinary safari experience. 

A Green Season Safari Guide - a flock of Carmine Bee Eaters
Carmine bee-eaters take to the skies in a spectacular flourish for birders and photographers alike.

In East Africa, one of the main advantages of the low season is that you won't share your sightings with a convoy of safari vehicles. Home to the Great Wildebeest Migration, Kenya and Tanzania heave with visitors in peak season but once the herds of wildebeest and zebra move on, so do the crowds of tourists. The Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area positively teem with animals even after the migration dust has settled, literally and figuratively, and you can look forward to a quieter, more intimate experience.

The Green Season offers something special for all travellers but is especially suited to those who have already experienced a winter safari, or are keen photographers and birders. 


Written by Ryan Green. Connect with him on Google+.

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