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A Green Season Safari Guide

The Green Season is a specific period in Africa that falls between or after the annual rains. Wildlife spreads out from waterholes and rivers, making the most of the abundant surface water and, most importantly, taking advantage of the fresh grazing that turns the dry savannah into lush rolling grasslands. This new grazing triggers the migrations of large herds of wildebeest and zebra in both East and Southern Africa.

It is traditionally considered a bad time for game viewing because the animals are no longer concentrated around permanent water sources and are harder to spot in the abundance of new leaves and tall grasses. It is not considered a comfortable time to go on safari either - the summer heat is made sticky by the humidity raised by afternoon thundershowers and bugs are at their most prolific in these perfect breeding conditions.  On a contintent famous for sunny skies and dry conditions, it is understandable that the hot, wet Green Season get very little publicity.

BUT...

We are Africa Safari Experts, which means that we have travelled in every destination that we recommend at various times of the year. We know where to find the secret treasures of the Green Season, and we know these gems are worth shouting about from the rooftops. If you go to the right destinations, the Green Season can be the best time to visit Africa.

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

Green Season Advantages

 

Three of my favourite natural events kick off after the rains:

  • The migration of herds of wildebeest and zebra in East Africa into Tanzania's Serengeti and in Southern Africa into Botswana's Savuti and Makgadikgadi Pans;
  • The birthing season begins, filling the plains with adorable fawns, foals, calves and cubs,
  • Migrant birds arrive in their thousands to take up colourful residence on Africa's lakes and lagoons

 

For photographers, the Green Season boasts the best light of the year  - seared skies are replaced with luscious golden light and moody grey palettes of towering cloud. The rain-washed air is crisp and clear making colours pop, and the cloud-stacked sunsets are sublime. There is plenty of wildlife action to capture, from the babies taking their first steps to the dramatic life-and-death scenes of predator and prey interactions. 

Best of all, it's the time of year when you might actually have the wilderness all to yourself. Because it's low season, there are few visitors, even in premium destinations. As long as you choose the right destination, you can have the best game viewing of the year completely crowd-free. Fewer guests mean a more intimate and personalised experience every step of the way, from the lodge to game viewing activities - essentially, you pay less and gain great value!

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.

Green Season Disadvantages

 

Some of Africa's top lodges are inaccessible in the rainy season because of river crossings and airstrips becoming waterlogged. Other lodges choose this quiet time to close for their annual maintenance. So the first disadvantage to the Green Season is that not all the best lodges are open.

Africa is a wild place where insects are a natural and integral part of the ecosystem. After the rains, insects traditionally breed in the damp, warm conditions. This means there are simply more bugs around, including mosquitos. We recommend taking precautions against insect bites and stings at any time of the year, and the Green Season is no different in that respect, but if you travel in this period, it helps to be a little bit hardy as far as bugs are concerned.  

A seemingly obvious disadvantage is the Green Season's rainy aspect. But, while it ups the humidity and interrupts most afternoons, the rain in Africa is rarely unpleasant. The first fact to know is that inland from the coast – where the legendary game viewing destinations are found – rain tends to fall in regular afternoon thunderstorms. They build up dramatically and depart swiftly, leaving behind cool, crisp air, damping down the dust and making your afternoon siesta more pleasant. The most popular time to be on safari is during the dry months, which start with winter’s chilly mornings and evenings before progressing into the baking heat and dust of the late dry season. During the Green Season, temperatures tend to be more moderate and softened by the humidity, which can make conditions sticky but generally pleasant. 

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.

Where to go in the Green Season

 

If you are a fairly rugged traveller or looking for an excuse to return to Africa, the Green Season's advantages are worth considering specifically in the destinations we recommend - it's in these iconic places that we believe you will have a better safari experience in the quiet months.

Firstly, Africa is an enormous continent - you can take the whole of the USA, Germany, India and China out of her and still have plenty of land to spare. To make sense of such a vastness, in travel we speak about three destination groups: Southern Africa, East Africa, and the Indian Ocean Islands.

For safari travellers, the top countries in Southern Africa are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In East Africa, the key safari countries are Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. The Indian Ocean Islands we recommend are Mauritius, Seychelles, Memba, Mafia, Pemba and several beautiful archipelagos, including Zanzibar, Quirimbus and Bazaruto.  

In terms of the Green Season, there are winning destinations in Southern Africa and East Africa.

 

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

Southern Africa

 

Botswana is undoubtedly the belle of the Green Season ball in Southern Africa. Here, the rains in November and December trigger a migration of thousands of zebra and wildebeest into the normally arid Savuti and huge herds of springbok into the semi-desert Kalahari. The landscape transforms from desolate dust flats into lush grasslands with plentiful surface water trapped in shallow temporary lakes and seasonal streams. These are ideal conditions for foals, fawns and calves, which are born en masse. The group birthing is a survival instinct - one baby is an easy and obvious target for a predator, but many babies around the same age and strength increase the odds of survival for the majority. This abundance of tender young creatures attracts the major predators to the grazing herds - lion, wild dog, cheetah and hyena all take advantage of the good hunting, which makes it an excellent time for birthing their cubs and pups too.

We recommend: 

The Extraordinary Botswana Exploration features two of Botswana’s most unique camps, starting with Jack’s Camp on the edge of the vast and enigmatic Makgadikgadi Pans, home to two spectacular migrations: thousands of zebra and flocks of flamingos. The safari moves on to Zarafa Camp in the Selinda Reserve, a superb Green Season location for photographers and a top location for predators.

For an active vacation of canoeing, horse-back riding, guided nature walks and game drives, the epic 10-day Kalahari adventure begins at Camp Kalahari, journeys to the Makgadikgadi Pans for fly-camping and on to the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta's Selinda Spillway - it's an awe-inspiring safari in the footsteps of the early explorers.

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.

East Africa

 

In East Africa, one of the greatest advantages of the Green Season is that you won't experience traffic jams of safari vehicles around your sightings and you can experience a period in the Great Migration that is dramatic, endearing and awe-inspiring! The short rains in October/ November trigger the Great Migration, drawing the herds into the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to feast on the fresh grasses and birth their calves en mass. The plains fill up, from horizon to horizon, with wildebeest and their calves, zebra and their foals, and all the predators attracted to the easy prey. Between January and May, this incredible spectacle awaits you in crowd-free game viewing conditions at low season rates - a winning combination. Besides witnessing one of the most beautiful and haunting periods of the Migration, we recommend the Grumeti reserve in the northern Serengeti and Kenya's northern stretches, especially the Mara and Samburu. All of these are home to legendary game viewing in classic landscapes, and offer the advantages specific to Africa's Green Season: superb value of low season rates and no crowds.

We recommend: 

The Sensational Singita Grumeti Safari, a magical six-night safari in exclusive Singita lodges in prime positions in the Grumeti Reserve. This private concession borders the Serengeti, a place of iconic savannah landscapes, grazing herds and predators - the best of Africa all year round. 

The Adamson's Footsteps Kenya Explorer takes in the best of the northern stretches in a 10-night safari inspired by George and Joy Adamson, two of Kenya's earliest conservationists. Joy's book, Born Free (and film of the same name) is about the lioness Elsa, and Adamson's struggle to secure her right to live free in the wild, instead of a zoo. Your safari begins at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park, site of the Adamson’s original campsite, and moves on to Joy’s Camp in the Shaba reserve, home to large lion prides and rare species, like Grevy’s zebra. Elephant Pepper Camp with its superb views over the vast Masai Mara plains is your final stop, in the heart of the legendary Mara North Conservancy. 

The Green Season is a time of unique advantages - and some specific challenges to travellers. It is not a good season to visit all safari destinations, but based on our firsthand experience, we do recommend the destinations that offer you exceptional value and game viewing that rivals the best to be had in the dry season.Botswana and Tanzania are home to definite Green Season winners, along with a handful of reserves that boast superb year-round game viewing, like Zimbabwe's Hwange, Zambia's South Luangwa, South Africa's Kruger and Kenya's Mara and Samburu. 

 

Written by Ryan Green and Donyale MacKrill. Connect with them on Google+.

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