They say that the third Monday in January is ‘the most depressing day of the year’ as the bloom wears off your Christmas and New Year’s memories, you get back into the work grind and the bills start arriving again. Then around rolls February, usually the coldest, wettest and generally most miserable month in the northern hemisphere. Is it any wonder at this rather bleak time of year that our hearts and minds focus on escaping to warm beaches, sunny climates and tropical islands?
February is a great time of year to get your travel plans in order – leave it too late and you may find that your preferred choice of accommodation, flights or access to an annual event is already booked up.
If you want to go in… March
You’re spoilt for choice in March. The only real decision you need to make is to choose the backdrop for your vacation: safari, beach or city? Or a combination of all three? Once you choose the setting, the where is easy: the best safaris in March are in Tanzania or Kenya, the best beach breaks in the Seychelles, Quirimbas or Zanzibar, and the best city stay is definitely in Cape Town.
March in East Africa is lush and green as the second rainy season is approaching. Visitor numbers are generally low, which means with some clever planning by your personal African safari expert, you could end up staying at a leading lodge for a very good price. An excellent option is a 14-day tour that takes in the Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar.
If all you can think about right now is lazing in the sun, then cut out the game drives and head directly to an idyllic tropical island - try Zanzibar or the Quirimbas in Mozambique or the Seychelles. We don’t recommend other islands in March as they generally experience heavy rain at this time of year and no-one likes that on holiday!
Although Cape Town qualifies as a city break, in reality it is so much more. By March the extremes of the mid 30C / mid 90F temperatures have passed but the days remain warm and the nights balmy. In just a few days you can enjoy everything from Blue Flag beaches and gorgeous nature reserves like Cape Point to world-class vintages in the Winelands and the beauty of the Garden Route. Cape Town is that rare gem: an affordable historic city with superb accommodation (like Ellerman House, a favourite with Oprah and other discerning travellers) and a treasure chest of activities on its doorstep. Even if you only have six days, it’s worth considering as an easy destination from Europe and the UK.
If you want to go in April or May
April in Africa is wonderful but do check when Easter falls as the South African schools have a recess and many destinations like Victoria Falls (which, after summer rains in the green season will be in full flood and at its magnificent best), Mauritius, Cape Town, Zanzibar, the Garden Route in South Africa and Sun City can be very busy.
The weather for much of Southern Africa is heading into winter, which means lower temperatures, fewer bugs and less rain. One way to take advantage of this bounty is to hitch a ride on a train. But not just any train: Rovos Rail is considered the most luxurious rail journey in the world because of the size of the cabins (all en suite), the outstanding service and the sublime scenery through which it passes. In just a week-long tour, you can wend your way from the Big 5 in the Kruger National Park and Madikwe Private Reserve (game viewing is beginning to peak as rains dry up and vegetation thins out), to the kwaZulu-Natal’s historic Midlands, Battlefields (military buffs will be fascinated by the stories of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift) and awe-inspiring Drakensberg areas. From there, you make your way through the Garden Route en route to Cape Town. It’s a totally carefree journey where you don’t have to drive, catch connections, make dinner reservations or otherwise lift a finger.
By now the weather in southern Mozambique and Mauritius has cleared up and is near perfection. Both offer picture-perfect beach environments but Mozambique is more remote, rustic and ideal for those seeking authentic adventure while Mauritius has incredible resort infrastructure particularly suited to families with young children. No matter which you choose, you’ll get warm water, sunshine, excellent seafood and awesome water sports.
If you really want to push the metaphorical boat out, consider combining the two: a South African self-drive or rail holiday followed by a week on the beach in Mozambique or Mauritius. The most compelling reason is that Cape Town’s beaches are gorgeous, but the Atlantic Ocean can best be described as ‘extremely refreshing’ or even ‘bracing’! Cape Town is not a water sports haven (although kite surfing and snorkelling with Cape fur seals are great options for those who love to get wet however chilly the water).
If you want to go in June or July
Mid-year is popular time for holidays to Africa as a number of factors come together: long school vacations in the US, drier winter conditions in Big 5 areas make the animals easier to find, and the thrilling Grumeti and Mara River crossings occur during this phase of the wildebeest migration.
My best advice is that, if you want to travel at mid-year, book your seats, accommodation and activities as early as possible. By February, many of the lodges and camps that can give you front-row seats to spectacles like river crossings may be full already and reserves like Kruger, the Serengeti and Mara are filling up faster than a greedy monkey with a free banana. There is nothing as crushing as having your heart set on seeing the Migration, for example, and finding out you have to wait until next year to see it.
The same goes for the other biggie: Botswana’s Okavango Delta. A must-see on every serious safari goer's wish list, the Delta has limited but spectacular accommodation and high demand. Unless you book early, you may not secure a place in lodges in the most desirable places, like the ephemeral Savuti Channel. If you have limited time, the perfect way to savour the Delta is to undertake a fly-in itinerary.
And, I hate to say it, but the same goes for Africa’s newest and most exhilarating destination, Congo. Gorilla trekking in the magical Odzala Forest National Park is often described a life-changing experience but, once again, strong demand and limited accommodation mean that this is not a last-minute or peak season option without planning ahead. The good news is your personal safari expert will negotiate her way around all the logistics and complexities of travelling to Africa, making sure your holiday is unforgettable for all the right reasons.
February may be the ‘Month of Love’ thanks to Valentine’s Day, but it's also a great month to take stock of about the things you love, including your travel bucket list. It’s an ideal time to start planning your next adventure and making it a reality. Bon voyage!