April is when Africa’s great summer starts winding down and the year catches its breath before winter. Down in the sun-baked Western Cape, the city of Cape Town welcomes its first autumnal showers. Further north, safari destinations like the Kruger, Botswana and Zimbabwe emerge after months of heavy rain. Cloaked in green, they offer lovely scenery and birding but big game is often hard to find because water and grazing are so plentiful that they wander great distances.
In East Africa the first of the year’s two rainy seasons is at its peak. The tropical coast is wet and thundery while in the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro area massed herds of wildebeest stand stoically in the drizzle, constantly harassed by nipping predators, waiting for the signal to push off west. It is, however, the Green Season in East Africa and a fly-in safari is certainly a good option if you're wanting to see lush landscapes and spindly-legged newborns.
But April is still a wonderful month to travel to Africa - you just need to know where to go! The weather is often at its best in places – it was my favourite month when I lived in Botswana - and it is a month of festivals and outdoor events in Cape Town. South Africa as a whole still enjoys lovely sunny days with only a hint of crispness in the early mornings, while travellers to East Africa willing to take the chance of a few dry days will have the game reserves, hugely popular in season, almost to themselves.
April is the perfect time to experience this charming and friendly country. Namibia’s peak season crowds are yet to arrive and its modest rainy season has petered out along with the heat but the cold of winter is a month away. Expect warm days with fluffy clouds in a dry blue sky. It is a good time for photography, especially since April’s just-washed air and lack of dust means clear views. And it’s the landscape that’ll hold your attention the most.
Namibia’s tapestry of mountains and desert is spellbinding enough during the dry season. After the rains, it explodes with colourful extravagance. Splashes of luminous green stand out like graffiti against the apricot-coloured dunes of Sossusvlei, the desert’s mirrored waterholes are fringed by bobbing birds and butterflies. In Etosha National Park, elephants and giraffes munch their way through leafy woodlands while zebra and countless antelope mow the savannah. Big cats lie fat-bellied in the shade – April is when summer’s baby antelopes have emerged from hiding and joined the herd.
How to do it: it is worth putting Namibia’s best destinations on one itinerary – the 7-day Sossusvlei, Damaraland & Kunene Fly-in Safari kicks off with big game viewing in a private Etosha reserve and follows it with the wild, hypnotic beauty of prehistoric deserts and silent, brooding mountains.
It’s true that April isn’t peak season for Mozambique’s Indian Ocean Bazaruto and Quirimbas archipelagos but aficionados of the country (Mozambistas?) reckon that this shoulder season is well worth risking the odd shower.
The five islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago see off the last of their summer rains by April and the later you leave it, the drier they are. Benguerra and Bazaruto islands are the two largest and visitors can choose between honeymoon hideaways and small family-friendly resorts. Diving and snorkelling in the Bazaruto National Park is the highlight but spa massages and seafood feasts come close behind.
Set on Mozambique’s Swahili northern coast, the Quirimbas Archipelago is a more exclusive destination. A string of mostly uninhabited coral islands, some not more than a sliver, this is where you will find Crusoe-chic beach bungalows and low-key luxury retreats. And if you tire of powder-white beaches and humming tropical reefs, visit the old town on Ibo Island where guides take you to Portuguese churches and crumbling forts to the tinkety-tankety sound of local silversmiths at work.
How to do it: visitors can fly in to the archipelagos from Johannesburg. The 7-day Luxury Benguerra Island Holiday does just that, delivering you to the incomparable Azura Retreat by helicopter. The 6-day Quirimbas Private Island Retreat treats you to five nights at Vamizi Island Lodge where you’ll be sharing beaches with nesting turtles and coral reefs with over 400 species of fish.
Combine with South Africa: If you're keen to combine a Mozambique beach holiday with a luxury Cape Town experience, the Luxury Cape Town & Bazaruto Spa Experience is the answer. Explore the Mother City, enjoying deluxe pampering at the Belmond Mount Nelson, then jet off to enjoy a spa and beach holiday on Bazaruto Island.
A South Africa holiday also combines really well with Mauritius, a fantastic family-friendly island destination. The 12-day Family KwaZulu Natal Safari & Beach Holiday is the best of both worlds: a luxury coastal safari at Phinda Rock Lodge in kwaZulu-Natal and a full week at Belle Mare Plage on the East Coast of Mauritius.
You're probably thinking that the Seychelles, the epitome of the luxury beach holiday, is a safe bet all year round. And it is. April is the period when the warm and wet trade winds abate ahead of the cooler winter winds that scuff up the water – a turnaround period if you like. The result is calm, warm water and spectacular underwater visibility of up to a staggering 30 metres.
Families with young children love the Seychelles in April and it's an ideal time for serious divers, too. But such is the kindly nature of the Seychelles that you don't need to strap on all that bulky scuba equipment and walk around sounding like a Star Wars extra to enjoy its underwater world. With water temperatures up a balmy 29 degrees Celcius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) and tropical reefs lying close offshore, the Seychelles is the sort of place you can slip out of your hammock, grab a mask and snorkel, and nip off for a bit of snorkelling within sight of room service.
How to do it: if you’re going to go a tropical paradise, you may as well go big! The 9-day Romantic Seychelles & Praslin & Mahe Islands tour has a laid-back pace that allows you plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere at dreamy resorts on Mahe and Praslin.
Combine with East Africa: Go to another level on your African island holiday by adding in an authentic Kenya safari. Kenya's Mara and Seychelles' Islands holiday is perfect for the adventurous couple looking for true romance in the most spectacular locations: the enviable Masai Mara and Desroches Private Island.
Take Africa’s fourth largest river, fill it with five months of summer rain, and then fling it over a mile-wide precipice to tumble 360 feet into a deep ravine. The ensuing tower of spray can be seen from 30 miles away and the water rumbles like distant thunder. Welcome to Victoria Falls in peak flow. If this is one of your bucket list destinations, April is the time to see it.
Warning: it may sound odd but you will need to think about how you’ll actually see it. Viewing sites often resemble outdoor showers and the few hardy sightseers are dressed in waterproof clothing normally associated with North Sea oil rigs. Opposite the Main Falls, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water race over the edge, visibility is down to a yard and the noise is deafening (although you can watch the amusing spectacle of people’s umbrellas being turned inside out by buffeting updrafts!). At this time of year, it's far better to see Victoria Falls from the air – the David Livingstone-inspired ‘Flight of Angels’. Choose between a fixed-wing aeroplane, helicopter or, for the daredevils, a microlight.
How to do it: it is easy to fly to this world wonder but you will need to choose between the Zimbabwean and Zambian side. At this time of year the views are equally as spectacular and crossing over between the two is easy. Set on the banks of the Zambezi and brimming with laid-back romance, Tongabezi Lodge in Zambia is a rare combination of proximity to the Falls, extraordinary river views and a lack of a set itinerary that allows guests the freedom just to 'do their thing'. Combine Victoria Falls with a start-of-the-season safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa or Lower Zambezi National Park and you’ve got a Grade A bucket-lister.
Combine with the Best of Africa: Why stop at Victoria Falls? The Ultimate Mara, Victoria Falls & Cape Explorer combines three of Africa's most iconic destinations, while the Exciting Vic Falls Kenya Adventure combines an authentic Masai Mara safari with a Nairobi experience and the very best of Victoria Falls.
So if those April showers back home have been dragging on since Christmas, maybe it’s time to see what Africa has to offer. Not quite summer, not quite winter but a magical moment in between, April in Africa is one of her quieter months but for visitors who want to avoid peak-season crowds and prices, it’s ideal.