Gathered around a cheerful fire, July’s safari travellers discuss the sightings of the day. The winter night sky is so full of stars it lends a luminous glow to the scene and the far-off baying of hyenas promises a busy game drive in the morning.
Travel to Africa in July and enjoy all the advantages that mid-winter brings to the continent. The summer rains are a distant memory, as are their attendant bugs and impenetrable greenery. Days are dry, mild and sunny; nights are cold and clear. In Southern Africa, animals are clustering at rivers and waterholes. In East Africa, the drama of the Wildebeest Migration is reaching its peak.
Be careful if you are planning to combine destinations, though. Cape Town is always a tempting add-on to an African safari but it sits under rainswept skies in July, and the southern coast of Southern Africa - known as the Garden Route - illustrates why sailors nicknamed it the Cape of Storms. But from kwaZulu-Natal to Kenya, the tropical Indian Ocean coast basks in generous winter sunshine, and with so many safari destinations in top form, July is one of the best times of the year for a safari-and-beach combo.
It is a tough call to single out Africa’s best experiences in July - more or less everywhere is good - but if it is heavyweight game viewing you want, in the best conditions and with a tropical beach holiday on the side, then try these.
Western & Northern Serengeti – Tanzania
By July, the heaving bulk of the Wildebeest Migration has usually arrived in the western and northern Serengeti, depending on the year's rainfall cycle.Their ranks punctuated by clusters of bar-coded zebras, the wildebeest continue their trek back to the Masai Mara, pausing at the rivers that block the way. The river banks are battered and muddy after earlier crossings and the following wildebeest struggle to safety: some slip back into the water, others can’t get out.
That’s good news for Crocodylus niloticus, the Nile crocodile. They've been waiting patiently for 4-legged prey for a while and they throw themselves at the bounty with all the bone-snapping grace that a prehistoric reptile can muster. It’s not pretty but it is off-the-charts-dramatic. Want to know more? What You Didn't Know About the Wildebeest Migration will give you all the insight you need.
The best areas to see the action are in private concessions. The exclusive-use Grumeti Reserves ensure lower visitor numbers than the main Serengeti reserve and you’ll stay at fabulous lodges or tented camps with views over the game-filled plains studded with iconic acacia trees.
How to do it Book early – up to a year in advance to get the best spots. Honeymoon tours like a Romantic fly-in to Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Migration or a trip to Tanzania, Tarangire, the Crater and Serengeti both include three nights in the Serengeti at a seasonal tented camp, set up specifically to catch the Migration. Don’t be put off by the word ‘tented’: it’s canvas and candlelight at its most luxurious. And if you fancy a post-Migration beach treat, the 13-day Tanzania Fly-in Crater, Migration and Zanzibar is everything its name suggests, while this 14-day Tarangire, Crater, Migration & Zanzibar safari is the best of Tanzania.
Masai Mara & the Seychelles
You could throw the names of Africa’s best safari and beach destinations into a hat, pull out any two and have an epic July holiday, but if you're interested in our know-because-we-go favourite combination, then you can’t do better than combine the Masai Mara with the Seychelles.
Kenya’s Masai Mara is best known for its role in the Migration. Indeed, the first herds start to roll into reserve at this time of year (once again, depending on the annual rain), a taste of the hundreds of thousands to follow in August and September. But it’s not for the Migration that I’m recommending the Mara at this time of year, it’s the fact that the Migration isn’t here that makes it so appealing.
Unspoilt by peak-season crowds, the Masai Mara is gorgeous in July. It’s the driest month of the year with an average temperature of 25C / 77F so you’ll still enjoy warm sunny weather and crowd-free game viewing, which is – this is the Masai Mara we’re talking about - utterly superb. This is the time to see cheetah returning to the plains to prey on wildebeest calves and elephants moving into the acacia woodlands for fresh feeding grounds.
Speaking of good weather, it’s the driest month in the Seychelles in July. Temperatures in this undisputed ‘pinch-me-I’m-dreaming’ destination hover at the yearly average of 26C / 79F and the humidity is tempered by cooling ocean breezes. Golden beaches, teeming reefs, hammocks slung between palm trees… and just a 2-hour flight from Nairobi, the gateway to East Africa and international hub for your Masai Mara connection.
How to do it This Amboseli Ol Pejeta Mara tour showcases Kenya's best reserves at their least crowded. Packed with activities ranging from village visits to game drives, each includes a stay in a private Masai Mara reserve. This Mara and Seychelles combination opens with the simple sophistication of an Out of Africa tented camp and follows it with a twin-island Seychelles extravaganza.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
If you’re going to visit a rainforest and you want the most comfortable climatic conditions possible, try Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in July. All the weather indicators are at their lowest – the least rain, the coolest nights, the mildest days – which makes adding a safari to your gorilla trek even more appealing.
Bwindi is not just about gorillas however; there are 11 other primate species in the forest, not to mention shy forest elephants and giant forest hogs. If you're a birder, you'll also enjoy spotting up to 350 recorded bird species (including 23 endemics!).
The trump card for Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo is gorilla trekking. Accompanied by a guide and a tracker, hikers follow fresh-cut paths, trekking for an hour or three to sit a while with habituated gorilla families. If you're lucky, the gorillas will be content to ignore the whirring of your camera while they feast on July’s ripe fruit. Like us, they prefer the sweeter ones …
How to do it Get the best out of your gorilla trekking experience with the Uganda fly-in Gorilla, Chimps and Wildlife itinerary. Search for endangered mountain gorillas, spot hundreds of species of endemic birds and butterflies and learn more about rural life in Uganda. If you are interested in incredible views and a combination primate experience this 8-day Gorilla, Culture and Wildlife Fly-in Safari is a highlight that you will remember forever.
Okavango Delta - Botswana
Stepping outside your tent at dawn, your breath forms clouds of condensation, mirroring the wisps of vapour coming off the lagoon in front of you. The Okavango Delta may be at the heart of the Kalahari but at this time of year the early morning temperature hovers around the chilly mark.
But winter’s cold, crisp air translates into perfect photographic conditions and July in the delta gleams and glitters with sunlit imagery. The annual floods have refilled the Delta’s extravagant web of rivers, spilling over to form huge floodplains that are home to red lechwe, a grazing antelope often pursued in a splashing frenzy by wild dog. Cheetahs perch regally atop termite mounds to scan for prey while lions in the Duba Plains take on the weakest of the buffalo that arrive from the arid hinterland.
There’s plenty to keep the avid safari goer happy: malachite kingfishers flash in front of you as your mokoro - the Delta’s canoe - slips past fields of water lilies, their lotus-like flower opening as the day warms up to T-shirt temperatures. Elephants are often seen wading along rivers, munching contentedly in this green wonderland, and July is when male impalas are in full rut: their throat-clearing roar of defiance is soon followed by the smackety-SMACK of colliding horns.
How to do it Diversity of wildlife and experience is the aim of the Romantic Botswana Delta, Linyanti and Moremi tour, featuring premier lodges in amazing settings; the Romantic Botswana Chobe and Delta tour mixes two of the Okavango Delta’s most celebrated camps with the boutique-style elegance of Chobe Chilwero Lodge, overlooking the elephant-lined Chobe River and perfect for an add-on to Victoria Falls.
Whether you choose one of our recommended tours or have an African Safari Expert tailor-make a vacation, you really can’t beat Africa in July. In terms of climate, this month sees Africa at her most benign (perfect for families looking to fill up the long summer holiday) and, in terms of experience … well, nearly all of her best safari and beach destinations are worth visiting at this time of year. Africa in mid-winter? Things are just starting to hot up.