The arrival of May in the northern hemisphere promises the long, warm, and sometimes sunny days of summer. South of the equator, however, things are heading in the opposite direction. Days are shortening and chairs are getting pulled a little closer to the campfire.
Africa’s cooler temperatures coincide with drier weather as summer’s great rainclouds wring themselves out and fade into winter’s empty blue sky. Having been soaked in summer, Southern Africa’s best safari destinations – Kruger National Park, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia – are now drying out quickly. Game viewing is becoming easier as summer’s generous greenery fades and big herds of zebra, elephant and buffalo move from rainy-season pastures to dry-season wetlands – their stragglers attracting the attention of predators.
Much of South Africa basks in some of the year’s finest weather and the paradisiacal Indian Ocean islands are some of the best places to visit in May. Considering that May is a 'shoulder season' month (a pleasant combination of almost-peak-but-certainly-not-low season), travellers to Africa will also benefit from more room availability and no high-season crowds.
Africa has long been one of our best places to visit in May. The weather is just about perfect if you go to the right places, and its status as a 'shoulder season' means you get most of the advantages of high/peak season without all the downsides of low season. It also marks the start of the best time for game viewing in Southern Africa (June to October), so you can get in first before the crowds arrive and the prices go up.
So without further ado, here are our best places to visit in Africa in May 2023:
Botswana is a fantastic destination from May until October, but it’s one of the best places to visit in Africa in May. The weather is sublime – warm sunny days and mild nights with a just snuggle of chilliness make it a perfect month to tour Africa’s gold-standard safari destination.
Summer’s lush grazing is over, and animals prepare for the dry and hungry winter. Out on the Kalahari grasslands, clouds of dust signal the approach of massed zebra herds – bickering and mane-tossing – as they make their way to winter wetlands further north. The first big herds of elephant start appearing in the Chobe River and Linyanti regions, a taste of the thousands that will arrive in the depths of the dry season.
Another phenomenon is also underway: the Okavango Delta is quietly, slowly and very steadily flooding into its dry southern fingertips. It is one of nature’s practical jokes: as most of Botswana dries out for winter, its biggest wetland – and the world’s biggest inland delta – gratefully receives billions of litres of clean fresh water, trickling down from the distant Angolan mountains. You can even walk ahead of the creeping water as it inches down dry, hoof-scuffed channels. Great shimmering floodplains form and ephemeral rivers and lakes slowly fill up. You can imagine where all the animals are heading!
Top tip: combine your Botswana safari with a few days at Victoria Falls. This gigantic waterfall has just come out of its peak flow months (March and April), which means you'll be able to see beyond the spray and enjoy spectacular views. This is a straightforward safari combination and some of the best places to visit in May.
2. South Africa
Garden Route & Eastern Cape
Combining South Africa’s Eden-like Garden Route with the game reserves of the Eastern Cape not only delivers a safari and beach holiday with a difference, but they are also some of the best places to visit in May. Ideal for a self-drive adventure or a sit-back-and-relax guided tour, this coastal region blends scenery, experience, and relaxation in equal measures.
Start in Cape Town. Why not? May sees mild and sunny weather in the Mother City and you can take in Table Mountain and the incredible Cape Winelands in a couple of easy days. Then engage cruise mode and tour the Garden Route, on the Western Cape’s picturesque and unspoilt Indian Ocean coastline. There are sublime cliff-top hotels, family villas and romantic hideaways to stay at, and activities range from golf to dolphin watching.
And then it gets interesting. The call of the wild still echoes in the broad valleys of the Eastern Cape – it is big game country and home to lion, leopard and cheetah, as well as elephant, rhino and buffalo. Staying at one of the exquisite private reserves puts you in the pound seats for game viewing and, since the entire region is malaria-free, you can enjoy the thrills of Big 5 game viewing without the health risks – it’s where to travel in May if you have a family with young children.
Top tip: combine your Garden Route and Eastern Cape holiday with more safari adventures at malaria-free Madikwe (great for families), or discover the pioneers of luxury safari with a few days in the Kruger’s private game reserves that border the national park.
Speaking of beach and safari combinations, how about taking it to a sub-tropical level? South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province is often overlooked by international visitors jetting into Cape Town and the Kruger but KZN, as it’s known to locals, has game reserves brimming with the Big 5 and its golden, palm-fringed beaches provide tropical retreats on par with the world's best. Its definitely a destination not to be overlooked when deciding where to go in May.
It is hot and humid during the rainy summer, but May has lovely visitor-friendly weather – mild and dry – which makes it the perfect time to discover what KwaZulu-Natal has to offer. There are historic battlefield sites to visit, country lanes to dawdle along and epic mountain scenery. Private game reserves like Phinda, Thanda and uMkhuzi have earned international reputations for diverse and rewarding game viewing as well as superb bird watching. Enjoy day and night game drives and guided walks wrapped up in a wildlife experience as appealing to safari aficionados as it is to first-timers.
Top tip: combine your KwaZulu-Natal holiday with a luxurious train journey. Rovos Rail is the epitome of style, class and elegance, and is the perfect way to celebrate a honeymoon or anniversary.
3. Indian Ocean Islands
You would think that a holiday to an Indian Ocean hideaway would be a no-brainer all year round, but there is more to it than just turning up on some archipelago ready for the hammock and room service.
Mozambique’s Bazaruto and Quirimbas archipelagos are divine in May. The cyclone season is long over as is the scorching heat of mid-summer. And as cooler and calmer weather kicks in, conditions underwater improve leading to greater visibility – making them some of the best places to visit in May for divers and snorkellers. Bazaruto is home to larger, more-established resorts as well as smaller boutique getaways, while the Quirimbas is more of an exclusive, private-island experience. Both are equally suitable for families or couples and each combines easily with a safari in Southern or East Africa.
The Seychelles in May is a great month as it manages to tick several boxes without really trying. Underwater visibility is at its peak – up to a staggering 30 metres or close to 100 feet – and the weather is warm and mostly dry. This postcard-perfect archipelago is home to some of the best beaches in Africa, with a scattering of award-winning resorts and super-stylish villas. A Seychelles vacation offers you the chance to live out your tropical island fantasy in pure, world-class luxury. It’s where to travel in May for an unforgettable honeymoon.
Top tip: for a holiday fit for royalty, combine a safari in the Kruger’s private game reserves with a grand finale in the Seychelles.
Ready to Plan Your Visit to Africa in May?
Get in touch with our team of Africa Safari Experts to help tailor-make a trip that’s right for you: