Spring is slowly coming to the northern hemisphere, luring many people from their hunkered-down hibernations, but in the south, winter is coming. But winter in the south is nothing like winter in the north – in fact, its cool evenings and balmy, dry days are perfect for game watching. High season for both safari and the Great Migration is fast approaching and lodges and camps are gearing up to welcome guests from across the globe.
If you want to go in April or May
With quarter of the year gone, you may feel you’ve finally earned a breather. Easter is a popular time of year to travel in Southern Africa as the region’s schools take a few weeks' vacation so ask your African Safari Expert about the secret gems her expertise can unlock for you on short notice.
At this time of year, the heat of summer is genty tempered by the cool balminess of autumn, which means humid destinations like Botswana and Victoria Falls are at their best now. It’s a good time of year to combine destinations like Botswana and Mozambique, the Okavango Delta and the Falls, the Falls and Chobe National Park or all three in a family-friendly itinerary.
If you want to go in June, July or August
Winter in Africa means one thing: peak safari season is here! Africa's interior has wet summers and dry winters. No rain is good for game viewing for two main reasons: wildlife congregates around the permanent waterholes, making it easier to find a rich variety of game, and the bush has turned sparse, making game easier to spot. Less rain also means far fewer bugs, including mosquitoes, reducing the risk of malaria significantly (for a completely malaria-free safari, choose Madikwe Game Reserve or the Eastern Cape, both in South Africa). Now is the time when safari aficionados are flocking to Kruger, Etosha, Hwange, Chobe and Mana Pools.
High season means that the best accommodations are booked up quite far in advance, so your first choices may not be available on a last-minute booking. If you're flexible and work with a safari expert, you should still be in the right place for spectacular game viewing.
In East Africa, it’s all about one thing: the river crossings of the Great Migration. Depending on the summer rains, the mega-herds start arriving at the Grumeti River in the Serengeti National Park now, making for incredible spectacles when they cross it (find out more on how the Great Migration works and myths about the Migration). It’s the sight to see and demand for accommodation is always high. The same rule applies: the sooner you book, the better your chances of getting accommodation in the best places to see the crossing.
If you’ve ticked off the Big 5 and want more adventure, consider gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda. Conditions are easier because there’s less mud and fewer bugs.
If you want to go in September, October or November
If you missed the Grumeti River crossings don’t despair – the wildebeest give you another chance to witness the dramatic action when they reach the Mara River in Kenya. Like the Grumeti crossings, these are wildly popular so be sure to book soon rather than later.
This is a great time of year to add an adventure to your 4x4 game viewing in the form of a walking safari, mountain biking, fly camping or camel trekking in Kenya, Zambia, Malawi or Selous. The spring weather is mild, making physical exertion much more comfortable.
It’s also a good time of year to consider hitting the Indian Ocean islands. If you’re already in Kenya or Tanzania, it’s easy to add-on a few days in Zanzibar or the Seychelles, for all the tropical paradise you could desire.
If you want to go in December, January or February
The end of the year is peak season for all travel hotspots but especially family destinations like Cape Town, Victoria Falls, the Garden Route (particularly Knysna and Plettenberg Bay) and, on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, Stone Town. If you want to be in one of these incredibly festive spots for New Year’s but also want peace, quiet and privacy, then consider renting a beach villa rather than staying in a hotel. You’re likely to have a pool all to yourself and can even have a private chef and butler to keep your fridge stocked and your drinks topped up.
For something equally festive that recalls the golden era of travel, why not take one of Rovos Rail’s epic journeys? You’ll be cocooned in the world’s most spacious train suites (complete with full en suite bathrooms). Spend your days sipping cocktails, watching Africa pass by at a gentle pace from the open-air viewing car. Ah, bliss…