October in Africa and the weather is in charge. In East Africa the short rains have begun and the landscape replies with a blanket of fresh green grass. South of the Zambezi, however, it has barely rained since May and animals mill around the remaining waterholes.
October is peak season for many safari destinations because the dry conditions make game easier to find. And islands like Zanzibar, the Seychelles and Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago are superb in October, making a combined bush-and-beach vacation an irresistible choice.
Peak season means that Africa's well-known safari destinations will be busy. Although the main holiday months are July and August, October’s game viewing makes it a very popular time for safari travellers. Consequently, it’s worth adding a lesser known gem to your itinerary - and it's an ideal time to try somewhere new if you are returning to Africa.
1. Northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara
Having survived big cats and even bigger crocs on their circuit around the Serengeti, the wildebeest turn to more serious matters: food. With fresh grazing available across the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara, they gather in vast numbers on the green plains. Predators are naturally in close attendance, moving in on the herds whenever they sense an opportunity.
You’ll like the weather: October temperatures don’t get much above 30C/86F and it’s mostly sunny though you need to prepare for the odd rain shower and cloudy day. And if you stick to the most popular safari areas, be prepared to share your sightings with other travellers. So, mix up the itinerary a little. Northern Kenya is a world away from the Masai Mara in terms of visitor numbers, but it's home to the Samburu and Shaba reserves where you'll find all the big game you can wish for and none of the human crowds.
If you want to try a different side to the Serengeti, head west. Now that the wildebeest have left, the western Serengeti has amazing game viewing in beautiful private reserves. It's the time of year to focus on the Serengeti’s other wild attractions – wild dogs and elephants, big cats and antelope.
2. Southern and western Tanzania … and Congo
With the attention focused on the Masai Mara and Serengeti in October, why not consider somewhere else in East Africa? There are plenty of unconventional safari destinations which deliver amazing game viewing and are at their best in October. This is the end of the long dry season for Ruaha and Katavi National Parks and their rivers are the only source of water for hundreds of miles around, which means wildlife is concentrated nearby, making great sightings more frequent and easier to find.
The parks aren’t at their greenest in October and the temperatures can be high but this is when Ruaha lives up to its legend as home to East Africa’s largest herds of elephant. It's when Katavi boasts that you’ll see more lions there, than anywhere else on earth.
Even further afield, Congo’s Odzala National Park allows travellers access to a previously unreachable destination: Central Africa’s incredible rainforests. Here, forest elephants and lowland gorillas make fascinating photographic subjects in the jungle’s clear, rain-washed air. High water levels mean you can explore coffee-coloured rivers by boat, the best way to see birds and smaller primates.
3. Southern Africa: Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe & Namibia
We’ve reached the final month of the dry season. Most of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia have had no rain for six months or more. The safari landscape is baked brown, and it's dry, dusty and hot.
For the animals, it’s survival of the fittest but not for you: you’ll be slipping into a sparkling pool overlooking a hippo-packed lagoon or relaxing on the deck of a luxury lodge, chilled drink in hand, watching elephants troop past to satisfy their thirst at the waterhole in front of you. If you can handle the heat, October is one of the BEST game-viewing months in Southern Africa.
Botswana’s Chobe River, Savuti and Linyanti are creaking at the seams with thirsty elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and more antelope species than you can name. As for the predators, let’s just say it’s easy pickings for them. Ambushes at waterholes are a favourite tactic for lion and leopard; cheetah and wild dog burst onto impala herds at speed, singling out the weak and unlucky. Grinning hyenas lurk everywhere.
It’s the same in Zambia’s South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi parks where visitors can mix game drives with walking safaris, led by expert guides. And if it’s sit-and-watch game viewing you want, Namibia’s Etosha National Park is a place where so many different species gather around waterholes, it resembles a page from National Geographic.
4. African Tropical Islands
With game viewing at its peak, you don’t want to miss out on the action of an October safari, and since the African islands are superb now too, it must be fate that bush and beach combine so refreshingly in the same month!
The island temperatures are ideal – warm but not sweltering – and there’s very little rain to disturb your afternoons in Zanzibar and even less in Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago. In the Seychelles, underwater visibility is up to a staggering 30 meters – that’s a hundred feet of visual splendor!
Clearly, an island vacation in October is filled with wins, from the weather to the between-peak status, to the superb dive conditions. The only way to improve on a tropical escape, is to combine it with the best of an African safari - as long as you can take the heat! With both experiences on the menu, you’re in for an unforgettable feast.
Heat and dust aside, October is a great month for a safari. With much of Africa at its peak in game-viewing terms, you have the luxury of being able to pick and choose the destination best suited to your needs and expectations. And with Africa's islands in fine form, a bush-and-beach vacation is simply sublime.