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This is the best time to take an African safari

Jan. 09, 2023
6 min read
Marriott sent family closed hotel africa_Mike S.
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Lions and elephants and cheetahs, oh my! For nature lovers, an African safari is the ultimate immersive getaway. Safaris offer a combination of wildlife encounters and luxurious lodges, incredible thrills and peaceful, unplugged wilderness.

Although traveling to the African bush is a great experience any time of year, there are definitely more advantageous times for wildlife spotting. For example, in East Africa, you may want to time a trip to coincide with the great wildebeest and zebra migration. In Southern Africa, a trip at the same time most babies are born offers some incredibly special moments watching newborns with their mamas.

I've visited Africa more than a dozen times and have gone on safaris in six different countries, visiting every season.

While I've seen incredible wildlife — including lion cubs on a December trip to Botswana and spectacular herds of elephants in Zimbabwe on a May safari — in the nonhigh seasons, I've also dealt with some pretty extreme weather as well. For instance, I have experienced intense rain storms in November and freezing temperatures in June.

Sometimes the best time to take a safari is when you have flexibility in your schedule or can get the best rates. However, if you want to plan around the absolute best time to spot wildlife, read below to find out when to go.

Elephants near Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

What months are best to go on an African safari?

The African continent is massive, comprising 54 unique nations and nearly 2,000 languages. Most safaris take place in two main savanna regions of the African continent: Southern and East Africa. The Southern Africa region includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. East Africa contains the safari destinations of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Most of these destinations have one thing in common: They're located in the Southern Hemisphere. Even the ones that straddle the equator, such as Uganda, follow the Southern Hemisphere's weather patterns.

This means the seasons on safari will be the opposite of what you're most likely used to at home. Summer is December through February, winter is June through August, spring is September to November and autumn is March through May.

The Southern Hemisphere's winter and early spring — roughly June through October — is usually considered safari high season because it's the driest time of year. Wildlife gathers around watering holes when water is scarce elsewhere, Mark Nolting of Africa Adventure Company says; this makes it easier to see many species in one location.

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In East Africa, the best time to go on an African safari is during the great migration, when thousands of antelope and zebra move in massive herds to find water. That season is roughly December to March and then again from June to mid-November.

There are some exceptions to this rule though.

In Botswana seeing wildlife from a mokoro, a type of dugout canoe, is a popular activity. That's why it's necessary to visit when there's water in the passageways. The dry season provides the same viewing opportunities as above, so you should be able to spot game anytime.

The private reserves in South Africa also defy seasonality; game is so dense in areas, such as the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, that you should be able to spot wildlife no matter the month or season.

Related: Up close and animal: Why walking safaris are so worthwhile


When is the best weather for a safari?

The dry weather of the winter season, roughly June through September, is often considered the best weather for a safari. Note: It can be quite cold after the sun sets, so bring a hat, fleece and gloves to keep warm during early morning game drives (though most safari lodges will provide blankets and hot beverages, too).

The "green season," as the rainier summer months are often called, is usually also the hottest time of year. At this time, you'll encounter the most insects, including mosquitos, in the bush.

Shoulder season — the times between the high season and green season, March to May and October to December — usually offers moderate temperatures and just an occasional storm. This time can be a great option for travelers since this is when you can get better pricing while still enjoying prime wildlife viewing.

Related: Luxury African safaris that support local communities


Is there one good time to go for seeing wildlife?

We're here to tell you that no matter what time of the year you go to Africa, you are guaranteed to see wildlife. The density and ease of spotting may change with the months and seasons, and some species will be easier to spot at certain times of year than others. However, there will always be free-roaming animals large and small if you visit the African bush.

That said, some times have a bit more to offer than others in terms of wildlife viewing.

The easiest time to spot wildlife — meaning you'll spend less time searching during your morning and afternoon game drive and more time watching the animals — is during the dry season. This coincides with the Southern Hemisphere's winter months, June through September, and usually reaches into October. During this period animals will be searching for water and will often congregate in the same location around a water hole or stream.

Spring, roughly October through December, is another prime time to visit. This is when many animals have babies, and the opportunity to see these newborns in the wild is truly a special treat. It's also when the foliage bursts into bloom and migratory avian life return to their leafy homes.

Summer brings denser foliage and a more vivid landscape, and for twitchers (birders, as they're known on safari), visiting this time of year offers big rewards. It's harder to spot wildlife with a large amount of dense growth, though, so you may need to spend another day or two on safari to tick off all the wildlife you're hoping to see.

Related: 9 incredible luxury family safari lodges for the ultimate African adventure

Looking for more planning advice for an African safari? Elsewhere's local experts in Botswana, South Africa or Tanzania can help you plan an epic wildlife adventure to those countries. (Note: Elsewhere is owned by TPG's sister brand Lonely Planet).

Featured image by MIKE S./THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.