The Best Time of Year to Visit Africa for Weather & Viewing Animals
An African safari is a costly vacation, so planning where and when to go are crucial to getting the most for your money. Top destinations include Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park for zebra and wildebeest migration; Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park for lion, leopard and cheetah; South Africa’s Kruger National Park for birds and a variety of species; Botswana’s Selinda Reserve for a high concentration of wildlife; and Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park for leopards.
Seasons in Africa are opposite of North American seasons, so its autumn runs from March through May; spring runs from September through November. According to the Weather Channel, the best general months for an African safari are September, October, March or April, when temperatures aren’t so scorching-hot. The average summer temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Kruger National Park and 80 degrees F in Cape Town, along with unbearable humidity. By contrast, average winter temperatures drop down to 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Cape Town and 77 degrees F in Durban.
Wherever you intend to safari in Africa, you’ll want to go during the dry season; this ensures that you avoid floods, mudslides and downpours. It is also the best time of year for the best animal viewing. The animals migrate and congregate around predictable water sources during the dry season. Also, the dry grass is more sparse and easy to see through. Lonely Planet recommends East Africa’s Uganda and Tanzania from May through December or December through April. Visit South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe from May through October. Central Africa destinations like the Congo are driest from June to September.
In Tanzania and Kenya, you’ll see the wildebeest, zebra and antelope migrations from July through November, with August through October as the most productive months, according to Frommer’s. The Serengeti sees vast numbers of animals moving through toward the end of May, with dangerous river crossings in July. The herds stay at the Mara River up north from August through October, crossing in and out of Kenya depending on the local rains. In November, the animals move back through the eastern Serengeti to the south in December. Tanzania bird migrations from Europe to East Africa are best viewed from October to April when you can see yellow-bellied wattle-eyes, blue-headed bee-eaters, pygmy falcons and flamingos on the move.
Watch thousands of new babies being born each day during Tanzania’s calving season from January to April. Big game like lions, hyenas, leopards and cheetah are most active during this month, as they stalk their prey. February is an ideal time to see babies in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. November through March is the season for babies at Kruger National Park in South Africa.
When you’re planning your trip to Africa, plan on doing no more than two countries during a two-week trip, African Safari Company president Mike Nesbitt tells National Geographic Traveler. “Otherwise you’ll spend too much time at airports and be forced to stay overnight in big cities,” he explains. “Flight schedules between countries are usually only once a day, if that, and frequently don’t connect conveniently.” If you don’t have a lot of vacation time, choose a smaller park like Kenya’s Maasai Mara, which can be done in three days, as opposed to the Serengeti, where you could easily spend two weeks.