Perhaps our most frequently asked question is, "When is the best time to go on an African safari?" Safaris are available year-round, but generally, the best time for game-viewing is during the dry winter season, May through August. Temperatures are mild, animal populations are concentrated at rivers, pools and other water sources, and the vegetation is sparser, allowing more unobstructed views.
The Great Migration is the annual movement of nearly 2 million wildebeest and zebras through Tanzania and Kenya, driven by seasonal rains and drought. If you schedule your visit right, you'll be treated to some extraordinary wildlife viewing. While the exact timing of this movement can't be precisely predicted, there is a general pattern, which is described below.
Wildebeests and zebras typically spend December to April in Tanzania, nursing newborn calves. The slow-moving calves lure lions, cheetahs and hyenas, and the resulting mix of predator and prey offers prime viewing opportunities in nature preserves like Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The animals remain here until the rains end, usually in May, and then they head north in search of food. This is the start of the Great Migration, a steady stream of animals in columns that can stretch for miles, heading toward the western and northern Serengeti. June and July are the best months for witnessing the migration here.
By August or September, the herds have crossed over into Kenya to graze amid the lush greenery of the Masai Mara National Reserve. Some naturalists claim that the Masai Mara contains the largest concentration of predators along the migratory route. The animals will stay here until October or November. Most safaris visit the area before fall brings another rainy season to the plains and the herds turn south, back to Tanzania.
For more information on the Great Migration, and to see safaris that visit each region during optimal game-viewing times, click here.
Some Tanzania trips offer the opportunity to climb to the summit of 19,400-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the continent's highest peak. The best months to climb Kilimanjaro are the milder spring and fall months of August through October and January through March.
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, called the "predator capital" of Africa due to its population of cheetahs, lions and leopards. The best time to see the wildlife is during the winter dry season of May through August and springtime months of September and October.
May through September is the best time for safaris in Namibia. Winter temperatures can dip below freezing at night, though, and spring or fall months (October or April) are the mildest.
Kruger National Park, one of the world's first wildlife conservation areas, is a much-anticipated highlight of South Africa safaris. It's located in the northern corner of the country, where game-viewing is best enjoyed May through August. Most itineraries also spend time along the coast and in Cape Town, where whales are often spotted offshore from July through November.
Most travelers to Uganda come to trek through the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to spend time with mountain gorillas. The best times for trekking are during the dry months of June through early September and late December through February. The rainy seasons peak from mid-September to November and from March to May, and gorilla tracking during these times can be nearly impossible. Daytime temperatures in most parts of the country are consistently warm all year, but it can get much cooler in the higher altitudes of Uganda's mountains, especially at night.
Mountain gorillas are also found in Rwanda. The country’s Volcanoes National Park was home to Dian Fossey and the primates she studied. As in Uganda, the best periods to track gorillas in Rwanda are June through early September and late December through February, the region’s two dry seasons.
Zambia safaris usually include stops at spectacular Victoria Falls. They are most impressive toward the end of the rainy season (December to April), though the thick, white spray can hamper viewing of the intricate rock formations and gorges. The entire scope of the falls is best viewed at the end of the dry season (September to November), when the water level is at its lowest.
While the rainy season is great for bird-watching in Zambia, bad weather can make some roads impassable. The cool, dry season of May through August is recommended for game-viewing.