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BUCKET LIST SAFARI - WHEN TO GO?

Africa is a diverse and vast continent, and although it's a year-round destination, its varying climates mean that you need to choose your dates carefully depending on where you're hoping to travel to. If you're thinking of a safari holiday and wondering about the best time to go, I've pulled together this month by month wildlife calendar.


January This is a busy but dramatic time to visit Tanzania as the migration herds give birth in the southeast of the Serengeti and Tarangire and Ngorongoro National Parks see a short break from the rains. In Namibia’s Caprivi Strip there are excellent birdwatching opportunities, with more than 450 species in the area. Clear, calm seas in Zanzibar make January a great time for diving and snorkelling to see the incredible marine life.

January is the best time of year for game viewing in Botswana’s Central Kalahari, as the green desert attracts predators, prey, and plenty of migrant, and resident, birds. Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans plays host to large concentrations of zebra and flamingo. This is an ideal time for trekking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda - as January generally coincides with a short dry spell, making it easier and more comfortable to trek because there is less rain and mud.


February

Although it’s the rainy season in Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is in full flow with water thundering over the edge into the canyon below. In the rest of Zambia, large flocks of migratory species make it a good time for birdwatchers. Meanwhile in Uganda and Rwanda, it’s a good time to go trekking in search of mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.

In Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, the vegetation comes to life, with a chance to see endemic species in this region, which comprise the endangered Grévy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, and gerenuk – look out for the babies!


March

This is a changeable month across much of Africa, with rains disrupting travel in many places. Wildlife viewing is still good and migratory bird species arrive in their thousands, yet the camps are quiet and offer good deals, making this a more affordable time to visit most destinations. You can expect great leopard and rhino sightings in Big Five country of the Sabi Sands private game reserve within Kruger National Park in South Africa. March to mid-May has a reputation as the best time to see chimpanzees in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park, and Uganda’s Kibale National Park. Predators and prey are plentiful in Botswana’s Central Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana has large concentrations of flamingo and zebra.

April The breeding season for antelope is underway in Botswana and Malawi — you’ll see males strutting around and butting heads in a show of force. As fruit ripens, chimpanzees come down to the lower branches to feed, so it’s a prime time to spot them in Rwanda.


The rainy season is starting across East Africa, and the wildebeest are on the move, passing through the Seronera area in long columns, attracting the attention of big cats. This is a great time, and place, to see lions, leopards, and cheetahs. And whale-watching opportunities abound as humpback whales make their epic annual migration from Antarctica to warmer waters off East Africa to have their young.

May This month marks the start of the dry season across Southern Africa. It’s a good time to visit as grass dries up, forcing herds to move from pastures to wetlands. This makes their whereabouts easier to predict — along with the predators they attract. Zimbabwe offers great safaris in Hwange, Lake Kariba is a must, and the Victoria Falls are still in peak flow. Migrating wildebeest are arriving in the western corridor of the Serengeti in Tanzania and begin crossing the crocodile infested Grumeti River.


June In Botswana and Uganda, the ground starts to dry out, the vegetation becomes more sparse, and the water holes shrink, making game easy to spot.

Meanwhile, the Niassa Game Reserve in northern Mozambique and Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, with its pumped waterholes, open up, attracting all manner of wildlife for photographers to capture. The famous Sardine run can be seen off South Africa’s KwaZulu/Natal coast. The iconic Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania moves into peak season. There’s superb gorilla trekking in this drier month in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

July This is a good time for whale watching and game viewing in South Africa, with humpbacks migrating along the coast and animals congregating around waterholes in the game reserves. In East Africa, the migration moves into the western Serengeti and, from here, heads north towards Kenya’s Masai Mara. River crossings are at their peak, and it’s an excellent time to see big cats mopping up, as thousands of wildebeest pass through. Elephants start to gather in Tarangire, Tanzania. It’s also the best time to see hippos in South Luangwa in Zambia as this is when the Luangwa River is lowest and you're likely to see large hippo concentrations.


August The Great Migration is at its height in Kenya’s Masai Mara, with huge herds of wildebeest and zebra gathering to cross the Mara and Talek rivers. Walking safaris are at their best in Zambia and combine well with a visit to Vic Falls. Big pods of Southern Right whales can be seen off the southern coast of South Africa, between Cape Town and Plettenberg bay, on their annual migration from the Antarctic. Gorilla trekking is good in Uganda and Rwanda in August, and it combines well with a safari in Kenya. There are great conditions for tours off the southern Cape of South Africa, and Humpback whales off the East coast. Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania offers spectacular, peak-season, game viewing in a massive national park, without the crowds.

September This month offers prime game viewing across most of Africa. Take your choice from safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa (in the north Kruger region), Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. In the Seychelles you'll see turtle nesting and laying their eggs.


Large numbers of migrating birds travel southwards, through East Africa to Southern Africa. You will encounter herds, and herds, of wildebeest grazing on the Mara’s lush and plentiful grasses in Kenya. The lesser-known national parks of Ruaha and Katavi National Parks in Tanzania offer superb game viewing, and birding. Elephants are concentrating at Chobe River and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and in Zambia’s lower Zambezi. In Zambia, you can look for thousands of carmine bee-eaters, which arrive to nest in the riverbanks.

October

In Etosha National Park, Namibia, many animal species gather around one waterhole as others dry up - you really won’t know where to start looking. In Hwange in Zimbabwe and Sabi Sands in the Kruger in South Africa it’s driest time, when the animals are at their greatest concentrations around water -easy targets for big cats and wild dogs. In the lower Zambezi in Zambia, you can experience 4×4 game drives, nature walks in the morning, and boating and canoe safaris in the afternoon. Linyanti, Savute and Chobe in Botswana will surprise you with their amazing game viewing opportunities.


November

This is a great time to take advantage of low-season rates in Tanzania. Migrating herds start to travel south from Kenya, so you can often see river crossings in the north of the Serengeti. It’s also a good time for birdwatching in Zimbabwe, where parks have become quieter despite the presence of both resident and migratory bird species. Greater straw-coloured bat migration into Zambia’s Kasanka National Park, whilst tens of thousands of wildebeest make the most of fresh grazing at Liuwa Plains.

December Cape Town is a great place to visit at this time of year, with stunning scenery and great ‘malaria free’ game viewing in the Eastern Cape. This is the best time to see new-born seal pups at Namibia’s skeleton coast. Plenty of lions, leopards, wild dogs, spotted hyenas, and cheetahs can be seen as thousands of zebras arrive to feast on the fresh grass, as well as hundreds of wobbly new-born springbok, impala, wildebeest, and buffalo in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. In the  Mahale Mountains in Tanzania, it’s a great time for trekking habituated chimpanzee families in the Mahale rainforest.


I hope you've found this useful. Do get in touch if you want to start planning a Bucket List safari holiday.

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