The Safari Experts

Seasonality of travel in Africa


There are six main factors in considering when to travel to Africa, which we run through here in their usual descending order of importance ...

Convenience ...

The vast majority of people travelling to Africa will have the timing of their trip dictated by events back home rather than events in Africa ... to fit around school terms, work obligations and social commitments. This means that there tends to be a large surge in visitor numbers during the December/January break and during July and August when northern hemisphere countries have office shut-downs and long school break. Fortunately these times coincide with some of the best conditions in many parts of Africa.

Seasonal events ...

There are certain important events in Africa which are highly seasonal. The most obvious of these is game-viewing, which varies enormously in virtually all wilderness areas to mirror patterns of rainfall and the growth of foliage. Other events are associated with a specific time of year, such as whale shark breeding, migration calving and river crossings, last waterhole battles, arrival of flood-waters, wild dogs going to den and wild flower displays. Then there are calendar events such as music festivals, weddings and sports events. If you wish to include any of these in your trip, then this what will determine the timing of your trip.

Weather ...

Most parts of Africa enjoy a generally warm and dry climate for the majority of the year, punctuated by a rainy season which varies in length depending on the location ... in desert areas the rainy season can be negligible, whilst in more tropical areas it can last many months.

Generally speaking, in most parts of Africa rains fall during a warm summer season, some time between December and May, tending to be earlier further south and later further north. The converse period, June to November, is a warm dry season, with cooler nights at the front end.

The exception to that is the area immediately around Cape Town, which has a rainy season, which mirrors that of the northern hemisphere, so with a wet and cold winter centred on July and August and hot dry summers centred on December and January.

Most people choose to avoid the rains, since it is the time that game-viewing tends to be more difficult in most areas, getting around on safari can be more of a challenge and insects tend to be out in force in some places.

But the green season, as it is known, is not without its attractions. For the people and animals of Africa rain is a blessing. The dry season which visitors most associate with Africa is actually the harshest and most difficult period in many areas.

Traffic ...

Another consideration which may affect you decision when to travel is visitor traffic.

Generally speaking, the fewer other travellers that are around, the better and more authentic your trip will be. Wilderness experiences are very sensitive to people traffic. Watching elephants at a waterhole on your own can be a magical experience, whilst witnessing the same scene surrounded by other vehicles can be a cheap and even distressing scene. Being the only guests at a lodge often delivers the very best and most intimate experience, whilst visiting during the peak of the busy season, when the lodge staff are worked off their feet, can be considerably less personable.

As we said at the top, busy periods are generally dictated by holiday seasons in the countries of visitor origin ... dominated by Europe and North America. In simple terms, most areas are most busy during the December/January vacation and the long school break July/August. Avoid these periods if you can.

On the other hand, if you cannot avoid these periods then do not despair ... it is still more than possible to have a wonderful experience during high season, you just need to be more aware of potential traffic areas and plan accordingly. Obviously we will help you ... a good deal of our time and effort is expended doing exactly this.

Some of the areas which are worst affected by traffic, can still be visited in peak season in a very acceptable manner. For example in a recent visit to the Serengeti in August, we easily managed to avoid traffic by heading to some of the lesser known and more remote areas. On one memorable day we only saw one other vehicle in a ten hour game-drive, whilst at the same time finding lion, leopard, elephant and rhino. The following day we departed very early for the Ngorongoro Crater ... a renowned traffic hotspot ... getting to the crater floor shortly after sunrise and enjoyed an hour with a pride of lions on a kill without sight or sound of another vehicle. This is in utter contrast with the clusters of vehicles which we saw gathering around lion and cheetah as we departed towards lunchtime.

If you are able to travel at any time of year and are not worried about encountering a mix of weather conditions, then there are some truly magical times when you can be out in the bush virtually on your own. May and November are particularly good in many areas.

Availability ...

The best lodges in Africa are always fully booked in high season.

Generally speaking, the higher priced the lodge, the further in advance it becomes fully booked. To get rooms in high season at some of the most extraordinary camps ... Mahale Zoe's Camp, Mombo Camp etc. ... can require booked years in advance, especially if you are looking for more than one room.

More generally speaking, if you are two people wanting to travel in high season to specific locations and are keen that your trip should include the most appropriate camps in the best order, then you ideally need to book three to six months in advance. More than two people should think six to nine months in advance.

On the other hand, if you prefer to leave it to nearer the time, then our systems are pretty advanced these days and we are often able to still build great trips out of the remaining availability much nearer to the time.

The availability of hundreds of the best lodges can be viewed in the locations section of this website.

Prices ...

Most lodges in Africa vary their prices throughout the year, with seasons being dictated by variations in the quality of activities, weather or visitor traffic.

In most areas the advantages offered in terms of lower price are not sufficient to offset the disadvantages, which means that price is not usually the determining factor for most people in choosing when to travel.

The most notable exceptions are in areas where super-high demand has pushed up the high season prices to astronomical levels, which is the case in many of the top-end safari camps across the continent, perhaps most notably in Botswana. It is common practise in these areas to try to slide trips into the shoulder seasons in order to avoid peak season premium pricing.

It is always worth asking us to provide comparative quotes for the same trip in different seasons ... something which is really very easy for us to do.
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Tony Fishlock
Tony Fishlock, Finance Director
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