Easy Guide to Africa’s Safari Seasons
Choosing between Africa’s safari seasons can be confusing. There are seasonal events such as wildlife migrations and then there are different climatic periods – typically a dry season and a wet season. Each of these climates transforms the African landscape in a very different way – and some destinations have two wet seasons!
The net result is a calendar year that can be divided into distinct safari seasons – termed High, Shoulder and Low. They differ from each other in a number of ways.
One is the difference of experience. ‘High Season’ is generally synonymous with ‘Dry Season’ and is considered the best time to go on safari. The weather is milder, the skies are clear and wildlife is easier to see. The malaria risk is lowest at this time of year, and High Season also implies that major wildlife events are at their peak whether it’s wildebeest in Kenya, whales in South Africa or elephants in Botswana.
‘Low Season’ more than likely refers to the Wet or Rainy Season when wildlife viewing is more difficult or when migrations have moved on. Shoulder Season – as you may have guessed – usually marks the end of a rainy season or the onset of one and offers a mixed bag of weather and wildlife viewing.
Another big difference in African safari seasons is cost. Although it is not standard across the continent, the price of safari accommodation and tours does differ substantially at many of the top destinations. Sure, you’ll pay the year’s top rates during High Season but prices drop for Shoulder Season when conditions may still be close to optimal for a safari.
And if you don’t mind the chance of some cloud and rain, then the Low Season gives you the best price you’re ever going to get. It is also a time of great beauty and wildlife diversity. The Low Season is also called the Green Season and it’s no marketing trick: some safari destinations are at their best in the rains and deliver lush, beautiful landscapes, wildlife migrations and the year’s best bird watching.
There are – of course – drawbacks to each season. High Season is naturally the most popular time to go on safari and visitor numbers will be at their peak. Game viewing is great but there may be many other vehicles at big sightings, and accommodation is hard to find if you don’t book months or even a year in advance. Shoulder Season requires that you manage your expectations – the rains may have started, for example or the big herds might have dispersed – while Low Season presents several potential challenges. Many lodges close down over this period and there is the chance of heavy rain as well as an increased risk of malaria.
Let’s get to the details: it’s easier to split Africa into two major travel regions to explain the safari seasons.
Most Southern Africa safari destinations share the same seasonality. Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa all have a dry winter (High Season) and a wet summer (Low Season). Note the exception of South Africa’s Western Cape and Cape Town which have the opposite – a wet winter and a dry summer.
The seasons of East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda – are very different to Southern Africa’s. Many East African destinations have two wet seasons – ‘long and short’ – and have built their appeal on specific and often seasonal wildlife events such as gorilla trekking and the wildebeest migration.