Green Season Safari: Southern vs East Africa
Let’s start with a disclaimer: the Green Season is another way to say the Rainy Season. But don’t think for a minute that this is the time to plan a safari for another time of year. Africa’s Green Seasons are synonymous with some of the year’s most exciting wildlife events – great migrations of antelope and zebra, the mass birthing of animals, the appearance of migrant birds, and the enrichment of the landscape with colour and form.
And besides, the Green Season rains are rarely in the form of long drizzly overcast days; African rain tends to arrive in the form of brief afternoon downpours; otherwise, the weather is warm, blue-skied and sunny.
But now we have to split Southern Africa from East Africa as the rainfall patterns are very different between the two regions. Southern African countries (Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, and most of South Africa) have a relatively simple system: half the year is dry, the other half wet. In East Africa safari country – Tanzania and Kenya – the rainfall is bimodal – in other words, these countries have two distinct rainy seasons with dry times in between.
Southern African Green Season – When is it?
Rain generally begins falling across Southern Africa from late October and it starts to get heavy by December. The peak rainy months are January, February and March; things start to ease at Easter, and by late May the rain has almost completely gone.
Southern African Green Season – Three reasons to go
1. THE GREEN TRANSFORMATION
Africa’s rains trigger one of the richest changes in natural landscapes. Gone is the dried-out brown and bleached-bone white of summer. Bare-branched thorn trees are now dressed in fresh green while summer flowers peek out through the rich grasslands. Such conditions create what photographers think are best for professional nature photography: the dust clouds and blinding sun of the dry season give way to a softer, deeper perspective. Colours are more pronounced in the Green Season, the air clearer, and clouds make Africa’s strong sunlight easier to work with.
2. SAFARI SECRETS
From Botswana’s Chobe River to Kruger Park waterholes, Southern Africa is famous for its dry-season wildlife but it’s during the Green Season that the region’s best-kept safari secrets are revealed. It’s at this time that Botswana’s great zebra migration occurs, when antelope give birth in their tens of thousands, and when the Kalahari fills with water, attracting flamingos and elephants alike. It’s unquestionably the best time for birding as many migrant species arrive and with so much food now available, it’s the richest pickings of the year for big cats, wild dogs and hyenas: if you’d like to watch the drama of the hunt – the chase, the kill, the aftermath – then a Green Season safari gives you better chances than most.
3. GREEN SEASON, GREEN SAVINGS
The Green Season has the year’s lowest occupancy at safari lodges which gives the advantage to travellers. There’s usually no problem with availability – even at relatively short notice – and you’ll also get a better deal. Operators are keen for business over the Green Season and you’ll find the year’s lowest room rates at this time (except at Christmas) as well as special offers such as three nights for the price of two and no single supplement fees for solo travellers.
East African Green Seasons – When are they?
Tanzania and Kenya are neighbours and share a similar climate marked by two separate rainy seasons: the ‘long rains’ of March, April and May, and the ‘short rains’ of November and December.
East African Green Seasons – Three reasons to go
1. THE GREAT MIGRATION
With over a million wildebeest, gazelles and zebra on the move, it’s the greatest wildlife spectacle in the world, and it is an event dependent on rain. Moving around the Serengeti/Masai Mara complex, the herds are triggered into movement by the availability of water and fresh grass, and make their way around the region following the rains. The short rains see the wildebeest in the southern Serengeti, the long rains move them to the centre and west and eventually back to the Masai Mara.
2. FAR FROM THE CROWDS
It’s one thing to see the Big Five on a single drive – as you can easily do in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater – but it’s quite another thing to do so without scores of other vehicles there as well. East Africa is rightly famous for its wildlife but the dry peak seasons are often very busy, especially at relatively small destinations like the Masai Mara, Amboseli and Ngorongoro and at certain wildlife events such as the river-crossings during the wildebeest migration. If you prefer your safari experience on the more private side, then go to East Africa in the Green Season.
3. GREEN SEASON DEALS
Some East African lodges close during the rainy seasons but most stay open and still need business through their doors. Use this to your advantage: you’ll get the year’s most affordable room rates and the widest choice of options with plenty of availability, even at short notice. There will be pay-stay deals around – pay for two nights but stay three for example – and good East African safari and beach combinations with destinations such as Zanzibar and Kenya’s Indian Ocean beaches.