Many of Africa’s iconic experiences are seasonal in nature so take the guesswork out of planning your safari with our Travel Calendar: simply search by month or experience & find out the best time to travel to Africa for your requirements.
Africa in January
January is a time for Africa’s top experiences – the great migration, gorilla trekking, Big 5 safaris & Cape Town.
Subtle shifts in January’s climate create valuable windows of opportunity to experience some of Africa’s top wildlife events. The summer rains are temporarily easing across much of East Africa and the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is entering one of its most dramatic stages. And with the sun breaking out, gorilla trekking in the rainforests of Rwanda and Uganda suddenly becomes a lot easier.
There’s a chance of rain of course but that can work to your advantage; January is generally a shoulder-season month (rather than high season) and so travellers have access to good deals and cheaper accommodation rates. Moreover, a safari in January showcases the seldom-seen side of the African savannah: green, lush and well-watered. It’s great for nature photography as well as bird watching but what’s most exciting about January is that animals from the Masai Mara to the Kruger Park are giving birth. This makes January an excellent time to see not just hundreds of baby antelope and zebra but also Africa’s largest land predators – big cats, spotted hyenas and wild dogs – in action.
If you’d prefer more or less guaranteed dry weather, then head for Cape Town, basking in January’s sunshine. The rains are still several months away and with most people back at work and school, January is the perfect time to get outside and experience the best of the Cape and the Garden Route without the Christmas crowds.
1. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
January in the Serengeti National Park and two major events are happening: the ‘short rains’ are drying up, and hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra are giving birth on the grasslands. The result is some of the most dramatic game viewing you are likely to witness: the calving season attracts predators from near and far, giving you the chance to see lions, cheetahs and hyenas in primal conflict with the herds. Accommodation ranges from family-friendly lodges to honeymoon retreats and is generally very comfortable; there are also includes ‘migration camps’ – semi-permanent tented camps located on the migration route and the ideal way to immerse yourself in the experience.
Then the calving begins. Generally starting in January, the pregnant wildebeest give birth and by February some 8000 baby wildebeest are being born every day. The calving season carries on into March and is joined by other animals too. Tens of thousands of zebras and gazelles have accompanied the wildebeest on their trek and are taking advantage of safety in numbers to drop their young too.
INSIDER TIP: “Some camps offer a discounted rate in January and therefore the last week in January will safe you some money without losing out on the experience.”
Other Great months for Serengeti: December through March, July & August
2. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Located within easy reach of the Serengeti, the Tarangire National Park is one of Tanzania’s most diverse conservation areas and home to a large elephant population as well as a bird list of around 550 different species – a truly staggering total. Usually visited in the dry season, a January visit to Tarangire sees the park at its most verdant and its baobab trees at their most magnificent. And although there may not be the big dry-season concentrations of animals at water, there is still plenty of wildlife around including tree-climbing lions and the long-necked gerenuk antelope.
Safari accommodation is located in the park as well as in adjoining private concessions where you’ll have the opportunity to go on spot-lit night drives and guided walks too.
INSIDER TIP: “Ask us about great value long-stay rates & honeymoon specials.”
Other Great months for Tarangire: June through October for dry season game viewing.
3. Gorilla Trekking, Uganda & Rwanda
The clouds are clearing up over Africa’s mountain rainforests as January welcomes a short respite in the rains before they return with full force in March. The drier, warmer and less humid conditions make gorilla trekking much easier and create better photographic conditions when you do encounter them.
You’ll need to choose between Uganda and Rwanda for your gorilla trek. Both destinations record a 90% success rate at finding the gorillas on a daily basis; Rwanda is known for a shorter travel time to the forests plus easier trekking but Uganda has a cheaper trekking permit and more entry-level accommodation. Other activities at trekking lodges include nature walks, bird watching and community visits with local guides.
INSIDER TIP: “Rwanda’s gorilla trekking experience is generally easier than Uganda’s & is preferred by older or less fit travellers.”
Other Great months for Gorilla Trekking: December & February, June through September.
4. Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Mount Kilimanjaro lies in Tanzania but the best views of it are from Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, especially when an obliging herd of elephants wanders into the frame. Amboseli is a small reserve and popular in the dusty dry season but a January visit gives you the opportunity to see Africa’s classic animals – lions, cheetah, buffalo and giraffe – in a beautiful green landscape with few other visitors.
January is a hot month in Amboseli but not excessively, and there is a chance of some rain but this is shoulder-season and you’ll get better deals on accommodation rates.
INSIDER TIP: “Ask us about Amboseli’s stay-pay deals & honeymoon specials.”
Other Great months for Amboseli: February & then June through October for the dry season.
5. Masai Mara, Kenya
The great wildebeest herds are in Tanzania’s Serengeti at this time of year but that’s no reason to avoid the Masai Mara in January. The grasslands have had time to recover after the relentless grazing of the wildebeest and the Masai Mara now echoes to the sounds of the calving season.
It’s a great time to see not just endearing young antelope but also the predators that are inevitably drawn to them: cheetahs, lions, leopards, jackals and hyenas. Add the Masai Mara’s resident wildlife such elephants, buffalo and giraffe into the mix and you have all the ingredients of an excellent safari.
INSIDER TIP: “Stay at a private concession in the Masai Mara for game viewing exclusivity; if you are a diver then this is the best time for whale shark sightings on the coast.”
Other Great months for Masai Mara: December, February & March for general wildlife; June through October for the wildebeest migration.
6. Cape Town & Garden Route, South Africa
This is the middle of the Cape’s hot, dry summer season and both Cape Town and the Garden Route are arguably at their best. The big Christmas crowds return home after the first week of the month and popular local attractions such as Cape Point and Table Mountain become a lot easier and more pleasant to experience.
The region’s roads are much less busy too, making it a good time to hire a car and continue the Cape experience, whether it’s a weekend in the Winelands or a self-drive adventure on the Garden Route, a series of beaches and sleepy holiday towns strung along a scenic coastline.
INSIDER TIP: “It’s a great month to be outdoors in Cape Town: go on hikes, nature tours & birding trips with an expert local guide: the Fynbos Guy.”
Other Great months for Cape Town & Garden Route: December, February & March for summer; April & May for cooler weather; August, September & October for whales & flowers.
7. Kruger Park & Sabi Sands, South Africa
Green Season safaris are becoming more and more popular: true, there is the chance of rain but for many safari travellers, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. This is the calving season in the Kruger Park and one of the best times to see predator/prey interaction as well as a great time for bird watching. For photographers, the light is softer with less dust and glare, and the landscape has deeper layers of colour. And although you may not get the dry-season concentrations of animals at water, there is still plenty of wildlife to see in January.
The Kruger Park has the size and stature but for a safari with a greater guarantee of seeing the Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard), we’d recommend one of the Kruger’s private Sabi Sands Reserves.
INSIDER TIP: “This is shoulder season – ask us about pay-stay specials for a great value safari.”
Other Great months for Kruger & Sabi Sands: November & December; June through October for the dry season.