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 May
The best safari destinations in May are in Southern Africa, offering dry season conditions with shoulder season prices.
With most of East Africa still in the grip of the ‘long rains’, it makes good sense to go to Southern Africa for a safari in May. In this part of Africa the rainy season has almost ended and you’ll enjoy mostly clear sunny days and mild weather plus a sharp decline in the malaria risk. Safari destinations such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Kruger Park are preparing for their busiest time of year but it’s still shoulder season in May and there are many good deals around; look for packaged fly-in itineraries as well as ‘pay-stay’ deals where you pay for five nights, for example, but stay six.
May also marks the improvement of wildlife watching: vegetation thins out and animals become easier to see, especially at the shrinking number of water sources – something that Africa’s predators use to their advantage. And some Southern African destinations are arguably at their best in May: Victoria Falls is in spectacular full flow while Botswana’s Okavango Delta is beginning to flood, attracting great numbers of animals and birds.
This is not to say that East Africa is impossible to visit; May is not the wettest month for gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda and nor is it the wettest in the Masai Mara or the Serengeti where the wildebeest migration is taking place. There are good deals around for safari accommodation at this time of year and you’ll experience iconic places without the big peak season crowds. Rain is usually in the form of a brief downpour rather than cloud and rain all day. Ask us for more information.
1. Kruger Park & Sabi Sands, South Africa
South Africa’s heavyweight reserve is perfect for a safari in May; the end of the hot rainy season almost completely takes away the risk of malaria. And with peak visitor numbers still a month or two away, this is a good time to see the park without the big crowds.
The Kruger Park is classic Big 5 country (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard) and has a number of accommodation options but for a more exclusive Big 5 experience, we’d recommend the private reserves such as the Sabi Sands on the Kruger’s western border. These smaller reserves are privately managed and offer accommodation ranging from palatial villas and honeymoon hideaways to family-friendly lodges and even budget options.
INSIDER TIP: “It is still the Kruger’s shoulder season & you have time to benefit from reduced accommodation rates & ‘Pay-Stay’ deals: ask us for the current specials.”
Other Great months for Kruger Park & Sabi Sands: June through October for dry weather & peak safari season; November through January for the Green Season.
2. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe & Zambia
You’ll need to decide whether you experience Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe or Zambia but in May the view is the same from either: the magnificent mile-wide Zambezi River thundering into a deep gorge with an earthquake-like rumble and a tower of spray sometimes a thousand feet high. And impressive as it is, this is a destination that goes far beyond the waterfall: Victoria Falls is Africa’s adventure capital and although it is too early in the year for white-water rafting, you can still go on river cruises, elephant-back safaris, bungee jumps and zip line adventures.
There is bird watching, rhino-tracking and wildlife watching available in local reserves on either side of the river, and if you’d like to spread the experience across both countries, the border crossings between Zambia and Zimbabwe are generally quick and easy for tourists.
INSIDER TIP: “The scale of Victoria Falls in May is really only appreciated from the air: we recommend booking a microlight or helicopter flight for the full picture & don’t forget to ask us about accommodation deals in May.”
Other Great months for Victoria Falls: March & April for Victoria Falls in full flow; June through October for dry weather & the best time for safaris as well as white-water rafting & adventures to Devil’s Pool.
3. Chobe River, Botswana
Lying close to Victoria Falls, the Chobe River has a well-deserved reputation for elephants and other big animals, and May is when they start to return to the river. The area has been relatively quiet over summer but Botswana is drying up fast and herds of thirsty elephant and buffalo are arriving at the permanent waters of the Chobe River.
Great for views of hippos and crocodiles and also one of Africa’s birding hotspots, this is a destination best explored by both land and water whether it’s a small motor boat or larger river boat; local guides know all the best places for wildlife. The abundance of animals at the river is a magnet for predators – the Chobe River is always good for lions and hyenas but also leopards and occasionally wild dogs too.
INSIDER TIP: “Safari accommodation in peak season Botswana is generally expensive so take advantage of May’s end-of-shoulder-season packaged deals at Chobe’s top lodges.”
Other Great months for Chobe River: December & early January for the Green Season; June through August for the driest & coolest weather; September & October for hot dry weather & peak wildlife concentrations.
4. Okavango Delta & Moremi Reserve, Botswana
The arrival of floodwaters in May is always celebrated in the Okavango Delta. Pure, clear water from distant Angolan highlands refills rivers and replenishes wetlands to double the size of the delta. And this happens at the exact time that the summer rains are ending and most water sources are drying up; good news for tens of thousands of animals, ranging from elephants and buffalo to zebra and wildebeest, which are now arriving in the delta for fresh grazing and water.
The drier fringes of the Okavango Delta are usually better for wildlife watching by vehicle whereas the ‘deep delta’ lodges are the places to go for water activities and non-motorised adventures – we’d recommend a combination of the two areas for maximum diversity of wildlife and experience.
INSIDER TIP: “Ask us about a 6-night fly-in package for the Okavango Delta: you’ll get good value plus a diversity of safari experiences.”
Other Great months for Okavango Delta & Moremi Reserve: June through August for dry, cool weather plus water activities; September & October (hot & dry) for wildlife watching at water.
5. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Travellers can expect sunny days and cold nights. The start of the dry season brings perfect temperatures and is the best time for game viewing.
Hwange National Park is part of an area that is home to around a third of Africa’s elephant population and it is in May that these iconic animals begin to arrive in large numbers at waterholes. Having spent the summer months deep in impenetrable forests, the elephant herds are joined by herds of buffalo, zebra and impala – an irresistible target for Hwange’s lions and spotted hyenas. It’s also a good destination for bird watching as well as some of Africa’s rarer predators – leopard and wild dog – and impressive antelope – sable, roan and kudu.
INSIDER TIP: “There are still accommodation specials around in May: ask us about ‘Pay 5 Nights, Stay 6’ deals & divide your time between different camps for maximum reward.”
Other Great months for Hwange National Park: June through August for peak safari season & dry, mild weather; September & October for hot & dry weather & animals at water; December & early January for the Green Season.
6. Kalahari, Botswana
Botswana’s Kalahari always surprises first-time visitors: this is a landscape of rolling grasslands and scattered woodland, punctuated by ephemeral rivers and waterholes. It’s also home to a great diversity of animals, combining desert specialists such as springbok, brown hyena and the rapier-horned gemsbok antelope with familiar species such as impala, wildebeest and zebra. The Kalahari is good for predators too – lion, cheetah and leopard as well as canines like jackals and wild dogs – and there’s a different set of birds to tick off as well.
Choose from a variety of lodges both in and next to wildlife reserves for game drives and guided walks, and if you have young children, ask us about which lodges offer a ‘meet-the-meerkats’ experience – your kids will never forget it!
INSIDER TIP: “It’s still early in the safari season & there are special packages & combo deals available for Kalahari tours & accommodation – ask us for the latest specials.”
Other Great months for the Kalahari: December & January (the wetter Green Season); June through August for the mild dry season; September & October for the hot dry season.
7. Sossusvlei & Skeleton Coast, Namibia
This is a time to see Namibia’s iconic imagery without crowds of tours buses and high season prices, and there’s no greater imagery than the Sossusvlei dunes. Reaching heights of over 300 metres (1000 feet), these silent tsunamis of sand turn colour at dawn and dusk, progressing through purples, reds and oranges as the light grows or fades.
There’s great imagery on the Skeleton Coast too, so-named for the ghostly shipwrecks that litter Namibia’s wild Atlantic coast. Put both destinations on an easy fly-in itinerary and stay at lodges that offer game drives and walks as well as sight-seeing – there’s a surprising wealth of wildlife to be discovered.
INSIDER TIP: “Take advantage of shoulder season rates & book a fly-in Namibia safari package – you’ll save both money & time.”
Other Great months for Namibia: June to October – it’s mostly mild & dry at this time but very hot in September & October.