When to Travel to Africa
When a continent is as vast as Africa, when is a good time to go depends greatly on your interests, preferred activities, and specific animals that you wish most to see. Some locations have year round reliable game populations, while other regions are more seasonal and migratory. Weather can also affect your experiences.
As a general guideline, winter is most preferred for safari, as the weather is mild (not rainy or humid) and the vegetation is thinner such that animals can easily be found as they search for food and waterholes. Kenya and Tanzania are home to the annual Great Migration (June-September), a time when 2 million wildebeest and zebras migrate between Masai Mara and the Serengeti. Winter can have cool nights, and you are often up early on safari when game is active.
Summer is a great time if your interests lean towards bird watching and botany. The sun in Africa is bright, especially on the equator, thus recommended items include clothing layers, broad brim hat, sunscreen, comfortable shoes (a must!), and mozzie repellent.
Here’s a quick quide to work out the best times to travel to Africa, but bear in mind it’s always a good time but some times are a little bit better than others.
|Next Best Time
|Jan – Mar
|Mid Jun – Oct
|Nov – Feb
|Apr – Oct
|Mar – May
|Sep – Nov
|Mar – Dec
|Jan – May
|Aug – Dec
|May – Nov
|Apr – Nov
Botswana • Lesotho • Malawi • Mozambique • Namibia • South Africa • Swaziland • Zambia • Zimbabwe
Southern Africa has a climate very comparable to Australia, with summer in the 20-40 C degree range and winters 10-25 degrees C. Winter nights can fall below zero in some regions, especially the mountains and highlands. The bright sun can make midday temperatures soar, thus layers of clothing are always recommended. The rainy months are summer, between November and February. Rain is usually in the form of thunder showers that last only a few hours of the day. The southwestern cape in South Africa does receive winter rain, and sometimes even a dusting of snow in Cape Town.
Uganda • Kenya • Tanzania
East Africa is equatorial, making for hot and humid conditions through most of the year. The long rainy season is in April and May, and there is a second shorter rainy time in November and December. Spring is September through November, and often a busy time due to holidays in the northern hemisphere. For climbers, September is a great time at Kilimanjaro, as is early February.
Summer here is December through March, bringing warm temperatures reaching an average of 28C high and 15C low. There are brief rain showers many days between early November and late March, while the heavier rains begin in late March. Summer has excellent game viewing in the Serengeti, as well as diving in Zanzibar.
April through June are autumn months, and a long rainy period can occur between early April and early June. The land is green and animals are plentiful at Lake Manyara, Masai Mara, and the Southern Serengeti. This is also a time of smaller crowds and sometimes better prices for safaris.
The winter months of July and August are cool and dry, with predictably good wildlife sighting, especially in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Winter does also bring crowds to East Africa, as it is again a holiday time in the northern hemisphere.
Indian Ocean Islands
Bazaruto • Madagascar • Seychelles • Zanzibar • Mauritius
The Indian Ocean Islands of Bazaruto, Mauritius, Maldives, Madagascar, Zanzibar, and Seychelles can be enjoyed any time of the year, and are a popular way to end your African travels with a short beach stay. There can be summer rains in the northern hemisphere islands of Zanzibar and Seychelles between mid-March and May. Bazaruto and Mauritius in the southern hemisphere have excellent weather from January until March.
Botswana features excellent game viewing throughout the year. It’s bird-watching season in the Okavango Delta during migration and breeding season, November-March. The best botanical season for flowering plants and lush vegetation is between December and May. Photography is enjoyed year round, but the most dramatic landscape is found during the first rains between September and February. Winter is best for game, May through September. This is because it is easier to sight animals through the thinner foliage.
High season for Botswana is between July and October. There are very limited accommodations in lodges and camps at the time, thus advance booking is essential. Shoulder season is May and June, and can also be a popular time in the parks and reserves. November through April is rainy and animals disperse. Also, roads to the Okavango Delta may become impassable in the wet season.
Lying on the equator, Kenya enjoys good weather and wildlife sighting year round. The annual wildebeest migration between Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti, occurs between June and September.
January through March is high season and comfortable for travelling. During this warm and dry time, animals can be found at seasonal waterholes and the Rift Valley Lakes. The rains come between April and June and then again between October and December. The rainy season is actually a good time to go if you wish to avoid groups of other tourists, as the animal sightings are not adversely affected.
Malawi’s dry season extends from early May into late October. This is the time when the vegetation is the least dense and wildlife easiest to spot. Birding is good year round, with the peak time in October and November. Hiking can be enjoyed any time, but is not recommended in the wet months. August and September are good times to climb the Southern Highlands mountains.
Overall, the best weather is in August, however it will be peak season, thus parks and lake resorts will be busy. January through March is the rainy season, and some roads become inaccessible. It is also very humid and wet at this time. May through July will provide the best scenery and cool temperatures.
Mozambique’s best attractions are gorgeous beaches along the Indian Ocean. Tropical beach holidays can be enjoyed with good weather year round. Popular activities include fishing and diving. The south tends to be dryer while the north is more tropical. April through September (winter) is the best time overall to visit, while fishing peaks between October and March. November and December can be hot, humid, and rainy, as well as resorts will be full with locals.
Namibia delivers game experiences and stunning scenery throughout the year. Birding is best in the summer, November-April, when the most species are found. The botanical season in Namibia is between December and May when plants are flowering. Photographers enjoy visiting in August and September when afternoon clouds set up beautiful sunsets.
High season is between July and October. There are limited accommodations available at lodges and camps, so it is very important to book well ahead. Shoulder season is May and June and can also be a time of high activity in the parks and reserves. Christmas, New Year, and April are popular among locals to visit.
South Africa is a true year round destination, with fall and winter offering the best of both worlds to visit Cape Town and the Garden Route as well as Kruger Park. South Africa has varied scenery and excellent cuisine and wines.
The northern (safari) section of South Africa (Kruger park, Gauteng, Limpopo) is best enjoyed during the winter months, May through September. The temperatures are mild, rain is slight, and the animals are easily spotted in the sparse vegetation. Summer in Kruger Park can be very hot and dusty.
Cape Town, the Eastern Cape, and the Garden Route are best visited during the summer, between October and March. Days are sunny, there is little rain, and weather is mild with cool Atlantic breezes. Winter in this region often brings cloudy days, which can obscure scenic views, especially in Cape Town.
A particularly scenic destination in South Africa is Namaqualand in the Western and Northern Cape Provinces. It features desert-terrain covered in colorful flowers, and draws thousands of visitors yearly. The best time to visit Namaqualand is between mid-August and mid-September.
The East Coast of South Africa enjoys warm waters and nearly year round swimming. Winter is mild except for the highlands.
Note; South Africa locals often take to the roads during their holiday season in the summer. Mid-December through late-January is a very busy time to travel in South Africa. Other holidays occur in April and July, when schools have long weekends to facilitate travels.
Tanzania is well known for abundant wildlife and dazzling scenery. The landscape is dominated by Mt. Kilimanjaro and the vast Serengeti plains. Tanzania boasts many parks and reserves through which the annual Great Migration occurs in a circuit. Connections are easy by both air and road.
Summer is October through March while winter is from April to September. While the migration is at peak April-June and October-December, animals truly can be seen year round. There is a long rainy season from April until June and a shorter rainy time in late November and into December. These rainy times are excellent if you wish to have few other tourists nearby. Immediately following the rains, those interested in botany will find the best vegetation.
Dry season is predictably good for wildlife sightings, as the animals use regular routes to water sources. Birding can be done year round, but is best at the height of winter during migratory season. Tanzania is home to over 1000 bird species, with Lake Manyara having 400 of its own. Mt Kilimanjaro is best climbed August-October and January-March.
The best season to visit the national parks of Zambia for their excellent game viewing is April through November, following the rainy season and up until the first rains of November and December. Few lodges are open during the rainy season, but that is an excellent time for birding.
Wildlife viewing is at its best in September and October, as animals follow predictable patterns to drink at waterholes and along riverbanks. Another good time is June through
Zimbabwe is an excellent year round destination, especially known for its game viewing and stunning scenery. The best time for birding is November through March as both the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba attract migratory birds during breeding season. For vibrant foliage colors, visit between December and May when the plants are flowering.
Zimbabwe is ideal for photographers at all times, but most dramatic between September and February, the time of the year’s first rains. Wildlife viewing is best in the winter, between May and September, due to the vegetation being more bare and animals thus easier to spot.
High season is between July and October. Zimbabwe has a limited number of potential accommodation in lodges and camps, so early booking is essential during the peak time. Shoulder season is May and June, and also can be busy in the national parks and reserves.
Note: Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border peaks in water volume in April and May following the rains, though the spray can actually diminish your views. The water levels are much lower at the end of the dry season between October and December. This is an excellent time to see the rock formation of the falls and enjoy river rafting.
The kingdom of Swaziland is a landlocked country bordered on 3 sides by South Africa and in the East by Mozambique. The country is approximately 200 km north to south and hundred and 30 km east to west, in size.
The Swazi inhabitants of Swaziland were descendants of the southern Bantu nations who migrated from Central Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Swaziland became a protectorate of the United Kingdom during the Anglo war and gained independence in 1968. The country is a member of the Southern African development community the African union and the Commonwealth of Nations the head of state is the king who appoints the Prime Minister and a small number of representatives for both chambers of Parliament. Elections are held every 5 years to determine the majority of the representatives.