Where should I go on safari, and when? What wildlife do I most want to encounter? These are just some of the questions to ask when planning a safari. While there’s lots to see and do in whatever month and destination you decide on, our safari specialists have drawn upon their own experiences to share their safari highlights month-by-month.
You might want to plan your trip around witnessing the Great Migration and its suspense-filled river crossings in Tanzania’s Serengeti. Or pinpoint the best months for seeing big cats. Or even couple a safari in Zimbabwe with observing Victoria Falls in full flow.
Where to go and what to do on safari by month
January: Eastern Cape safari and the Garden Route, South Africa
South Africa's Eastern Cape region experiences dry summers, making game viewing easier as animals congregate around crucial waterholes. Private game reserves in this area are malaria-free and home to some of the best family-friendly lodges in the country. January is also a good time to combine an Eastern Cape safari with a drive along the Garden Route, where outdoor activities range from forest hikes to kayaking along the Storms River.
'The Eastern Cape is great for a first-time safari. I’ve experienced numerous rare sightings in this region, such as seeing a female black rhino and her calf. Often quite unpredictable and wary, this female was very relaxed and came right up to our vehicle with her youngster in tow.' — Safari specialist Chris
- Itinerary idea: Discover South Africa
February: Wild dog hunts and wildebeest calving in Tanzania
There’s lots to see across Tanzania in February, and the landscape is fertile and green following the rains. In the south, you have a good chance of encountering packs of wild dog out hunting in Selous Game Reserve. Their young will be old enough to join in, working together to track down and catch unsuspecting prey.
February’s also wildebeest calving season in the southern Serengeti. Following the rains, huge herds arrive to graze on the nutrient-rich plains and birth their young as part of their Great Migration. Their presence draws in big cats, so you may see a hunt in action.
‘I love this time of year. The bush is transformed by the early rains, and the post-storm smells add another dimension to your bush experience. Seeing the hordes of wildebeest is a spectacle that moves even the most seasoned safari enthusiast.’ — Safari specialist Dickie
- Itinerary idea: Classic Tanzania: Safari and beach
March: Migrating zebra in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana
The continent’s longest migration is also one of the least known. Each year, thousands of zebra migrate more than 500 km (300 miles) across Botswana in search of the most abundant food and water.
During the dry season, between April and November, the herds graze in the Okavango Delta. By the end of November, rainfall in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park draws them south. Here, they breed and calve among the lush Makgadikgadi grasslands and water-filled pans.
Visiting the park in March, you’ll be able to see thousands of zebra and their young.
‘Knowing that relatively few people witness this migration makes it all the more special. It’s particularly interesting to watch the zebra interacting with each other — if one feels the need to scarper, the others blindly follow, including the foals.’ — Safari specialist Danielle
- Itinerary idea: Botswana's salt pans safari
April: Big cats in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park borders Namibia in South Africa’s northwest. Being in the Kalahari Desert region, the park experiences extremely high temperatures of over 45C (113F) during the summer (November to March). But, come April, conditions are more comfortable — especially at night.
As temperatures cool, wildlife becomes a lot more active, making for easier and more exciting game viewings.
‘The Kgalagadi, with its expansive orange dunes, is one of the real wilderness areas in South Africa. You’ll see far fewer visitors here than in the country’s other parks and reserves. The park’s particularly known for its big cat sightings, including rare black-maned lion. You can also encounter smaller cat species such as the elusive African wildcat, which are best seen at night.’ — Safari specialist Chris
May: Big game spotting in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Life’s good in the Kruger in May. Temperatures cool and humidity falls considerably, making it more comfortable for safari-goers and wildlife alike. Grasses die back a little to reveal more wildlife, and rivers and waterholes become important water sources, drawing in big cats, zebra and families of elephant. The ecosystem is yet to feel the harsh effects of the dry season, so you’ll see animals in peak health.
‘Leopard sightings are particularly good at this time. The slightly cooler temperatures mean you’re more likely to find them enjoying a kill up in the trees, rather than lying almost invisible in the grass below. I once watched as a leopard hoisted a freshly killed impala up a nearby tree for safekeeping. It seemed to be defying gravity, dragging the animal up using only its teeth.’ — Safari specialist Andrew
- Itinerary idea: Cape Town, Kruger and Victoria Falls
June: Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
June is one of the best months for seeing Victoria Falls in full flow. Wander along the clifftop walking trails to hear the roaring water and feel its spray. Or, take to the skies in a helicopter, hovering over the rising mist.
Afterwards, enjoy a safari in Hwange National Park. It’s the dry season, so elephant herds and other wildlife are easy to spot gathering around waterholes. Some camps are set beside their own waterholes, so you can watch animals come and go from the comfort of your tent.
‘I love visiting Zimbabwe in June as you get the best of both worlds. You can feel the power of Victoria Falls in full force. Meanwhile, in Hwange I was overwhelmed by the number of elephants I encountered, from tiny calves to large, domineering bulls.’ — Safari specialist Danielle
- Itinerary idea: Wildlife and water: Hwange and Victoria Falls safari
July: Boat trips and light aircraft flights in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
By July, floodwaters from Angola’s highlands will have flowed into the rivers and channels of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The result is a landscape of swirling waterways that glisten in the sun, fringed by rushes and reeds to which bee-eaters and pied kingfishers cling.
Take boat or mokoro (traditional canoe) trips through the delta. You might see hippo sinking lazily beneath the water, crocodiles basking on the banks, and a wide range of birdlife. But, one of the best ways to really appreciate the landscape is by taking to the air.
‘In most cases during your Botswana safari, you’ll transfer between camps and lodges by light aircraft. I’ll never forget that first light aircraft flight over the floodplains, which revealed the Okavango’s true size and beauty. Look down and you can often spot herds of elephant and giraffe in the waterholes below.’ — Safari specialist Alex
- Itinerary idea: Botswana's Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls safari
August: Great Migration river crossings in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Great Migration of two million wildebeest and zebra occurs year-round as the animals move between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara, following the rains. The most dramatic part of the journey happens in August, when herds are forced to cross the Mara River in the northern Serengeti.
Crocodiles lurk in the water ready to pounce, and as more and more animals gather on the banks you can almost feel their trepidation. The suspense builds with every moment, until one brave wildebeest plucks up the courage to enter the water and the rest follow in a frantic scramble.
‘While having lunch with my guide at Olakira Mobile Camp, just a short distance from the Mara River, we suddenly saw zebra on the move. Abandoning our plates, we sped toward the river. I could see crocodile eyes piercing the water’s surface. Eventually there was a commotion and the zebra splashed their way over to the other side, though not all of them made it.’ — Safari specialist Erin
- Itinerary idea: Classic northern Tanzania safari
September: Leopard and southern carmine bee-eaters in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
September in Zambia’s South Luangwa sees hot, dry conditions draw predators and prey alike to dwindling water sources. It’s also the start of the breeding season for southern carmine bee-eaters, with large flocks arriving into the park. You can watch them build their nests in riverbanks, their pink, red, orange and turquoise plumage making for some excellent photography opportunities.
The park is also good for seeing leopard, particularly during night drives when they’re at their most active.
'On one of my evening game drives, we spent several hours tracking a young male leopard as he single-mindedly followed a herd of impala. I was transfixed as I watched him walk and then stop for a while as he waited for the herd — which had sensed his presence — to calm down. Then came the ambush...’ — Safari specialist Anna
- Itinerary idea: South Luangwa safari
October: Cheetah and rhino in Etosha National Park, Namibia
As Namibia reaches the very end of its dry winter season in October, vegetation and water is incredibly scarce. This makes it easier for you to locate the animals, which congregate around permanent waterholes in the country’s game parks.
It’s the best time of year for seeing rarer wildlife such as cheetah and rhino — endangered throughout Namibia and Africa generally.
‘When I visited Namibia in October, I loved spending time sitting around the floodlit waterhole outside Okaukuejo Rest Camp in Etosha. One evening, I counted no less than 13 black rhino drinking from the waterhole at the same time. They were joined by lion, jackal, zebra, giraffe and a large herd of elephant.’ — Safari specialist Philippa
- Itinerary idea: Namibia's wildlife highlights self-drive safari
November: Photography in Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
November is green season in Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains National Park, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. It’s worth risking sporadic showers for the clear air, verdant forest and abundant birdlife. What’s more, there are far fewer visitors and you’ll find better value for money.
For photographers, Lake Tanganyika puts on a good show come November. Densely forested mountains meet the lake’s soft, white-sand shores, mist rises from the water in the early morning, and the hills of the Congo loom in the distance.
‘I spent 28 days kayaking the length of Lake Tanganyika and never tired of the scenery. You can swim in the lake’s pristine water. Or, hike into the mountains with a guide to see the park’s chimpanzees — they’re more likely to be found on the lower slopes at this time of year, so treks are less demanding.’ — Safari specialist Dickie
- Itinerary idea: Chimpanzees of western Tanzania
December: Elephant herds and greenery in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Following the short rains in November, the grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara become greener, and elephant herds return to the area. While out on game drives, you’ll see fewer visitors than at other times of year, making for more intimate wildlife viewings.
‘I love visiting the Masai Mara outside the busier months. You often have the wildlife all to yourself and it feels a lot wilder, yet calmer. One of the best ways to take in the park is from a hot air balloon. Ascending at daybreak, you’ll see animals grazing in the morning light as the landscape stretches out below.’ — Safari specialist Arista