Best Time to Avoid the Crowds on Safari
Sweeping plains teeming with incredible wildlife and adorned with luxurious lodges and camps, Africa’s charm is best enjoyed exclusively and intimately. An African safari epitomises the allure of a romantic trip all on your own, searching the plains with only your guide and the elusive wildlife for company.
To enjoy a secluded safari, though, you’ll need to plan carefully. Whether you’re dreaming up your first safari, or you’ve become a veteran in game viewing, most people know the perceived best times to visit Africa. In Kenya and Tanzania, it’s during the wildebeest migration, for South Africa it’s the warm summer days spent exploring the Winelands and Garden Route, and for Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, it’s the barren months where hundreds of wildlife hustle by the only permanent sources of water.
Nevertheless, Africa is very busy during these times. Suddenly, the enticement of being in the wild on your own is dashed by the three other vehicles trying to see the majestic lions drinking by the waterhole.
That’s why here at Africa Sky, we love travelling to Africa during the low-seasons. Lower prices, a great way to avoid the crowds, and still plenty of amazing wildlife encounters…why wouldn’t you travel during these times? Each country has its own phenomenal reason why you should consider journeying to the African wilderness during the off-peak months.
As gruff lions, magnificent elephants and elegant giraffe congregate by the limited sources of water, the dry season in Botswana is typically considered best for wildlife viewing. However, there’s no doubt you’ll see another vehicle or two bundled around the same waterhole, too. Instead, we want to introduce you to Botswana during the rainy months – December through to March. As the rain falls, the landscapes transform into a stunning scene of vibrant grasslands and verdant plains, painting a brilliant backdrop for your wildlife photos.
The wildlife viewing is still phenomenal during this time, and you’ll have less competition for the best seat in the house. The loud mating calls and delicate songs sung by hundreds of gorgeous migratory birds will bring your eyeline up to the luscious trees, whilst the call of a mother lion to its mischievous cubs will bring you back down to earth. Photographers will rejoice at the verdant scenery too, as never-ending unfruitful plains are swapped with impossibly colourful backdrops of tropical flora and thick forest. A photo of a blue-headed sunbird set against an emerald green backdrop should be on every budding wildlife photographer’s list.
Kenya and Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania boast two off-peak seasons, with long rains from March to June and short rains from October to December. First of all, don’t be put off by the thought of rain – it’s patchy here rather than a continuous downfall, and as the rain clears and the day comes to an end, you’ll be greeted with the most incredible sunsets.
If the thought of wildlife spotting in the rain still puts you off, we’d suggest travelling to these countries during the shoulder seasons – which fall at the start and the end of the rains. Nestled between the low and peak seasons, the prices are still lower and the crowds still dispersed, but the landscapes are either barren and awaiting the rain, or slowly drying out after the rains have finished. In fact, many safari veterans claim that the shoulder seasons are best for game viewing – and we agree whole heartedly. With migratory birds still singing in the trees, and the elusive mammals slowly emerging from their hideouts to find the decreasing sources of water, the shoulder seasons will grace travellers with plenty of amazing views.
Travel to the already beautiful Lake Nakuru during the rainy season and you’ll see that the sparkling waters are awash with the colourful, vibrant feathers of over 400 migratory birds. Avid twitchers will relish this time of the year. You may even spot the last trails of the annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania and southern Kenya, giving you a chance to see this amazing natural phenomenon with far less crowds.
Maybe it’s the chill in the air that appears in the evenings and early mornings, but really, we see no reason why game drives from May to July are burdened with less crowds. Whilst the Garden Route is undeniably more verdant in the spring, if you’re heading to South Africa for the wildlife and epic game drives, you’re best coming whilst the landscapes are barren and the animals find it harder to hide as they assemble near the only water sources. Let’s not forget about the pesky mosquitos too – they’re far and few between during these months.
The Winelands can get unbearably busy during peak-season, but come during low-season and you’ll be able to enjoy a quiet, leisurely tour around the still luscious vineyards. If you're hoping for a trip to South Africa in the summertime, make your way to beautiful Cape Town in August - the town is wonderfully quiet, with more penguins than people on Boulders Beach, and barely anyone in sight as you drink in the views from Table Mountain. Also, to us, nothing is more indulgent than a crisp walk along the coast, before bundling into a cosy hotel and raising a glass of decadent wine.
The Victoria Falls can become no more than a small trickle in the height of Zimbabwe’s low season. But time it right, and you’ll still be graced with astonishing views of the cascading waterfall – and with less spray blocking your view. Not to mention a lack of crowds ambling along the edge.
Meanwhile, birding enthusiasts will relish a Zimbabwean adventure during the low-season months of November to March. Venture to Hwange National Park from January and you’ll be astonished by the myriad of beautiful birds swooping between the trees and washing by the water’s edge. As you wander through the luscious plains you’ll be treated to wonderful bird song and mating calls, all coming from the gorgeous migratory birds that are extra vibrant thanks to their breeding plumage. Birthing season is prevalent during this time, so you may even see the stumble of a gangly giraffe calf walking for the first time, or a bundle of fluffy lion cubs playing by their protective mother, too. If you’re worrying about the rain, there’s no need – it’s usually only rainy for a very short period in the afternoon.
During December through to March, Zambia experiences its rainy season. Many areas in the country are closed during this time due to the flooding – including Lower Zambezi and North Luangwa National Park – but persevere and you’ll find a world full of life which you can enjoy pretty much on your own.
Given that much of Zambia is closed during the wetter months, it’s the last place on people’s minds when they consider journeying to Africa at this time of year. This can certainly work in your favour if an exclusive safari experience tickles your fancy. Costs are very low, and though perhaps game isn’t so abundant at this time, avid bird watchers will be pleasantly surprised by the flurry of multicoloured feathers flying above them. In fact, this is a great time for niche wildlife sightings, including the fruit bat migration that takes place in Kasanka each November, and Africa’s second greatest wildebeest migration congregating to the Luiwa Plains through November and December.
Zambia’s rainy months are better known as the emerald season, and you’ll soon see why. Our jaws dropped when we saw Zambia’s plains bloom into scenes of bright greenery and colourful flora. The flooded plains are adorned with boats that float along the landscapes and offer an entirely new view of Zambia’s natural splendour.