East Africa is the home of safari and where you can find iconic destinations such as the Masai Mara, the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar as well as some lesser-known hidden gems. In addition to thinking about the areas to visit, the accommodation you will stay in and the activities and experiences you are after, an important consideration is the time of year that you travel.
The early part of the year is a much underrated time to visit Kenya and Tanzania. Between the rainy seasons, the bush is green and warm days, fewer visitors and still excellent game viewing make this a great time to visit, particularly for visitors from the northern hemisphere looking to escape the depths of winter. Spending time on the beach following a safari is always a popular combination and is particularly good at this time of year. Seeing the huge wildebeest herds of the Serengeti migration is a major draw for many people and while at certain times of the year it can be hard to predict where they might be, in January and February they will be found grazing in vast numbers on the plains of the southern Serengeti. In a couple of weeks in February the wildebeest give birth to their calves and to see the plains filled with animals is a phenomenal sight. The predators make the most of the young bounty and witnessing hunts and kills is not uncommon.
The excellent game viewing in Kenya’s Masai Mara is enhanced around February and March by a lesser known, but nonetheless impressive, local migration which sees herds of wildebeest arrive from the Loita hills. For those keen to take on the challenge of a Kilimanjaro climb mid-January to mid-March is a one of the best times of year with low chances of rain and summit temperatures that are not too cold.
Towards the end of March the region’s main rainy season begins and continues through April and May. There are usually lots of young animals to be seen and the rain brings out colourful wildflowers and insects leading to some wonderful bird watching opportunities. Many camps close at this time of year and the rain does mean that it is not the optimum time for a safari but those who do visit will benefit from much lower numbers of visitors and lower prices. With high chances of rain during your climb, and even snow on the summit, climbing Kilimanjaro in this period can be hard going.
Moving into June the rains ease and the bush starts to dry out making this a rewarding and cost effective time to travel before the high season begins. Between July and October is the most popular time to travel being the optimum time for a safari throughout the region with the dry conditions and thinning vegetation making it easier to find and view wildlife. Many people travel to the Masai Mara in Kenya in these months as the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra tackle the perilous crossing of the Mara River and graze on the open plains. The herds can also be found in the northern part of the Serengeti National Park with a number of temporary camps relocating to this area to be close to the action. In Tanzania’s Mahale mountains the best months for chimp trekking are between August and October as they move further down the mountains following the availability of food. This is also a wonderful time for a Kilimanjaro climb as there is little chance of rain and the conditions are most conducive to getting to the summit.
November sees the start of the “short rains” with a few weeks of rainy weather, usually in the form of short afternoon downpours but this is still a great time to go on safari across much of the region. In December the rains have made the land green again and as dry and warm conditions return Kenya and Tanzania make fantastic destinations for a safari and beach holiday over the Christmas and New Year period.
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