When is the best time to go on safari? It is a question we are often asked and, while there is no one answer to suit everyone’s requirements, the general view is that throughout Southern Africa game viewing is at its peak from June to October as the dwindling water sources and thinning vegetarian of the dry season make animal sightings easier. However, the green season, when the rains fall from mid-November to March, should not be overlooked and in many ways, it is a spectacular and rewarding time to be on safari.
It is at this time that the bush is at its most productive with the parched, dusty landscapes of the dry season bursting into colour with the growth of lush grasses and flowers. The animals that have been waiting for the rains flourish on the new, nutritious growth and many species give birth at this time. Predators take full advantage of these inexperienced young animals so there are great opportunities for witnessing some exciting predator and prey interaction. In many areas, the more widespread availability of water leads to the game dispersing and while this may make some animals harder to find it does make sightings more rewarding. However, there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen and in some areas, the rains actually lead to animals congregating rather than spreading out. The green season is a wonderful time for bird watching as the already vast numbers of resident species are joined by the arrival of summer migrants and many birds are in their finest breeding plumage.
The rain tends to fall in short, heavy bursts and experiencing a spectacular African thunderstorm is quite something. The smell of distant rain approaching is one of the most evocative in Africa and the clouds build up to produce some dramatic skyscapes and stunning sunsets. While temperatures are still hot, the oppressive heat of the end of the dry season is tempered by the rains and the warmer conditions make for more pleasant early morning game drives than the chilly ones of winter. The explosion of colour and crystal clear light also make this a great time for photographers.
This time of year is actually the best time to visit the Central Kalahari in Botswana as the rains transform the desert into a carpet of grass and wildflowers which lead to concentrations of grazing animals and great sightings of the attendant predators. The Makgadigadi Pans host a zebra migration that may not be on the scale as that in East Africa but are spectacular nonetheless. Paradoxically the Okavango Delta is in flood during the dry season as most of the water that fills the waterways falls in Angola and takes time to travel here. During the wet season, therefore, the floodwaters actually recede, leaving more land open to explore on foot and by vehicle and attracting more grazers. Some camps have access to permanent water so the quintessential Delta experiences of mokoro canoe trips and boating can still be enjoyed at this time of year.
Travelling to the South Luangwa in Zambia during the green season affords the opportunity to explore the river and lagoons by boat, getting up close to hippos and crocodiles. Wild dog sightings are also very good now. Another area that deserves a visit in the southern hemisphere summer is Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe where the new grass growth on the open spaces of the Ngamo Plains leads to congregations of a variety of grazers. Namibia is predominantly a desert country so the rainfall in many parts is relatively low but nonetheless, these normally arid areas can spring into colour and rivers that are usually dry may briefly flow. In areas with scattered rainfall, the game can be found concentrated near the pockets of water and vegetation. The Victoria Falls can easily be included in a Southern Africa itinerary and it is a great year-round destination with the falls approaching their thunderous peak at the end of the green season.
So don’t let the rain put you off. Despite the great experiences that can be had at this time of year fewer people travel in the green season meaning that those who do are able to enjoy the bush, animals and birds in relative privacy. You will also be able to take advantage of the reduced rates that many camps offer, making a safari in Southern Africa more affordable. Those in the know call this time of year “The Secret Season”.
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