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Secret seasons on safari

The simple guide to our “secret seasons” in Africa when…

  • You’re least likely to find tourist crowds in the popular spots
  • or find a soul about in the better, more remote places
  • when game conditions are at their very best
  • when you’ll get the smartest deals and the best rates

 Secret seasons on safari

So in southern Africa,

Firstly think October, through the start of the summer rains in November into December before the festive season starts about a week before Christmas.

  • Game conditions have improved as the season has dried out; wildlife congregates at remaining water sources (be they the permanent river systems of the Luangwa or the Zambezi; the semi-permanent Okavango areas; the dry valleys of ephemeral systems like the Hoanib in Namibia).
  • The migrant birds started moving into the southern hemisphere from September and remain until the rains are finished by around April.
  • The valleys are HOT but as the rains start around mid-November the region bursts into life – fresh buds and foliage, dramatically increased insect activity and the start of the breeding season for birds and mammals of every description.
  • Dust-laden skies from the dry season bush fires have cleared with big summer storm build ups, rains and dramatic light conditions are especially good for photographers in the early mornings and evenings.
  • For safari-beach combinations the Mozambique coast is the place to do the beach bit in southern Africa.


Jeremia Mwapopi at Hoanib oasis courtesy Dana Allen

Secondly think May and June.

  • The rains are finished; the remote camps are becoming accessible and are rebuilt in preparation for the coming high season.
  • Wilderness areas are alive with abundant grazing and browsing with lots of prey-predator action as wildlife takes advantage of the seasonal bounty for the dry months ahead.

For East Africa’s annual migration,

Firstly think October and early November before the short rains start.

  • The migration has been active in the Masai Mara and northern Serengeti from about July but with cloud build-up and occasional rains the migration becomes restless in anticipation of proper rains which change the fertile southern Serengeti plains from a dry dust bowl to a rich feeding ground with abundant sweet grass in a matter of days.
  • The result is erratic crossings back and forwards, up and down the Mara River.
  • This is the most likely time that river crossings can be seen especially on the southern Tanzanian side of the border with Kenya.

Secondly think January to March before the long rains start.

  • This is when the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater areas are full of young zebra and wildebeest foals.
  • The area can become a bit more congested than we prefer to see during a “secret season” but there’re some specific spots in the broader conservation area that work especially well.
  • For safari-beach combos we favour the Kenyan coast when the East African coast line including Zanzibar is at its very best before the long rains arrive in late March.

Rob Barber on a privately guided safari in Botswana courtesy Stuart James Arnold

 Africa’s “secret seasons” in short…

First choice: think October and November for East or Southern Africa

Second choice: think May-June for Southern Africa or January to March for East Africa

….and the top spots during these prime months?

  • in Southern Africa – think Luangwa in Zambia; Mana Pools and Hwange in Zimbabwe; Victoria Falls works year round; the Okavango and Selinda areas in Botswana; the traditional spots in Namibia (Sossusvlei and Etosha) plus the remote Kaokoveld; Mozambique’s Quirimbas archipelago in October to December (not January to March despite it’s northerly location on the east coast); Cape Town is at its glorious best in January and February (prices are best in May)
  • in East Africa – think the northern Serengeti (Tanzania) in October and November; southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater plus the Kenyan Coast or Zanzibar from January to March

A word about the high season from July to September

So in either East or Southern Africa, if at all possible avoid the high season from July to September when regional and northern hemisphere summer holiday makers are travelling the most. Wildlife is good and the weather’s great but you’ll need to have booked well in advance for the best spots and you’re going to pay the highest rates. The key to high season is to book in advance.

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