Best times to go on Safari

Very broadly speaking, dry periods are better for spotting wildlife that wet periods.  This is partly because water sources are fewer, which constrains the movements of animals, and makes their whereabouts more predictable.  Animals also become easier to spot owing to the absence of foliage and cover, particularly at the tail end of the dry season.  However, dividing game viewing periods into dry season and wet season is simplistic - different seasons produce different things to see, and the bush is always a rewarding place to visit, whatever the time of year.   

Dry Season or Green Season?

Although the dry season (Apri to October) forces animals to fewer sources of water, this does not mean that the wetter times of year (high summer), the so-called green season, is necessarily a bad time of year to visit a game reserve.  You will still see animals, just not in such great numbers – the presence of foliage favours browsers (eg. Black rhino), and it’s also the time when you’re likely to see many juveniles.  The green season is also excellent for birding, and many a visitor voicing a disinterest in birds has returned raving about the spectacular birdlife they encountered!  The green season is also a time of spectacular skies, and outbursts of rain can have a welcome cooling effect, clearing the air for crystal sharp photography.  If you are interested in flora and appreciate the bush looking pretty, rather than in a brown, scrubby state, then the green season can be a good option.

Temperature

Another key factor is temperature; South Africa’s principal reserves become very hot in high summer, and this reason alone tends to make the cooler, drier months a more favourable time. In high summer (December to February), temperatures in the Kruger National park can exceed 40 degrees C, and it doesn’t get much different in other major reserves located in KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern provinces.  Staying in a camp with air-conditioning becomes a priority at this time of year.  Conversely, the winter months are normally comfortably warm during the daytime, although nights and early mornings can be very cold.  A good compromise is to go on safari in Autumn or Spring, when temperatures all round are just about right – the autumn is generally still green, whereas the early spring is normally bone dry.  

Walking Safaris

Walking safaris are best conducted in the drier seasons, particularly autumn and spring, when night-time temperatures are not too low, and arguably better in spring, when foliage is almost completely withered, and grasses are at their lowest – indeed, there’s an important safety consideration in being able to spot animals at a good distance.  Dense green foliage and tall grasses present in high summer can conceal animals, which increases the risk of unpredictable encounters at close quarters.