Think of Africa and many think of dry savannah, open plains and grasslands. However, this is not the case all year round. Knowing what season you’re travelling in and what this means is essential to planning your trip as it can drastically change your experience depending on your needs or preferences.
This article is designed to lay out some of each season’s advantages and disadvantages in order to help you make the best decision for you and your safari in Africa.
Countries across Africa enjoy two distinct and clear seasons – the peak dry season and the off-peak green season (also known as the rainy season). Simply put, the dry season is so called due to the distinct lack of rain, the receding rivers and drying waterholes. In comparison, the green season sees the arrival of heavy rains and storms and as such, rivers and waterholes fill and the landscape bursts into vibrant greens. When these seasons occur varies from place to place. Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe) generally sees green season between the months of November through to late March, whereas in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) there are actually two green seasons. The first with longer rains takes place between April and May with a second shorter season in November as well.
But what does the rain – or lack of rain, mean for your safari?
The lack of rain during the drier months means that vegetations isn’t as thick and animals tend to congregate around the remaining water sources. This can make animals easier to track down and see, making sightings more consistent. Shorter days and cooler temperatures also mean incredible nocturnal species such as aardvarks and genets become active earlier. Predators such as lions and leopards are also typically more active during this time as well. That being said, many species will give birth during the rainy months meaning it is a great time for seeing young and new-born animals. The increase of food during this time can also increase your chances of seeing some incredible predator sightings and behaviours.
Whilst bird sightings are good all year round, if you are a bird lover it is well worth considering a safari in green season. The rains also see the return of many migratory bird species making it a perfect time for bird-watching and bird photography. Get your binoculars ready and you might be able to check off some new species!
Arguably, if you are particularly interested in landscape photography then green season will provide you with some fantastic opportunities. Rains mean storms which leads to dramatic skies, epic sunsets and incredible colour and vibrancy in the bush. Wildlife photographic opportunities are also incredible as your lush surroundings will help your subjects stand out from their picturesque environment. The lack of rain during the dry season will dry out the landscape dramatically meaning that wildlife is often more camouflaged, however easier to photograph when seen.
Weather and Temperature
This is a big one. Dry season is considerably cooler and less humid that green season with temperatures unlikely to get higher than 28°c in the day and mornings and evenings are typically cold enough to warrant a jacket. These cooler temperatures also mean that night skies are clear and crisp which can provide some incredible astrophotography opportunities – perfect if you also want to explore other photographic styles in addition to wildlife. However, days are shorter during the dry months meaning that the coveted golden hour can feel more like the golden 15 minutes! In addition to a longer golden hour during the green season, the increased number of daylight hours are also preferable to some people who are not as keen on night drives or photographing wildlife in low light.
However, perhaps the biggest consideration for green season is the weather which is very unpredictable during this time. Rain arrives quickly and is often very heavy. This can lead to cancelled game drives and slippery roads – however, the experience of getting “stuck” for a short time can actually be quite fun and I’ve met many guests who have left saying it was one of their highlights! The high temperatures also bring the insects which is fantastic for macrophotography but also brings with it, yep you guessed it – mosquitos. If you are prone to mosquito bites or react badly to them you may want to consider the dry season when insects numbers are much lower.
Due to the perceived ease of finding animals in the drier months, this season is viewed as peak time and as such there are larger numbers of visitors to the parks during this time compared with the green season months. This can make places feel a little more crowded and less exclusive. Additionally whilst you might find more wildlife, time spent at these sightings are often more restricted than during green season as there are so many more tourists vying for time at each location.
Ultimately though, there is no “bad” time to go on safari. As you can see there are highlights and considerations for both seasons. Some may not be much of a concern for you, others may be. But by understanding the potential impact of them, you will be in a more informed position to choose the right safari for you. If you would like to discuss these more or have any additional questions please do not hesitate to comment below or get in touch with us!
Photographs and Text by Sophie Brown