When is the best time to go on safari?

(Refer also to “Seasons of the Year”, above)

There is no definite answer to this frequently posed question, so read on, but the ‘classic’ time to go on safari in Southern Africa is in the dry season, June to October, when game is concentrated in the vicinity of water. With the onset of the rains (any time from early November to the beginning of December, potentially lasting through till the end of March/early April) and the consequent filling up of back-country pans, many animals, freed from their dependence on limited dry season water, disperse over wide areas. Consequently it is harder to find them then. But good game viewing may still be enjoyed in the rainy season when the “bush”, now at its loveliest, is transformed from its usual dry khaki-grey aspect into a verdant wonderland in which there is a profusion of bird life, a time when the renewed vegetation ushers in a time of plenty for all creatures.

The best time of the year to see birds (when the number of bird species is at its highest with migratory species having arrived to join Botswana’s resident species) is late November to March. Over 150 different species may be recorded in a day at this time. But remember: birding in the dry months can still be good as many small birds, having completed their breeding during the rains, form multi-species: bird parties” which forage together.
Africa Safaris - Botswana - Wildlife Safaris & Cultural Tours
Botswana, presently with a population of around 1.8 million inhabitants, gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Its capital city is Gaborone, in the southeast of the country. English is the official language and Setswana is the national language of the country. Botswana prides itself on its democratic traditions and its robust economy (largely generated by its huge diamond mining industry)

Botswana is a landlocked country slightly larger than France, situated in the center of Southern Africa.

Its neighbors are South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is a generally flat country with an average elevation of about 1000 meters (around 3000 feet) Most of the country lies north of the tropic of Capricorn.

Botswana has a summer (November to April) rainfall pattern, with the amount of rain varying considerably from year to year. Throughout the country the evaporation rate (annually around 2000mm from an open water surface) exceed the amount of rainfall. Rainfall is highest in the northeast (600 -675mm per annum) and is least in the southwest (150 -200mm per annum).
The table below shows the mean maximum and minimum temperatures in four locations in Botswana.

28/12° C
82/54° F

22/02° C
72/36° F

32/16° C
90/61° F

32/18° C
90/64° F




28/14° C
82/57° F

24/05° C
75/41° F

32/18° C
90/64° F

31/18° C
88/64° F

30/15° C
86/59° F

26/06° C
79/43° F

34/20° C
93/68° F

30/19° C
86/66° F

30/15° C
86/59° F

25/08° C
77/46° F

33/19° C
91/66° F

30/19° C
86/66° F
These figures represent averages and it should be noted that the maximum and the minimum temperatures recorded on certain days can be significantly different. For example, it may freeze at night in the Kalahari winter and at 14h 00 in the same area in October or November the temperature may soar to over 40° C (104° F) There may be a very big difference between daily maximum and minimum temperatures: in August, e.g. the temperature may be around freezing at 05h00 and over 30° C in the early afternoon.

The year in Botswana may be divided into three seasons. These are indicated below:

1. May to August: cool to cold. Dry.

Clear skies and sunny weather virtually guaranteed. Nights (especially June to mid August) may be cold, even occasionally freezing. Early mornings cool to cold, but temperatures from 09h00 to late afternoon mild and pleasant. You will need warm clothing (or a blanket) for the early morning game drive in an open 4 x 4 vehicle and possibly for the evening too, as the temperatures drops quickly at sunset. Mid to late morning game drives may be generally more productive than the early drives as many animals are more active then at this time of the year. But you will still have a better chance of seeing cats in the early morning.

Generally this is the “low” season for the birds as most migrants are absent, but the birding is still quite good and the first intra-African migratory bird species (Yellow-billed and Black Kites and Wahlberg’s Eagles) arrive late August. At this time of the year, it should be noted: you can still see a lot more species of birds than you would expect to see at the peak birding time of the year in Europe or North America.
2. September to October: Hot and dry.

The hot dry season can extend to mid, even late Nov. in some drier years. Temperatures can soar to over 40° C in the middle of the day and early afternoon, dropping to around 30° C at night. This is the time of the year you can expect to see the greatest concentration of game animals as they concentrate around water in the Moremi or Chobe and other areas. Whilst it can certainly be hot at this time of the year, it should be borne in mind that DRY heat is much more tolerable than humid heat. Drink plenty of liquids to keep from dehydrating.

Even though early morning and late afternoon game drives are the norm, game drives in the middle of the day can also be productive, especially along the Chobe River when spectacular herds of elephants as well as roan and sable antelopes and other game species can be seen.

Many areas, especially in the Chobe National Park and parts of Moremi, look desolate and threadbare and food resources for game animals are depleted.

There is a small chance of light rain during this period, but this very rarely interferes with game drives and other safari activities.

A number of African and Eurasian migratory birds arrive to swell the ranks of resident species. Many bird species breed at this time.
3. November to April: Hot and Wet.

The onset of the rains brings the temperatures a few degrees, but it can still be hot with daytime temperatures in the high 30s. Humidity rises, especially during December to February, the months of greatest rainfall, but never reaches the uncomfortable high humidity of tropical rainforest areas. Drought, however, are common in Botswana, so it may not cool down much at this time. By the end of March the heat has diminished somewhat and April may be relatively mild with game species starting to concentrate again around perennial water as pans start to dry out. (A few large pans in a year of abundant rain hold water until September or even October)

Within a couple of weeks of the first good rains (any time from November to December) the desperately dry, dusty and khaki-grey bush is transformed into a verdant wonderland. In a good rainy season the pans fill up by December allowing game species to roam away from permanent dry season water, the vicinity of which is often overgrazed/over browsed. Game disperses at this time and whilst there is always wildlife to be seen in Mortem Game Reserve and Choke National park, game concentrations are generally reduced. Some nature enthusiasts find this season the most attractive time of the year, enjoying the vitality of the rejuvenated bush. Bird life is at its peak, especially in the period late November to March. By early December all migratory species have arrived in Botswana. In prime birding areas, such as the northern Choke National Park/Kansan area, keen, energetic and experienced birders can record around 300 species in three or four days.

The wet roads in this season present 4 x 4 driving challenges in certain places, especially in “black cotton” soil.

There is an explosion of insect’s life following rain, but insects are rarely the nuisance that many people imagine them to be, and this need not deter travelers. Frogs, too, abound at this time, and are particularly vocal following a heavy downpour.
What to bring on safari and general precautions/tips

These are general recommendations, not exhaustive lists.

What to bring:

-binoculars, preferably one pair person. This is important for viewing mammals, essential for bird watching.
-enough memory cards / film / video cassettes and spare batteries for your camera, and battery charger for your
-hats, sun creams for sensitive skins
-warm as well as light clothes in the cool months (May to August when midday temperatures may be quite warm
and night temperatures cold to freezing) and light clothing for the other months. Even in summer it is a good
idea to bring at least one warm jersey or jacket as occasionally there are sudden drops in temperature
caused by unusual weather conditions.
-raincoats (from November to April)
-comfortable footwear ( boots for walking and sandals/flip flops for game drives)
-basic medicines, including malaria prophylactics.
-mammal and bird reference books covering the region traversed
-a good torch/flashlight and spare batteries.

Occurs in the Game Reserves and National Parks (and surrounding areas) of northern Botswana. Precautions to be taken against contracting malaria include taking appropriate prophylactics (consult your physician), wearing long sleeved shirts and long trousers in the hours of darkness when the mosquitoes are active, spraying oneself with mosquito repellant, sleeping  under a mosquito net or in a tent that has mosquito-gauze windows. One is at greatest risk in populated areas (towns and villages)

With the above basic precautions adopted, the chances of contracting malaria are slight, so tourists should not be anxious about this illness to the extent that it spoils their holiday. Thousand of tourists visit Botswana at all seasons without contracting malaria. Residents in malaria areas often do not take prophylactics as the long term effects of regular use of these drugs is unknown. For short term visitors, this is not a consideration and the precautions mentioned above are advised.

-wear, “neutral” or bush colors if on a guided walk: khaki, olive-green, even grey and brown. Camouflage might
be considered a little excessive… The color of what you wear on your game drives in vehicles or in boat or
gug-out canoe are not so important. 100% cotton is the best material.
-Recognize that game drives can be productive any time of the day, not just during the “classic” times of early
morning and late afternoon. The preferential time to look for big cats and wild dogs may be early in the
morning and elephants are usually found in the afternoons and evenings, but even the midday period can
reveal plenty of game. Various antelopes, zebras and elephants come to water to drink in the heat of the
day and along the Chobe River sable and roan can frequently be seen in the dry months coming to drink
from midday to mid afternoon. In winter you often see more morning game between 09h00 and 12h00 than
between o6h00 and 09h00: like you, many animals prefer not to be active in the cold of early morning.
-Give right of way to elephant herds or a lone bull walking towards you, especially when in “musth” (heightened
breeding condition - testosterone levels rise to six times the usual level, they dribble a urine continuously
with the penis sheathed, staining the penis sheath and the inside of the back legs dark green, and
generating a strong, sharp odour)
-Bear in mind that most animals allow vehicles to approach them much closer than people on foot. If you get out
of your vehicle or walk towards animals they become more nervous- with unpredictable results. It is illegal
to get out of your vehicle in National Parks and Game Reserves, except in designated areas.
-If you have sensitive tummy, check with someone if they know whether or not tap water is potable in a public
campsite, lodge or commercial camp. In general it is. If not, there should be at least in privately managed
establishments, a bathroom sign indicating this, or you will be so advised during your host/hostess
introductory briefing.
-Pay some attention to aspects of wildlife other than animals (like Botswana’s abundant birdlife). This adds
another dimension and interest to your safari experience, especially when there is little big game around.
There are many interesting tress in the bush too...
-approach dangerous animals too closely (even those seemingly unconcerned by your proximity). Give them
room to maneuver. Rule of thumb: if an animal alters its behavior significantly because of your presence,
you are too close!
-Speak too loudly or shout in the bush in the presence of animals. You don’t have to be quite like mice, but loud
voices can make animal’s nervous, move away quickly or, in the case of potentially dangerous animals,
even aggressive.
-Swim in the waters of the Okavango River and Linyanti/Chobe/Zambezi systems or pans.
-Discard cigarette stubs or anything for that matter, from a vehicle.
-Make seeing lions or any specific animal, the sole or even main criterion of safari success or satisfaction. You
could end up seriously frustrated if you do. Better to have an open mind and be interested in all or most of
the creatures you see. Naturalists types, for example, may gain more enjoyment from observing a band of
Dwarf Mongooses (the regions smallest carnivore) interacting energetically than watching dozing lions.
Active lions have the power to excite the most experienced safari traveler, but don’t expect to see lion, or
other major predator, kills. You may be lucky enough to see one of these dramatic events, but the odds are
against it.
-Expect to see the continuously abundant game and/or action-packed wildlife scenes depicted in so many wildlife
documentaries. These have taken a long time to produce and they concentrate on the spectacular, distilling
in an hour the high points of months, or even years, of recording exciting or extraordinary behavior.
Safari experiences are a reality a little less intense than these, but are generally rewarding and, at times,
thrilling. Just be realistic in your expectations.
All rights reserved. Copyrights - Pius Tebele, Richards Randall - Bona Safari Services.