The Best Time to Travel to Africa

November 3, 2009  By: Africa Adventure Consultants

What is the best time to travel to Africa? There’s not one answer considering the sheer size of the continent and the varied climates within each region. Read on for details on when and where to travel in Africa.

East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda
The nations making up the region of East Africa generally have similar weather patterns, with a few micro-climatic variations due to elevation and proximity to the coast. In recent years, global warming does seem to be affecting East Africa including heavier than normal rainfall, as well as drought conditions. Generally speaking, the cool and dry months are June through October and the warmer months are December to March. The higher elevations in all East African countries tend to cool down in the morning and evening. The rains are split into two ‘seasons’ – the short rains and the long rains. The short rains usually fall in November and December and are usually lighter and more sporadic than the long rains. Falling from mid-March/April through the end of May, the long rains are heavier downpours that can easily affect road conditions, travel and activities such as walking safaris and gorilla tracking. In the mountains of Rwanda and Uganda, rain can fall at any time and travelers tracking primates should be prepared for inclement weather throughout the year. The months of June, July and August are pleasant and dry in East Africa and the wildebeest migration is heading from Tanzania into Kenya, making our summer months a prime time to visit East Africa. January, February and March are warmer, but are also considered ideal times to visit Tanzania with the wildebeest calving season in full swing.

Southern Africa:
The Southern African countries of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi (I won’t forget Lesotho and Swaziland) have very different weather patterns and seasons. The Southern African summer runs from about November to April and winter from May to August.

South Africa: May is the beginning of the drier, cooler winter season when game viewing is at its prime. South Africa’s winter months – May through August are an excellent time for game viewing, although weather in Cape Town can be rainy and cool (think San Francisco in December!). The summer months, tend to be hot and rainy. The Western Cape (Cape Town and beaches) doesn’t follow the general ‘dry winter rule’ and experiences rainy and changeable weather in the winter months, while summer months are sunny and warm.

Botswana: The summer rainy season is from November to March and temperatures can easily reach 90F or more with humidity. Vegetation is also lush and game viewing can be more difficult. The cool, dry winter months of May through August is ideal for game viewing, with little or no rain, warm, sunny days and cool to cold nights. Be prepared for cold nights if camping during this season. Permanent tented camps often offer heated water bottles or electric blankets on the beds.

Malawi: This country has a single rainy season, unlike East Africa, that runs from November to April. Temperatures are hot and humidity is high, too. May to August is cooler and drier and this is considered the ideal time to visit Malawi. September and October are very hot and humid, but lack the rains.

Zambia: At a slightly higher altitude than its neighbors, Zambia enjoys a more temperate climate in many areas, as well as three distinct seasons. May to August is cool and dry (the best time to visit with temperatures in the high 70s to 80s); September to early/mid-November is hot and dry (this is an excellent time for game viewing as there is less foliage on the trees and animals come to rivers in search of water); and warm and rainy from November to April (bird watching is at its peak, but many camps and lodges are also closed).

Mozambique: The rainy season runs from November to March and can be significant enough to hinder land travel and disrupt activities such as snorkeling and diving. April or May through October or November is dry and daytime temperatures hover around 80F on the coast and can be cooler inland—these are considered ideal months to visit Mozambique.

Namibia: In Namibia, the geographic regions and environments often dictate weather patterns – desert regions can have hot and dry days with freezing nights. In the Northeastern part of the country, near the Caprivi Strip, the climate is more subtropical and more similar to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The Northern and inland areas of Namibia see short rains falling between October and December, with the main rainfall hitting between January and April. May, June, July and August are considered ideal for travel with the lowest amounts of rainfall and daytime temperatures around 70F.

Zimbabwe: The cool, dry season runs from May to October and is similar to a Mediterranean summer with sunny and warm days and cooler nights – perfect for game viewing and enjoying the evening campfire! In higher elevations on the plateau, you could experience freezing temperatures and frost on the coldest nights. The Zambezi Valley has a more extreme climate with hotter temperatures and higher humidity. Most of Zimbabwe’s rainfall is experienced in tropical-like afternoon downpours, complete with electric thunderstorms, from April to November