The question “when is the best time to go on safari in Africa” has almost as many answers as there are parks and reserves on the continent. Though there are some trends — for example, between June and October most places in southern Africa are a sure bet, and most of east Africa is good from June-October and also January-March — there are also major exceptions to these “rules.”
So we’ve compiled a list of 15 of the most popular parks and natural areas in Africa and listed the best times of year to see the Big Five and other flora and fauna, based on weather, migrations, and various other factors that impact the quality of a safari.
1. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Known as the “great white place,” Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most significant parks in terms of size and variety of wildlife. At one point, it was the largest reserve in the world. Some of the most popular animals to see here are elephant, lion, greater kudu, springbok and honey badger, and the best time to go is between June and October. Although you can visit during the rainy season between November and April, animals are less likely to be concentrated around watering holes during these months, and thus less easy to see.
2. Kafue National Park, Zambia
At almost half the size of Switzerland, Kafue National Park is also one of the largest national parks in Africa. Some of the commonly spotted wildlife include buffalo, warthog, lion, hippo and yellow baboon. The most optimal time to go is between August and November. Wildlife can be seen in decent amounts other times of the year, but the park is closed between January and April.
3. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Known as “the crowded valley,” South Luangwa is home to plentiful wildlife and over 400 species of birds. Lion, buffalo, leopard and kudu are all found throughout the park that is divided into three main sections, northern, central and southern. No matter where you go in the park, the best time to go is between July and November. Wildlife viewing is poor in the north from December through April, but can be seen in the central and southern portions of the park at this time.
4. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Slightly larger than the state of Connecticut, Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park and famous for herds of buffalo and elephant. Other notable species include black and white rhino, wildebeest, zebra, bat-eared fox and wild dog. The best time to spot wildlife is during the dry season from June to October, though sightings are still pretty good in May, November and December.
5. Chobe National Park, Botswana
Chobe National Park is located around 50 miles from Victoria Falls, making it one of the more popular parks in Africa. It’s famous for its large herds of elephant and bird life, but is also home to hippo, antelope, crocodile and kudu. The best time to view wildlife is between June and November, but there is a good chance you’ll see wildlife at Chobe anytime of the year.
6. Moremi Game Reserve/Okavango Delta, Botswana
Covering over 6,000 square miles, the Okavango Delta is one of the largest inland deltas in the world and is home to open savannah, islands, and floodplains. And within the delta on the eastern side, Moremi Game Reserve is one of the best places to see wildlife. It’s common to see waterbuck, ostrich, hippo, crocodile, and zebra. Less common species include aardvark, pangolin and hedgehog. The best time to visit is during the drier months of May to November, but parts of Moremi are excellent year-round.
7. Linyanti/Selinda/Kwando, Botswana
Thought of as a miniature version of the Okavango Delta, the Linyanti, Selinda and Kwando concession areas are situated around multiple rivers and form the region’s border with Namibia. Common animal sightings include hippo, southern giraffe, elephant, buffalo, lion, wild dog and crocodile. The best time of year to go is between May and November, though the area is good most of the year if you can’t make it during the prime months.
8. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park and the surrounding private reserves are without a doubt the most popular place to go on safari in South Africa The park has more species of wildlife than any other game park on the continent and is home to over 25,000 buffalo and 8,000 elephant, along with hippo, lion, leopard, cheetah and rhino. The best time to go is between July and October, with January and March being a rather poor time to visit.
9. Tsavo National Park, Kenya
Tsavo National Park is situated between Nairobi and Mombasa making it easy to get to from either city. The park is famous for its large herds of elephants, along with giraffe, zebra, caracal lion, leopard and antelope. The best time of year to go is between July and September. June, October and November are fair, while April and May are relatively poor months to see wildlife.
10. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Famous for the Great Serengeti Migration, the Masai Mara is one of the best wildlife areas in Kenya. The park is home to elephant, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, gazelle and giraffe. If you want to see the migration, the best time to go is between July and October, though the park is fantastic any time of the year for wildlife viewing.
11. Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Known as the eighth wonder of the world, Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unflooded and intact caldera in the world. It also contains one of the largest permanent concentrations of wildlife in Africa, with an average of 30,000 large mammals. Some of the wildlife you’ll find include elephant, zebra, rhino, lion, buffalo and zebra. The best time of year to go is either between July and October or between December and March.
12. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Serengeti is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest and most famous park in Tanzania, and has the largest concentration of migratory game animals in the world. It’s also home to as many as 1.5 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, 8,000 giraffe, 1,000 lion and 800 elephant. To catch the migration, the best time to go is between June and November in the northern and western portions of the park, and between December and April in the southeastern area.
13. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, Selous is the second largest game reserve in Africa and is almost four times larger than the Serengeti. It’s home to 50,000 elephant, 150,000 buffalo, leopard, lion, kudu, hippo and crocodiles. The park is also largely unexplored and no human habitation is allowed inside. The best time of year to go is between July and November, though a decent amount of wildlife can be seen throughout the year with the exception of April and May.
14. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
Visitors looking for a different type of safari without all of the large game often head to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Bwindi is an enormous forest full of hardwood trees, giant ferns and hanging vines and is home to over 300 mountain gorillas. The best times of the year to go are between the months of June and October, then again from December to March. Due to the wet season, visitors won’t have a good chance of seeing the gorillas in April and May.
15. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Another great place to see gorillas is Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The peaks of the park are heavily forested extinct volcanoes, and serve as a border between the Congo and Uganda. Along with gorillas, visitors to the park can see blue monkey, duiker, bushbuck, civet, buffalo and giant forest hog. The best time of year to go is the same as neighboring Bwindi, between June and November, then again from December to March.