Botswana is a year-round safari destination with amazing wildlife, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people. The winter season from June-September is often cited as the best time to visit Botswana, however each season has advantages and disadvantages. While you can expect good wildlife any time of the year, ultimately the best season is the one that matches your interests and expectations. Like everywhere else, this land-locked country in southern Africa experiences four seasons throughout the year. An understanding of how the changing seasons influence wildlife movement is essential to planning your Botswana safari. Remember, the seasons in Botswana are opposite those in the northern hemisphere.
In late November and early December the summer rains begin, bringing much needed water to the parched landscape and signaling the start of the rainy season. The rains rejuvenate the vegetation, with new emerald green foliage and an abundance of flowers. In the animal kingdom it’s a time of new beginnings as the birthing season begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala, lechwe and wildebeest. Predators seek out the vulnerable young and kill many times a day. All the migrant birds have arrived making summer a season of color, action, and dramatic skies that are an inspiration to photographers. It’s also a great time to visit the desert areas of Botswana as the Kalahari region, normally arid and dry, bursts with life. This is the low travel season so expect lower lodge and safari rates.
Although game viewing can be hugely rewarding during these green season months, it may take more effort to find the animals as certain roads may become impassable due to flooding and thick, sticky mud. Some lodges and camps close during this time of year. The rains replenish waterholes triggering many animals to migrate away from the permanent water sources of the Okavango Delta and Chobe River. Except for January and into February, the rains are mostly short afternoon showers and will seldom have a negative impact on your safari. Temperatures can remain hot, though the rain showers and cloud cover can cool things down considerably.
This can be a fantastic time to visit Botswana. The rains are easing and the temperatures are gradually moderating. However, March is also the peak season for mosquitoes. Into April and May most days are warm and nights are distinctly cooler. The rain is reduced to a brief afternoon shower before it finally disappears for the next few months. The landscape is still green but the seasonal waterholes are quickly drying out and the wildlife begins moving back to permanent water sources. Considered one of the tourist “shoulder seasons” you’ll still find good rates and few other visitors compared to the peak season of June-September.
With the onset of winter and the dry season, the rains have completely disappeared, not to begin again until late November. With clear cobalt blue skies, the air is bone-dry and seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, nights and early mornings can be cold. Sometimes frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze so bring warm layers of clothing. The temps warm quickly and by late morning you’ll be back in sandals and T-shirts. The cool weather is ideal for a safari and there are very few mosquitoes.
Game viewing in Botswana’s winter is exceptional. Wild dogs are denning so if you’re lucky you may see newborn puppies interacting with the adults. As winter takes its grip and seasonal pans begin to dry out, huge herds of elephant, buffalo, and antelopes congregate around permanent water sources closely followed by silently waiting predators. Vegetation is thinner and many trees have lost their leaves (to conserve water) so game viewing is easier. It’s the ideal time for walking safaris as the reduced vegetation makes visibility much better.
An interesting feature of the Okavango Delta is it floods during the dry season, inundating the arid landscape with water. The summer rains that fell far to the north in Angola slowly make their way into Botswana, finally arriving at the height of the dry season. The floodwaters create new channels and floodplains that can be explored by boat or mokoro canoes.
There are two possible downsides to traveling in winter. It’s the height of tourist season so rates for lodges, camps, and safaris are higher. Most tourists visit the parks this time of year so you may see more people. However, the parks are enormous and can still feel uncrowded depending on where you go. Winter isn’t great for landscape photography as the bush is very dry, the air dusty, and skies cloudless. However, the wildlife photography is superb.
As winter transitions to spring, some of the hottest weather of the year starts to build. By October, daytime temperatures soar above 100 F and nights not much below 70 F. The landscape is baked dry and animals are forced to congregate around the rapidly dwindling waterholes. If you can handle the heat, wildlife sightings can be phenomenal. Finally, as October passes into November, the clouds slowly build until they finally break, bringing desperately needed rain and starting the whole cycle once again.
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