The answer to these questions will be based on a number of factors, among which are what type of wild animals are you, the photographer, looking to capture and is your free time flexible?
This article is brought to you by Wild Eye Destinations and Photographic.
Photographers often base their travel decisions on seasonality to give themselves the best chances of seeing and photographing the wildlife and landscapes that appeal to them.
Different safari seasons can give photographers a completely different experience. There is no bad time to go on a safari, but certain regions in Africa tend to reach their peak photography potential at different times of the year. There will always be unique wildlife experiences, but the types of experiences, and the frequency, can depend on when you visit.
Wild Eye Destinations and Photographic was founded in 2011, and over the decade that we have been leading photography tours in the region, we have identified the best times for photographers to visit our African destinations. Having over 50 years of combined photography and guiding experience in the region, our tour leaders have the knowledge to give photographers the best chance to get the shot, in any season.
To use this guide, click on the months below that you would like to travel to see where the best safari destinations are during that time of the year. If you are not sure where you want to go, or when you want to travel, keep reading and perhaps a particular destination will catch your eye.
When Do You Want to Travel?
January – March
January through to March is considered to be the height of the rainy season in South Africa, but this shouldn’t stop you from going on safari. The early mornings have pleasant temperatures before heating up in mid day, with high temperatures ranging between 82-95 degrees Fahrenheit (28-35 degrees Celsius.) Thunderstorms will often arrive late in the afternoons, which can lead to dramatic skies and lighting during the golden hour before sunset.
During this vibrant time of the year, some antelope species such as impala will start lambing, meaning that scores of baby impala will dot the landscape. In turn, this means that the opportunistic predators are not too far behind. Migratory bird species are present for their summer breeding rituals, offering a pleasant dawn and evening chorus. The vegetation is also lush and green, offering beautiful, colorful contrasts.
This is considered the “Green Season” among South African lodges and tour operators, which means it is not as busy as later on in the year. Often, visitors can find lower prices and the opportunity to visit many incredible reserves and lodges without the crowds that come with the busy season.
Uganda and Rwanda see very little rainfall from January through March, making this season one of the driest of the year. This dry weather is ideal for photographers to document the go-to activity in Uganda and Rwanda: gorilla trekking.
Being a largely tropical climate, these regions typically have two rainy seasons per year. The first is March through May, and the second is September to December. June, July and August are typically the peak trekking seasons in Uganda and Rwanda, which leads to higher permit fees and more competition for the limited number of permits granted.
Visiting this region from January to March will lead to incredible photos and experiences while spending less money and saving time.
National Parks in Tanzania, especially the Southern regions of the Serengeti, are in a league of their own during the months of February and March. During this time of the year, the Great Migration moves southward to the plains of Ndutu for the annual calving season. Plains filled with hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest and their young make for a mind blowing bucket list experience.
With the presence of the migratory herds, predators in this area become very active. Cheetah make use of the vast open plains to reach fascinating sprint speeds while they hunt smaller antelope species such as Gazelle and young Wildebeest. The region is without doubt one of the best places on the planet to see cheetahs in the wild.
Day time temperatures are warm but comfortable, with average daily temperatures ranging between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit (26-30 degrees Celsius) and dropping down to 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit (14-16 degrees Celsius) in the evenings.
If predators are what you love to photograph, this is without a doubt the destination for you early on in the year!
April – June
As autumn turns in South Africa, trees start to lose their leaves and the seasonal waterholes start to dry out, forcing wildlife to drink at more permanent water sources. Game viewing becomes a bit easier during this period given the thinning vegetation and somewhat predictable movements of water-dependent animal species.
As darkness arrives earlier in the evenings and night time temperatures begin to plummet, sightings of typically nocturnal species become more common during the day. Nature reserves such as Tswalu are an absolute must-visit over this time if you would like to encounter some of these rare specie
The mornings and evenings are much cooler with temperatures ranging between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit (10-15 degrees Celsius) but warming up to a comfortable 80-84 degrees Fahrenheit (25-28 degrees Celsius) late in the afternoon.
The southwestern region in South Africa, where Cape Town is situated, starts its rainy season in June, with days often cold and rainy. Photographers come out to brave the rain, however, as June marks the start of the Cape Whale migration. Many visitors add a few days after their safari to witness this spectacle in Cape Town before returning home.
The month of April is a fantastic time to visit Botswana as the annual floods from the rainfall in the Angolan highlands starts to reach the famed Okavango Delta floodplain. This is still considered to be Botswana’s low season which means that you can get an incredible experience at a reduced rate.
Depending on the rainfall, the vegetation might still be quite thick, but game viewing in most regions is still very good.
The arrival of the floods mean that a variety of activities become available such as boat trips through the narrow channels as well as the popular Mokoro (dugout canoe) trips. Both options are a fantastic way to experience the waterways of the Okavango Delta while capturing photos of the lush landscape and unique wildlife.
During the month of May, the Okavango should be in full flood which leads to incredible photography opportunities. The vegetation starts to open up and seasonal waterholes start to dry out, making game viewing a bit easier.
The temperatures during the winter months also become very pleasant, warming up nicely after cold mornings and evenings. This gives photographers the opportunity to do full days out in the field, maximizing their game viewing time.
While May is still considered a rain-filled month in Uganda, late in the month and into early June are fantastic times to go gorilla trekking as Uganda’s second dry season approaches.
Not only does Uganda’s Bwindi Forest offer a life changing experience seeing gorillas up close in the wild, but there are also a variety of other National Parks that can be explored in this beautiful country such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls and Kibale.
Most of the camps in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park start opening after the country’s rainy season earlier in the year. The drier winter months from May to August are a fantastic time to do longer walking safaris in Mana Pools, during pleasant day time temperatures.
It is also a great time of the year to combine any southern African safari itineraries with Victoria Falls, which is usually full of water and at peak flow during this period.
Like Zimbabwe, many camps in Zambia’s South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks start to open in April and May, after the rainy season.
This is a fantastic time of the year to visit both these parks, as the temperatures are comfortable, game viewing is good and the peak tourist season has yet to arrive, leaving photographers plenty of space to enjoy the parks and wildlife.
Namibia is also an ideal destination to visit in May, as the country is lush, rain is a rare occurrence, and the temperatures are comfortable as winter has not yet set in.
The country’s otherworldly landscapes provide amazing backdrops to wildlife photos. But even without the wildlife in place, Namabia is a photographer’s dreamland. As with Botswana, the country is in its low season, leading to lower prices and fewer tourists.
July – September
July to September are winter months in South Africa, and this is considered the peak safari period. As winter here is the dry season, little to no rain is expected across most of the country, with the exception of Cape Town.
The vegetation is dry and sparse this time of the year offering easier game viewing. Water dependent animals tend to concentrate around waterholes, so game drive strategies are adjusted accordingly. The cooler days allow photographers to experience extended game drives, maximizing their time out in the field with wildlife. Animals also tend to be active throughout the day as the temperatures never get overly hot, which is helpful for cat viewing in particular.
The Cape Whale Migration is still in full swing and is a fantastic spectacle to witness after a safari, although bringing a rain coat is recommended. In September, the rains in the Cape start easing up a bit, with clearer days, making it a great time of the year to visit the beautiful wine country as well as experience the Whale Migration along the famous Garden Route, a 300-kilometer stretch of coastal road in southwest South Africa. This region is regarded as the most beautiful in South Africa, and is highly recommended in addition to a safari adventure.
July to September are arguably some of the best months to visit Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve as the migratory herds start to move in from the Serengeti.
Massive herds of wildebeest and zebras cross the famous Mara River in search of more palatable grassland. This migration attracts a variety of predators including lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, who are often well hidden around the thickets waiting for any young or injured wildebeest. The danger to the wildebeest does not end there, however, as prehistoric-looking crocodiles lay in wait underwater for unsuspecting prey. Safaris to the Masai Mara are action-packed during these months and are an absolute must-do activity for wildlife photographers.
With the migratory herds moving into the Masai Mara, it is also a fantastic time of the year to witness the Mara from the air. Hot air balloon rides can be taken during this season, letting photographers get a unique and not often photographed view of the Great Migration.
The Masai Mara can also be combined with other fantastic parks in Kenya such as the famous Amboseli National Park which boast some of the best elephant viewing in Africa, as well as Samburu National Park and Lake Nakuru.
June through August is considered Uganda’s high season and is a fantastic time to go gorilla trekking.
Not only does Uganda’s Bwindi Forest offer the life changing experience of seeing gorillas in the wild, but there are also a variety of other national parks with their own collection of wildlife that can be explored in this beautiful country. Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls, and Kibale are just a few of the many incredible wildlife viewing locations in Uganda.
As July and August are the peak times for both gorilla trekking in Uganda as well as witnessing the Great Migration in Kenya, many photographers will photograph both locations during the same trip.
July through September are considered the peak game viewing periods in Botswana. The Okavango Delta is still in full flood, while the vegetation is dry and open. Seasonal waterholes have dried up during this time, forcing general game towards the permanent water sources, which in turn attracts the predators.
Morning and evening safaris can be cold, but also lead to some of the best photo opportunities. Most photographers will take warm jackets with them during this season, and blankets and hot water bottles are provided to help keep photographers’ hands warm on those cold game drives.
Because these are the peak months in Botswana, rates are higher than during the green season, and availability becomes more difficult. Typically, reservations for this time of the year need to be made at least a year in advance.
Camps in Zambia are completely open during this time of the year and the months of July through September are considered to be the peak time for safari in Zambia. Temperatures are cold during the morning and evenings, but the days are very comfortable.
The mild midday temperatures make this season the perfect time of the year to do walking photography safaris. The comfortable weather also makes it possible to do full day safaris, maximizing photographers time in the field.
South Luangwa remains one of the best parks in Zambia to travel to during this time of the year, with the Luangwa River attracting a wide variety of general game. It is also considered one of the best locations to view and photograph African wild dogs and leopards.
Thanks to cooler days, July through September is an ideal time for photographers to do longer walking safaris in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park.
Like in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, July and August are also considered to be one of the best months to view African Wild Dogs in Mana Pools, with the puppies usually roaming free and away from the den sites.
The month of August brings the seasonal pods on the Albida trees which provide great nutritional value to many of the animals, especially the elephants. Some can be photographed standing on their hind legs to reach these pods, while others will push their trunks against the tree, shaking it vigorously to release these sought-after pods.
Seasonal waterholes are dry during this time of the year, forcing animals to move to the permanent water sources such as the Zambezi River and some of the well known pools in the area.
Mana Pools is a great destination during these months and can easily be combined with South Luangwa, South Africa and even Kenya.
October – December
Still considered to be the dry season across South Africa, October is one of the best months to visit. The daily temperatures across the country are pleasant with little to no rain across the country.
There is great game viewing at all the parks, and it is also a great time of the year to combine a safari experience with the winelands in Cape Town and the Garden Route.
November and December see the rains return in the northern part of the country, which can lead to the occasional rainy safari expedition. Summer is in full swing with hot days and chances of thunderstorms building late in the afternoons.
The bush starts to get its vibrant green colors back as a result of the early rains, and seasonal waterholes start filling up once again.
Photographers will often bring their families out during the Christmas and New Years holidays, as the combination of a safari experience with South Africa’s beautiful coastline makes for an ideal family vacation.
If you can handle the heat, Botswana is great at this time of year. The heat drives the game towards the watering holes, making life easier for the predators as they wait for their prey around the lakes and rivers.
Chobe and the Linyanti National Parks see vast herds of elephant, while the Okavango Delta offers the herds a permanent source of water. Chitabe Reserve in the southern Delta and the herds in the Linyanti are incredible to witness, while the Boteti River area south of Maun sees a large build-up of game on its banks.
The rains usually start arriving in November and December, bringing a great deal of relief to the wildlife with seasonal waterholes filling up again.
Botswana is a great destination to combine with South Africa during this time of the year.
October to December is arguably one of the best times to visit Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. As with Botswana, the daily temperatures are very high during this time of the year, but for those that don’t mind the heat, they will be rewarded with some fantastic game viewing.
Water is extremely scarce during this season, with the Luangwa usually being the only water source which attracts incredible numbers. Lions tend to take down larger prey species, many of which have lost strength due to the lack of food and water. It’s a truly wild destination during October.
As the rains start arriving in November, many of the camps will begin to close during the second week, only opening again once the rains let up in April and May.
The Masai Mara in Kenya is still a great destination to visit during October and November, with many of the Migratory herds still grazing around the plains.
The grass tends to be very short during this time of the year as the herds continue to move through the region, making it easier to find many of the predators that call Masai Mara home. Although it is not considered peak season in the Masai Mara, game viewing is still incredibly good, with less vehicles present than during the peak times, leading to more outgoing wildlife.
The Masai Mara tends to get their short rain season in November and December, and although this is still a great time of the year to view predators, many of the migratory herds would have started to leave the Masai Mara by the end of November.
As with Zambia, Zimbabwe is a fantastic destination during October, despite the heat.
Mana Pools and Hwange National Park have incredible wildlife viewing during this time of the year. Mana Pools is very dusty, which keeps the golden glow in the Albida forest for a bit longer. It is spectacular to witness and makes for incredible photographs.
Lions around Hwange National Park are also known to take down large prey during the dry months. Their targets are young elephants and buffalo who have lost strength due to the lack of food and water.
Somalisa Camp, in particular, is a great camp to stay at during the dry months. A very popular waterhole in front of camp attracts hundreds of elephants every day, giving photographers the luxury of sitting at camp while watching the herds pass by throughout the day.
As the rains arrive during November and December, many of the camps in Mana Pools will begin to close until the rains have passed in March and April.
Any Time of Year is a Good Time For a Safari
While each season and location delivers unique wildlife photography experiences, there is no bad time to go on safari in Africa. If you have ever dreamed of photographing the Big Five, it is possible in many of these safari locations, no matter the time of year. There is nothing quite like experiencing a wildlife safari in Africa’s most beautiful locations.
Writer Brian Jackman said it best:
Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all.
This article is brought to you by Wild Eye Destinations and Photographic.
Wild Eye Destination and Photographic is a South African company specializing in wildlife safari photography expeditions. Wild Eye’s destination offerings span six out of seven continents and 25 countries. Whether through group tours, custom itineraries, or privately guided safaris, their trips appeal to nature lovers, photographers, adventurers, and travel enthusiasts.