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When's the best time to go on safari?

When's the best time of year to see the migration of the wildebeest? When are Africa's big cats easiest to spot? When are safari bargains most plentiful? Find out now in our country-by-country safari planning guide.    

May to September is the prime time for visiting Namibia's safari hotspot, Etosha National Park. This vast expanse of land in the north of the country is home to elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards and zebras, along with some of Southern Africa's rarer species, such as the cheetah and black rhino. Don't go to Namibia without taking in the sprawling sand dunes of Sossusvlei, which are worth seeing at any time of year.  

Safari in Kenya invariably means one thing: the Masai Mara National Reserve. And with good reason. This is a solid year-round destination, but the world-famous migration of wildebeest and zebra that begins in July is not to be missed -- this awesome spectacle sees mind-boggling numbers of animals descend on the Mara from the Serengeti, with big cats in hot and hungry pursuit.  
January to March is the other (hotter) dry season, which also provides great game-spotting opportunities -- with water in short supply, congregations at watering holes are more concentrated, making it easier to tick all the species of your spotter's list.
Those are the peak months, but if you're on the lookout for a deal, try shoulder season (April, May and November), when prices are usually lower. 

South Africa
Again, the dry months from May to October, when the vegetation dies back and the inhabitants become easier to spot, are the most popular in South Africa's premier safari destination, the Kruger National Park. Things get a little soggy from November onwards, with the wettest months being January and February, but don't disregard the wet season; the area's transformation into a lush and vibrant landscape makes for some excellent photography opportunities. Plus, there's still plenty of game (not to mention bountiful bird life) around; many animals give birth during this so-called "green season", and that means an increase in predator activity. This is a great time of year to bag a bargain.

Fewer tourists, varied landscapes and huge concentrations of game in the likes of Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta combine to make Botswana one of the more sought-after (and therefore expensive) safari destinations in Africa. It's still possible to bag a bargain, though -- the wet season between December and March sees a fall in demand and prices, but it's still a great time to go. With the rains come colour and rich, dense vegetation -- not only is this a perfect time for bird-spotting, but it's also a great chance to spot predators, which come out looking for new-born prey. Peak months in Botswana are, like most safari destinations, those of the dry season; May to November in this case.

Tanzania, home to the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorogoro Crater, is a vast place and that means the climate can very hugely within its borders. Broadly speaking, the wettest season runs from March-May in the north, and November-May in the south and west.
June-October is the dry season. If you want to see the wildebeest migration on the Serengeti, consider February (when most calves are born) and September, when the herds undertake their death-defying crossing of the River Mara.

The Ngorogoro Crater, rated by many as the best place in Tanzania to see the big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino), can get very busy during the dry season. However, game viewing remains solid throughout the year -- April and May are the best times to look for a bargain, but beware that heavy rains can leave some roads impassable.

A landlocked state in southern Africa, Zambia is something of an under-the-radar safari destination. Like many of its more high-profile neighbours, Zambia's dry season runs roughly from May-October, with the green season stretching from November to April. Bear in mind, however, that if you're considering combining a safari with a visit to the Victoria Falls, this natural phenomenon is at its most impressive during the wet season. June-August (medium-high water flow at the Falls and dry season in the national parks) is one of the best times for a combination package. 

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Tips by

Deal Expert, London
Thursday, 12 September 2013
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Rory Batho