Best Time to Visit Botswana

As is the norm in Southern Africa, there is a distinct green (off season), shoulder season and peak season. Sometimes clients miss out on both good game viewing and significant price reductions by only considering the peak season months of July to October. In addition, it is likely that you will be over charged for international flights to Africa during July and August; so, a little flexibility, can go a long way to saving your money for future Botswana safaris. Of course, some photographers want those dry conditions and shortage of water to maximise their encounters with predators such as Lions and Leopards, taking advantage of the weakened state of their prey – but is this the best time for overall photography?

Some people would say to see Botswana in the middle of the green season from mid-November to April and photograph plump healthy lions and amazing birdlife is the pinnacle of a visit to Botswana. Others will prefer the vegetation to have died back a little so viewing wildlife is easier and opt for the shoulder season from May to June. Obviously not all the camps are open throughout the year, so you will need to contact Wildlife Trails so we can match the most suitable accommodation to the season you wish to travel on your Botswana safari.

January – Rainfall in southern Africa is becoming more and more difficult to predict, but generally you would expect some of the heaviest rains to arrive in the month of January. This is one of the summer months when we would expect more rain and for that rain to fall more in the north of the country, than the south. The summer rains attract large grazing herds to the rich grasslands of the Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans and the Savuti plains. Wildlife viewing in these areas can be spectacular, with plenty of predator activity, as they follow the migrating herds. The localised rains don’t actually affect the levels at the Okavango Delta that much, but the unsealed tracks through Moremi, Khwai, Linyanti and Savuti, are best avoided.

February – Expect rainy and humid conditions in February, which can be the peak month for rainfall. All these rains have turned the Central Kalahari Game Reserve into a veritable oasis and this is a wonderful time to visit and enjoy the lush grassed and large herds of zebra, springbok and oryx. February is also one of the best months to see birds in Botswana, as bird watching goes from superb to sensational: kingfishers, kites, swallows, bee-eaters, rollers and cuckoos fill the air with extravagant song and their breeding plumage is at its most colourful and vibrant. This month is famous for the annual Zebra migration, which starts in November/December and takes around 15-20 days to travel from Chobe national park to Nxai Pan. So, during February you have a great chance to see then at Nxai in their largest numbers before they make the return journey at the end of the month.

March – We see the dual effect of reduced temperatures and reduced rainfall during this month, as we start the transition from summer to autumn in the southern hemisphere. March remains an excellent month for spectacular landscape photography, with spectacular thunderstorms lighting up the horizon and lush scenery ‘popping out’ of the moody lighting. March and April are probably the best two months to consider a safari to Kgalagadi and the Pans, with the large herds attracting predators – particularly lions – ensuring daily interactions and action shots as the big cats have an abundance of prey to target. In the Okavango Delta, the Marula trees start dropping fruit, attracting hungry elephants, often right into the wildlife lodges and camps where you are staying.

April – The April/May shoulder season is an excellent time to visit Botswana. By April, rainfall has almost completely ceased across the country, although there may still be a few scattered heavy showers. The best wildlife lodges in Botswana which remain open in the shoulder season offer excellent rates and the game viewing can be first class. The new arrivals from the calving seasons of certain species are stretching their legs and becoming more independent. April is the start of the antelope breeding season and the bulked up testosterone filled male impalas begin fighting it out for females. Lions, Leopard and Wild Dogs keep an eye from a far to take advantage of prey who may not be as cautious as in other months. We recommend our small group tour to Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans.

May – Now we are officially in the winter months of the Botswana wildlife viewing season and you can expect dry weather and colder nights if wild camping at the national parks. May is one of the best all-round months for visiting Botswana, with good to excellent game viewing, mild, dry weather and relatively quiet campsites and parks that get much busier later in the season. It is the time of the southern part of Chobe national park, Savuti, to shine and become a star in the Botswana safari crown. Herds of Zebra and Buffalo arrive in Savuti and the keen eyes of big cats like lions are not far behind. As surface water evaporates, elephants return to the Linyanti Chobe River System, and to the Khwai River and northern Moremi. We recommend our bespoke Wild Dog magic safari, with the chance to see them and their cubs during denning season.

June – June is one of the best months to see wildlife in Botswana, although the parks get busier from around the 20th as schools in neighbouring South Africa break for winter holidays. These usually run from the last week of June to mid-July and campsites across Botswana book up quickly – yes, South Africans just love Botswana for wild camping safaris and you can see why. June and July are Botswana’s coldest months and night-time temperatures in the Kalahari can drop below freezing. In the north, it rarely freezes, but lows of 5°C are common and morning game drives can be very cold – don’t forget the fleeces and warm hats! By June the pans have usually dried up, forcing the wildlife to migrate to more permanent water sources. They start to congregate in large numbers along the Okavango Delta and on the northern permanent water sources of the Savuti Channel and Chobe Linyanti River System.

July – Allow plenty of space in your suitcase for woolly jumpers, hats and gloves, as July is the coldest month of the year in Botswana and you are going to feel it particularly on a morning safari in the Kalahari. Although the winter dry season is not the best time to be in the south, as the big cat and wild dog action is happening further north and there can be no better wildlife circuit to drive, than the combination of Moremi, Khwai, Savuti and Chobe; flying into Maun and then out of Kasane. This has been a beautiful safari experience for so many of our clients visiting Botswana, whether you do it as a camping safari, simple lodges combination, or luxury fly-in lodge combo – all options are available with Wildlife Trails. We would recommend a combination of lodges run by Kwando safari or African bush camps. We have incredible rates with both of these legendary Botswana safari specialists.

August – The dry weather continues and the wildlife viewing in the north is spectacular. However, international flights during the northern hemisphere summer holidays and the fact that this is one of the busiest months of the year for Botswana safaris should be a warning to you, to either wait until September, or plan well in advance both the safari and your Botswana lodge choices. The Kgalagadi’s Kaa Gate and Nxai Pan’s South Camp both offer oases in a dry and desolate land. Kaa Gate is known for its black-maned Kalahari lions, and no stay at South Camp is complete without a thirsty elephant trundling through the campground. We recommend out small group full service camping safari, which has enjoyed 100% success rates with Wild Dog sightings over the last few years and is also excellent for lions, leopards and huge herds of elephants on the Chobe river.

September – Northern Botswana stays completely dry during September, but the centre and south may receive a few scattered showers. Temperatures climb rapidly throughout the month and in recent years this is probably the last month that temperatures will feel comfortable on a camping safari and that may not be the case by the end of the month! September and October are particularly impressive along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers. Thousands of animals rely on these waters for survival and the large herds of elephants between Savuti and Chobe river are particularly impressive and famous. It is here where some spectacular natural history programs have been filmed, showcasing the large prides of lions which specialised in hunting the mighty elephant.

October – October is certainly Botswana’s hottest month and temperatures can exceed 40°C in the north of the country. The south generally stays cooler, but not by much. Nights in the south average between 15°C and 20°C, and in the far north are often much warmer and uncomfortable for tented safaris. In the south and central regions, you may experience some early rains, although these will tend to be infrequent and not very powerful. In Moremi, the delta waters begin to drop, opening up the flood plains and providing much vegetation for the ever hungry grazers. The drying pools also trap fish, which draw vultures and other scavengers in for a feast. Away from the Okavango, the vegetation is dry and sparce making the observation of predators much easier for wildlife photographers and big cat enthusiasts.

November – November bring the start of spring in Botswana, a time of soaring thunderclouds, lightning storms, returning migrant birds and, once the rains arrive, huge numbers of new-born calves, keen to get on their feet and avoid the ever present set of Botswana top predators. Temperatures remain high, with daily highs of 35°C to 40°C across the country, and the combination of heat and humidity in the north may put off some safari travellers. The start of the rainy season is always hard to predict, but good years can see early November rainfall in the south and central Kalahari, while Moremi and Chobe usually have to wait until later in the month. The Chobe and Linyanti riverbanks are by now crowded with game and large numbers of elephant congregate on the waterways. We recommend a comfortable stay in superbly located fly-in wildlife lodges in the Khwai, Kwando and Linyanti concessions.

December – So the cycle is complete and as the calendar year comes to a close, we see a different Botswana landscape unfold before our eyes. December is the start of the summer ‘green season’ when the vegetation recovers and grazing land is plentiful. New-born calves frolic on the Kalahari plains and lions, leopards, cheetahs and African wild dogs hunt the vulnerable. As the rains intensify the roads around the pans deteriorate. Thick mud can make some tracks impassable and it’s a good idea to travel in convoy. This is a time for regular safari goers to see Botswana with a fresh pair of eyes and for only experiences drivers to be attempting journeys on the many unsealed roads.