What is the best time of year to go on safari?
When you are planning a safari, one of the first questions that comes to mind is what time of year to go and we regularly get asked whether certain seasons have an impact on the overall widlife-viewing experience.
Fortunately, safari in South Africa is an acitivity that you can do year-round. However, there are certainly differences one can expect to see between the summer and winter seasons that might be more or less favourable to the type of safari experience you are hoping for.
We asked Elly to break down the key differences between summer and winter in the Kruger to help you plan the best time for your next visit.
Most articles online will tell you that if you want the best wildlife-viewing, you should be aiming to visit the Kruger during the dry, winter months from May to September. Given the lack of water in the region at this time, animals tend to congregate around available waterholes and viewing them can be easier and more likely due to the sparse vegatation.
If it is your first time on safari and predictable wildlife-viewing is likely what you're after, then a winter safari is generally a fail-safe option. The bush at this time is characterised by golden and amber hues as many trees drop their leaves in anticipation of the dry months ahead. Although the landscape is less vibrant at this time of year, there are certainly fewer obstacles for spotting animals lurking amongst the dry vegetation!
This is not to say that you will experience inferior wildlife-viewing opportunities during the summer months - we just have to work a little harder to find them! In fact, there are many animals that reappear during the hotter, wetter times of year that you would not be able to see during winter, such a frogs, tortoises and my personal favourite, chameleons.
Summer in the Lowveld is characterised by sporadic thunderstorms, lush greenery and, of course, the onset of baby season! Many herbivores strategically coincide the birth their offspring with the summer season, when vegetation is nutritious and plentiful, to give their young the best chance of survival.
The onset of the summer rains in November and December causes an immediate chain of reactions to take place. Prompted by a change in humidity and moisture, the region's frog population begins to emerge from their winter hibernation and summer nights are characterised by a background symphony of calls from an amphibian orchestra.
Wild flowers blossom in a spectacular fashion, with bright pops of orange, yellow, blue and white appearing amidst the emerald green of the savanna. These blooms bring butterflies and bees of all shapes and sizes to pollinate them, and the landscape transforms into a colourful carpet of sounds, smells and movement.
Summer safari-goers must expect much hotter days, averaging 32°C/90°F but sometimes reaching over 40°C/104°F in the late afternoon. As this is the wet season, there is a small chance of being caught out in the rain, with huge thunderstorms often building after extremely hot, humid days.
These showers rarely interfere with daytime safaris but, just in case, our game vehicles are equipped with wet weather gear and our guides will adapt the day's activities to ensure you don't miss out on any safari opportunities. It is for this reason that many travel advisors recommend taking your safari in the winter months when you can guarantee cloudless, blue skies and no chance of rain. You will, however, need to make sure you come equipped with a winter coat and gloves for those crisp, winter mornings!
To make sure you're comfortable, we spoil our guests with fleece blankets and hot water bottles on those morning game drives, when it can initially be cold at dawn. Once the sun comes up, you can expect to enjoy mild days of a pleasant 26°C/79°F and plenty of opportunity to relax on the deck and spot some visitors at the camp waterhole.
If striking photographic opportunities are the aim of your safari experience then the emerald green backdrop of summer frames wildlife beautifully. With contrasting hues and bright pops of colour from the surrounding foliage and flowers, there's no doubt you will leave with a collection of images to brighten up your wallspace at home!
While there is little to no difference in the types of animals you will see in summer and winter, the Kruger's birdlife is undeniably richer and more diverse in the summer months. Keen birders must pack their sunscreen and raincoats and head to the Kruger during December or January.
Just as increased food availability brings a flood of baby animals in summer, many migratory birds return to the region to breed. Woodland kingfishers, Wahlberg's eagles and European rollers are just some of the many species you can expect to see in the summer months before they leave the area to migrate north again for winter.
So, it is important to decide what you most want to get out of your safari experience and in which season you would be most comfortable. Many travellers from the Northern hemisphere choose to visit South Africa at the turn of the New Year, hoping to escape the cold, winter months in favour of a summer safari.
Fortunately, South African safaris are not limited by the time of year and can operate irrespective of the season. This means you can choose a holiday time that suits you best and still expect to have a fulfilling and exciting experience.
If you are interested in booking your next safari getaway at Klaserie Sands and would like some personal recommendations on the best time to travel, please don't hesitate to ask our reservations team for some pointers by heading to the Contact Us page.
Article written by Elly Gearing with photos courtesy of Arthur Renault, Nerise Bekker, Geoff Downs and Elly Gearing.