There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.
A Guide to Weather for Traveling on Safari (Sub-Saharan Africa)
During the planning stage for trips to Africa we focus on the time of year that is best for the guests’ schedule, giving suggestions based on the type of trip that meets their expectations. For the most part there is no bad time to travel for safari, as the seasons vary significantly throughout the African continent and the relative pluses and minuses are individual preferences as well as a factor on what one considers to be cold or inclement. On gorilla trekking, there is a deep forest canopy that protects trekkers from rain and sun and the weather varies little across the year. For guests who desire a beach vacation to cap off their adventures there will be seasonal factors. The same holds true for enjoying a cosmopolitan city and the surrounding regions of places like Cape Town. In South Africa we even see a direct opposite weather pattern between the southern Cape and the Northern safari areas of Phinda, Sabi Sands or the Kalahari. It can be cold, windy and wet in the Western Cape in July, August and September, but beautifully sunny and pleasantly warm in the northern safari regions. The opposite holds true for December, January, and February in the north but is the very best time to visit Cape Town.
Below is a brief overview of monthly advice in Eastern and Southern Africa. This information comes from records and experience, not from a crystal ball. Weather patterns across Africa are becoming increasingly unpredictable, probably due to changes in climate; We're seeing downpours in the middle of deserts and damaging droughts when rains should be falling, so it’s always advisable to be prepared for the unpredictable.
Kenya and Tanzania
One thing to note is these regions are near the equator and thus the daylight hours are approximately 12 hours per day throughout the entire year, which has an effect on their weather. Another factor affecting weather is altitude. Areas of the Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania are at 4,000 to 6,500 feet elevation, providing a cooler climate than you might expect near the equator.
January: Clear, hot days and warm nights make this high season a popular time for safaris and good for the beach, diving and snorkeling on the coast. Rates in the period January through March are generally well discounted from the most popular periods June-October. While many people think of the migration as the crossing of the Wildebeest and Zebra herds into Kenya from Tanzania, in truth the migration between these two countries happens all year.The herds move north in the July- September months in great masses, but trickle back down, still with impressive herds in October, reaching the southern Serengeti in January and February for the birthing of both wildebeest and other antelopes.
February: With the long dry season well established, in Kenya and northern Tanzania the grass grazed down and wildlife gathering close to water points, this is still a good time for a safari and good water clarity makes for excellent diving conditions, such as in Zanzibar. Venturing further south will give guests the opportunity to witness the astonishing number of births.
March: Hot, increasingly humid weather gives way to rains and even lower rates. April: Temperatures drop soon after the rains are established and you’ll often have facilities largely to yourself in this more affordable low – or “green" – season. Some camps may close for refurbishment at this time.
May: While game viewing can be trickier as vegetation runs riot, the colors and light are great for photography at this time of year. Rates are generally still low in most places.
June: The rains give way to cloudy, cooler weather, making for very comfortable conditions, especially in the highlands.
July Kenya’s “cool" season sets in, with the highlands sometimes rather grey, but wildebeest, migrating north from the Serengeti, start arriving in the Maasai Mara. This is a great time to see predators in Tanzania, as the grasses are low and they are easier to spot than in Kenya where the herds are now moving and predators are hidden in the longer grasses and among the herds.
August The Great Migration fills the Mara plains – and school’s out, so the park roads are full of tourists (ask us for advice on avoidance tactics!).
September The clearing skies signal the start of hot, dry weather with little chance of rain – and fewer visitors – making the latter part of this month a good time for a quieter safari.
October Still hot, mostly dry and not too busy, this is many people’s preferred month for a safari, and it’s also an excellent time for diving and snorkeling.
November The “short rains" usually start in the second half, so this is low season, with accordingly lower rates and visitor numbers. December The rains usually finish by mid-month and landscapes often look their best, under clear blue skies, heralding the start of the peak tourist season. The festive season during the holidays is generally the most expensive time of the year due to demand and extra time off for schools.
Rwanda and Uganda
The safari experience in these countries centers on mountain gorilla trekking, though not exclusively. Uganda is bisected by the equator and Rwanda sits just south. For each, the relatively high altitude provides them with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Temperatures vary considerably between locations depending on their altitude, but very little from month to month in the same place. In Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, the average daily temperature is about 70°F (21°C).
The areas long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. Then from June to mid-September is the long dry season; this is generally the best time to visit if you have the choice. During dry seasons, there is often light cloud cover. This helps to moderate the temperatures, but also occasionally brings light, scattered rain showers. Anytime of year, it is best to bring hiking boots with good traction when gorilla trekking to conquer the often slippery slopes.
October to November is a shorter rainy season and it's followed by a short dry season from December to February.
Zambia and Botswana, Northern South Africa, Zimbabwe
Temperatures in southern Africa, being further from the equator, are more extreme than in Eastern Africa. Remember that this area is in the southern hemisphere, so seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere.
By April and May most of the rain has faded away, leaving a landscape that's still green, but starting to dry out. Nighttime temperatures start to drop, especially in higher and more southerly locations. In June, July and August the nights have become much cooler, but the days are clear and warm. Make sure you bring warm clothes to wrap up if you're out at night, as some nights get very cold! Most of Zambia's small 'walking bush camps' open at the start of May and June, when the roads have dried out sufficiently to allow access. This is the start of the 'peak season' for these countries – with often cloudless days and continually increasing game sightings.
Into September and October the temperatures climb: the lower-lying rift valleys – Lower Zambezi, Mana Pools and Luangwa Valley – can get very hot in October. However, you'll see some superb game as the animals concentrate around the limited water sources. November is variable; it can be hot and dry like October, or it can see the season's first downpours. It is often a very interesting month as you can see both patterns on successive days.
Cape Town and Southern South Africa
The southern Cape has its own weather pattern that is totally different from anywhere else in Africa – and indeed this explains why the Cape's flora is so unique. From around November to March, while it rains in the rest of southern Africa, the Cape is hot, sunny, dry, and generally perfect for a holiday. Christmas and New Year are lovely in the Cape, although as the result it gets exceedingly busy with South Africans spending their holidays here. From around April to August it cools down and there's some rain. During these months it can be beautiful and dry one moment, but blustery and wet the next. Rainfall peaks around June and July but the Cape's weather is notoriously changeable; locals say that you can have 'four seasons in one day'. Despite this, the Cape is still pleasant to visit, just as long as you aren't expecting to sunbathe all day. By September and October, the rain becomes a less common event; the sun comes out more and the temperatures rise again. September is the start of the Cape's 'spring', when vast swathes of the open fynbos burst into flower in Namaqualand (north of Cape Town).