The safari calendar is designed to illustrate the highlights associated with each month of the year. We are often asked "which is the best time of the year to come to Botswana?" There is no simple answer as this ultimately depends upon your individual interests and likes or dislikes! The calendar will provide you with a better understanding of the events and climate throughout the year, and hopefully allow you to best decide on your perfect safari date!
Peak breeding time for many of the colourful migrant bird species. Excellent wild flowers, brilliant green foliage, constant sounds day and night, from insects and birds. The bush is alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunder storms and warm days (average 30˚C plus) and nights (20˚C plus). Game viewing is average with active predators still chasing the fast developing young of their prey species. An ideal photography month for all the colours and dramatic skies. The contrasts of the predators’ natural winter camouflage, with the summer colours, makes for dramatic photos. More easily spotted by their prey species, the predators have to work hard while the prey experience a time of plenty.
Meanwhile in the desert - The short grasses on the fossil river valleys begin to grow rapidly in the middle of the rainy season, attracting the herds of gemsbok, springbok and red hartebeest onto the valley floors. The salt pans are inundated with rain water and at Nxai Pan, thousands of zebra inhabit the pan providing a constant source of protein for the resident lion prides. At this time, the grass is at its most nutritious and the mammals of the Kalahari, adapted to long periods with minimal grazing and no water, revel in this time of plenty. Spectacular afternoon thunder storms and warm days are the norm in January with daytime temperatures in the mid 30°C and night times in the low 20°C. Periods of heavy rain, low cloud cover and drizzle can occur at this time of year and temperatures can drop notably as a result.
Ripe figs are eaten by many species including the fruit bats who make interesting night sounds while feeding. Water lilies flowering peak – colourful and noisy reed frogs – the Okavango Delta is brilliant, noisy and alive. With the rainy season all plants are growing actively, butterflies, birds, frogs and all the small creatures are at their most active and at their best. The rains continue in afternoon thunder storms with dramatic skies and sounds. Temperatures range up to 40°C but average above 30°C with warm nights (20°C plus). Can have both wet and very dry spells within the month. The giant bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game species do not have far to go for water and the young are almost as tall as the adults.
Meanwhile in the desert - The Bat Eared fox young and other canids begin to forage for the first time and as they accompany their parents, they provide entertaining viewing as they attempt to hunt anything that vaguely resembles prey. The Katydid grasshopper populations are at their peak during their mating season and their distinct three phrase call dominates the hours of night. The predominant desert predators, lion and cheetah, are seen often as they inhabit the pans and river valleys, hunting the grazing herds at their leisure. The rains continue with afternoon thunderstorms and dramatic skies. Temperatures range in the region of 40°C but due to the cooling rain showers and breezes, the average is often mid 30°C with warm nights in the low 20°C. Both very wet and very dry spells are possible within the month of February.
The mighty Zambezi is in full spate and river rafting is often closed now. The Victoria Falls are as powerful as they can be and very dramatic, truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In Botswana, the Marula trees fruit attract their attendant bull elephants, who wonder from tree to tree in search of their favourite meals. The start of the rutting season leads to the sleek and fat impala males snorting and cavorting to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent.
Meanwhile in the desert - A late summer afternoon, with the last clouds of the rainy season beginning to dissipate, the male barking geckos emerge to woo the females with a short three to four syllable barking sound. The heliotropium plants, an otherwise drab plant, now begins to flower. This flower’s pungent smell in the early morning and late afternoon is one of the most memorable characteristics of the Kalahari. At Nxai Pan, the zebra have begun to move again, drifting in smaller herds towards the permanent water sources and winter grazing along the Boteti River, in the Makgadikgadi. Very occasional showers are possible but the rains have now passed and the nights and early mornings feel fresher as the Kalahari hints at the winter to come. Temperatures are in the mid 30°C with warm nights in the low 20°C.
The first signs that the times are changing. Night time temperatures drop to below 20°C on average but day temperatures continue to rise on some days. The cooler mornings, with high relative humidity, lead to wonderful early morning mists over the waters. The impala rut is in full swing and the challenges continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males. The trees have completed flowering and fruit is ripening - most notably the massive ‘sausages’ hanging from the Sausage trees. Reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the pending winter dry season.
Meanwhile in the desert - There is a distinct chill in the night air now, together with the distinct chirp of the rain locust. Any surface water left from the rains has already dried up and while there is still good grazing on the open pans, mammals, birds and reptiles are preparing for the long dry season ahead. At Nxai Pan, the numbers of mammals at the water hole continues to grow as the rain fed water holes are mostly dry. Large numbers of elephant congregate around the water hole and provide insights into the dynamics between individual elephants and other species as they try to access the life saving water. While daytime temperatures remain over 30°C, for the first time in the year, night time temperatures drop to below 20°C.
Flood waters from Angola start to reach the top of the Okavango Delta and begin their slow and deliberate progress through this vast wetlands system. With rains past and atmosphere much drier, the nights are cooler with temperatures averaging 15°C, while day temperatures - though still warm - have lost their edge and maximum temperatures seldom exceed 35°C. Jackets are sensible for night drives. The buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the permanent water sources more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry. Breeding herds of elephant increase in density as they also begin to visit the permanent waters. The greens have begun to fade to the duller dry season colours and the predators’ natural camouflage once again blends perfectly into the surrounding bush. The migratory birds begin their flights to winter feeding and breeding grounds in far away places.
Meanwhile in the desert - The gemsbok females now seperate themselves from the herds as they prepare to give birth to young that look nothing like the adults. During the game drives, the young calves, which more closely resemble a red hartebeest or tsessebe, may be seen for brief periods when they come out of their hiding places to suckle. The Tsamma melons, from which many bird and animals will receive sustenance during the harsh dry season, start to ripen and the large amounts of these ground creepers, covered with fruit, create an almost alien landscape. The atmosphere is increasingly dry, and the nights cooler with temperatures averaging 15°C, while daytime temperatures, though still warm, have lost their edge and maximum temperatures seldom exceed 30°C.
June is a time of excitement! The wild dogs begin to search for their annual den and we spend time seeking out their sites. Once they have denned, these rare animals will be easy to find for 3-4 months as they hunt from their den. Botswana is known to offer some of the best dog viewing in Africa. Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June, with night temperatures reaching as low as 5°C (very cold on night drives due to wind chill). Day temperatures rise up to a very comfortable 25°C and dusty dry conditions begin to persist. Some green bushes and trees have scattered their leaves but many are almost bare. Seasonal waterholes are beginning to dry up. Animals increasingly concentrate at the permanent water, as do the waiting predators.
Meanwhile in the desert - The traditional yellows and greys of the Kalahari landscape dominate as any sign of the rains have passed. The Silky Bushmen grass on the edges of the pans sparkles in the dawn light after the first frost of the year. This is winter in the Kalahari and has to be experienced to be believed. It is a time of harsh and arid beauty when one can truly understand the incredible adaptations made by a multitude of species of plants, birds, mammals and reptiles in order to survive. No surface water exists in this ‘thirst land.’ The many species that survive here - including human beings - have adapted to utilise varied sources of drinkable liquid including the early morning dew, succulent plants, natural springs and even the blood of their prey. This is the Kalahari of legend. At this time, the larger herds disperse into smaller groups as they spread out into the desert seeking out grazing or browsing. The predators will follow them and ‘survival of the fittest’ best describes the mentality of desert inhabitants during the dry season. Daytime temperatures eventually rise to a pleasant mid 20°C but the temperatures at night can fall to below 0°C! Gloves, thermals and hats are the standard for early morning and evening drives!
The floods arrive, both in the northern Okavango Delta and the Kwando areas, after a slow journey from the Angolan highlands thousand of kilometres away. The paradox is obvious: the flood arrives when dust and dryness pervade and the rains have long gone. The leaves continue to fall from the trees and the grasses are getting drier and shorter every day. This means that visibility for game viewing is excellent. The nights are still cold but the days are warm and pleasant. This is the typical Botswana weather, sunny and clear. More and more animals congregate near the water and flood plains for grazing. This a special time of the year as water spreads into areas where there was none the day before and the mokoro and boat trips become more exciting as new areas can now be explored. Soft early morning and evening light, combined with dust, produces many stunning photo opportunities.
Meanwhile in the desert - There is no water left. The nights are frozen. The humidity drops to such an extent cracks on your lips form almost instantly. The grass is baked a biscuit dry. Few animals are left in the fossil river valleys and hanging out at a waterhole can be most rewarding. Daytime temperatures eventually rise to a pleasant mid 20°C but the temperatures at night can fall to below 0°C! Gloves, thermals and hats are the standard for early morning and evening drives!
The herds are getting larger and limited access to the water leads to tension between the breeding herds of elephant and the nights are filled with elephant sounds. The bush is bare and the dust pervades but there is abundant action and amazing sightings. The floods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun, leading to excitement for the locals and water- related speculation is at a peak. How high will it reach? When will it stop? How far will the water go? The weather remains pleasant during the day and cool at night. This is the typical peak season for the safari industry. Thousands of herons, storks and other breeding birds start to congregate at the Gadikwe heronry, to begin nest building. Meanwhile in the desert - How anything survives out in the desert is a miracle. The relentless cloudless days burn up any last moisture and the winds whip up massive sand storms. The Makgadikadi Salt Pans are easily navigable by quad bikes and the lack of moisture produces the most incredible night skies, a true spectacle.
The climate has changed and winter is all but gone. Night temperatures rise rapidly within the month and by month end, the averages reach 15°C plus at night and day temperatures soar well in the 30’s°C. The sun shines, the skies are clear and it is really dry and hot. Unbelievably, the elephant concentrate in still greater numbers as do the buffalo herds keeping the predators well fed as the season takes its toll on the prey species. This is a time of plenty for the lions. The skies are alive with colour as thousands of carmine bee eaters return from their winter feeding grounds and many other migrant bird species begin to arrive. The water levels have slowly started to drop as the waters from Angola have completed their trek. The predatory tiger fish becomes active with rising temperatures and some trees and grasses begin to show signs of new growth. Many species will flower and bear seed in the next six weeks, greatly increasing the chances of their survival as they will fall with the impending rains.
Meanwhile in the desert - The end of August into September sees a very rapid change in temperature and in the blink of an eye, the winter is a distant memory. At this time the first of the famous black-maned lions begin to call again with a sense of urgency as they gather the pride females. After the last few months of a mostly solitary life for the pride members, foraging for scarce prey over vast areas, it is time to renew bonds and to reclaim the pride’s territory. The rising temperatures signals the beginning of the end of the dry season and while the hottest time of the year is yet to come, many plants and grasses begin to flower and grow new shoots in anticipation of the rains. Daytime temperatures can rise to mid 30°C, though night time temperatures are still a comfortable 15°C.
It is hot, really hot! But never will you experience game viewing like this. It is well worth the sweat. Day temperatures rise regularly above 40°C and nights are warm with averages in the low 20’s°C. ‘Start early and leave late’ is the answer. This aversion to the midday heat is common to both people and animals alike. Animals are only active at first light and late in the day. Many species even begin to feed at night! There is no place to hide as everything is bare and the grasses are eaten or trampled. Night drives are at their best and the pervading dust makes all scenes dramatic. The Gadikwe heronry is now full of literally thousands of birds, , breeding, nesting and feeding. This is truly an awe inspiring sight.
Meanwhile in the desert - This is the hottest month in the region and no where is this dry heat as brutal as the Kalahari! Temperatures can soar into the mid to high 40°C and night time temperatures are over 20°C. Even the winds are hot and not a drop of moisture is left in the soil or plants as these desert winds scour the landscape. Mammals are generally active in the early morning and early evening in an effort to conserve as much energy as possible. Strangely, the Kalahari at this time is a patchwork of greens, yellows, whites and greys as the newly flowering acacias and yellow grasses create a vivid contrast to the lighter sands and dry bushes. The harsh and stunning landscape and extremes of temperature are what one expects from a desert. Thankfully, this spiritual environment can be experienced in the knowledge that the outside showers and ice cold drinks are never more than a few steps away!
The expectation (or rather the desperation) for rain dominates all discussions. People and animals all await an end to the dryness, dust and oppressive heat. Temperatures remain high both day and night and the game viewing continues to improve and will do so until the day of the first rains, normally around mid to late November. With the arrival of the rains comes an almost tangible relief. The herds begin to disperse to seek new grazing and will now begin to drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the tsessebe , followed by the impala and red lechwe. The predators, such as wild dog and cheetah, seek out these vulnerable young and kill many times a day to sate their hunger. There is plenty of predator/ prey interaction and great visibility as the vegetation is still growing. The green grass shoots, reminiscent of a mown lawn, and the trees bursting into life makes this a wonderful time for the photographers with action, colour and great visibility.
Meanwhile in the desert - One morning, you wake up, the air smells different and the light blue sky has taken on a different hue. While difficult to describe, there is a subtle difference from the last few months. The inhabitants of the desert clearly notice this change too. Springbok will not be feeding but instead will jostle with each other and pronk, seemingly excited and reptiles and insects are seen more regularly as they become increasingly active. There is a tension in the air which increases through the month as the first clouds appear on the horizon. The night skies are lit with brilliant displays of lightning and massive cloud formations and people and animals alike can smell the rain on the wind. This promise alone will prompt the herds to once again begin to return to the ancient valleys in increasing numbers.
The abundant protein rich grass feeds the mothers of the young antelope, while the lambs and calves grow at an astounding rate. The impala complete their lambing as the wildebeest begin and the rains become more regular with thunder storms every few days. The pans remain full and the bush colours are radiant in brilliant greens. The grasses begin to grow high and while the grazers enjoy the green tender mouthfuls, the stalking predators are becoming increasingly visible in their lighter winter camouflage. This ensures that the predators devote much of their time to hunting the numerous species which produces plenty of predator/ prey activity. All the migrant birds have arrived by this time and it is a prime time for birders to visit. Temperatures have cooled slightly with the arriving rains, but hot days still occur and nights are still warm and humid. For photographers, dramatic skies and lightning at night all add to the magic of December.
Meanwhile in the desert - The rains arrive. With these first drops comes an almost tangible release. The smell of the first raindrops on dry African soil is one that you will never forget. Almost overnight, the landscape changes: colours are bright and vivid as the dust is washed away, hundreds of wild flowers begin to appear and the bush turns a brilliant green. The pans are once again filled with energetic grazing herds and as always, the predators are nearby and thrive in this time of plenty. Late afternoon thunderstorms and heavy showers are the norm. The rains also result in lower relative temperatures with day times reaching mid 30°C while night temperatures are on average 20°C.