When To Go And Where In East Africa
Let us talk about when to go and where in East Africa, in other words, the best time to go on safari in East Africa. and best places to visit in Africa. As you plan for your African vacation, you will need to be in the right place at the right time.
Best time to go on safari in East Africa and best places to visit in Africa
East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) is at it’s best in their winter months of mid-June to October when the parks are dry, the weather sunny and the wildlife excellent. The peak wildlife season in Southern Africa is actually fairly similar with the best months being from May through until the end of October.
One thing to be conscious of is when to go to avoid the rainy seasons in each region. East Africa has two rainy seasons and is mainly dry and nice in between these rains. The short rains come in November, and then there is a mostly dry break between then and late March when the long rains arrive, lasting until the end of May. November is still a good time to visit for fantastic wildlife, though April and May should probably always be avoided in East Africa as it is really very wet.
There are, of course variations of this from country to country and area to area, so if you are not sure when to go to where, just pick up the phone and ask an Odyssey expert.We can also let you know the best times to go to maximise wildlife opportunity whilst avoiding peak season prices
There is no single best time to visit East Africa but there are rainy and dry seasons. Each has its advantages and each destination has its best moments, not least in the Maasai Mara/Serengeti where the seasonally-driven wildebeest migration takes place. If you have already decided when you are going on safari, it’s now time to choose where to travel to; if your dates are flexible, you can plan your safari better by understanding East Africa’s seasonal trends.
Kubwa Five Safaris has split the year up into three periods to coincide with the main phases of the wildebeest migration and the rainy seasons.
DECEMBER TO MARCH
At a glance: Expect warm temperatures and short rains. Game viewing in the Serengeti, diving in Zanzibar and gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda are excellent choices now.
Weather: This is summer in East Africa. Temperatures are warm and pleasant with an average high of 28°C and an average low of 15°C. The rains from early November to late March are usually scattered and localised with short-lived downpours. There is often heavy rain in late March.
Where To Go:
- The Serengeti: As the mid-November rains begin, the wildebeest herds move onto the southern and eastern plains of the Serengeti and the northern Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. If you want to see predators in action, the February calving season provides plenty of drama.
- Lake Nakuru: In terms of birdlife, Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes are at their peak in January and February. Flamingos gather at Lake Nakuru in their hundreds of thousands and the pink mass they create is a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming spectacle.• Mount Kilimanjaro If you want the best conditions to climb Africa’s highest peak, go during warm and dry January and February.
- Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda & Uganda: Late December to early March sees the driest weather in Uganda and Rwanda: gorilla treks are easier and the views better.
- Zanzibar: Visit between late December and early March. Temperatures are a little higher than during the cooler and drier late June to October period but it’s less crowded and you’ll get better deals on accommodation and air fares.
APRIL TO JUNE
At a glance: Don’t be put off by the long rains: safaris are still good in the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Masai Mara. It’s also less expensive and popular destinations are less crowded.
Weather: The long rains arrive and heavy showers can be expected for a few hours every day or so. Avoid the hot and humid East African coast at this time as well as Uganda and Rwanda – rain is torrential.
Where To go:
- Southern & Central Serengeti: With the wildebeest herds forming huge, noisy columns in preparation for their trek, April, May and June are the best months for game viewing in the southern and central Serengeti and the northern Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.
- Ngorongoro Crater: Providing some of Africa’s best Big 5 game viewing, the Ngorongoro Crater is excellent year round; the main factors for planning your trip here are weather and visitor numbers. From April to June the crater will be lush and green and you’ll have much of the place to yourself.
- Gorilla trekking in Uganda & Rwanda: If you can’t go gorilla trekking between January and March, then you can consider between April and June. Please note that the next best option is to go in the relatively dry months of June to August.
JULY TO NOVEMBER
At a glance: Mild temperatures and classic dry-season game viewing make these months a popular time to visit East Africa. Book accommodation and tours well in advance, especially if it’s the wildebeest migration you want to see. Visitor numbers peak in August.
Weather: The October to December short rains in Tanzania and central Kenya notwithstanding, these months are mostly dry and sunny forcing animals to gather at permanent water. July to September offers the most pleasant weather in East Africa, especially along the coast.
Where To go:
- Western Serengeti: By early July the wildebeest and zebra herds have arrived in the western Serengeti and the Grumeti Reserves. Not only are big cats highly visible at this time but this is when the herds have to cross crocodile-infested rivers – prepare for Jurassic-style drama.
- Northern Serengeti: As the dry season wears on, the animals move across the northern Serengeti as they make their way back to the Maasai Mara though the Mara River has to be crossed first. Game viewing in this region is now excellent.
- Maasai Mara: By mid-August, the herds have flooded Kenya’s Maasai Mara where they remain until early October. This is when game viewing in the Maasai Mara is at its peak.
- Gorilla trekking in Uganda & Rwanda: If you can’t go gorilla trekking in January and February, or between March and May, the next best option is to go in the relatively dry months of June to August.
- Mount Kilimanjaro: September is a great month to climb Kilimanjaro but so are July and August if you don’t mind colder temperatures.
- Zanzibar: The coolest and driest time to visit Zanzibar is between late June and October – great for families – but this is also when the island is at is busiest and accommodation rates and air fares are at their peak.
- Tarangire National Park: Smaller and less visited than the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire comes into its own from July to November when enormous numbers of animals are drawn to the life-giving Tarangire River. Elephant viewing is outstanding and your chances of seeing Africa’s top predators in action are high.
The Mountain Gorillas
Did you know that Uganda has the highest percentage of Mountain Gorillas in the world? There are currently less than 1200 mountain gorillas left in the world and almost half of the population resides in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Gorilla trekking is one of the top activities while on a safari.
Visit Uganda and experience a lifetime memorable activity that you can’t easily forget, and that is why thousands of foreigners flock to the country annually to have trek mountain gorillas.
These gentle giants can be found in two of Uganda’s national parks; Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to more than 1,000 flowering plant species and 200 different trees many of which are endemic. Keep a lookout for African green broadbill, colorful butterflies and countless rare mammals on your travels.
The tracking permit in Uganda for the gentle mountain giants is reasonably priced at US$700 per person compared to the neighboring country, Rwanda which is US$1,500 per permit per person, and there greatly more to experience on a visit to Uganda like lion tracking, chimpanzee tracking, and rhino tracking.
The best time to visit Uganda for trekking Gorillas is during its two dry seasons; between December and February, and between June and August when conditions are particularly good for trekking to see mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Game spotting in national parks is also good at this time, as well as between February and March.
In A Nutshell: When you think about it, it’s always a good time of year to travel to East Africa – it just depends on what you want to see, do and experience.
Travelling between March and May (the first rainy season of the year) means you’ll have to look a bit harder for wildlife; the bushland is dense, so it’s much easier for the animals to hide – but the landscapes will be a vibrant green. If you can handle a few showers each day (and the occasional drenching downpour), this is a beautiful time to visit.
April to September is when the Great Migration northwards happens, when tens of thousands of wildebeest crash their way across East Africa, from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara, in search of food and water.
June to October is generally dry and cooler – and the busiest time of year – while the second wet season rolls through in late-October and lasts until December. By January, the rains have stopped and the area enters its first yearly dry spell.
So when is your favourite time of year to visit? February. Below are the reasons why.
- It’s the driest time of the year. So it’s one of the best times of year for seeing wildlife.
- It’s shoulder season; Flights are cheaper, and you won’t be paying a premium for accommodation and activities (and school holidays are over in most parts of the world, so it’ll be less crowded too).
- It’s hot during the day. With temperatures around the 30 degree Celsius mark, the weather’s perfect for making the most of hotel and guesthouse swimming pools, not to mention the excellent beaches.
- Balmy in the evenings. Many East African cities have an awesome outdoorsy nightlife; think rooftop bars, beer gardens and outdoor restaurants.
- You can spot a different Great Migration. While April marks the start of the best time to see the ‘official’ Great Migration – when herds of wildebeest and zebras make their way across the Serengeti – February is when you’ll spot migrating whale sharks along the coast of Tanzania and Kenya.
- It’s a great time for bird watching.
- Calving season starts. A visit to the Serengeti during calving season is a pretty incredible experience. In February each year, thousands of pregnant wildebeest give birth – it’s estimated around 8000 baby wildebeest are born each day throughout the month – as well as tens of thousands of zebras and gazelles.
- Into hiking? Climb Mt Kilimanjaro (minus the crowds). At 5985 metres, Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and it’s a popular trek for avid hikers. Making the climb in February means the slopes are dry, and it’s much less busy than the peak June to October season. It’s also cooler than during the summer months; you’re more likely to encounter snow the higher you get.
It is a great year round safari destination, and each season has its advantages. Factor in your budget, your appetite for crowds and busy sightings, and what you are hoping to see (trek gorillas, predators, the great migration, river crossings, or general wildlife). If in doubt, get in touch with one of our team safari experts who will help design a custom itinerary for you that matches your requirements perfectly.
What is your favourite time of year to go on safari in East Africa? Let us know by writing to us.
We hope have given a detailed helpful information about the best times to visit each country in East Africa and also the best countries to visit in each month and as well as the best places/national parks to visit.