Travel Southern Africa, Come Rain or Shine. Part 1: Botswana & Zimbabwe
Botswana and Zimbabwe have both captured the heart of Jenman African Safaris. The Intimate Botswana & Zimbabwe Encounter is one of our bestselling tours, and both of these destinations recently earned a high spot on the list of Top Safari countries in a poll taken by both safari experts and safari-goers. When planning a safari, it is essential to keep seasons in mind – depending on what type of Southern-African experience you are seeking. The dry season conjures stark landscapes with animal teeming around waterholes, whereas the rainy season provides lush bush and more delicate flora and fauna, with newborns taking their first cautious steps.
So how would you know when to go? Take a look at our seasonal guide to Botswana and Zimbabwe and let that guide your decision:
January/February: A fantastic time of the year to visit for birders, especially in the Delta, as the migrant species arrive to breed. The birdlife comes alive as they feast on the insects exploding from the wild grasses which have taken over the bush. With the dramatic African thunderstorms and excessive rain, most of the large animals have migrated deep into the parks – a luxury they do not have later in the year. This does not leave the landscape lacking, however, as the bush bursts with smaller creatures and wild flowers materialising as if from another dimension.
Meno a Kwena Tented Camp in Botswana is a fantastic destination to visit as the rains arrive and the river starts flowing, bringing with it new life. For a Zimbabwean adventure, the Matusadona National Park is a rainy season destination, with animals flocking to the shores of Kariba as their water source.
March: Rains start to subside and animals start emerging from the hinterland. This is the beginning of the massive zebra migration in Botswana. An alternative to the famous migrations of the Serengeti, this is a hidden gem on the tourist route. Staying at Jacks Camp or Nxai Pan for a first class experience, you have the highest chance of capturing this natural phenomenon. With the movement of the zebra, come the predators. Nothing is guaranteed, but the thrill of possibility at this time of year is rife.
The rains have increased water levels in the Zambezi River and the spray from Victoria Falls is particularly impressive from the high volume of water barreling down into the chasm. Spending time in the quaint village of Victoria Falls and staying at Ilala Lodge provides close access to this world wonder at this powerful stage in its journey.
April/May: A sweet spot in the safari calendar, as the rains have receded and animals start looking for water at permanent sources such as the Chobe River, the Okavango Delta, the Zambezi River and the pumped pans of Hwange National Park. Temperatures are high in the day but cool at night. Moremi Game reserve in Botswana boasts a delight of birds in their remaining floodplains, as well as the larger savannah game in the drier areas. In Zimbabwe, Elephant’s Eye, Hwange reflects its name as the animals congregate at its waterhole to quench the thirst of drier days.
June/July: With cold nights and chilly mornings, winter invites the big game to the increasingly stark landscapes. With more predictable movements in search of water, the possibility of finding game escalates. The safari crowds usually haven’t arrived yet and rates might even be more favourable. Mana Pools in Zimbabwe is a choice destination at this time of year for elephant sightings, as they are migrating towards the springs and river. This can also be witnessed from a canoe before the winds and heat pick up from August, an activity offered from the remote Kanga Bush Camp.
The Okavango is flooded from June; the perfect time to experience this unique ecosystem of waterways. The Belmond Eagle Island Lodge is ideally located for access to the delta, offering traditional Makoro rides or motorboat activities.
August: We’ve entered peak season, the bush vegetation is sparse and game viewing is excellent. There is no rain and animals travel from far to reach water sources. With fantastic game activities in Northern Hwange National Park, Nantwich Lodge is the perfect spot for game drives as well as guided walks. With high populations of elephant and wild dog, this location will not disappoint.
Delving in to Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge in Chobe promises a chance of siting lion which often frequent the camp. Situated on the Savute Chanel, an area seemingly unaffected by rainfall, wildlife is a constant possibility with the water source moving to its own ebbs and flows.
September/October: The heat has arrived. The bush is dry and dusty, the high temperatures are intense for some travellers but if you can handle it the game viewing is phenomenal. Animals gather around what scarce vegetation and water they can find and predators become more brazen. Victoria Falls water levels start to decrease which is great for White Water Rafting and swimming in the Devil’s Pool at the edge of the Falls. Intimate wildlife experiences await at Linyanti Ebony Camp, Botswana, located on a rich ecosystem with a permanent river flow – essential for this time of the year.
November/December: Rains are slowly starting again and greenery is peeping out. November is still very hot while December is cooler with more rain. African thunderstorms bring dramatic contrast to the skies, with the rain offering reprieve from the recent summer heat. The bush eagerly quenches itself, grateful for the December showers.
The caves of Matobo National Park may satiate your cultural curiosity while staying at Amalinda Lodge, exploring the historical side of Zimbabwe. Alternatively, one may track Rhino through the orchestra of fresh and lively sounds celebrating green season. With the grass growing lush in the Makgadikgadi Pans, herds of animals swarm to this area of Botswana and the pans become abundant with life. Meno a Kwena Camp is once again a Jenman African Safaris favourite for this time of year.
Each season holds a quintessential quality of the African bush. Whether the magic lies in watching the weaver birds spin their tale, or the iconic elephants of Mana pools stretch their length to the Albida pods – the essence of Africa remains.