Our Botswana experts reasons why May is the best time to visit
06 Jul 2020
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This is a question I get asked on a regular basis as well as a question I find particularly difficult to answer. Botswana is truly one of the few year-round safari destinations. Much of Southern and Eastern Africa’s best times to travel can be determined by heavy rains or migrations, however due to the numerous diverse environments and the prolific amounts of wildlife found in the Okavango delta in particular, Botswana seems to be blessed with incredible safari options and game viewing throughout the year.
One of Botswana’s biggest draws is the Okavango Delta. Fed by rains falling in the highlands of Angola flowing into the Okavango River, this annual flooding creates one of the largest inland deltas in the world which attracts high numbers of elephant, antelope and other plains game. Large bird migrations also flock to the deltas wetlands and surrounding semi-arid deserts making Botswana birders paradise. Throughout the year the Okavango Delta and neighbouring Chobe and Kwando Linyanti areas host phenomenal game viewing, with the peak dry months between May and early November being the best. Surface water and water holes gradually dry up resulting in many animals congregating around the few that remain. Predator numbers have been doing well in Botswana with large numbers of wild dog, lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah found throughout. Botswana also boasts a third of Africa’s elephant population and all the usual mammals you would expect to find in Southern Africa such as zebra, wildebeest, impala, springbok, giraffe, kudu and many more. Peak months are May though to November, but the months in between can be equally as rewarding. The first rule of any safari is not to expect to see everything, it’s possible to visit the most game rich environments at the best time of year and not see everything you had hoped for, yet travel out of season and see everything, this is especially true in an area as wild as Botswana but there is an incredible amount of being in the right place at the right time involved.
The drier areas such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park and the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park contrast not only in terrain and wildlife but also in the best time to visit.
Unlike the Okavango Delta the wildlife in these areas are much more sparse, however different species and the change environment can make it a welcome contrast when doing a touring safari of Botswana. Visiting these areas also provides the opportunity to see animals which are rarely, if ever found in the wetter regions in the North. In these drier environments wildlife such as oryx, bat eared fox, springbok and brown hyena are resident, along with a number of the smaller and often nocturnal cats such as caracal, African wild cat and Black footed cat. The Central Kalahari does hold the big game species such a Leopard, Lion but elephant rarely venture into this region. The drier habitat cannot hold the densities that you find in the Okavango Delta be aware that when visiting more patience is required and often more sitting and waiting but this will give you time to soak up the incredible surroundings.
With regards to the best times to visit, this can be a little more confusing. As mentioned, unlike the Delta, March – May often produces the best predator sightings as much of the plains game tends to head into the valleys of the Central Kalahari and its pans to feed on the nutrient rich grasses which have shot up since the rains. The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans also works very well from January through to March. As the rains fall forming a shallow layer of water the surrounding grasslands absorb this attracting the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa moving from the Boteti in the West across the Makgadikgadi National Park. Importantly, the Makgadikgadi also provides another reason to visit between April and October. As the water covered salt pans begins to dry they will become accessible on foot, in game drive vehicle or by quad bike. This really is a big draw to visiting at this time and allows you to experience an environment very few get the privilege to.
Now I have explained a little about where and when I should go into more about my favourite time of year, for combining the wildlife, weather and cost. For a number of reasons, I think May has to be the top month for me. In terms of weather the potential of rain is slim to none and it is the start of the dry season. The mornings and evenings are much cooler than February/March allowing for an extended period of morning and evening activity before the temperatures become too warm, this in turn provides great game viewing opportunities. Not only for the game viewing these cooler evenings, for me safaris and sitting around the campfire go hand in hand. Cooler night temperatures make sitting around the camp fire sharing stories from the days activities over a gin and tonic or glass of wine much more enjoyable, this is also lovely for warming up prior to your morning game drive with a cup of coffee. Don’t be fooled though, once you get to mid-day the temperatures will be pushing 30 degrees making for great relaxation time around the pool or reading a book in the shade. May also sits at the end of the shoulder season for the majority of camps so for the most you will able to stay at quite a reduced rate compared to June through to October making your holiday budget go further. If you are looking at combining your trip with Victoria Falls then this is also a great time to visit with the peak water flow being between March and May. The difference between high water and low water at the falls can be quite substantial so be sure to try and hit it at peak time or get as close to it as possible. That being said, spending time on the Zambezi river is magical all year round and certainly not just restricted to these months.
Finally, with a direct flight between Maun and Cape Town these two destinations combine nicely. With the warmer month in the Cape Falling between October and April, with a bit of Luck the beginning of May can also provide the best in both with a little bit of luck.
In conclusion Botswana is a fantastic place to visit all year round and each month has its individual benefits. Its important to look at the reasons behind you trip and what you look to get from the trip in terms of weather, experiences, wildlife viewing and where in particular you want to visit. When I consider all of the above, I find that May ticks the majority of Boxes and is a good place to start.