What is the difference between high season and low season?
You may hear about the different seasons in Africa, and although they still have Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, the seasons are more often just split into two, and these revolve around the rainfall:
- High, peak or dry season
- Low, off-peak or wet season
Planning an African safari is exciting, with so much information to digest, working through your list of priorities and what the bank account can afford. Whenever you can take holidays will be your main influencing factor, then cost, but the seasons in Africa also play an essential role, and with that, pricing varies due to seasonal fluctuations. But whenever you can get away on safari, Africa will do its magic and provide you with something special.
There will always be a trade-off between the peak season and the low season, but there are benefits to travelling in either time frame. Some locations also offer a shoulder season that fits in between high and low seasons.
We have travelled in all seasons, and each time of year has something special to offer.
Africa’s dry season (which varies throughout the continent) has historically been the best time to travel on safari. The reason is that water sources are more concentrated, so the animals congregate around the water holes in larger numbers. There is less vegetation on the trees, and the grass has been eaten or trampled down, so this enables you to see through the bush better.
Most mobile camps are only open in the dry season, as the more remote locations are only accessible when the roads are dry. But with that comes dust – especially at the end of the dry season. In places like Ngorongoro Crater, with limited size and potentially many vehicles, the dust in the afternoon can become almost unbearable. However, this does make for some stunning full moon rises as the dust in the air turns the moon red.
Pricing also reflects peak game viewing time. With the great game viewing opportunities come great numbers of safari goers, and visitor numbers can be ridiculously high in some parts of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve, in Kenya, Serengeti National Park, Chobe National Park and Kruger National Park, where the popular locations are well-known hotspots for large congregations of vehicles, and you may have up to 50 vehicles trying to view one sighting of predators or a river crossing during the great migration.
The rainy seasons have traditionally been less popular times to travel on safari. However, there are hidden gems during the seasonal rains, and pricing is lower, so more people are travelling at that time.
Rain is the most valuable commodity in Africa, so everyone celebrates. Many of the antelope withhold their young until the rains come. Then, there is an influx of babies while there is plenty of vegetation for feeding. With that comes predators. Flowers rapidly bloom, and dry riverbeds flow for a very short time, channelling life-giving water to parched lands. Migratory birds return to Africa from Europe, and cloudy skies allow for dramatic photography of sunrises and sunsets.
Accessibility can be limited, and mobile camping in the rain is not fun, so this will be limited during the rainy season. Also, some activities are not offered during the wet season due to the unpredictable weather. But all in all, still a great time to travel.
The animals spread out more as water is available in more places. That coupled with longer grass and denser vegetation, the game can be harder to find, but that makes it so much more rewarding when you do spot them in the bush. The bonus is that you will have few to no other vehicles at your sighting.
If it does rain when you are on safari, then generally, this won’t affect your game-viewing activity. It may shift timewise slightly to go out after the rain, or you will layer up with a poncho and head out anyway. After the rain, there is a pleasant relief from the heat of the day, and everything feels fresh and clean. It very rarely rains all day, nor every day; however, with changing weather patterns all over the world, this can sometimes occur.
The rains in Africa are more like a tropical downpour in the afternoon, regularly preceded by thunder and often lightning as well. The sky is dramatic, and the sunrises and sunsets are truly spectacular. There is something quite magical about watching a storm roll in across the savannah. The rainfall is very localised and can rain where you are but stay dry 5 km away, and vice versa. It rarely rains all day, nor every day; however, with changing weather patterns all over the world, this can sometimes occur. But if it does, the land is blessed with good grazing and vegetation growth, which results in healthy wildlife and happy people.
East Africa is unique, with two wet seasons
(i) The ‘long rains’ (March/April to May)
(ii) The ‘short rains’ (October/November to December)
Southern Africa can have rain as early as September, but generally, more consistent rain will be later in the year and can carry on until around March. After those late rains, the animals grow their thick winter coats to keep them warm during the long, cold winter.
Cape Town is the exception. Like New Zealand, it receives winter rain. So, if you add a trip to Cape Town to a peak season safari, you may not have the best weather in Cape Town.
With any safari at any time, sightings are never guaranteed, so there are pros and cons to travelling off-peak or during shoulder seasons. Although not every location has a shoulder season, but there are definitely high and low seasons.
Christmas, although technically the wet/off-season, is a popular time to travel, so pricing may fall into peak season rates.
What do the different seasons offer, and how do they vary?
Each country has different seasonal variations and sometimes a variance within that country. So when is the best time to go on an African Safari? Here are some pros and cons to help you decide.
|Peak Season Pros||Peak Season Cons|
|Concentrated game viewing||Most expensive time to travel|
|Very little chance of rain||It can be very cold at night|
|All mobile camps operating||Dusty roads to travel on|
|Full range of activities||Extremely busy in public parks|
|Full accessibility on all roads||Need to book far in advance|
|Low Season Pros||Low Season Cons|
|Lower numbers of visitors||Possibility of rain|
|Lower pricing and often specials||Humidity can be high until it rains|
|Plants are flowering||Animals are less visible|
|Excellent migratory birding||More insects and mosquitos|
|Calving season||Some activities are not available|
|Dramatic photo opportunities||Some areas may not be accessible|
Below is a simple breakdown of high, shoulder and low seasons for the various locations. However, within each country, there is quite a bit of variation. For more detailed tables, please click through on the country pages.
|Low/Green/Wet Season||Shoulder Season||High/Peak/Dry Season|