December is when Summer gets going in both East Africa and Southern Africa.
In East Africa it is the short rainy season. These summer showers clear the dust from air, providing magnificent views of Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park. In Tanzania, the herds of wildebeest and zebra are amassing in the south of the Serengeti, ready to calve. In Southern Africa, it is the start of the rainy season, and whilst game-viewing can be more challenging; in the drier areas, such as the Kalahari desert, this is where the bush comes alive with new growth, flowers bloom and new-born animals enter the world.
In Botswana, the Summer rains and thunderstorms have started, providing much-needed moisture to the dry landscape. In the Okavango Delta, the arrival of rain transforms the landscape from dusty brown to lush green. Whilst it also means that the wildlife disperses more and game-viewing is a little more challenging, it is a great time of year for flowers and the arrival of newborns.
The Kalahari desert is the place to be in December, as the baked landscape, which has had no rain for months, comes alive. Pans that have been dry for months, start filling up with rainwater, bringing back herds of zebra and springbok in time for them to give birth. Fly-in safaris are recommended at this time of year.
With a little bit of rain, the landscape in Namibia transforms and comes to life. The rains are mostly short showers in the afternoon. In wildlife areas, such as Etosha National Park the animals start to disperse as more water sources become available. This is the time of the year you can see newborn animals. and birding is at its best.
Many Zambian lodges and camps are closed during December. This is because Zambia’s infamous black cotton in the South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi areas becomes extremely sticky and wet, making the roads simply impassable, even for safari 4WD’s.
Very similar to Botswana, the rains are mostly short afternoon showers and seldom have a negative impact on your safari; however, it is possible that the rains can continue for days. Wildlife viewing is more challenging as the vegetation greens up.
South Africa has two climate zones, the south-western part of the country and the eastern area. December is one of South Africa’s finest months, particularly in the Cape area and along the Garden Route. With mountains, vineyards and beaches, Cape Town is one of South Africa’s best destinations in December. The weather is hot and dry. However, on the eastern side of the country, which receives Summer rain, a safari is not quite as good as a couple of earlier, when it was drier. That said, Kruger’s private reserves are a good option at this time of year as they provide the option and ability to get off-road for game-viewing.
Whilst the herds of zebra and wildebeest left the Masai Mara a month or so back, the private wildlife conservancies surrounding the Masai Mara, are a great option as these conservancies allow you to get off-road, walk and do night drives, thereby still offering excellent game viewing experience. The short rains usually clear around the middle of December.
In Serengeti National Park, the wildebeest are still moving southwards to the great plains of Ndutu, where they will calve in January/February. Being the end of the short rainy season, there is still some rain about but usually only in the form of short afternoon showers that are unlikely to affect game viewing.
Uganda and Rwanda
This is a good time for gorilla trekking, as usually, by this time, short rains have stopped. You can expect some rainfall, but not like the rains in April and May. It is a good time to trek gorillas and chimpanzees, as well as see some migratory birds.