Best time to go to Botswana
Well, the answer for Botswana is the same for any other country – it depends!
When to go to Botswana
When you’re deciding to go on any African safari, you always want to know what is the best time to go. It’s understandable – a safari is a considerable expense, and you want to ensure that you make the most of your holiday time and money. What is the best time to go to Botswana could be different for you than for someone else. Of course there are always wonderful things to see, but we know that you need to understand what the pros and cons are for different times of year. To help you, here are the three ways of looking at this question.
1.Month by month calendar for Botswana
You’ll find the weather patterns and also other factors in an easy-to-use month by month calendar format. Bear in mind that most of life in Botswana is timed around the rains. We’ve given the most likely scenario in terms of timing, but nature doesn’t always stick to what’s expected of it.
Peak of the wet season, though it still doesn’t rain every day. Warm days (average 30°c but can be as hot as 40°c) and nights (20°c). Lush green foliage and flowers and birds in song. Peak breeding time for many migrant birds. Great month for photography, with gorgeous colours and dramatic skies. Predators have an easy time preying on the young plains game. The Kalahari and Salt Pans are now flush with fresh grass attracting lots of wildlife. In the Pans, thousands of zebras and wildebeest have come to graze here from the west. Lions and other predators benefit from this surfeit of game.
Peak of the wet season, though it still doesn’t rain every day. Still very hot. It can reach up to 40° during the day but the average is still about 30°c. Waterlilies are at their best, as are many of the smaller creatures such as birds, frogs and butterflies. The Kalahari and the Pans are still at their best for wildlife. It’s still a great month for photography.
Still hot days and warm nights, but cooling a little, and the rain is dwindling. The Kalahari and the Pans are still generally good for wildlife. Birding is still very good. Nearby Victoria Falls is in full flood. Marula trees are in fruit and elephants go a long way to find these tasty treats.
The rain has stopped. Nights begin to cool off, though days can still be very hot. The impala rutting season is well under way, with males in peak health displaying to females and trying to ward off rivals. In the Salt Pans the herds can begin to move from between about now and May over to the permanent water source of the Boteti River. The aptly named sausage trees are now bearing their pendulous fruit. In Nxai Pan the waterhole is the focus as general groundwater has mostly dried up now. Large numbers of mammals, and especially elephants hog the waterhole for as long as they can.
Temperatures begin to drop more noticeably, with nights averaging about 15°c and daytime temperatures still around 30° but rarely getting above 35°c. Floodwaters begin to reach the top of the Okavango Delta. Migratory birds begin to depart for winter. The land begins to dry out and animals start moving towards permanent water sources.
It’s getting colder. You’ll need warm clothes for the cold nights, evenings (down to around 5°c, less in the desert) and mornings, but these give way to sunny warm days in the mid-20s. Wild dogs begin to den. For the next 3-4 months the dogs are generally easier to find as they are never too far from the den. All but the largest seasonal waterholes have dried up by now, so the main rivers and lagoons are the focus for wildlife. It’s getting dusty, grasses are dying back and trees are shedding leaves. It’s all turning brown.
This is winter and it can be very cold in mornings and evenings. By now, most areas of the Delta have felt the arrival of the floods. It’s a godsend for an increasingly parched landscape and its inhabitants. Mokoro and boat trips trips are available in many Delta camps near the water now. Game viewing is excellent.
This is winter and it can be very cold in mornings and evenings. Thousands of breeding birds such as storks and herons begin to congregate to nest in heronries such as the one at Godikwe near Kwara in the Delta. It’s dry and dusty away from the water sources, and wildlife is finding itself in smaller areas close to water which can sometimes cause tensions and drama. It’s a good time for bush walks now that the high grasses have died down.
It starts to get hot now and the heat builds up quickly over this month and the next. Temperatures of mid-30s are common and night temperatures are back to around 15°c. The floodwaters start to slowly drop from now on. Carmine bee-eaters and other migratory birds begin to arrive back in good numbers. The Godikwe heronry is jam-packed now. September and October are the peak months for elephants and buffalos by the Delta and rivers such as the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwando. This is a time of plenty for predators as the dry season inevitably takes its toll on some of the plains game. In the Kalahari, solitary black-maned lions begin to call the females to them once more – it’s a great sight (and sounds), but be warned that it is seriously hot.
This is the hottest month in Botswana with daytime temperatures often well over 40°c. If you can stand the heat, this is one of the very best months for game viewing, but you (and the wildlife) definitely need to avoid the midday heat. September and October are the peak months for elephants and buffalos by the Delta and rivers such as the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwando. This is a time of plenty for predators as the dry season inevitably takes its toll on some of the plains game. The heronries are now absolutely full of birds – an awesome sight. The Kalahari is off-limits for most visitors due to the heat often reaching the high 40s.
It’s stiflingly hot until the rains arrive. The first rains come about mid-late November and everyone and everything breathes a sigh of relief. With the rains come the newborns – first the tsessabe, then the impala, red lechwe and more. It is feast time for the predators once more. Herds once again begin to move away from permanent rivers to seasonal grasslands. Life seems to begin again and colour and freshness returns to the landscape. Migrant birds start to arrive later in the month.
Antelope youngsters grow quickly, and the wildebeest begin calving. The first rains hit the desert regions and very quickly the temperature drops and the arid plains become bright green grasslands which attract herds of antelopes and more. The pans such as Nxai and Makgadikgadi once again fill with zebra and wildebeest and other wildlife, to the joy of attendant predators. Thunderstorms come every few days and this is again a dramatic time for photographers. Most of the migrant birds have returned by now.
Which is the best time to go? If you’re going on safari to Botswana, the question of whether you should go in the green season or the dry season will inevitably come up. There is really not a cut-and-dried answer to this as it depends on what you want to get out of your visit. If you’re a birder, you’ll probably want to go in the green season (though the dry season is still good), but if you want the very best big game you’ll likely favour the dry season. If price is an issue, it’s the green season but if seeing the Delta in flood is a priority well it has to be the dry season. The best thing we can do is give you the information so you can choose for yourself, or you can chat to us about this if you prefer.
3.When to go to Botswana: Wildlife patterns
One of the criteria for choosing one month or season over another can be that there are certain wildlife events happening which you might like to try and see. Whilst nothing is ever guaranteed in the wild world, at least being armed with the knowledge of when things are most likely to happen will get you a bit closer to that longed-for experience.
Wild dogs are an endangered species which can be hard to find, but which actually Botswana can offer a good chance for you to see. Moremi Game Reserve and the Linyanti and Kwando regions are the two very best regions for wild dogs, though they can also be seen elsewhere too. You can see wild dogs all year round, but if you want to give yourself the very best chance we’d advise visiting from about June to October. The reason for this is that the dogs mostly den in about June, then stick around the den until their pups are old enough to move on with them. This process takes about 3-4 months. Once they’ve denned, the dogs tend to always use the den as their base, and go hunting from there each day. This makes it much easier for us to find them.
Makgadikgadi Zebra Migration
The zebra migration in the Makgadikgadi is the second largest zebra migration in Africa after the Serengeti/Masai Mara migration. An estimated 20,000 zebras and many thousand wildebeest, plus antelopes make a twice yearly trek from the area around the permanent water source of the Boteti River which borders Makgadikgadi National Park (west of the salt pans) to the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans and back again. The herds stay near the permanent water of the Boteti in the dry season, so from about May to October. Then when the rains come (usually around late November) they start to migrate to the salt pans, which are transformed into lush green pastures by the annual rains. The herds love the fresh, rich new vegetation so they are drawn here for this. They stay in these areas until the grasses and seasonal groundwater have gone, and they are forced back to the permanent river for water. Their trek back begins roughly in late April or May. There are two aspects to this wildlife spectacle:
- Seeing the pans full of wildlife and clothed in greenery is just beautiful.
- The moment when the herds start their trek from one place to another, before they spread out at each end, is an amazing sight. Unfortunately, hitting this particular sight correctly is extremely difficult, so it’s more a question of luck than judgement.
Flamingos in Makgadikgadi
The Makgadikgadi is one of the most important breeding sites in southern Africa (and indeed one of only 3 in the whole of Africa) for the greater and lesser flamingo. Sua Pan is the main spot, including Nata Bird Sanctuary in the north east of Sua Pan. Due to the influx of water from the Nata River, this area of pan rarely dries up totally, so it’s a real haven for birdlife particularly in the dry season of May to October. It attracts up to 165 bird species including crowned cranes, korhaans, bustards, harrier, carmine bee-eaters, teals, secretary birds … The 230km2 Nata Bird Sanctuary is an award-winning community project run by the Kalahari Conservation Society. In a good year Botswana’s green season (Nov-April) can see up to 150,000 flamingos here and elsewhere in Sua Pan, a veritable blanket of pink. It’s quite a sight.
From about September to March, thousands of herons, storks and egrets congregate at the Godikwe Heronry, one of the largest in southern Africa, to nest and breed. By October the heronry is in full swing and a really impressive sight. The heronry is in Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta.
The Impala rut
At about the end of March, beginning of April, the testosterone levels of impalas rises and it’s time for the rut. Males fight to win dominance over the female herds and their territory. Their snorting and growling can be heard all around, and frequent skirmishes can be seen as males try to force rivals away. It’s a spectacular show, and of course the winners get to mate with the females. By the end of May it’s usually all over, as by then most of the females have been covered and are pregnant, ready to give birth (usually en-masse) in about November when the rains come. Sadly for the males, they are often so focussed on guarding their position and the females against all-comers, that they regularly find themselves off-guard when it comes to predators. A high number of the impalas killed in April and May are rutting males.