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

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.

2. Green season versus dry season in Botswana

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.

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. 

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.

January

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.

February

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.

March

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.

April

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.

May

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.

June

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.

July

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.

August

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.

September

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.

October

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.

November

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.

December

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.

Green Season Versus Dry Season in Botswana.

The question of whether to go to Botswana in the green or dry season is one that we get asked a lot. Often people assume that the dry season will be better because they don’t like the idea of being rained on on safari, but it’s not always quite as easy an answer as that.

The ‘best’ season to go depends mostly on your interests in terms of flora, fauna and landscape, and also whether you can cope with extreme heat (October in particular can be staggeringly hot).

Here is a useful list of pros and cons of the green versus the dry season in Botswana will be the best time for you to travel.

Green Season (November – March)

chobe-elephant
The green or rainy season in Botswana begins in roughly mid-late November and lasts more or less until the end of March.  Of course the rains are fickle so this really is a moveable feast, but on the whole this is when the bulk of the rain falls, with February usually seeing the most rain.  Of course this is a generally dry country so we’re not talking about vast quantities of rainfall (although a big thunderstorm can feel like it) and certainly the north east gets more than the south. The dramatic skies bring thunderstorms and heavy rain, but it’s usually over for the day in one big downpour mostly in the afternoon. The rest of the day is dry, hot and humid.  It’s rare to get more than two consecutive days of rain.

Chobe-elephant-game-driveLush landscapes
Within a few short days and weeks, parched dry landscapes transform themselves with a clothing of fresh green grasses, and flowers start to bloom. This is summer, it’s hot, humid and abundance is everywhere.  It’s a beautiful time to be in the country.

Zebra migrationMigrations
The Makgadikgadi salt pans turn into wetlands attracting tens of thousands of animals, thousands of zebras and plains game head for Savuti, and the Kalahari explodes with a big population of wildlife coming to eat the new grasses on the pans.  These migrations of wildlife from more permanent water sources to floodplains and pans with the fresh new vegetation are a real draw for this time of year.  It’s hard to gauge exactly when this will happen, but if you happen to hit the point when the huge herds are on the move it’s particularly spectacular.

The desert
The green season is the very best time to come to the Kalahari, and arguably the Pans too, if general wildlife is your focus.

Chobe-elephant-game-driveNewborns
It seems as if the antelope wait until the very moment the rains begin to give birth.  In fact in a way they do, as they can delay giving birth for a time if the rains are late.  Then they all give birth at one, and sadly this means a big feast for predators.

Birding
Whilst Botswana is actually very good for birds all year, certainly the very best time is the green season. At this time migrants return from all over the world so you get strong populations of flamingos, wattled cranes, kingfishers, kites, bee-eaters, swallows and more. It is really a birding paradise at this time of year.

Photography
With the beautiful colours, wonderful clear atmosphere and dramatic skies, as well as the extra sparkle from the rains, this is a phenomenal time to come if you’re a keen photographer. And of course you have some of the great wildlife spectacles too – zebra migrations, antelopes giving birth, and predators enjoying the bounty of the season.

Bogged down
One downside of the green season is that travel logistics can be tricky as roads can become mud baths, or even rivers! This means that if you travel in this season you need to travel with a flexible attitude and accept that not all plans might work like clockwork.

Prices
Many travellers are not prepared to travel on safari in the green season. Their view is that game viewing is generally much better in the dry season when grasses are shorter so it’s easier to find the wildlife, and the wildlife has to congregate near permanent water sources so again this makes them easier to find. Whilst this is not wrong, there are other reasons to travel outside of this season, and price is one of them.  In the green season, lodges try to encourage more visitors by dropping their prices, and frequently dropping single supplements totally.  You can therefore get some great deals in the green season.
(Note: The shoulder season, which for most camps and lodges is May, June & November is a good time to visit too, as whilst not quite so cheap as the rainier months, it’s still cheaper than high season and the wildlife can be very good).

Fewer visitors
Since fewer visitors are aware of the joys of the green season, you get a lot more privacy on your safari at this time.  In the dry season, Chobe is the busiest spot, particularly in the east.

Dry Season (April – October)

Lion

The dry season in Botswana tends to kick in around the end of March/ start of April.  The rains fizzle out and everything on the land begins to dry up from that point until they come again in about late November. Early in the season the air is still quite fresh and clear but it doesn’t take long before the wetlands become parched and the dust starts flying.  And then there are the fires which sometimes catch the drying grasses which have grown long over the green season. The heat slowly increases until it hits its peak in October, the hottest month in Botswana. So if it’s such a dry and dusty time to come here, why is the dry season such a popular time to visit? Well, there are good reasons …

okavango-flightThe Delta floodwaters
Perhaps unexpectedly the time of high water in the Okavango Delta does not coincide with the green season. It’s very much in the dry season. Why? Because the floods come all the way from Angola and it takes a few months for them to reach Botswana. They usually start arriving in about May and they noticeably begin drying up by about October.  So May to October is the peak season in terms of the Okavango Delta waters.

Eagle catch fishWildlife and water
It’s all about water in Botswana. In the green season there is water all over the land. In the dry season this gets limited more and more to only permanent water sources such as rivers and lagoons and very large waterholes.  Of course the animals need water to survive, so they are forced to congregate closer to these guaranteed water sources as the dry season continues. This goes especially for the larger mammals. The effect of this is that thousands of elephants and buffalos are seen in the Chobe and Linyanti river regions in the north. It’s quite a spectacle.  It also means that in Savuti, the remaining waterholes  are the focus for some dramatic wildlife encounters as thirsty game come to drink at waterholes even when predators are obviously in sight.

Shade and cover
As the dry season moves on the grasses die down and some trees lose their leaves.  This means there is less shade for the animals and also less cover for them to hide in.  This makes it easier for us to see the wildlife and can also make it easier for predators to see their prey.

walking safariWalking safaris
It’s not really safe to walk in the wild when long grasses could hide predators. So the dry season is the time to enjoy this excellent safari activity on the whole.

mokoro-thumbnailMokoro trips
There are some camps in the Delta which can offer mokoro trips all year round, but some can only offer this activity when the floodwaters are at their height, in other words from about May to October.

Bugs
It is a small point, but if you’re a mosquito magnet, you’ll find the dry season less of a problem than the green season.

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

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:

  1. Seeing the pans full of wildlife and clothed in greenery is just beautiful.
  2. 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.

Godikwe heronry

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.