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When should you really come to Botswana?
Its only a bit of rain ... right? We often hear a lot of misconceptions on the internet as to exactly when is the best time to come on a safari to Botswana... Well, we live here in the Okavango Delta, and feel we are best placed to show you that there is never really a bad time to be in the bush.
Sure it rains in the green season, and it can also be blisteringly hot in the dry season.... However, "safari" is a mindset and there is perhaps no such thing as a perfect month... just better months.
Seasons are often dictated not only by weather patterns, but also by traditional holiday seasons in the US or Europe for instance. The end result is that there are some great months to come which have little to do with wet weather, and are offered at very good prices.
We all seem concerned about wet weather, but when you learn that the rainy season in certain areas of Botswana is PEAK season for game viewing, you see that its an all year round destination.
Below you will find some explanations - The fact is that, in reality the safaris are split into three seasons, each of which dictates the price scale you pay. This is not an exact science but it does generally follow weather patterns here, and with knowledge you can become a specialist.
Rain patterns are very indistinct here in Botswana... yes there can be days when its rains heavily with big storms but most days will be dry and if it rains at all it will be for a short burst only only, leaving you with a beautiful cloudy blue sky. Although in some years there has been sustained rains, these years are not so common.
It is in the green season when the Kalahari and the Salt Pans come to life. The huge Zebra migration occurs at this time, with thousands of animals moving to and from the area for the life giving waters and grass.
The Okavango Delta becomes verdant green including the land not affected by the annual Delta floods. This is a huge boost for wildlife in its annual life-cycle of survival.
The "Shoulder" Season is a bit of an oddity and its real meaning is not only based on the months surrounding the rainy season, but it also represents the months which are not necessarily western holiday months. Therefore shoulder season lodge prices are lower to entice tourists.
There is a practical rain element as well. The months April to June are considered at the very tail end of and moving out of the rainy season. Depending on how much rain has fallen, this dictates how many pools of water are left in the bush which may keep animals away from traditional game viewing areas.
The Kalahari and Nxai Pan will still be in full swing, whilst the more traditional areas to the north will be starting to get dry for the peak season.
Now you are in the full peak season for the traditional game viewing areas of the Okavango and the northern regions.
Essentially this is the dry season.. no rain whatsoever and it hasn't rained a drop for quite a while. This is also the time when its most likely that any water holes left by the rain have dried up, leaving the wildlife to go back to dry season water sources. Lodges and traditional game viewing areas take advantage of being placed around these scarce water supplies in order to maximize your chances of seeing wildlife.
As its peak season for the north, its actually off season for areas like the Kalahari... as animals move away from this area to find water.
Peak breeding time for many of the colourful migrant bird species. Excellent wild ﬂowers, brilliant green foliage, constant sounds day and night, from insects and birds. The bush is alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunder storms and warm days (average 30˚C plus) and nights (20˚C plus).
The short grasses on the fossil river valleys begin to grow rapidly in the middle of the rainy season, attracting the herds of gemsbok, springbok and red hartebeest onto the valley ﬂoors. The salt pans are inundated with rain water and at Nxai Pan, thousands of zebra inhabit the pan providing a constant source of protein for the resident lion prides.
Ripe ﬁgs are eaten by many species including the fruit bats who make interesting night sounds while feeding. Water lilies ﬂowering peak – colourful and noisy reed frogs – the Okavango Delta is brilliant, noisy and alive. With the rainy season all plants are growing actively, butterﬂies, birds, frogs and all the small creatures are at their most active and at their best. The rains continue in afternoon thunder storms with dramatic skies and sounds. Temperatures range up to 40°C but average above 30°C with warm nights (20°C plus)
The Bat Eared fox young and other canids begin to forage for the ﬁrst time and as they accompany their parents, they provide entertaining viewing as they attempt to hunt anything that vaguely resembles prey. The Katydid grasshopper populations are at their peak during their mating season and their distinct three phrase call dominates the hours of night. The predominant desert predators, lion and cheetah, are seen often as they inhabit the pans and river valleys, hunting the grazing herds at their leisure.
The mighty Zambezi is in full spate and river rafting is often closed now. The Victoria Falls are as powerful as they can be and very dramatic, truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In Botswana, the Marula trees fruit attract their attendant bull elephants, who wonder from tree to tree in search of their favourite mealsThe start of the rutting season leads to the sleek and fat impala males snorting and cavorting to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night but the air is drier and the rains less frequent.
A late summer afternoon, with the last clouds of the rainy season beginning to dissipate, the male barking geckos emerge to woo the females with a short three to four syllable barking sound. At Nxai Pan, the zebra have begun to move again, drifting in smaller herds towards the permanent water sources and winter grazing along the Boteti River, in the Makgadikgadi.
The ﬁrst signs that the times are changing. Night time temperatures drop to below 20°C on average but day temperatures continue to rise up to 40°C on some days. The cooler mornings, with high relative humidity, lead to wonderful early morning mists over the waters. The impala rut is in full swing and the challenges continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males.
There is a distinct chill in the night air now, together with the distinct chirp of the rain locust. Any surface water left from the rains has already dried up and while there is still good grazing on the open pans, mammals, birds and reptiles are preparing for the long dry season ahead. At Nxai Pan, the numbers of mammals at the water hole continues to grow as the rain fed water holes are mostly dry.
Flood waters from Angola start to reach the top of the Okavango Delta and begin their slow and deliberate progress through this vast wetlands system. With rains past and atmosphere much drier, the nights are cooler with temperatures averaging 15°C, while day temperatures - though still warm - have lost their edge and maximum temperatures seldom exceed 35°C.
The gemsbok females now seperate themselves from the herds as they prepare to give birth to young that look nothing like the adults. During the game drives, the young calves, which more closely resemble a red hartebeest or tsessebe, may be seen for brief periods when they come out of their hiding places to suckle. The atmosphere is increasingly dry, and the nights cooler with temperatures averaging 15°C, while daytime temperatures, though still warm, have lost their edge and maximum temperatures seldom exceed 30°C.
June is a time of excitement! The wild dogs begin to search for their annual den and our guides spend time seeking out their sites. Once they have denned, these rare animals will be easy to ﬁnd for 3-4 months as they hunt from their den. Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June, with night temperatures reaching as low as 5°C.Some green bushes and trees have scattered their leaves but many are almost bare. Seasonal waterholes are beginning to dry up.
The traditional yellows and greys of the Kalahari landscape dominate as any sign of the rains have passed. The Silky Bushmen grass on the edges of the pans sparkles in the dawn light after the ﬁrst frost of the year. This is winter in the Kalahari and has to be experienced to be believed. It is a time of harsh and arid beauty when one can truly understand the incredible adaptations made by a multitude of species of plants, birds, mammals and reptiles in order to survive.
The Delta floods arrive. The paradox is obvious: the ﬂood arrives when dust and dryness pervade and the rains have long gone. The leaves continue to fall from the trees and the grasses are getting drier and shorter every day. This means that visibility for game viewing is excellent. The nights are still cold but the days are warm and pleasant. This is the typical Botswana weather, sunny and clear. More and more animals congregate near the water and ﬂood plains for grazing
No surface water exists in this ‘thirst land.’ The many species that survive here - including human beings - have adapted to utilise varied sources of drinkable liquid including the early morning dew, succulent plants, natural springs and even the blood of their prey. This is the Kalahari of legend.
The herds are getting larger and limited access to the water leads to tension between the breeding herds of elephant and the nights are ﬁlled with elephant sounds. The bush is bare and the dust pervades but there is abundant action and amazing sightings. The ﬂoods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun. Thousands of herons, storks and other breeding birds start to congregate at the Gadikwe heronry.
At this time, the larger herds disperse into smaller groups as they spread out into the desert seeking out grazing or browsing. The predators will follow them and ‘survival of the ﬁttest’ best describes the mentality of desert inhabitants during the dry season. Daytime temperatures eventually rise to a pleasant mid 20°C but the temperatures at night can fall to below 0°C! Gloves, thermals and hats are the standard for early morning and evening drives!
The climate has changed and winter is all but gone. Night temperatures rise rapidly within the month and by month end, the averages reach 15°C plus at night and day temperatures soar well in the 30’s°C. The sun shines, the skies are clear and it is really dry and hot. Unbelievably, the elephant concentrate in still greater numbers as do the buffalo herds keeping the predators well fed as the season takes its toll on the prey species.This is a time of plenty for the lions. The skies are alive with colour as thousands of carmine bee eaters return from their winter feeding grounds and many other migrant bird species arrive. The water levels have slowly started to drop as the waters from Angola have completed their trek.
The end of August sees a very rapid change in temperature and in the blink of an eye, the winter is a distant memory. At this time the ﬁrst of the famous black-maned lions begin to call again with a sense of urgency as they gather the pride females. After the last few months of a mostly solitary life for the pride members, foraging for scarce prey over vast areas, it is time to renew bonds and to reclaim the pride’s territory. The rising temperatures signals the beginning of the end of the dry season and while the hottest time of the year is yet to come, many plants and grasses begin to ﬂower and grow new shoots in anticipation of the rains
It is hot, really hot! But never will you experience game viewing like this. It is well worth the sweat. Day temperatures rise regularly above 40°C and nights are warm with averages in the low 20’s°C. ‘Start early and leave late’ is the answer. This aversion to the midday heat is common to both people and animals alike. Animals are only active at ﬁrst light and late in the day. Many species even begin to feed at night!
This is the hottest month in the region and no where is this dry heat as brutal as the Kalahari! Temperatures can soar into the mid to high 40°C and night time temperatures are over 20°C. Even the winds are hot and not a drop of moisture is left in the soil or plants as these desert winds scour the landscape. Mammals are generally active in the early morning and early evening in an effort to conserve as much energy as possible. Strangely, the Kalahari at this time is a patchwork of greens, yellows, whites and greys as the newly ﬂowering acacias and yellow grasses create a vivid contrast to the lighter sands and dry bushes
The expectation (or rather the desperation) for rain dominates all discussions. People and animals all await an end to the dryness, dust and oppressive heat. Temperatures remain high both day and night. With the arrival of the rains comes an almost tangible relief. The herds begin to disperse to seek new grazing and will now begin to drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the tsessebe , followed by the impala and red lechwe. The predators, such as wild dog and cheetah, seek out these vulnerable young .
There is a subtle difference from the last few months. The inhabitants of the desert clearly notice this change too. Springbok will not be feeding but instead will jostle with each other and pronk, seemingly excited and reptiles and insects are seen more regularly as they become increasingly active. There is a tension in the air which increases through the month as the ﬁrst clouds appear on the horizon. The night skies are lit with brilliant displays of lightening and massive cloud formations.
The abundant protein rich grass feeds the mothers of the young antelope, while the lambs and calves grow at an astounding rate. The impala complete their lambing as the wildebeest begin and the rains become more regular with thunder storms every few days. The pans remain full and the bush colours are radiant in brilliant greens. The grasses begin to grow high and while the grazers enjoy the green tender mouthfuls, the stalking predators are becoming increasingly visible in their lighter winter camouflage.
The smell of the ﬁrst raindrops on dry African soil is one that you will never forget. Almost overnight, the landscape changes: colours are bright and vivid as the dust is washed away, hundreds of wild ﬂowers begin to appear and the bush turns a brilliant green. The pans are once again ﬁlled with energetic grazing herds and as always, the predators are nearby and thrive in this time of plenty. Late afternoon thunderstorms and heavy showers are the norm. The rains also result in lower relative temperatures with day times reaching mid 30°C while night temperatures are on average 20°C.
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Botswana Wildlife Safaris