Summer vs. Winter: When to Safari

When is the best time to go on safari?

This is ultimate question.

But at the risk of sounding non-commital, there’s no such thing as a “best time”. Or maybe “it depends” would be a better way to put it. The question should really be “When is the best time for ME to go on safari?”.
SO much depends on what you want to see, do or photograph, so the simplest way to get to grips with it is probably to look at three of the main components that safari is based upon – wildlife, weather and photography – and look at all three from a seasonal point of view, even thought all three are inextricably linked.



Dress warmly in the mornings and evenings, because it can be really cold. The uninitiated may not view Africa as a cold continent, but sitting on the back of an open game viewer in -10° is no joke! Granted that is an extreme, but even the low single digit mornings can be very uncomfortable if you aren’t prepared.
Cold mornings give way to wonderfully temperate days however (shorts and t-shirt weather), and given that this is the dry season, clouds are a rare sight.
As soon as the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly, so make sure you have a couple of extra layers with you on drive!


Summer is a time of contrasts; it can get very hot on safari, but it can also be wonderfully cool during a week of overcast weather. This is the rainy season after all, so a few downpours here and there should not be unexpected, but often it will simply bucket down for an hour and then clear into the most magnificent sunset.
It’s unlikely you’ll need any clothing for really cold weather during this time of year, but rain jackets are definitely a good idea. Most lodges will offer their guests ponchos in case of precipitation.

The main thing in using weather as a determining factor in your safari decisions is consistency. In winter you are likely to get weeks on end of cool, dry weather, with barely a cloud in the sky, whereas in summer it’s a bit more of a lucky dip. It might not rain for three weeks, but it could also set in and drizzle for three days. It’s hard to predict, but that also makes it kind of exciting…



When it’s cooler, things tend to be more active. Understand this and you won’t go too far wrong. The winter months in Southern Africa in particular have lower temperatures than the countries closer to the equator, and morning and even temperatures in particular can actually be pretty frigid. This is the time of the year when you are likely to see a bit more action later in the day. It’s not too energy-sapping for lions to be moving around in the late morning, and in fact a significantly high number of lion hunts on buffalo take place around midday (although this can be very much dependent on the area).

Winter is also the dry season so activity tends to be focused around perennial water sources.


Animals are just like us when the sun is high and hot; they tend to retreat into the shade.
Summer months on safari will often see one returning to camp by mid-morning as temperatures soar, and most of the wildlife starts clustering under trees and bushes to conserve energy.
Having said this, the sheer variety of things you are likely to see rises significantly in summer, as this is the birthing season.
Impala lambs, warthog piglets and wildebeest calves seem to be everywhere, which offers excellent hunting opportunities for predators.

The rains usher in a time of plenty, so summer is when all the fascinating small fauna emerge to take centre stage. Termites, tortoises, migratory birds… it’s hard to drive for 500m without coming across something new and interesting that you wouldn’t have seen during the winter months.

In brief, the idea is generally if you want to see a bit more action, plan your safari for winter, but if you want abundance and diversity, come in summer.



Long golden hours define the winter months, and the brown and gold hues match perfectly with the evening and early morning glows.
Less vegetation means more unobstructed views of whatever you might be photographing, and finding things to photograph in the first place is a little simpler with the bush not so thick.
There is quite a bit more dust around in winter so be careful when changing lenses out in the field, but you can use it to your advantage by creating some lovely back-lit images.
Photography tends to be a bit more forgiving in winter as the light tends to be consistently better, and of course the animals are usually more active.


The verdant greens of the rainy season create a wonderful palette against which to photograph wildlife. The golden hours tend to be quite a bit shorter during summer than in winter, but this is offset by the higher chances of overcast days, which keeps the light softer, meaning you can photograph happily all day, without worrying about too much harsh contrast during the hours when the sun is high.

The variety you will encounter is also astounding, from nesting birds to chameleons crossing the road; you’ll need a decent lens kit to be able to handle the incredible array of photographic opportunities which will likely come your way…

There’s no “best” time to come on safari. It is always magnificent.
Simply do the research, decide what it is you most want to get out of your trip, and plan accordingly.

If you would like more info, don’t hesitate to get in touch through…

2 thoughts on “Summer vs. Winter: When to Safari

  1. When are the Winter and Summer Months pls.

    And the “shoulder” months – the transition from one season to the next ?

    Thanks. Tom in San Diego

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