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Best Time for a Safari in East Africa

Great migration safaris in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Both Kenya and Tanzania are primarily safari destinations. And so the simple answer to the best time for a safari in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) is in the dry seasons. East Africa broadly shares the same climate with two wet periods.  The “long rains” of mid-March to mid-May (broadly) and the “short” rains of November. In between are two dry periods which are considered the best time for game-viewing.

WHY do we say this? And what are the implications if you simply cannot come on safari at this time?

Best time for safari in East Africa -Rhinos on a Ngorongoro Crater safari

Why we recommend the dry season for your safari in East Africa

Animals need water and food. In the dry months the animals are forced to come to waterholes and the rivers to drink, increasingly as the season continues. Because of their need to drink frequently they tend to stick around to feed in these areas as well.

Thus, once the rains come, they will generally leave the (now) over-grazed areas around the waterholes in search of fresh grasses.

This search for fresh pastures is one of the keys to the wildebeest migration. See How the Wildebeest Migration progresses for more insight.

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Tasha Eygelaar

Africa Travel Specialist

Hi I’m Tasha, I’m here to help you plan your ideal holiday experience

Dry Winter (Late May to August)

This is the start of the long dry winter season which is also considered the best time to visit for a safari in East Africa.

Animals need water and food. In the dry winter months of May/June onwards, the animals need to come to waterholes and the rivers to drink.

This is the case for nearly all the game reserves in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and most of Uganda (see Exception.)

As the winter progresses, the wildebeest migration moves northwards into the northern Serengeti in search of nutritious grasses before crossing over into Kenya’s Masai Mara somewhere between mid-July and August. (However, many animals are territorial and so remain in Tanzania.)

Similarly in Rwanda and Uganda, the relatively ‘’dry’’ conditions make it the easiest time to trek to see the gorillas and other primates. However as this is tropical rainforest, there can be rain on any day of the year.

Best time for safari a safari in East Africa-Lions drinking in the Serengeti
Recommendation

All these factors make it the best time for a safari in Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

Downside

Because it is widely known as the best time for game-viewing, and seeing the migration, this is the peak season for most safari camps. Especially in the honeypot destinations of the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and Masai Mara, So much higher prices and many more vehicles.

Kenya Masai Mara Vehicles with Cheetah
Exceptions to the Rule:

Virtually all of East Africa has two rainy seasons except for northern Uganda (and northern Kenya). In Kidepo Valley National Park in northern Uganda, there is only ONE rainy season which starts in April and increases during the winter months with July and August being the rainiest season. However it takes the form of afternoon sudden rainstorms, so it is not that invasive. 

Like the rest of East Africa, Murchison Falls National Park has the two rainier seasons, but it continues to rain less frequently during the winter months as well. So the summer months are considered the best time to visit.

Spring (September to early October)

During the months of September and October, all the above advantages for the dry winter game-viewing are amplified – the animals get more desperate for water as most of the streams start to dry up as the temperatures rise.

Animal concentrations increase and so this is also an excellent time to be on safari.

It starts heating up and gaining humidity in September and October with the approach of the short rains. This is a hotter time to be on safari.

The migration is largely the Masai Mara by this point.

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Ginny Russell

Co-founder & Director

Hi I’m Ginny, I’m here to help you plan your ideal holiday experience

Short Rains – Sometime in October to November*

Note: The exact start and end of the short rains does differ across the region. Check out our specific regional best time to travel info and statistics. It tends to arrive earlier inland e.g. more like mid-September in Rwanda and Uganda.  And later as you get closer to the coast e.g.  more like November in Tanzania and Kenya.

A change in prevailing winds heralds the second rainy period of the year, the less intense short rains, from mid-October to November.  However the rain comes as afternoon or night showers so there’s plenty of sunshine as well.

As in Southern Africa, some of the game leaves the (unfenced) parks to spread out across the whole biosphere, as there’s now a choice of nutritious grasses elsewhere.

Leopard on Ruaha National Park safari

The short rains herald the start of the return of the wildebeest migration southwards into Tanzania, mainly into the Loliondo region of the Serengeti. But it tends to be more spread out and sporadic.

The skies are exploding with colour and are very photogenic especially at dawn and sunset. So keen photographers often love the short rainy season. And the afternoon rains bring slightly cooler weather which can be welcome in Southern Tanzania (Ruaha and Selous).

Recommendation

October is considered High Season for a safari given the uncertain start to the rains. But some safari camps drop October into their shoulder season. November isn’t the PERFECT time for a safari in Tanzania or Kenya, but prices are keen. And as the rainfall is more concentrated in the late afternoon/evening, game-viewing is certainly still a possibility.

Summer to (December to early March)

The summer in East Africa is fairly dry and is the hottest season. But there is little year-round difference given its closeness to the equator .

Coastal Tanzania and Kenya are hot and humid. Whereas inland the higher altitudes in the rest of East Africa mitigates the temperatures with pleasantly warm temperatures rather than scorching heat.  

Overall this is also a good time for a safari in East Africa. As there is plenty of resident game. It’s also a beautiful time of the year – green and lush. With all the migratory birds are in full breeding plumage.

In the Serengeti, the migration continues south to return to the Ndutu plains by the start of the summer dry season.

Hot air balloon safari over Serengeti close photography
Exceptions to the Rule

In Southern Tanzania, the climate is somewhat closer to that of Southern Africa with a continuous summer rainy season. The short rains almost meld together with the longer rains of March and April.  

As it is also hot and humid during this time, the camps in the Selous some camps even close during the later summer months to May). (The rain has stopped by May, but it takes a while for roads to be rebuilt and the camps set again.)

Recommendation

This is also a good time to visit with visitor numbers slightly less intense, and safari prices, than in the peak winter months. The drier conditions make it a good time to visit Rwanda and Uganda for gorilla trekking as well.

 

Long Rains (mid-March to mid-May)

Note: As with the short rains, the exact timing of the start and end of the long rains varies from year to year and specific regions.

The prevailing winds change and blow cooler wetter weather in from the Indian Ocean. This brings the start of the “long rains” from mid-March and this is the wettest time throughout East Africa. Many camps close during this time as the game park roads can become difficult to navigate, especially in the black cotton-soil of the Serengeti National Park, where getting stuck is a distinct possibility.  

Best time for a safari in East Africa -Tanzania_Serengeti
Recommendation

Generally we recommend that you avoid April. It is the wettest month by far and is not ideal for a safari as it rains on most days and cold fronts can cause cooler temperatures.

However late May tends to be drier than April and quieter than the later peak months so it could be a good time to go. This is when the plains are at their most beautiful. Vivid with wildflowers and packed with game.

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“Best time for a Safari in East Africa” – was written by Cedarberg Africa

Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tailor-made safari company for Southern and East Africa. We know how confusing and time-consuming it can be to plan an African safari. We discuss what YOU are looking for, then put together our custom safari proposal. So that you get a hassle-free trip of a lifetime to share with your loved ones

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Ginny Russell

Co-founder & Director

Hi I’m Ginny, I’m here to help you plan your ideal holiday experience

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