Botswana is one of Africa’s great safari destinations and attracts visitors from all corners of the globe. A safari in Botswana is a unique and extraordinary experience and is often high up on many a safari-goers ‘bucket list’. With the highest elephant population in Africa, loads of big cat action and a birders paradise Botswana offers something for everyone!
Firstly, decide what you would like to see and do in Botswana depending on your personal interests. Then, to help you determine what time of the year best suits the activities on your Botswana ‘to do’ list, spend a few minutes looking at the information below to familiarise yourself with Botswana’s seasons and climate. Mother Nature also has a mind of her own so this is not 100% foolproof, however knowledge of Botswana’s weather will assist you in deciding which great Botswana safari to embark on and when to go.
Botswana is classed as semi-arid, however the country’s relatively high altitude of around 1000 metres (3280 feet) gives it a subtropical climate. The weather in Botswana adheres to a general pattern with two seasons - the Wet Season and the Dry Season. The summer or Wet Season, often referred to as the ‘Green Season’, runs from November to April. The winter or Dry Season is from May to October. Although Botswana is a year-round holiday destination, the best time of year for wildlife viewing and birding can differ markedly between the different regions and parks.
The charts below show the average annual temperatures and rainfall for the town of Maun, Botswana’s tourism hub. The climate of Botswana’s northern parks is very similar to Maun, however temperatures in the Okavango region are slightly less due to the abundance of water. Parks located in the drier Kalahari area tend to be hotter during the day and colder or freezing at night.
© Chart: African Travel Gateway, all rights reserved. Source data: www.climatedata.eu
A visit to Botswana in the Wet Season
The Wet Season rains generally fall between November and March with the bulk of the rainfall in January and February. This may vary somewhat from year to year and the start and end of the rains can run into October and April. Typically, the north-east of Botswana receives around 600 millimetres (23 inches) of rainfall per annum and the drier south-western region an annual average of 200 millimetres (8 inches). The rain tends to come in short, intense and rather spectacular thundershowers as opposed to long-lasting periods of rain. Over the course of the summer temperatures range from around 20-35°C (68-90°F) and humidity varies from 50-80% with the hottest and most humid days in January and February.
What does this mean for your Botswana safari?...
• Migratory birds are attracted en masse by the rains which means a huge diversity of bird species
• Plenty of newborn zebra and impala are tottering around after their mothers
• Predator sightings can become more frequent with the increase in young animals
• Photographers are in their element with dramatic cloud formations, vivid colours and the surreal glow of sunlight after a thundershower
• Wildlife is more difficult to spot behind taller grasses and dense bushes
• The wildlife disperses as the rains create more sources of water to drink from
• The rains can limit game walks and make game driving more difficult in some places
• Some camps and lodges close down temporarily for some of the Wet Season
From the perspective of the wildlife, birds and vegetation the rains are an essential part of life. So despite it being a little wet the summer is certainly a magical time to be on safari and a great time to take advantage of the reduced ‘Green Season’ rates, aptly named as the landscape transforms into a flourish of green.
A visit to Botswana in the Dry Season
During the Dry Season or winter, there is very little or no rain and the humidity is low. The days are dry with clear blue skies and the average daytime temperature is around 25°C (77°F). The landscape is still green and lush in April and May and from then on gradually dies back and thins out. Mornings and evenings can be quite chilly and night time temperatures from June to August can be close to freezing. Milder temperatures, excellent game viewing, plenty of water in the Delta and prolific birdlife makes September the best all round month to visit Botswana. October can be very hot with daytime temperatures approaching 40°C (104°F).
What does this mean for your Botswana safari?...
• Wildlife is easier to spot as the grasses are short and the bush is less dense
• Game viewing improves as the water dries up and the animals concentrate in larger herds around permanent rivers and waterholes
• Game drives can be chilly first thing in the morning so layers of clothing are advisable
• Mosquitoes and other bugs are few
• Dry ground makes game driving and game walks easier
Your Botswana safari should definitely include one or more of the following regions - the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park and the Kalahari. So African Travel Gateway has also compiled information about the best time to visit these specific regions of Botswana…
Best time to visit the Okavango Delta, Botswana
The extraordinary Okavango Delta, the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’, is a must-see on any Botswana safari and from the air it certainly appears to be a seemingly infinite network of channels, islands and plains. The Delta provides wildlife with everything they need to survive and some species have become specifically adapted for life in and around water. The Red Lechwe antelope, for example, has elongated hooves and a water-repellant substance on its legs which allows it to move quickly through knee deep water when fleeing from predators. Remote, inaccessible and tranquil, the Okavango Delta offers some of the best game viewing in the world.
The Okavango Delta exists mainly due to rainfall in neighbouring Angola. Summer rains in the Angolan highlands produce a surge of water which, over the course of a month, travels 1,200 kilometres down the Okavango River. Instead of emptying into the sea as do most rivers, the surge of water gently fans out into a massive, almost flat delta over several months. As a result the Okavango River delta, or Okavango Delta as it is usually called, swells to about three times its normal size and contrary to logical thinking this actually occurs during the height of Botswana’s Dry Season. Between June and August the 15,000km² Okavango Delta is home to one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. Elephant, buffalo and large herds of plains game followed by predators will trek for days on end to reach this plentiful oasis.
This is great news for safaris in the Okavango Delta! This seasonal nature means that safaris in the Delta can be water or land-based, or a combination of both. June to August is the best time for boating and mokoro safaris…gliding silently through crystal clear, papyrus-lined waterways on a mokoro (dugout canoe) is the quintessential Delta experience. Anglers have your rods ready between April and November for some great tiger fish, pike and tilapia. The rains between November and April transform the Delta into an excellent bird watching destination. On the eastern side of the delta the Moremi Game Reserve combines permanent water with drier areas, making this a year round destination.
Best time to visit Chobe National Park, Botswana
Chobe National Park is also high on the list of essential Botswana attractions. Situated in the northeast of Botswana, Chobe is close to Kasane, Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Chobe boasts one of the largest concentrations of plains wildlife in Africa and its elephant population is colossal – the biggest in the world! The 11,000km² area of the park offers a variety of habitats – the riverfront, the Savuti marsh, the Linyanti swamps and dry plains.
During the Dry Season or winter, the northeastern Chobe River and Chobe flood plains act as a magnet for enormous herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, impala and other antelope species. Predators are not far behind and with such an abundance of prey, lions tend to group in larger prides. The lush Linyanti Wetlands in the northwestern corner of Chobe are booming between May and October and huge breeding herds of elephant, often hundreds strong, along with plenty of other game can be seen quenching their thirst from the river. A myriad of bird life frequent the area all year round.
Each year, coinciding with the arrival of the summer rains in November, the migration of zebra and wildebeest is a sight to behold. Coming from the Linyanti swamps, the herds settle in the Savuti marsh area in the western part of the park long enough to give birth and feed on new growth before moving on. Around March or April, the same herds will once again pass through Savuti and return to the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers for the winter.
The close proximity of Chobe National Park to Livingstone and Victoria Falls makes it perfect to combine a Chobe safari with some time at the mind-blowing expanse of the Zambezi River which plunges into the gorge below forming a natural border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The waterfall’s volume is the greatest between February and May producing a giant veil of spray that can be seen from space. The falls are still flowing but at a minimum by the end of the Dry Season. The Chobe River can get rather busy at this time so, to avoid the crowds, an ideal time to visit both Chobe and Victoria Falls is between June and August…awesome game viewing, warm days and cool nights and plenty of water thundering over Victoria Falls.
Best time to visit the Kalahari, Botswana
The world-renowned Kalahari occupies a staggering 70% of Botswana. A complex ecosystem formed on a deep layer of sand covered with grass and acacia trees, the Kalahari supports an abundance of wildlife many of which are specifically adapted for extremely arid conditions. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the world’s second largest, takes up over 50,000km² of the Kalahari offering unspoilt wilderness, wildlife and encounters with the indigenous San hunter gatherers. On the northern edge of the Kalahari, the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park entices hundreds of thousands of zebras that migrate there during the first few months of the year. Summer rains transform the dry pans into shallow lakes and they burst into life as thousands of flamingoes arrive to breed. The surrounding landscape blossoms into a sea of green providing the migrating herds with ample fodder. So, for an unforgettable Kalahari safari the summer is the best time to visit.