Best time to visit Botswana
In case you were wondering what time of year to visit Botswana?
When is the best time to visit Botswana? It is not a question easily answered. It is beautiful to visit all year round and a lot of locals actually much prefer the low season (November - June ), compared to the high season (July - October) for different reasons.
What I have done below, is to create categories of different interests and suggestions of the best months to visit Botswana for specific purposes. If there is a subject you would like me to add, please feel free to get in touch via our contact us page.
I am aware not many people like to travel during the wettest months and for more information on the weather, please refer to our climate & seasons section. NB: Not all lodges are open year round and it is therefore recommended to check before setting your heart on a specific property. January and February are usually the favoured months of camp closures.
Best time to see wildlife in Botswana:
Botswana is first and foremost a safari destination and watching wildlife is usually high on the list of everyon'es priorities. I have yet to be disappointed and have had wonderful experiences throughout the year. The best time to see big game in Botswana does not only have to do with the time of year, but location is also a key factor. Firstly, choose your destination wisely and ensure the lodge you are staying at offers game drives. Your chances of seeing wildlife from a vehicle are typically higher than from a small boat or mokoro.
The best time of year to watch wildlife in Botswana is debatable, but would narrow it down to the dry season between August and October. At this time the central Okavango has permanent water and a similar density of wildlife can be found here, throughout the year. During the driest months however, some plains game migrates to the Okavango from the drier regions, such as the Kalahari to be nearer to a water source. This also increases the chances of predator sightings as the predators go where the food goes.
If you are planning on travelling to the Kalahari (CKGR) or Makgadikgadi Salt pans, the Zebra and Wildebeest migrations pass through here, after the first rains have fallen between December and May.
Best time for birding in Botswana:
Botswana is one of my favourite birding destinations, with over 580 recorded species in the country. Species range from the largest flying bird (Kori Bustard), to some of the smallest and most colourful, such as the Malachite Kingfisher. The combined best time for birding in Botswana, is between November and March. During this time, the number of birds that can be seen will increase due to the arrival of migratory species, or summer visitors as we call them. To experience this wonder make sure you include a visit to the Okavango (my best sightings were in the Panhandle and in Moremi Game Reserve), and you should not miss the Makgadikadi Pans (try the Nata birding Sanctuary).
Other birding highlights include the nesting of large Carmine Bee Eater colonies, which usually start arriving in August, but can be seen in the biggest masses in September/October for their breeding period and best seen around the Panhandle. The Kanana Heronry and/or Gcodikwe Lagoon attract large numbers of Stork, Heron and Pelican which gather to breed. September is normally the nesting period and the best time to visit, but they stay till later in the year waiting for the chicks to hatch around November, and move on once the little ones are ready to depart on their first adventure.
Best time to see the Salt Pans in Botswana:
The Salt Pans are located within the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks, with the most impressive in size being the Sowa and Ntwetwe Pans. The pans area is mostly covered in water during the wet season and to experience their vastness, stick to visiting this area in the dry season. From May till October they are mostly dry, but if it was a year of late rain, I would rather bank on June till October and possibly November and book myself for a night to sleep out under the stars.
Best time to see large herds of Elephant and Buffalo in Botswana
It can be quite a spectacle, to see a group of over 50 elephant or 100 plus buffalo in one place. Some of the highest densities of buffallo and elephant, can be found in the northern regions of Botswana in the Chobe National Park and the Linyanti. They usually start forming groups starting in May, however the largest herds recorded are usually in September and October.
Best time to see large herds of plains game in Botswana:
Migration patterns have changed drastically over the last centuries as man became more involved. We can't rely on these patterns and Botswana's migrations cannot be compared to what you may have seen in the Serengeti, which is one of the largest migrations in the world. They do however attract a variety of predators and following a large herd of plains game, increases your chances of such sightings. There are several smaller migrations that can be witnessed in Botswana, although of course, we can't depict the exact dates they officially start or end, since it depends on the rains.
Approximate dates for Botswana's zebra and wildebeest migrations:
Eastern Makgadikgadi: January - April
Central Kalahari Game Reserve: December - May
Western Makgadikgadi (Boteti River): July/August - October/November (September month is usually best)
Savuti: April - May
Best time for photography in Botswana:
There are two answers to this question. If your only aim is to shoot wildlife, then September and October are your best bet. If you like a combination of wildlife and scenery and are looking to include cloud cover, stick with December to April. Bear in mind that January and February are the wettest months of the year, so maybe skip those months if your time is limited. The start of the rainy season is calving season (November/December), which will offer numerous opportunities of photographing baby animals, which may also be something of interest. My favourite months are April to June, as the heavier rains will have subsided, the scenery is still green and lush and you will still have some cloud cover. At the same time you are missing peak season, which equals to less people and less vehicles on the road.
Best time to travel to Botswana via self-drive:
If you are travelling via self-drive and only stick to the main tar roads, it is usually okay throughout most of the year. During the rainy season there is the odd tar road that gets flushed away by the rain, but normally there is a back up plan by the time you arrive. If it has been raining a lot during your stay, double check with the accommodation you are travelling to and if they have received any updates about the road conditions.
If you are driving into any of the national parks in Northern Botswana, it would be best to stick to the dry season (May-October). During the wet season, you can expect to drive through a lot of mud and waterways (sometimes a meter deep). This of course varies dependent on which area you visit, but due to this fact, the rule of thumb is that a minimum of 2 vehicles travel together at any one time, since it is not that uncommon to get stuck along the way. I would only suggest travelling in the rainy season, if you are an experienced 4x4 veteran on a variety of terrains.
If you are driving into the National Parks in Southern Botswana such as the Kalahari for example, the dry season will be May-October and you need to be more mindful when travelling here during the rainy season, around December to March. Some of the roads get flooded by the rainfall and during this time advanced 4x4 experience is recommended, with a minimum of 2 vehicles travelling together.