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Traditionally, the peak season for going to Kenya and Tanzania on safari to encounter the wildlife is July to October. There are good reasons for that, says Mia Lawson of SkySafari, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only time to travel to East Africa. She gives her guide to the region’s National Parks and Conservancies and what can be found there.

The months of July to October are when millions-strong herds of game move between the Masai Mara and Serengeti. This is when the plains are dry and sun-baked and the skies cloudless and clear – perfect for a Kenya or Tanzania safari. But different months bring different specialties.

Wildlife_A Pride of Lions_Prints-65_©Paul Joynson-Hicks

Photo Credit: A pride of lions can be encountered on a Kenya or Tanzania safari, SkySafari

For example, in the greener season between November and June, a new cast of birds arrive. Baby animals are born. Rains fill rivers and forests erupt, painting the red-ochre savannah in bright blues and blazing greens. Other phenomena can be witnessed: courtship displays, mass calvings, species gatherings, mini migrations. This is a circle of life: there is always something happening, somewhere.

Because it is not the traditional safari season there are no crowds. There’s an extra frisson of knowing you’re out in the wilderness when few others are and witnessing wildlife experiences few outsiders do.

As an added bonus, travelling off-season can mean lower rates, making that priceless safari in Kenya and Tanzania even better value for money.

When to Go on a Kenya Safari

Amboseli National Park

July – October

The high-season months see wildlife in Amboseli congregate around very few waterholes – making it easier to spot. This includes impressive herds of elephants as well as lions, leopards, cheetah, buffalo and other savannah game, roaming before a backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain.

Wildlife_Elephants and Zebras_rints-28_©Paul Joynson-Hicks

Photo Credit: Herds of elephants and zebras in high season on a Kenya safari, SkySafari

November – June

The onset of winter in Europe brings migratory bird species to Amboseli, making it a thrilling ornithological destination, especially from October to April. Rains bring renewed life to the plains, transforming the landscape into a lush expanse of green and making the wildlife viewing extremely rewarding. You may witness a newborn zebra foal take its first steps on wobbly legs, a baby Thomson’s gazelle hiding to elude predators or a mother elephant tenderly caring for her young calf.

This is also when views of Kilimanjaro are at their best: after a downpour, when the air is free of dust, the mountain looms clearer than ever.

Loisaba Conservancy

July – October

The dry months see the plateau rife with life – sunny skies, diminishing waterholes and sparse undergrowth make it easier to spot wildlife, from the Big Five to endangered species such as Grevy’s zebra and the Reticulated Giraffe. Laikipia is also one of the best places to see wild dogs.

November – June

While wetter conditions have an effect, there is still an immense amount to see during the ‘low season months, from newborns to migratory birds. The wealth of activities on offer – from camel treks to mountain bike rides – also keeps things interesting, regardless of the weather. Plus, after rain, the landscape is jungley and fragrant. The skies are clear, providing pin-sharp views of Mount Kenya.

Grevy Zebra

Photo Credit: Grevy’s Zebra mare and foal, Bush Trucker Tours

Masai Mara National Reserve

July – October

During the dry season, it can be hard to know where to look: there is wildlife everywhere. As the vegetation dies back and the animals gather around the waterholes they are easier to spot. And with more variation of species per square metre here than anywhere else in Africa, you’ll tick a lot off your list: herds of elephant browsing the tree-studded grasslands, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, eland, and more, roaming the savannah, as well as predatory lion, leopard and cheetah on the hunt.

This is also when you’re likely to witness the Great Migration: more than a million wildebeest moving en-mass across the plains, one of the most breathtaking sights in nature.

November – June

There is no such thing as a dull month in the Masai Mara. All year round the reserve is rich in resident wildlife, which is largely relaxed and easy to spot on the Mara’s expansive, open savannah. Also, the park is far less busy during this season, making intimate animal encounters more likely. You’ll barely see another vehicle as you drive amid the lush grasses, wildflowers and influx of over-wintering birds.

When to Go on a Tanzania Safari

Tarangire National Park

July – October

During the dry season, Tarangire surpasses even the Serengeti in terms of density of life. The perennial waters of the Tarangire River draw huge herds, the park’s animal populations swelled by mini-migrations of wildebeest and zebra that join an abundance of elephants – it’s not uncommon to see herds of 50 or more at the waterholes. There are permanent resident populations of other species too, from predators – lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, hunting dog – to mammals rarely seen in other nearby parks, such as kudu and fringe-eared oryx.

Leopard

Photo Credit: Leopards are resident so likely to be in view on a Tanzania safari, Paul Joynson, SkySafari

November – June

During Tanzania’s ‘greener’ months, the park is lush and vibrant. This is also prime bird-watching time, as migratory birds arrive from the north. While Tarangire’s game tends to be more spread out over these periods, that means it’s often seen roaming right around the camp, offering thrilling close-ups. Plus, in June and November, the park sees a ‘mini migration,’ as animals move between Tarangire and Lake Manyara.

Lake Manyara National Park

Year-round

There’s no bad time to visit this diverse National Park – there’s always something to be seen amid its open grasslands, swamps, riverine forest and rocky outcrops.
Game viewing is perhaps slightly better during the dry months of July to October when vegetation is more sparse, but the park is most spectacular during the wet months of November to June when waterfalls gush down the escarpment. The flora is gloriously green and the birdlife prolific then – with over 380 species that have been spotted here. Plus, flamingos add a flush colour and the boisterous hippo population chortles away year-round.

Hippo

Photo Credit: Hippos wallowing at the lake. SkySafari

Ngorongoro Crater

Year-round

Rich soils and permanent water sources mean Ngorongoro is an ideal habitat for a huge variety of species in every season – most of the 30,000-odd animals found here are resident year-round. That includes the Big Five (Ngorongoro is one of the few places where you can see rhino in northern Tanzania) as well as hippo, hyena and cheetah, baboons and vervet monkeys, waterbuck, warthog and Thomson’s gazelle. Ngorongoro Crater is also the only spot in Africa where you might see all three species of jackal.

From December to March, animal numbers are further bolstered as the Great Migration spills in, bringing even greater numbers of zebras and wildebeest to the crater floor.

Serengeti

July – October

The peak months for the Great Migration are magnificent indeed: the mass exodus of 1.5 million wildebeest together with half a million zebra and gazelle on their search for water and pasture is one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth.

It is during this time that vast herds reach the Tanzanian border and cross the rivers into the Masai Mara and back. The endless grunting masses run their watery gauntlet as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and crocodile lie waiting, ready to pounce. Game drives often provide raw and riveting sightings of these attacks.

The Great migration and Northern Kenya - Mara River Crossing

Photo Credit: The Great Migration at the Northern Kenya – Mara river crossing, Bush Trucker Tours

November – March

These months see the climax of the Great Migration, as the huge herds gather on the grass-rich plains of the Southern Serengeti to feed and calve. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest dotted as far as the eye can see, give birth over a period of a few months.

April – June

These are generally the wettest months, but also the most intense. After a downpour – usually short and full of drama – the greens are more vivid, the rivers fit to burst, the clouds theatrical and the colours never more fierce.

This is also when the action is beginning. The wildebeest start gathering together before moving off in their thousand-long trains, weaving this way and that. This is when the young calves are taking their first steps, gambolling and play-fighting. And, of course, the predators follow, keen to pick off an easy meal.

Want to Go on a Kenya or Tanzania Safari?

The local companies featured on Blue Sky Wildlife covering wildlife tours in Kenya and Tanzania can arrange the ideal East African safari adventure. Book direct for the best prices and to tailor-make your trip.


Mia Lawson is General Manager for specialist tour operator SkySafari, which offers in-depth knowledge of national parks, conservancies and safari camps in Kenya and Tanzania. A selection of their flying safaris can be found here.

Original Date of Publish : 25th August 2021

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