Safaris and sightseeing: When to explore Botswana
Botswana is a year-round destination, popular with safari lovers and anyone who wants adventure. It’s a place where exotic wildlife is easy to find all year – but some months are better than others, in terms of weather and crowds. Beyond the weather in and of itself, consider the kind of wildlife you're going for and whether seasons matter.
Wet, or dry?
There are really only two seasons in Botswana: wet and dry. The peak tourist season in Botswana is the dry season, and it’s always been a prevailing theory that it’s best to visit when wildlife clusters around watering holes. However, there’s plenty to be seen during the wet season, too, when birds abound and animals give birth. The trick is to go when it’s not too wet.
Remember, Botswana is in the Southern Hemisphere, so summer begins in November and ends in March, while winter begins in May and ends in August.
The summer season brings high temperatures and plenty of rain. For most of the rainy season, the rains come in short bursts or spectacular thunderstorms rather than lasting all day. The months of January and February are the rainiest, and flooding can sometimes make travel difficult. Additionally, many camps shut down during the rainy season. Traveling at this time pays in lower costs, more diverse migratory bird sightings, gorgeous photo ops and the opportunity to witness newborn zebras and impalas.
Winter is the dry season with has plenty of advantages. Temperatures are mostly mild, there’s an abundance of wildlife at the watering holes and far fewer mosquitoes. Dryer ground makes exploring easier, particularly on self-driven safaris. June to September is probably the best overall time to visit, in terms of weather.
Traffic, crowds of tourists, and other considerations
Full disclosure: Botswana is the most expensive African safari destination. After splurging on such a unique trip, it would be disappointing to be stuck in a crowd of tourists or stuck on a muddy road.
If being part of a crowd isn't a dealbreaker, a group tour can be a more affordable option than traveling solo.
During the high season from June or July to October, the weather is pleasant with warm days and mild nights, with a few exceptions – October can get hot, and in the Kalahari, nights are very cold. Because this season is the most popular, it also has the highest prices, and campsites are booked far in advance.
Driving in Botswana is much different than driving in the United States. Traffic circulates on the left side of the road, and defensive driving is a must. Power outages often knock out traffic lights and street lamps, and many rural roads are poorly maintained. During the rainy season, this can be a real problem, as roads often become muddy and impassable.
The solution? The shoulder season. During the months of May and November, the weather is pleasant, the crowds are thinner and the prices are lower. While water levels in the Delta can be unpredictable, it’s still a good time to go.
Driving in Botswana can be dangerous for a number of reasons. Long stretches of two-lane roads, wildlife and free-range domesticated animals, intoxicated drivers and an abundance of pedestrians and hitchhikers all make fatal accidents a frequent occurrence. Additionally, the area is prone to “smash and grab” robberies, both in parking lots and at intersections, as well as in campgrounds and other areas frequented by tourists. Remain alert and take precautions to secure any valuables. Park near other people, and if something of value must remain in the vehicle, transfer it to the trunk before heading to your destination.
When visiting Botswana, Victoria Falls is a nice side trip. The largest falls in the world, Victoria Falls is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world, known to locals as "the smoke that thunders" because of the mist and noise. When is the best time to visit? While the falls are at their most impressive during the rainy season, they’re more easily accessible when the water flow transitions from low to higher. For this reason, July to September is a good time to visit, because the views are clearer and less misty than at other times, and the lower water volume makes swimming and rafting easier as well as other aquatic activities in the Zambezi River below the falls.
This is the peak time for prices and crowds, though, so go at another time if you want a quieter experience. Fortunately, there’s no bad time to go to Victoria Falls. From February to June, the falls are at their most impressive, though rain and mist can put a damper on photography and it’s hard to get close to the falls. During the low-flow season of October and November, it’s easier to get close, take clear photos and swim in the “Devil’s Swimming Pool” at the edge of the falls.