Botswana is, without doubt, one of Southern Africa's most rewarding safari destinations. If you're planning your trip around the country's plentiful wildlife, the best time to travel is during the dry season. At this time, the grass is lower and the trees have less foliage, making it easier to spot camouflaged animals in the undergrowth. A shortage of water causes wildlife to congregate around permanent water holes, or to make a daily pilgrimage to the river. As a result, this is the best time for wildlife viewing in the Okavango Delta, and along the Chobe River.
There are several exceptions to this rule, however. Wildlife viewing in the Kalahari Desert is often better during the summer rainy season, although temperatures are scorching and some camps close later on in the season. Birding is always best in summer, with migrant species attracted by the insects that hatch in the rain. For those on a budget, the rainy (or green) season offers discounted prices on accommodation and tours, allowing you to stay longer and do more.
The Dry Season
The dry season is also known as safari high season and typically lasts from May to October. This is winter in Botswana, a relative term considering that daytime temperatures hover at around 68 F/ 25 C. Nevertheless, nights can get chilly, especially in the Kalahari Desert, where early mornings are positively freezing. If you're planning a trip during the dry season, you'll need to pack plenty of layers for dawn drives and night safaris. Towards the end of the season, temperatures start to rise dramatically, peaking at around 104 F/ 40 C.
In Botswana's most iconic reserves, the dry season is the optimum time for game-viewing. However, it's also the country's busiest season. July and August are especially popular as they coincide with the northern hemisphere's summer school holidays. Prices are at their highest, and you'll need to book your safari up to a year in advance during peak season. Nevertheless, small camps and remote destinations accessed exclusively by charter plane mean that even in winter, Botswana is rarely crowded.
The Okavango Delta is at its ultimate best during July and August. The flood waters have made it down into the delta, attracting huge numbers of wildlife from the dry interior. You'll see large herds of elephant, buffalo, and antelope; in addition to the predators that feed upon them. The dry season is also less humid, and there are far fewer insects. If you're concerned about catching malaria or other mosquito-borne diseases, dry season travel gives you added peace of mind.
The Green Season
Most of Botswana's rainfall occurs from December to March. Some years it can come early, sometimes it doesn't come at all. But when it does, the landscape completely transforms and it's a beautiful sight. Birds arrive from other areas of Africa, Europe, and Asia in their thousands, and the country's wildlife enters into a season of new life with baby warthogs, zebra and impala everywhere one looks. Animals are harder to spot amidst the lush new growth - but for some, that's part of the challenge.
Botswana goes on sale during the green season and for many people, this makes it the optimum time to travel. Although some camps shut down for the rainy months, many stay open, using discounted rates to attract out-of-season visitors. Flooded roads aren't as much of a problem as they can be in other African countries, because several of Botswana's key destinations are only accessible by plane. Rain isn't constant at this time. Instead, days are often sunny with brief downpours each afternoon.
The real downsides of the green season include sweltering temperatures combined with high humidity and an influx of insects, including mosquitoes. Ironically, the Okavango Delta floodplains dry up at this time, so many camps are unable to offer water-based safaris. For many visitors, poling silently through the reeds on a traditional canoe (or mokoro) is the defining highlight of a trip to the Okavango, an experience that one may have to sacrifice during the summer months.
The Shoulder Months
November and April generally fall between the two seasons and offer unique conditions of their own. In November, temperatures soar and the land is parched, but prices are already falling and if you're lucky, you may be in place to watch the transformation triggered by the first rains of the season. April can be a fantastic time to visit, with good visibility, cooling temperatures and landscapes still verdant after the summer rains. It's a great time for safari photography, although the large herds of winter are yet to arrive in the Delta.