African safaris are usually top of most people’s bucket list when it comes to wildlife viewing. And it’s no wonder when you consider the richness of this type of travel experience. However, travellers often struggle when deciding on the optimal timing and destination of their safari, with so many exciting wildlife experiences to be had at different times of the year.
Michael McCall, Sanctuary Retreats’ Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia takes a look at best game viewing seasons and highlights what is on offer at the key locations across the year.
Serengeti National Park
First on Michael’s list is a trip to the inspirational Serengeti, a classic Tanzania safari destination. “This large park is considered one of the best places for safari for one very specific reason – the Great Migration. This annual event sees literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra pass through the park in search of food – and with the herds of grazers, come the predators.”
According to Michael, wildlife viewing in the Serengeti is good throughout the year, but certain areas are better at specific times. “The Dry Season (from late June to September) offers the best wildlife viewing in general, with the wildebeest migration as its absolute highlight. The timing of the migration varies every year and the best chance of seeing it is during June and July, while the wildebeest calving is from late January to February.”
“Our Serengeti Migration Camp moves between three different locations, following the migration as it travels across the Serengeti. Additionally we have Sanctuary Kusini, a permanent camp in the Serengeti, and every year wildebeest congregate on the camp’s doorstep.”
Next up, is the Ngorongoro, another classic Tanzania safari destination. The breath-taking Ngorongoro Crater is a geographical wonder in its own right, with the caldera’s high, steep walls looming steeply over the valley below. And it’s these steep walls that also lead to the incredible abundance of wildlife in the crater, as they trap a rich assortment of large and small safari animals within it.
Says Michael, one of the best places to catch the action is Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp located right in the heart of the Park, on the crater rim, with its spectacular views of the crater and surrounds. “It’s home to one of the largest populations of animals in the Park including zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest, hippo and elephants – not to mention an amazing assortment of predators – lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs and the even elusive leopard.”
In terms of when to visit, according to Michael this is determined largely by the Rains. “With two rainy seasons – the long rains fall in April and May (into early June) and the short rains fall in October and November, the best times to visit are December, January, February or late June through to early October.”
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
“Uganda is still one of the world’s best-kept natural secrets and receives far less visitors than neighbouring countries,” says Michael. “Bwindi is home to about 340 mountain gorillas, just over half the world’s population of this critically endangered primate. The gorillas are completely wild, but have become acclimatised to seeing a few humans after years of habituation.”
“Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is nestled deep inside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and provides unparalleled opportunities for sighting gorillas – who sometimes wander into the Camp itself.”
According to Michael, the best times to visit Uganda are December to March and June to September.
With a well-deserved reputation as as one of the best all-round safari destinations, Botswana’s Okavango Delta forms part of the Kalahari Basin, situated at the southern periphery of the Great Rift Valley, and covers a massive 22,000 square kilometres. Although the periphery is semi-arid, the Okavango Delta itself is a patchwork of cool clear streams, lagoons, floodplains and forested islands.
Says Michael this unique terrain means the area is home to a wealth of wild animals (including all of Africa’s Big Five) and plenty of bird life, offering up superb game viewing. “In the dry winter season vast numbers of wildlife flock to where the floodwaters infiltrate the delta, providing one of the world’s most spectacular sights. June to August is peak season for most safari areas within the Okavango. But September and October when temperatures really start to climb, leads to even higher concentrations of game around the few available water sources.”
Sanctuary Retreats operates three luxury camps in the Okavango Delta – Sanctuary Baines Camp. Sanctuary Chief’s Camp and Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, all of which offer great game viewing experiences, which can be either booked alone or in combination with each other.
The final destination on Michael’s list is the Masai Mara, the Kenyan extension of the Tanzania’s famed Serengeti. “The Mara is one of Africa’s most famous safari destinations, and also plays host to the famous Great Migration. Kenya is also considered by many to be the birthplace of safari, and offers up amazing game viewing experiences, and is a great place to experience Africa’s Big Five.”
The migration is usually present in the Mara between July and October each year. During this time, dramatic river crossings are the order of the day, with crocodiles lying in wait for wildebeest and zebra. Sanctuary Olonana is an award-winning tented safari camp on a private stretch of the Mara River in the heart of the Masai Mara and offers guests a luxurious front row seat to the Great Migration as it passes through Kenya.
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With a significant increase in demand for travel to this part of the world predicted for 2017, Michael recommends booking your ultimate safari getaway now and staying ahead of the pack. “Sanctuary Retreats’ Stay Longer, Pay Less extended stay offer delivers great value with savings of up to 40% if you stay 3 or more nights at any combination of Sanctuary Retreats’ African camps and lodges.”
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