For those ‘in the know’, a luxury safari to Africa in the off season or shoulder season offers the most extraordinary opportunities! You will have more exclusive experiences and a different type of wildlife viewing, with species and habitats that you may not see during a peak-season African safari.
Every country in the world has a secret season. A magical time, that is often loved most by the residents of that particular region for a multitude of reasons, but not least because there are few tourists to compete with! We all hanker for that secret season, when we feel it is just us discovering these places of indescribable beauty. For those not bound by school holidays, flexibility of time is far more of a luxury. (I am still not out of the woods yet – I have university holidays to abide by!).
In terms of Africa, my secret season is February for southern Africa and November for southern and east Africa. Travelling on safari to Africa during the secret seasons mean that you have wildlife sightings often entirely to yourself and the camps that remain open offer guests unbeatable value for money!
An off-peak Botswana safari is extraordinary! Botswana’s summer (November to April) can be quite hot during the day with rains falling between mid-December and mid-April so often avoided by tourists. However when living there, February was one of my favourite months! The heavens would open, but it would only be literally for a couple of hours a day, simply clearing the air and reducing the temperature.
It is the time when animals are calving, so one witnesses the miracle of birth. The butterflies are in abundance, the wild flowers are out and the migratory birds have returned. With food aplenty, mammals are not stressed, and the foliage offers some cover against prey. It is a happy time, a time of rejuvenation and rebirth.
Xigera Lodge is a newly built chic eco lodge located in the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. The lodge was created with an emphasis on a minimal carbon footprint and using local materials, and is decorated with stunning works from local artists.
A Botswana safari at Xigera lodge is wonderful year-round. You can partake in wildlife spotting safaris in mokoros, 4x4 vehicles and from the lodge’s custom-built boat. It’s also possible to take a scenic helicopter ride over the Delta. During Botswana’s summer, the birds are nesting and you can see baby antelope being born. The sunsets are phenomenal in the summer too, which you can watch with a sundowner in hand and your feet in a river!
Take a tour around >> Xigera Safari Lodge
Little Mombo is also a perfect option for an off-peak luxury safari to Botswana. This ultra-luxury private safari camp nestles in a magical location on Mombo Island in the Moremi Game Reserve. Another safari camp with excellent eco-credentials, the stylish open plan chalet rooms are designed with ultimate comfort and relaxation in mind.
The wildlife in the Mombo section of the reserve is abundant and diverse, with large herds of elephants and prides of lions often seen. The green season from November to April is a great time to take an Okavango Delta safari in the Moremi Reserve as the flood plains have receded leaving vast expanses of short green grass with verdant foliage that draws wildlife.
Find out more about Okavango Delta private safaris at >> Little Mombo
And what of Zambia? How can one avoid the dreaded, challenging black cotton soil? By boat, of course! By navigating through the wetlands, where wildlife can still be seen, where everything is a sparkling, new, verdant green. Birdlife is second to none. And oops – did I see a tourist? No, silly me - it was a silhouette - I must be mistaken!
The areas that are renowned for wildlife naturally become ‘busier’ in the peak game viewing seasons of the harsh, dry African winter, so why not have the luxury of exploring these regions in relative solitude - more akin to our original pioneering forefathers?
In Zambia, South Luangwa National Park is perfect for a secret-season safari. Tafika Camp sits in a simply sublime location on the bank of the Luangwa River, allowing for exceptional game viewing in diverse habits at the riverside, the plains and the salt pans. The camp has a pared-back authenticity and wonderful hides for watching wildlife in the camp’s waterhole.
Nkwali Camp in the South Luangwa Valley is open year-round and perfect for an emerald season Zambia safari. They offer seasonal boating safaris so you can explore the lagoons for birding and game viewing. In the green season migratory birds can be seen. There is a huge breeding colony of yellow-billed storks, as well as nesting carmine bee-eaters later in the year.
A safari to Kenya to explore Amboseli in November is one of my personal favourites. Amboseli National Park, (known otherwise as a dustbowl for much of the year), transforms into this magical, green carpet, covered with wildflowers, with the majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro protecting its boundary.
This region is renowned for its impressive, large herds of African elephant, amongst many other species. This is the only time I will venture down there! Tsavo East is similar, as is Samburu in the north, when, in conjunction with the first rains, the area erupts into a sea of green.
In Amboseli, my favourite is Tawi Lodge or a luxury private mobile tented camp. For those seeking luxury, Angama Mara are presently building a luxury lodge here which is fabulous news!
In Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp and Saruni Samburu are both excellent luxury camps for a safari to Kenya. Elephant Watch Camp has long ties to elephant conservation, was built in an ecologically friendly manner and still participates in conservation. Saruni Samburu is perched high over the surrounding landscape with views to Mount Kenya in the distance.
The meaning of ‘secret season’ also depends where one is! For example, in South Africa, the Cape has a micro-climate and therefore when one wouldn’t usually travel to other parts of South Africa, a safari or holiday in the Cape is actually very pleasant.
In India, the monsoon is one of my favourite seasons! Not only are tourists extremely few, but the whole atmosphere comes alive, is balmy, electric, and simply wonderful – resulting in this heady exoticism! It’s also good to see an area like Rajasthan devoid of dust and become a bejeweled spectacle!
If you are planning a secret season safari to Africa, you need expert advice to ensure you select the right locations at the right times. Please do get in touch with one of our experts for more specific advice tailored carefully to you and your safari. All of our safaris include philanthropic elements that make a positive impact on the places that we travel to – you can find out more about our philanthropic travel philosophy in our Philanthropy Plus Handbook.
Images by kind courtesy of: Little Mombo: Wilderness Safaris (photographers Russel Friedman, Dana Allen, Derek De La Harpe). Xigera Safari Lodge. Saruni Samburu, Robion Pope Safaris Nkwali Camp, Remote Africa Tafika Camp.