We've put together a list of frequently asked questions to help you better understand what a safari to Botswana is all about and to help you better prepare for your vacation.
The days are dry, sunny, clear and cool to seductively warm, while in the evening temperatures drop sharply. Daytime temperatures generally reach 25 °C, and may fall as low as 2 °C (and plummet below freezing in some areas) at night. Virtually no rain falls during the winter months.
The summer or rainy season begins in October and ends in March. In October the weeks preceding the coming of the rains tend to be the hottest, with temperatures soaring up to 40 °C or more. Cloud cover and the arrival of the first rains towards the end of November or in early December cool things down considerably, although usually only for a short period.
Bird viewing is excellent. It is peak breeding time for many of the colourful migrant bird species. Excellent wild flowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds day and night - from insects and birds - the bush is alive.
January is the middle of the rainy season, with spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, high humidity and warm days (average over 30 °C) and nights (average over 20 °C). Game viewing is reasonable with active predators still chasing the fast-developing young of their prey species. January is an ideal month for photography because of all the vivid colours, spectacular skies and unparalleled air clarity. The contrast between the predators' natural camouflage - which blends with the dry bush in winter - and the summer vegetation makes for dramatic photos. Being more easily spotted by their prey species, the predators have to work hard, while the prey has a time of plenty.
Ripe figs are eaten by many species including the fruit bats, which make interesting night sounds while feeding.
This is peak flowering time for water-lilies and the reed frogs are colourful and loudly vocal - the Okavango Delta is brilliant, noisy and alive. Owing to the rains plants are growing vigorously. Butterflies, birds, frogs and all the small creatures are full of life and at their best. The rains continue in the form of mid- to late- afternoon thunderstorms, with dramatic skies and sounds. It is hot, with daytime temperatures averaging above 30 °C and warm nights at above 20 °C. There may be both wet and very dry spells within the month. The Giant Bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game species do not have far to go for water and the young are almost as tall as adults. Birding is excellent.
The fruiting Marula trees attract their attendant bull Elephants, which wander from tree to tree in search of their favourite meal. At this time of year elephants are often encountered on walks in the Okavango as they feed from one Marula to the next. The start of the rutting season leads to the sleek and fat Impala rams snorting and cavorting to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night, but the air is drier and the rains less frequent. The bush is lush and green and there are lots of flowers.
The first signs that the times are a-changing — average night-time temperatures drop to below 20 °C, but daytime temperatures still rise to 40 °C on some days. Generally the temperatures are very pleasant. The cooler mornings with high relative humidity lead to wonderful early-morning misty magic, especially over water. The Impala rut is in full swing and their noises continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males. Baboon and Impala are often seen together as the Baboons act as sentries protecting the busy Impala. The trees have finished flowering and fruit is ripening, with massive sausages hanging from the Sausage Trees (Kigelia). Reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the imminent dry season.
Floodwaters from the Angolan highlands should reach the top of the Okavango Delta panhandle and begin their slow and deliberate progress through the Delta. The rains are over and the nights are cooler, averaging 15 °C. The days are still warm with temperatures rising to 35 °C. Buffalo begin to gather into large herds and visit the rivers more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry up. Breeding herds of Elephant increase in density daily as they visit the permanent waters. The vivid green bush starts fading to duller, dry-season colours and the predators begin to enjoy themselves as their colours blend in with their surroundings once again. The migratory birds begin their flights to winter-feeding and breeding grounds in faraway places.
June is an exciting month. The African Wild Dogs begin to search for dens, which makes them easier to find for the next three or four months as they operate from their dens. Exciting hunts and playful puppies - what more could you wish for! Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June, with night-time temperatures falling as low as 2 °C (very cold on night drives due to wind- chill factor). Daytime temperatures rise to a very comfortable 25 °C and dusty dry conditions begin to dominate. Some green bushes and trees persist but leaf drop commences and pans dry up. Animals concentrate at permanent water sources, as do their predators. The inner Delta starts to flood. The Zebra and Wildebeest numbers appear to increase day by day along the dry Boteti River and Leroo La Tau is gradually surrounded by the sounds of hooves and the echo of calls at night.
It is the height of the floods in the Okavango Delta, after their slow path from the wet Angolan highlands thousands of kilometres away. The paradox is obvious - the flood arrives when dust and dryness pervade and rains have long gone. The leaves are falling off the trees, grasses are getting shorter every day and visibility is excellent. The nights are still cold, but the days are marginally warmer and the weather typical of Botswana - sunny and clear with brilliant, cobalt-blue skies. More and more animals congregate near the water and flood plains - July is a special time of the year. Water seeps into areas where there was none the day before and the mekoro and boat trips become more exciting as new channels and waterways become accessible. Soft early morning and evening light combined with dust provides the perfect conditions for many dramatic photographs.
The Elephant herds are getting larger. As they jostle for space near the water tension rises between the breeding herds. The bush is bare and the dust pervasive, but there is plenty of action and, with patience and perseverance, the rewards are great. The floods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun - leading to excitement for the locals in town as water-related speculation is at a peak - how high? When will it stop? How far will the water go? The weather is warming up, with daytime peaks averaging closer to 30 °C and night- time averages rising to around 10 °C. August is another special month in Botswana. In addition to being peak visitor season, the herons, storks and other birds start to congregate at the Gadikwe heronry, which is visited on the boat transfer between Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango and Xugana Island Lodge.
The climate has changed and winter is all but over. Night temperatures rise rapidly and by month's end the average reaches over 15 °C and daytime temperatures soar well over 30 °C. The sun shines, the skies are clear and it is really dry. unbelievably, the Elephants concentrate in still greater numbers, as do the Buffalo, keeping the predators busy as the season takes its toll on the prey species - it is a time of plenty for the Lions. The colours explode as the Carmine Bee-eaters return for the summer. The first migrants arrive and storks start nesting. Water-levels have begun to drop as the waters from Angola have completed their journey. Certain trees start to produce their first green shoots - fed by the floodwaters and temperatures and not by any rain, as the first rains are still about six weeks away.
It is hot - really hot - but never will you experience such great game viewing - well worth the sweat. This is the time of year when the herbivores are at their weakest through a lack of food and the Lions are at their strongest. Daytime temperatures rise regularly above 40 °C and nights are warm with averages in the 20 °C. There is no place to hide; everything is bare and the grasses have been eaten or trampled. Predators' chases erupt into clouds of dust as the eternal game of eat and be eaten plays out daily in the very open plains. There are fishing frenzies with the annual catfish (Barbel) runs in the rivers. The Gadikwe heronry near Xugana and Camp Okavango is full of activity, with hundreds of birds breeding and nesting - bird viewing is excellent. At night Savute is alive with nocturnal sounds - Elephants screeching impatiently at the water holes and earth-trembling Lion mars.
The expectation of - in fact desperation for rain dominates all discussions - the residents and the animals all seek an end to the dryness and dust. Temperatures remain high both day and night and game viewing is excellent - until the day of the first rains - normally around mid-November. The rains come, the animals, relieved, disperse to feed on new vegetation and drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the Tsessebe, followed by Impala and Lechwe. The predators seek out the vulnerable young and kill many times a day to eat their fill. It is a time of action, great visibility and colour, with big thunderheads of cumulus cloud, fresh sprouting grass and trees bursting into life - a wonderful time for the photographer.
Protein-rich grass feeds the antelope mothers, while the lambs and calves grow at astonishing speed. The Impala complete their lambing; the Wildebeest start and finish in a very few weeks. The rains become more regular, with thunderstorms every few days. The pans remain full and the colours shine in brilliant green. While the grazers enjoy the green, tender mouthfuls the predators are ever watching and stalking. Their winter-adapted camouflage makes them conspicuous against the summer vegetation, so they have to work harder; however, the bush is dense, providing more hiding places from which to observe and ambush their prey. All the migrant birds have arrived and the birding is excellent. Temperatures have cooled on average, but hot days still occur, nights are still warm and humidity can rise after rain. Great colours, dramatic skies and lightning at night all add to magic of December.
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