Africa: When To Visit

Africa is on nearly every adventure traveler’s radar, promising myriad memorable experiences, whether it be hiking Mount Kilimanjaro or tracking lions in the Serengeti. Made up of 54 countries, Africa offers even more than meets the eye. Jungle vistas, dramatic ravines and rugged mountain peaks are just a taste of the diverse scenery. Though the continent is often recognized for its rich biodiversity, Africa is brimming with once-in-a-lifetime cultural experiences as well. Art and history buffs can explore Moroccan streets, nature lovers can track gorillas in Uganda’s jungles, and beach bums can relax in Seychelles. Have your pick. No matter the nation and no matter the time of year, adventure awaits!

Man and woman standing on a cliffside looking down at the ocean and city

 (All temperatures quoted are in Fahrenheit, and seasons listed are for North America.)

Spring (African Fall)
When planning, it’s important to remember that African seasons are opposite of those in North America, so March through May is considered autumn here. Like in many other destinations, fall is an ideal time to visit. Temperatures are cooling, the rains have died down, and wildlife is generally abundant. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe are all popular picks this time of year.

Summer (African Winter)
For wildlife enthusiasts, this an attractive time of year to visit several African countries. Many of the large animal migrations occur between June and November, making summer (African winter) the ideal time to visit the Serengeti and Maasai Mara National Reserve. Cooler temperatures and minimal rain are just added perks.

Fall (African Spring)
For those headed to West or East Africa, March is a good month to visit because it’s the tail end of the dry season. April is a good month to visit some of the countries in the north and south, such as Morocco, Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe. For birders, forget the rain; this is the ideal time to visit.

Winter (African Summer)
Though it might not be the season for migrations, don’t fret, animal lovers. February is the perfect time to look out for newborns. Calves can be spotted throughout Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda from January through April.

Backroads Pro Tip

Africa has very distinct rainy seasons, which are categorized by brief (but intense) downpours. Expect rain in the north and south between November and March, while West and East Africa have two distinct wet seasons: April to June and October to September. Though many tourists avoid these seasons, it can mean missing out on blooming flowers, migrant birds and baby animals. If the rain and insects don’t bother you, this is a great time for spectacular scenery, and it’s particularly great if you’re operating on a tighter budget.


Ecological Events and Features

The Great Wildebeest Migration (June–October)
Sure, no one wants to relive the infamous Lion King scene, but Africa’s Great Migration continues to be one of the most sought-after events across the continent. Between May and October, wildebeest (and tourists) travel across Kenya and northern Tanzania in droves. During this time, an estimated 10 million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles travel through the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in search of lush feeding grounds. The journey is somewhat treacherous, and many animals fall victim to predators and raging rivers, so for animal lovers in particular, it’s important to know what to expect in advance. 

Southern Right Whale Migration (June–November)
For a migration unlike any other, head to South Africa for this annual event. The southern right whales make their journey from Antarctica to warmer waters, reaching South Africa in June. The South African coast is home to more than 35 whale and dolphin species, and the best time for viewing falls in September. The Hermanus Whale Festival, a three-day event offering live music and mouthwatering food, commemorates the peak of the migration.

Kasanka Bat Migration (October–December)
One of the least well known of all Africa’s migrations, the Kasanka bat migration occurs in Zambia during Africa’s summer season. During this three-month period, more than 10 million fruit bats descend into the forest in Kasanka National Park, constituting the largest migration of land mammals on earth. Best viewing times are in the early morning hours and again around sunset.

Sea Turtle Nesting (October–February)
South Africa has a diverse population of sea turtles with a distinct nesting season. Leatherbacks, hawksbills and green turtles are just a few of the species found in local waters. South African loggerheads and leatherbacks nest on the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal during Africa’s summer months, and the hatchlings make their break for the ocean about 60 days later.

Special Events

Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF), Cape Town, South Africa (March–April)
The largest music event in Sub-Saharan Africa and the world’s fourth-largest jazz festival, CTIJF is often referred to as “Africa’s Grandest Gathering.” The event takes place in late March or early April each year and boasts a lineup of more than 40 international artists across five stages.

Bushfire, Swaziland (May)
Another popular music festival, Bushfire in Eswatini (also known as Swaziland) draws artists from around the world to celebrate creative expression and social responsibility. The internationally acclaimed festival is held each year at House on Fire, a rural venue in the heart of the Ezulwini Valley.

National Arts Festival, Grahamstown/Makhanda, South Africa (June–July) 
Spread over 11 days and approximately 90 venues, the Makhanda festival is Africa’s largest celebration of the arts. The festival is part of the World Fringe Alliance, and it features a range of national—and some international—artists in the arenas of dance, music, theater and visual arts.

Festival of the Dhow Countries, Zanzibar (July)
Also known as the Zanzibar International Film Festival, this annual event takes place in Tanzania and is recognized as one of the largest cultural celebrations in East Africa. For about a week in July, visitors can partake in workshops, panels and film screenings. A gala follows each evening. 

Mombasa Carnival, Kenya (November)
A fusion of cultures, the Mombasa Carnival is widely considered one of Kenya’s most exciting celebrations. Two parades merge in downtown Mombasa, showcasing a variety of floats, costumes and performers. Visitors can also explore the vendor stalls, which feature everything from CDs to craftwork to local cuisine.

Backroads Pro Tip

Because of the continent’s diversity, this is just a sliver of the unique events that take place throughout Africa. If experiencing local culture is important to you, plan your time in each country wisely by researching regional celebrations beforehand. Note, many festivals here coincide with ecological events, such as South Africa’s Hermanus Whale Festival and Rwanda’s gorilla naming ceremony, so keeping tabs on what’s happening with wildlife can be beneficial.



Generally speaking, crowds are not a big concern in most African countries…unless you’re referring to large congregations of water buffalo! One of the few exceptions is on safari, when you might find yourself fighting with surrounding jeeps for views of a lion or baby rhino. The best way to avoid these situations is to go to some of the lesser-known parks and game reserves. Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, as well as Liuwa Plains National Park in Zambia, are all great options for those seeking a less-congested safari experience.



Wildlife safaris are, unsurprisingly, an essential experience for tourists in most African countries. Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and South Africa are all popular safari destinations. Malawi, Namibia and Zambia are some lesser-known options. Because of Africa’s vast landscape and biodiversity, the ideal time for safaris varies greatly from the north to east to south. May to October tends to be the ideal range of most tourists, especially when opting to visit Kruger National Park and to witness the Great Migration.


Africa isn’t all desert plains and savannas. From the Drakensberg in South Africa to the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, the continent’s varied landscapes are ideal for adventurous hikers. When you should travel varies greatly by region, but the main trekking seasons tend to be from January to March and June to October (when the weather is cooler). Kilimanjaro, Morocco’s Atlas Mountains and Mount Ololokwe in Kenya are all popular year-round hiking destinations.

Diving and Snorkeling

When thinking of Africa, images of the vast Serengeti might come to mind, but with more than 30 coastal countries, ocean experiences are a big part of adventure travel across the continent. Diving and snorkeling are both popular pastimes in Cape Town and Benguerra Island in Mozambique. Egypt’s Red Sea is also a destination diving spot due to its historic shipwrecks and more than one thousand fish species.

Travel to Africa with Backroads

Backroads offers numerous ways to experience the very best of Africa on our award-winning active travel adventures. Explore this continent in the best and most genuine way possible—away from the crowds, buses and tourist hot spots. We hope you'll join us! Check out our full list of Africa adventures here.

Want to learn more about Africa, including its history, travel tips, highlights and insider info?
Check out our full Africa Travel Guide!




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