Every well-loved travel destination has a sweet spot. A window when the calendar, weather and wildlife conspire to create a time or a season that becomes a favorite for those who make the journey.
Going on a Botswana safari during the green season is an extraordinary experience that moves beyond sightseeing and instead aims for sustainable adventure. The green season in Botswana falls between late October and March. It’s a time when rain showers turn arid landscapes green, animals migrate from their winter watering holes to the salt flats of the south and new life appears around every corner.
Modern-day safaris capture the wild glamour of days gone by while using the time abroad to inspire, educate and reconnect with the natural world. Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants in the world, sees the longest migration of zebras on the continent and has the largest inland water system on the planet.
Botswana is part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The 109-million-acre protected reserve covers parts of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Together with the World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation, Elephants Without Borders and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the governments of the member countries work toward conservation initiatives that make a difference for both the wildlife and the human populations that live within the area’s borders.
Richard Avilino knows the wilds of Botswana well. He grew up in Maun, Botswana, the gateway to the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert. Growing up in the country and guiding in areas like Chobe National Park, the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta since 1998, his passion is showing people the natural wonders of Africa. Before studying for his credentials in guiding (as well as a certificate in birding), he managed a safari camp in the bush.
During a break on a recent trip in the bush, Richard gave Nat Hab his top six reasons to go on a safari during the green season.
1. Many animals are more active during the green season.
Botswana is home to 2.3 million people and around 130,000 elephants. That’s one elephant for every 18 people! More than 600 species of birds also live here, as do crocodiles, vervet monkeys, baboons and giraffes. In fact, the Okavango Delta is home to almost 15% of all the giraffes in Africa.
Many of the animals that live in Botswana give birth during the green season, and it’s not uncommon to see mothers and their offspring on daily safari treks. Lions, elephants, giraffes and zebras tend to their young, and there is plenty of food to go around. Other animals to keep an eye out for are bushbucks, hippos, impala, kudu, wildebeest and buffalo.
Predator activity is on the rise during the green season as well. Cheetahs, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs join lions in the daily hunt at the different stops on Botswana safari itineraries.
At the beginning of the green season, upwards of 20,000 zebras migrate en masse from the north to the south, making their way across the central Kalahari Desert—an area roughly the size of Jamaica—to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. The park is home to the largest salt flats in the world and, in addition to zebras, shelters hundreds of thousands of flamingos when the rains come.
2. Green season safari camps create an incredible atmosphere to experience nature in secluded luxury.
Botswana’s reputation for being at the top of the list of safari destinations in Africa is in no way unfounded. The country’s government is pro-tourism and supports small safaris into areas where camps are limited. An example quoted by Conde Nast stated that just five beds were allowed on one private 64,000-acre concession.
During the green season, fewer people travel to Botswana. The rains of the season, the flooding of the delta and the heat of the early months keep many would-be explorers at bay. But for those in the know, this is often the best time of the year.
The Kalahari Desert surrounds the Okavango Delta, adding to the allure and intrigue of a Botswana safari during the green season. The second largest game reserve in Africa (it’s larger than Switzerland) is home to herds of gemsbok, springbok and hartebeest. It’s also home to Richard’s favorite camp during the green season: Kalahari Plains Camp.
“Kalahari Plains Camp is my favorite camp during this time, as the landscape varies from sand dunes to ancient riverbeds. Acacia-tree islands are great resting places for cheetahs and black-maned Kalahari lions. The predators lie in wait while oryx and springboks appear in open plains of river bed from the sand dunes.”
Kalahari Plains Camp is one of the stops on Nat Hab’s Botswana: Kalahari, the Delta & Beyond safari, which takes advantage of all that the green season has to offer. Its small size (eight tents), remote location and bush luxuries like a swimming pool and expansive raised deck immerse guests in the surroundings. Solar power provides hot water and electricity, and the staff here make the experience one to write home about.
3. Rains and flooding open up new areas of exploration.
When the rains come in October, water flows from Angola, through Namibia and finally into the 6,000 square miles of wetlands in Botswana. The flooding of the Okavango Delta is a blessing in disguise. Rising waters give way to more territory to explore by mokoro, traditional narrow dugout canoes propelled using a pole. Okavango-born polers reveal intimate secrets of delta life, giving visitors a glimpse of tiny frogs, colorful waterbirds, crocodiles and even hippos. These burly beasts play an important role in the delta’s ecosystem, keeping waterways free of obstruction between streams and lagoons by trampling vegetation during their daily travels.
The delta also shelters many endangered species, including the white rhino, the southern ground-hornbill, cheetahs and the African savanna elephant. Fewer people and more terrain give these animals extra room to roam, opening up more opportunities for animal sightings on safari drives by jeep and spontaneous discoveries by boat.
4. As new vegetation bursts forth, groups of animals feed together, creating dynamic wildlife viewing opportunities.
The verdant flora of Botswana comes to life in the green season. Baobab and palm trees, water lilies and papyrus, and elephant grass and Zambezi teak forests set the stage for days of exploration.
Acacia trees are the favorite food of Botswana’s giraffes. They can eat over 60 pounds of acacia leaves a day, and small groups—or towers—spend hours at a time feeding in one place. Zebras prefer tall grass and graze in herds, often alongside wildebeests, who prefer short grass.
Hippos feed at night to avoid the hot sun, coming out of nearby rivers and streams to eat short grass found near riverbeds. Their diet consists entirely of land plants.
Elephants eat plants and shrubs that are collectively called a browse. They consume over 300 pounds of vegetation a day and can spend 16 hours feeding. In Chobe National Park, their diet includes water lilies and fruits, adding a sweet treat to their already ample intake of grass, shrubs and tree leaves.
5. The green season is birding paradise, as migratory species arrive from the Northern hemisphere and blooming wildflowers attract many species of butterflies.
Cranes, egrets, storks and herons signal the arrival of the flood waters in the Okavango Delta each year. They gather ahead of the rising tides to feed on insects trying to outrun the water.
Up to 50,000 flamingos flock to the Makgadigadi salt pans when they flood, and in Chobe National Park, more than 350 of the country’s 600 bird species appear at rest and in flight during the height of summer.
African fish eagles and red-necked falcons glide overhead, colorful kites, cuckoos and kingfishers hover nearby, and flocks of bee-eaters bring bright colors to the sky during sunrise excursions.
The green season is also wildflower season, which lasts from mid-August to mid-September. The semi-arid Kalahari Desert blooms in fields of yellow, white, crimson and blue. During African spring, the Savuti Marsh of Chobe National Park changes from arid grassland to fertile wetlands. Elephants frequent the area after the rains start.
6. Green season is a photographer’s dream season.
The green season is a favorite of photographers for both its subject matter and for practical reasons. Besides turning the landscape green and spurring an eruption of wildflowers, birds and other wildlife, the summer rain puts a damper on the dust that often finds its way into cameras during the dry season.
Nat Hab sets aside dates throughout the year for photography safaris in Botswana, including green season photo trips. An expert photographer and guide lead the trek and both are quick to help with tips and tricks as opportunities present themselves. Small group sizes mean more room while out in the bush traveling, and special outings at sunset and dusk keep things interesting for all levels of photographers.
Helicopter trips over the Okavango Delta allow for aerial photography on some itineraries, and Victoria Falls is a highlight of all of our trips to the region. Spanning more than a mile and cascading more than 350 feet to the Zambezi River below, the waterfall and the views from different vistas capture the natural beauty of Africa in panoramas that change by the minute. A fitting description of what to expect every day during a Botswana green season safari.