It was our second day out driving in our open-air jeep in Botswana’s Kalahari Game Reserve when the raindrops started to fall. As we’d headed out that afternoon, the sky above us looked bright and sunny, but in the distance we could see dark clouds forming and the occasional lightning bolt. Richard, our expedition leader, said he thought the storm looked far enough away that we could outrun the rain for a few hours and get in some prime wildlife viewing, so we’d decided to take our chances. But now, as the thunder started pealing and we were miles away from our camp, we realized we were going to lose our game of chicken with the weather.
Our expedition coordinator Olivia quickly handed out tarp ponchos to everyone, and Richard told us to hang on. He gunned the motor and put the pedal to the floor. The jeep went speeding and bumping over the roadless desert terrain as the sky opened up, pelting us with enormous raindrops carried on wind so strong that it made the rain sting our faces. Eventually, we raced through an open field not too far from the camp, and drove right past a female lion crouching low, sheltering from the thunder and lightning. Then we sped back into the bush, only about a quarter mile from where we’d left the lion, and just before we could get close enough to camp…we got a flat tire. We sat and waited, with the storm getting closer and louder, for another jeep to come pick us up and bring us back to camp, where they welcomed us with towels and hot chocolate.
Welcome to Botswana in the green season.
Going on safari during the rainiest—and also very hot—months of Botswana’s summer (December – April) may not seem like the logical choice at first. It is true that occasionally an inconvenient rain storm like the one above can require the day’s agenda to be revised unexpectedly. But the things you gain from traveling at this season far outweigh the occasional and short-lived storms.
For one, you’ll see the dry African bush transform in a way few other travelers do. This is the only time of year where everything is bursting with greenery.
And it’s also teeming with life. This time of year is also birthing season, and so you’ll see “bush babies” of every size and description, ranging from elephants to steenbok to tortoise. We even saw endangered African wild dog pups and a leopard carrying her newborn cub—a lucky sighting that even our very experienced expedition leader said he hardly ever sees.
And of course, with more babies around, there are also more predators, so green season ups your chances of seeing big cats. On my two-week safari alone, we saw 9 lions, 7 leopards, 3 cheetahs, and a good number of enormous crocodiles (I forgot to count those!).
And finally, because there are fewer tourists at that time of year, you get a far more exclusive-feeling safari experience, where sometimes your jeep is the only sign of human life for miles around, which really allows you to connect with nature in a very intimate way.
Green season’s somewhat unpredictable weather may not be for everyone, but my own feeling was that whatever minor inconveniences we encountered were far outweighed by the many benefits. Even getting caught in a rain storm felt like a novelty other tourists will never get to experience! If offered the opportunity to go back again to Botswana during green season, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
By Deborah Ackerman, Senior Writer, WWF