When is the best time to visit Kruger National Park?
The Kruger National Park is THE flagship national park in South Africa. Covering an area the size of Israel, it is the Mecca of all game reserves. Thanks to an ongoing expansion program stretching as far as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, animals are once again free to roam along ancient migratory pathways. Clearly, Kruger should be at the top of any todo list when planning a safari in South Africa. But, when is the best time to visit Kruger?
Over the last ten years I have spent many months in the Kruger Park as both tourist and guide. I worked in the Pafuri region for 5 months and my current job is based in the Greater Kruger. As a result I’ve seen Kruger Park in pretty much every season and weather. I know when the best time is to spot birds and animals, or simply just to enjoy the peace and beauty of this incredible corner of the world. With that in mind, here is my guide on the best time to visit Kruger National Park.
December – January – February
These months encompass the South African summer. Expect very hot weather, reaching the high thirties in places, and the most rainfall for the year. Rain normally comes in short, heavy bursts with plenty of sunshine in between although occasionally it can continue for days at a time.
Due to the rain, the bush is at its most green and beautiful in the Summer months. However, it is also thick, with long grass that can make game viewing difficult. Animals that would normally congregate at waterholes to drink can now quench their thirst in any puddle or stream. This means the game is more spread out and harder to see.
Insects are most prevalent during the rainy season – this could be a bonus or a drawback depending on your interests! Some of the butterflies and other insects that come out in this time are breathtakingly beautiful. However, the mosquitoes are also most active meaning malaria is a higher risk.
Finally, many of the babies are born during these months – as well as the sudden arrival of all the impala lambs which are extremely cute to see. For birders, the summer migrants arrive now in their droves, with many in breeding plumage.
BEST FOR: Birding, babies and wild flowers
WORST FOR: Game viewing and malaria
March – April – May
During Autumn the temperatures are beginning to drop to more comfortable levels, especially in the evenings and early mornings. Rain is less likely although there is still the chance of the odd downpour, particularly in March. Malaria is still a risk.
During early Autumn the summer migrant birds are still around and the bush is now at its thickest. One benefit of this is that many predators don’t like walking in the long, damp grass and so can often be found along the road. With so much vegetation around, the animals look healthy and happy.
By late autumn, the bush is beginning to dry out and the game viewing thus improves. The impala start their annual rut as they compete for mating rights – an iconic scene on the African savannah. Lastly, the autumnal colours decorate the bush with stunning flecks of red and orange. This is a great time for photography.
BEST FOR: Colourful photography and lush scenery
WORST FOR: Crowds – the Easter shoulder season is a busy time of year.
Even in South Africa, the winter can mean cold! You should pack warm clothes in these months, although temperatures can reach the mid twenties during the day. This is also the driest time of year.
With the bush dry and thinned-out, animals are now moving back to the reliable waterholes, making game viewing great right now. Gregarious species like buffalo are more likely to form much larger, impressive herds at this time of year. However, some animals may start to show signs of poor condition and distress due to less availability of water and good grazing.
Predator sightings are at their peak and wild dogs have a tendency to den as well, meaning a higher chance of seeing puppies! However, the beautiful migrant birds have all left – at this time of year the bush is very drab and lacking in colour.
During school holidays the park is busy once again and the days are at their shortest – which could be a bonus if you like the long lie-ins, although game-viewing hours are reduced. Malaria is very low risk due to the cold nights.
BEST FOR: Game viewing and predators
WORST FOR: Birding and cold nights
September – October – November
Temperatures are beginning to increase once more, feeling much more comfortable in those early mornings. There is a slightly higher chance of rain now than the winter, although it doesn’t begin to rain in earnest until late spring/early summer. This can leave the bush looking very dry and distressed, with many waterholes dried up completely. Game viewing around active waterholes is now excellent.
By late spring, you will be needing the air conditioning back on! The bush becomes speckled with green if early rains arrive and the migrant birds will soon be arriving once more. Malaria is still a fairly low risk.
BEST FOR: Climate and game viewing
WORST FOR: Dry, drab bush
So that’s it! There is no definitive best time to visit Kruger. Personally, I love the Kruger in every season for different reasons. If it’s your first trip, then you should prioritise what you want to see (be it game and predators or birds and pretty landscapes) as this is the real reason anyone goes on safari. The weather can definitely have an impact on your experience, but I wouldn’t plan your trip around it. Especially as it is always so unpredictable! There may be a drought one year or even super early/late rains that mean much of what I’ve said here is not quite so relevant.
Finally, whenever you go, make sure you bring buckets of enthusiasm and a little bit of patience. In the bush, you never know what is lurking around the next corner!