Visiting safari locations in their supposed low or off season

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First time visitors will usually opt for the recommended ‘best time’ to visit and this is totally understandable. But we must also realize that the high season is built around the holiday seasons in Europe or the USA – when schools are out etc. They are not always the best times to visit from a natural history viewpoint. As camps and lodges become more fixed, more permanent the owners are learning to market differently and promote a more holistic safari experience. I think that this is good for them and we all benefit from this approach. The ‘ideal season’ or ‘best time to visit’ label is often stuck on a location, seemingly fixed forever. Don’t go in the off season we are told! These are the supposed ‘bad months’ when rain or wind or dust is said to make the location less optimal.

Tarangire in January.jpg Tarangire in January

These permanent Camp owners have had to rethink their marketing and instead of saying, ‘come see the migration crossing the Mara River’, they have re-evaluated and now consider the whole 12 months of natural history, the seasonality of the place. They now include the birds and bees in their marketing, about time too!. The Piaya location is a case in point where some companies, operating camps there, marketed too heavily on the wildebeest migration and calving instead of concentrating on the wilderness aspect and walking and cultural experiences that make that area special almost all year round. This short term and sensationalist marketing has led to some of these camps failing and that’s such a pity.

Moru Kopjes Serengeti in May.jpg Walking near Sanjan in March.jpg Moru Kopjes Serengeti in May and walking near the Sanjan River in March

Having lived in Tarangire for many years I appreciated the solitude when the ‘off season’ came, the safari vehicles moved somewhere else. Somehow I felt that I had the bush back again, I didn’t have to avoid the busy parts of the park anymore as no one was there. I could just wander, go out all day and enjoy the whole ecosystem anew. Remember that many parts of East Africa are blessed with two rainy seasons as we fall in the so called tropical convergence zone. Guides from Zimbabwe and Zambia based here for now- are always saying that they find it weird to be working in the December to March period because in their home country they just wouldn’t be, their season ends in October. The Serengeti system with the migrating herds and wildebeest calving time is unique to East Africa so Tanzanian operators enjoy a longer ‘busy season’. But still the high season is when there is the highest demand for tents or rooms not when the wildlife experience is at its best.

Lunch time at Lake Katavi in December.jpg Piaya flowers in March.jpg Lake Katavi in December and Piaya flowers in March

As a returning safari guest, after you have been here a few times and experienced the Southern Serengeti in January, February or March, enjoyed Katavi, Ruaha, Tarangire, The Selous and Northern Serengeti in the August to October dry season, what do you do next? In November, April and May each year our safari season slows up, but also in December- June certain areas are said to be less optimal. So do we just not go there in the off/low season, don’t explore and enjoy the serenity, the almost empty camps?

Lake Katavi fly camping in February.jpg Lake Katavi fly camping in February

Over the years I have made it my mission to try and see these habitats in their supposed off seasons and I can honestly say that the beauty of Ruaha, Katavi , Tarangire and Northern Serengeti in the November-February period is well worth the effort. Also that the Ndutu and Gol mountains areas are special in the dry and that some of my best Southern Serengeti experiences have been in April and in May or in June. Having these wildlife areas to explore, when the unpredictable conditions and visitor numbers suggest the ‘off season’, is a whole new discovery for returning visitors. If you have been to Tarangire or Katavi in the dry season and loved it, try the November to February time there, try the same months in Northern Serengeti, try the Ndutu area in April or June. They are all still wonderful, still fascinating and there are less people around, more freedom, more uncertainty yes, but that’s the stuff of a better safari, isn’t it?

Lake Tanganyika in January.jpg Lake Tanganyika in November

For me the off season has always been a season of highs as I judge the experience from a natural history point of view .