This is a series of twelve blogs aiming to give the reader an easy ‘at a glance guide’ of where to go in sub-Saharan Africa and get the best out of it – after all you have flown several thousands of miles, so you need to know that your experience will live up what you expect. There’s no point in going to the Okavango Delta to see the annual flood but arriving in October and wondering where all the water has gone.
The blog will focus on southern Africa in its widest sense which I have expanded somewhat to include Tanzania and Mozambique.
So, here’s the first one and we’ll start at the beginning – it always seems to make sense to me – with JANUARY. It’s the southern hemisphere’s mid-summer which generally means high daytime temperatures and their wet season with spectacular thunderstorms.
Climate / Wildlife
Being such a vast region naturally leads to a wide variation of climate and that has a material effect on the wildlife that you’re likely to see – seems a logical place to start to me!
Botswana – the height of their summer with some heavy afternoon thunderstorms with day time temperatures in the high 80’sF. The wildlife especially the plains game will very close to calving, if they haven’t already as they time it to coincide with the rains thereby taking advantage of the new food sources. Predator activity will be high and for the same reason! The summer migrant birds will be at their peak.
A superb place to go in January is the Kalahari Desert which will be springing into life as a result of the rains.
Malawi – being relatively close to the Indian Ocean coast means that Malawi experiences its highest rainfall at this time of year, but temperatures are high and game viewing is still superb in the Majete and Liwonde reserves.
There are also some good deals available and a combination bush and beach safari staying within Malawi (and yes, I know Malawi is land-locked) is a great use of time… and money.
Mozambique – after many years of civil war, Mozambique is back on the map as a tourist destination but the restoration of game viewing experiences in parks such as Gorongosa are lagging behind those of the beach resorts. Mozambique’s two archipelagos, Bazaruto and Quirimbas offer the highest quality beach breaks. Perfect after a safari in Botswana.
January sees Mozambique’s heaviest rainfall of the year but you still get about 8 hours of sun, so I would still rather be there than on London!
Namibia – daytime temperatures in January rarely dip below 30C and are often close to 35C, but with Namibia being principally desert, the humidity levels are low at just 25% – you don’t even realise the amount of fluids you are losing; this is a time of survival for the desert adapted animals in the Namib and the dry river valleys in the far north of the country such as the Huab and Hoanib.
The pans within the Etosha National Park dry up concentrating animals close to the permanent and artificial waterholes.
Tanzania – being close to the Equator, Tanzania has a stable climate with daytime temperatures not varying much from 30C at whichever time of year you visit. January sees little rainfall but the savanna is still lush following the short rains in November. This is the cue for the plains game, such as wildebeest, to calve as food is plentiful – also for the carnivores. This is the beginning of the migration cycle with the wildlife staying put for about three months in the southern Serengeti.
You should not though disregard the other parks in Tanzania and the Selous, Manyara and Tarangire are all worth a visit.
Zambia – many camps in the National Parks, especially the bush camps which are taken down and will not be rebuilt until March the following year. The permanent camps such as Nkwali in the South Luangwa, at the very end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, are ideally located to access the park where game viewing remains superb.
Birdlife is phenomenal with many migratory species breeding in the valley as well as the endemic species such as Thornicroft’s Giraffe.
The flow of water over Victoria Falls, which reach their nadir around November, starts to increase once more and will hit peak flow around May.
5 Reasons to Travel to Africa in January
Africa is known for a number of incredible wildlife events, the most famous of which has to be the Great Migration from Tanzania to Kenya (and back) with some one million wildebeest and zebra following the rains in search of new pastures. However it doesn’t have involve quite so many animals, or indeed animals at all, for it to be inspiring. Here are my Top 5 places (well, ones technically a reason…) to go to Africa in January.
– the Chobe National Park in Botswana for the high concentrations of elephant – to see one using their trunk as a snorkel is wonderful;
– the South Luangwa in Zambia for the migratory birds such as the Carmine Bee-eater, a time when they are nesting in the dried up river banks;
– the Magkadikadi Pans but specifically at the time of a full moon; the colours, produced by the dust off the pans, are just incredible;
– to dive, go to Mozambique it’s the season when whales sharks are seen most days;
– and finally, and can there be a less complicated reason? To get away from the drab, dark and cold days that January brings!
Africa – the continent for all seasons.