Most tourists tie in their trip with Africa’s dry seasons. This is because travel is easier, especially once you get off the main roads; dirt tracks become a sea of mud when it rains. And it’s also because lounging on the beach in a downpour just doesn’t cut the mustard.
There are regional variations, but essentially it goes like this: East Africa has two dry seasons – December to February/March and June to October – with rainy seasons in between. In southern Africa it’s dry from May/June, gets really hot in October, then rains November to April/May. In West Africa the dry season is October/November to April/May, and it gets very hot at the end of this period. In Central Africa, June to September is the dry time. In North Africa, rain isn’t the main issue – it’s temperature. The best time to travel is the cooler period from October to March.
Although dry seasons are usually the popular times, don’t automatically avoid the rainy season everywhere. In some countries it only rains for a few hours each day (often at night) and then the air is crystal clear, views go on for ever, and photographers soon run out of film. It’s also a good time for bird-watching, if that’s your thing. Hotel rates are cheaper and popular tourist haunts are much quieter too. And generally the local people are also happier because good rains mean good crops, so traditional festivals are often held at this time.
When to go
The equator cuts Africa in half, which not only means that water goes in opposite directions down the plughole in the north and the south, but the continent experiences huge climatic variation. Watch out for the wet or rainy seasons, which can turn dirt roads into rivers and curtail travel to remote regions. Just as uncomfortable can be the searing hot season in some countries, which can make moving around during the day nigh on impossible.
Late October to February is a great time to visit the Sahara and arid Central Africa (although be prepared for cold nights) and you can also enjoy the warm summer days of southern Africa or beachcomb along the West African coast.
By around January or February, East African wildlife is concentrated around diminishing water sources and is therefore easier to spot. In contrast, the usually arid lands of North Africa spring into life between March and May.