East Africa has it all from the semi-arid landscape of Northern Kenya, the rolling savannahs of the Masai Mara to the dramatic highlands of Ngorongoro Crater and the vast expanse of the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, to the rain forests of Uganda and Rwanda, not forgetting the magnificent highlands and the mystical rock cut churches of Ethiopia. In contrast, the stunning coastline of both Kenya and Tanzania, or Zanzibar offers a different beauty with swaying palm trees, white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean that mesmerise the senses, each has its own unique charm that will leave you in awe of your surroundings.
Planning a trip to East Africa can be complex but here are some guidelines to help you decide when to travel based on where you may want to go or vice versa. There are also other factors, such as natural events, including weather or migration patterns that may determine the ‘season’ that you should travel. Visiting during the months of March to May and November to early December sees our wilderness with very little disturbance, with lower rates and less people, so most places will be quieter and you’ll have the wildlife to yourselves. The plains exhibit a green carpet at this time providing sustenance to the grazing herds.
East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda) is beautiful all year-round but certain times of the year can offer more (or less) depending on your preference. If based on weather, East Africa’s climate is defined by its distinct wet and dry seasons. Its long dry season begins in late June and lasts until October. During this time the climate is a bit cooler but with warm sunshine and rain free days! The region’s short dry season occurs from December, January through February and March. From mid-April, through May and again in November, on the other hand, mark the wet period!
If you are looking to experience one of the most famous draws to East Africa, then the Great Wildebeest Migration is a phenomenal event, which can be witnessed in either Kenya or Tanzania. This is a never-ending cycle from southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and back. It is Africa’s most incredible wildlife experiences with 1.5 million wildebeest (as well as hundreds of thousands of Zebras and Gazelle) follow the rains across the savannahs tracked by predators. Though it’s difficult to predict exactly when the migration will happen in Kenya, the highest chance of experiencing it usually happens from July to October.
If you wish to experience the migration in Tanzania then it all begins on the south plains of Serengeti with the calving period from January to March, which sees a population explosion producing more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,200 km (670 mile) pilgrimage begins in April, heading north through Central Serengeti. In May and June, the migration heads north through Seronera towards the Western Corridor, crossing the Grumeti River into Northern Serengeti and finally into Kenya around July for several months, before turning around mid-October to trek all the way back to where they started.
For avid birders you can see a host of arrivals from October to April when the migratory birds from Europe and northern Africa make their way to East Africa. At this time, many resident bird species are nesting and are in breeding plumage. Those of you that are enthusiasts can enjoy the arrival of Carmine and European Bee Eaters, Eurasian Rollers, European Swallows, Shrikes, Hobby Falcons, Eurasian Marsh Harriers, and many more as they pass through. Each park offers something different, so depending on what you want to see, you can travel around the country to maximise the number of species you spot. Kenya actually held the world record for the greatest number of species seen in 24 hours: a whopping 342!
Alternatively, for those wanting a beach holiday along the Kenya, Tanzania or Zanzibar coastline, a plethora of water sports are available, where guests can enjoy scuba diving in prime spots that offer a number of dive sites for those that are just beginning, to those that are more advanced and want to explore shipwrecks. Regardless of ability there is so much to see under the waves; White Tipped Reef sharks, rays, turtles and so much more. Diving with Whale Sharks and migratory Humpback Whales between July and end Sept are iconic marine experiences. The coral heads have a myriad of colourful tiny reef fish to marvel at and the occasional octopus can be spotted. The best months for sunshine are from September to April, the weather is perfect and diving conditions optimal for those wanting to explore the ocean floor. If you are unable to dive, snorkelling offers just as much in the shallower waters – October to March being the best time – as the waters are calm and visibility is crystal clear. Your time in the coastal destinations of the Indian Ocean can be as active or as leisurely as you wish, with a multitude of experiences to enjoy from water-based sports to exploring the secrets these beautiful destinations hold or simply the favourite coastal pastime of relaxing and soaking up the sun.