There is no bad time to visit the Kruger National Park. And the dry season (June to September) is popularly known as the best time to go on safari because the bush is dry and open, temperatures are mild and the animals tend to congregate at waterholes. This is all true. But there is one month of the year that I as a Kruger fanatic consider the best month of all to visit Kruger. Those in the know want to keep it a secret, because a large part of the appeal is that it is a quiet month, with not too many visitors around.
The best time to visit Kruger is actually ... November!
1. It is the start of the rainy season - one of the most beautiful and exciting times to be in the Kruger National Park and witness the change of seasons.
2. It is less dusty. Dust can be a real bother to your eyes, your car, your camera. In November, once the first rains have fallen, the air is a lot cleaner and dust-free. Everything smells fresh.
3. The bush is absolutely beautiful once it has turned from dull brown to 40 shades of green after the first rains. Fresh green grass, bright new leaves on otherwise dead-looking trees, many shrubs and plants in bloom, loads of flowers and a rainbow of colours. Compared to the dry season, when the bush looks rather drab and sad, November is a feast for the eyes!
4. Although the grass is green, it's still short. Which means visibility is not affected as it is later on in the rainy season when the grasses grow tall (there's a variety called elephant grass for good reason!). You can still see very well and, in fact, against the bright green background, many animals are easier to spot than they would be against the dusty brown background of the dry season when they blend in more and are often more difficult to see.
5. Migratory birds have started returning to Kruger, making bird-watching a lot more interesting. Many of the summer birds can be seen in November; some in their spectacular breeding plumage. It's prime time for avid birders.
6. Baby animals abound! Prepare for an overdose of cuteness. The impala lambs are born in November, usually all around the same time over a two to three week period, shortly after the first decent rains. Thousands of baby impalas also means lots of easy snacks for predators - there is no shortage of food nor predator action during this action-packed month. Everywhere you look, there are baby warthogs, baby wildebeest, baby monkeys, baby baboons and more. They are just so much fun to watch.
7. The temperature is warm and balmy, no more freezingly cold mornings. And yet, the presence of clouds and scattered thunderstorms means it is usually not as hot as October can be before the rains arrive.
8. Spectacular thunderstorms and dark cloud formations sometimes create a dramatic backdrop, great for wildlife photography; especially when the afternoon sun peeks out from behind the clouds. Rainbows are common at this time of year and electric storms can be a delightful display at night. Afternoon and/or evening thunderstorms seldom interfere with your daytime game viewing pleasure and most of the time they're over quickly.
9. Kruger's camp gates open at 04h30 in November when it is still dark outside. And they only close at 18h30 at night. Which means November gives you the longest possible hours of game drive time and an excellent chance of spotting nocturnal animals first thing as you leave camp and last thing as you return at night.
10. Fascinating animals like the giant land snail and huge centipedes often appear after the rains. Tortoises, too. It's flying ant season, meaning you might have the privilege of watching a feeding frenzy of several different birds of prey trying to catch flying termites. There's every chance to see more snakes, scorpions, lizards and interesting bugs of all kinds at this time. I know some people don't like these creatures, but I love them and they make November one of the most interesting times to be in the bush.
11. The game viewing statistics from our Kruger Park Safaris say it all. They show that November is the most productive month from a game viewing perspective.
12. Lastly, it's not peak season, the roads are less busy and you can truly enjoy the bush in peace and quiet.
Of course, there is no "bad time" to visit Kruger. It truly is a park for all seasons and you will enjoy a visit to the Kruger National Park at any time of the year. In fact, it has the most consistent year-round game viewing of any of the major game reserves in Southern Africa.
But going in November is just extra special, in my opinion.
Shhhh, it's a secret!
What is your favourite month for visiting Kruger? And why? Please share with us in the comments below.
About the author
Onne Vegter is the managing director of Wild Wings Safaris. He has a deep love for Africa's people, wildlife and natural heritage. Onne has travelled to most of Africa's top safari destinations and his writing is based on years of personal experience in the safari industry. Follow him on Twitter at @OnneVegter.