Understanding the Seasons in Kruger National Park
Unlike Cape Town (with its Mediterranean climate), the climate of Kruger National Park is subtropical, with distinct wet and dry seasons. By day, it is warm to hot year-round. Although it is a year-round destination for safaris, the seasons greatly impact wildlife viewing. The rainy season—October through April—equates to the hot and humid summer months (winter in the northern hemisphere). The dry season (May through September) is winter, with warm and mild days, and chilly nights and early mornings.
Game viewing is generally easiest during the dry winter months, when foliage thins out and wildlife congregates at waterholes. However, the wet summer season is best for birding (migrant birds flock), and is also when the bushveld is alive with newborn animals.
Kruger National Park is a high-risk malaria area during rainy season, but you can mitigate the risk by taking specific precautions (please read the "Malaria" section below for more information).
Visiting Kruger in Winter/Dry Season (June-August)
Although the dry season extends from May through October, the driest period is in the cool mid-winter months. Temperatures are at their most pleasant, with warm days, low humidity, and virtually no rainfall. Mid-day temperatures average a very pleasant 79°F (26°C) in mid-winter, with deep-blue cloudless skies. However, nighttime temperatures fall dramatically. Early morning temperatures just before sunrise average about 50°F (10°C), and are often much colder.
Although malaria-carrying mosquitoes may still be present in June, they are dormant for most of the dry season. You can leave your rain gear at home, but you should still bring sunscreen and insect repellent.
Game Viewing: Although some visitors may prefer the lush vegetation of the summer months, game viewing in dry season is the easiest of any time of year, and is made more so as deciduous trees turn brown and shed their leaves. The bushveld becomes more open, allowing for better visibility. In addition, as water sources begin to dry up, animals are drawn to the remaining waterholes and rivers to drink (typically during early morning and evening). If you want to see huge concentrations of wildlife, this is the season to visit. Morning and evening game drives in open vehicles will be chilly before sunrise and after sunset, so be sure to pack warm winter clothing (bring layers suitable for warm days, cold nights, and early morning game-drives). Your lodge may provide blankets in your safari vehicle as well.
Crowds: The winter months are the most popular time to visit. Although June is still a relatively quiet month, by July Kruger’s lodges and bush camps are booked solid. The roads will be crowded with dozens of safari vehicles and private cars on day visits. Book your accommodations as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Also, consider one of the nearby private game reserves that border Kruger National Park—they typically have far fewer vehicles and offer another advantage Kruger cannot: the reserves' ranger-driven safari vehicles can drive off-road in search of wildlife. Prices for lodging are at a premium, so this would not be a good time for budget travelers to make a multi-day visit. The exception is June, when savvy shoppers can still find lodging and safari operators offering shoulder-season prices.
Visiting Kruger in Spring (September-October)
Many visitors consider the short-lived spring months to be the best of all seasons for a Kruger safari. The mercury begins to rise, but days remain delightfully balmy with average mid-afternoon temperatures of around 84°F (29°C). The chill nip of early morning and evening game drives is not so severe (dawn temperatures average around 57°F/14°C). Spring is the tail-end of the dry season, but brief showers and downpours that begin in October bring relief from the parched winter months. Vegetation begins to green and thicken with the first rains in months, and many animals give birth, lending a sense of renewal and life to the landscape.
Game Viewing: As the rivers and pools are still low, game animals still congregate near permanent water sources. Also, vegetation is still not overgrown. Hence, game viewing is exceptional at this time of year. Plus, bird-watching is at a prime as migrant birds return.
Crowds: This is still the busy period as visitors take advantage of the spring weather and great wildlife viewing. Be sure to book your accommodations well in advance. Only July receives more daily visitors, so expect the roads to be crowded with cars, which vastly outnumber safari vehicles. Greater Kruger's private game reserves remain a great alternative to Kruger National Park itself if you're looking to beat the crowds.
Visiting Kruger in Summer/Wet Season (November-March)
By November the mercury soars, the humidity rises exponentially as the rainy season sets in, and mosquitoes are more prevalent. The summer months can be uncomfortably hot: daytime high temperatures average 90°F (32°C) and can peak well above 100 °F (38 °C), while your clothes will stick to your body in the muggy air. Late afternoons and evenings often bring dramatic thunderstorms—especially in December-February, the hottest and wettest months. However, it rarely rains all day and mornings are usually clear. This is a season to laze away the mid-day hours in the relative comfort of your lodge or camp (in summer, we recommend staying at an air-conditioned lodge, as camping requires a high degree of tolerance for heat and rain).
The game viewing experience changes also. Bush walks, for example, become more of a challenge due to the rains. Many safari vehicles are open to the elements—potentially uncomfortable in driving rain. Pack rain gear (including a poncho), plus mosquito repellent and sunscreen.
Photographers will find this a magnificent time to visit. The bright landscape shimmers with dozens of shades of green and the dramatic juxtaposition of sunlight and thunderstorms make for colorful and spectacular backdrops. Plus, the dust of summer has settled, and the air is cleaner and clearer. Everything smells and feels fresh.
Game viewing: In summer, wildlife are most active during the early mornings and evenings, and seek shade during the hot mid-day and early afternoon hours. As rains fill the rivers and waterholes, animals disperse into the newly lush bushveld and are harder to spot. Game viewing is thus more challenging than in dry season, as many animals are well-hidden in the dense undergrowth.
Bird-watching is at a prime as summer migrants flock in November, and many summer birds can be seen in spectacular breeding plumage. In November and December, spotting wildlife with their newborn young is a memorable Kruger safari experience. For example, impala lambs are born in November (typically after the first decent rains) and predators enjoy feast days during this action-packed month.
Crowds: Tourist crowds understandably thin with the arrival of the wet season. Indeed, a large part of Kruger’s appeal in November is its quietude, with relatively few visitors. Prices fall in November as well- it pays to take advantage of this month’s bargain shoulder season rates, as prices spike again for the Christmas and New Year's period. December and January coincide with South Africa’s summer school holidays, and so the park sees a mid-summer spike in visitors, most of whom drive in for the day. To avoid these crowds, visit in late January or February—the period of lowest visitation to Kruger.
Visiting Kruger in Autumn (April-May)
April is a transitional month. By autumn, the insufferably high temperatures of summer wane to more tolerable levels (afternoon temperatures in April average 81°F/27°C with clear cloudless skies), and rainfall and humidity begin to diminish. By late May, average early morning temperatures will have fallen to around 54°F (18°C). In April, the landscape is at its greenest, the vegetation at its most thick and lush. By May, the vegetation starts drying out and the bushveld begins to brown.
Game viewing: The thick vegetation makes wildlife viewing early in this season the most difficult of any time of year, but by late May as the vegetation thins conditions are closer to the dry season. This is also the prime rutting season, especially for antelope species—witnessing males battling over territories and harems is a memorable experience. You’ll need to bring a warm jacket for early morning game drives, as the nights are getting cold by May.
Crowds: This is a great time to visit if you want to experience Kruger when there are fewer visitors, and prices are at the lowest of the year. Finding lodging is easier than in any other season, but it’s still wise to make reservations well ahead of time.
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.
Kruger National Park is a high-risk malaria area in the months of October through May. However, the vast majority of travelers to Kruger return home with no problem. Nonetheless, it is essential to take wise precautions, including taking preventative anti-malarial drugs as prescribed by your doctor.
Here are a few additional precautions to minimize the chance of being bitten.
- Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants plus closed-toed shoes, especially during the evenings, to minimize exposed skin areas (especially the ankles). Buy safari clothing that is pre-impregnated with Pyrethroid or similar mosquito repellant.
- Apply insect repellents to exposed skin areas, ideally every 4-6 hours.
- Malaria-bearing mosquitos typically feed in the early evenings and mornings, so remain indoors from dusk to dawn as much as possible.
- Burn insecticide coils or run electrically heated insecticide tablets in your room at night.
- Keep doors and windows closed at night, and spray knock-down insecticide inside your room in the early evening.
- Ensure that mosquito nets around your bed are securely closed at night.
In the dry season, mosquitoes will be much less prevalent, but travelers should still wear insect repellent and follow the above advice as a precaution.
Conclusion: When is the best time to visit Kruger National Park?
As you may have deduced from the above information, choosing the right time to visit Kruger National Park depends on your tolerance for heat and humidity, whether you prioritize seeing birds or other game, how "crowd-tolerant" you are, and your budgetary concerns.
If virtually guaranteed close-up sightings of the Big Five and other game species is a priority, then June to October are the best months. The weather is warm by day, with cool evenings and virtually no rain, while the less dense bush, shorter grasses, and minimal surface water are optimal for viewing concentrations of wildlife. This is also the high season for visitors.
If you want a more personal experience where your safari vehicle isn’t last in a long line, opt for summer (just be prepared to sweat it out in the heat and humidity). Alternately, consider visiting one of the private game reserves adjacent to Kruger, especially the Sabi Sands area. Here you’ll maximize your chance of really close sightings of elephant, lion, and leopard, as your ranger will likely drive the safari vehicle into the bush (something that is not allowed in Kruger) for eye-to-eye encounters up close and personal.
For maximum cuteness, choose October or November, when dozens of species give birth and the bushveld is full of newborns. Baby antelopes. Baby baboons. Baby warthogs. Baby wildebeest. However, lions, leopards, and cheetahs will also be on the prowl, eager to feast.