Conventional wisdom dictates that the best time to visit Kenya on safari is during the long dry season, when the climate is at its mildest and the animal action at its wildest. Don’t discount the rest of the year, however, as it offers benefits of its own, like reduced prices and unique seasonal adventures.
Immediately following the long April and May rains, much of Kenya is lush and green. Visibility improves as drier conditions and intense grazing make inroads, and this, combined with the cooler weather, makes mid-June to late October indisputably the best time to visit Kenya on safari. There’s also, of course, the immense drawcard of the Great Wildebeest Migration, and especially the Mara River crossing in August or September.
- Seeing the Masai Mara from a hot-air balloon is a must. © Alex Walker's Serian
- The best time to see the Great Wildebeest Migration in Kenya is in August or September, when it crosses the Mara River. © Mara Intrepids Camp
- In Kenya you can enjoy a picnic at the very site that the famous Out of Africa scene was filmed. © Angama Mara
- The Masai Mara is home to both lion and elephant. © Alex Walker's Serian
- You can enjoy bush dining in Kenya throughout the year. © Cottar’s 1920s Camp
- The best time for adventure in Kenya is during the wet months. © Salas Camp
- Kenya has excellent game viewing year round. © Mara Plains
- Guided walks in Kenya are best in the drier months. © Salas Camp
This unmissable wildlife spectacle does tend to push up prices, and you’ll be in good company as lodges will generally be full of safari lovers. The rewards, however, are unforgettable moments of drama, excitement and occasional tenderness as the unstoppable force of the wildebeest meets the immovable objects of river, crocodile and lion.
Elsewhere in Kenya, as water becomes scarcer, game begins to concentrate, as witnessed around the springs and rivers of Chyulu Hills and northern Kenya. Further south, limpid skies mean that the iconic views of Mount Kilimanjaro from Amboseli are crystal clear.
- The best time to see elephant migrating in Kenya is in April.
- You’ll likely see zebra on your game drives in Kenya throughout the year. © Tortilis Camp
- Walking safaris in Kenya will allow you to fully appreciate the grandeur of Mount Kilimanjaro. © Tortilis Camp
- The wildlife of Chyulu Hills is presided over by Africa’s towering icon, Mount Kilimanjaro. © Ol Donyo
- Mid June to late October is the best time to visit Kenya's coast. © The Ocean Spa Lodge
- The shorter dry season between December and March tends to offer exceptional value for Kenya lodges. © Alfajiri Villas
- A beach-and-bush break in Kenya is a wonderful option. © The Ocean Spa Lodge
- From mid June, humidity is lower, making this the best time to visit Kenya's coast. © The Ocean Spa Lodge
Away from the safari hotspots, Kenya’s south coast beaches with their low humidity, warm weather and great visibility over the Indian ocean reefs are another reason why this is the best time to visit Kenya, for the ultimate combination, a safari & beach holiday.
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
Except for Christmas and New Year, when demand for escapes from the Northern Hemisphere winter peaks, the shorter dry season between December and March tends to offer exceptional value. Many lodges offer reduced rates, and there are fewer people about to share the experience with.
The cycle of the seasons continues with a green flush following the short November rains, and then a progressive drying out and dying back of vegetation. Water reserves soon run low, forcing game to converge on water sources.
Amboseli again offers majestic mountain views, while the springs of the well-watered Chyulu Hills draw in game from the dusty surrounding plains. The drier that northern Kenya becomes (and areas like Samburu are always dehydrated to some extent), the more concentrated the wildlife. Some species, like the Samburu Special Five, long ago mastered these conditions and are worth the price of admission on their own.
- For optimum peace and quiet, the best time to visit Kenya is during the rainy periods. © Saruni Samburu
- Elephant love cavorting in the Ngiro River in Samburu. © Gary Lotter
- You’ll have your pick of accommodation in Kenya's off season. © Sasaab Camp
- You might witness lion rearing in Samburu National Reserve. © Sasaab Camp
- Those with a passion for clouds will be in heaven in Kenya's wet months. © Saruni Samburu
- Rhino tracking is a highlight of a Kenya safari. © Saruni Rhino
- The best time for private wildlife sightings in Kenya is April, May and November. © Elephant Bedroom Camp
- If you don’t mind getting mud on your new safari boots, the wet months are lovely for Kenya walking safaris. © Saruni Rhino
In the Masai Mara you’ll find that you have fewer fellow travellers, both human and antelope, as the herds of the Great Wildebeest Migration are in the southeastern Serengeti, where they calve around February. That said, there’s resident game in abundance, and a so-called out-of-season game drive here will rival game drives anywhere in Africa.
An additional attraction just off Kenya’s south coast during this time is the arrival of whale sharks. Swimming with these bus-sized but harmless fish is a mesmerising study in serenity.
It could reasonably be claimed that any trip to Kenya is an adventure, and in comparison to the commute-office-sleep routine, even the tamest safari is off the charts.
If, however, you want a more ‘extreme’ Kenyan safari, you might consider dropping in as the rains fall. That is, in either April and May, or November. You’ll have the parks and reserves practically to yourself, and amateur nepholologists (those with a passion for clouds) will be in heaven – or should that be the heavens?
The longer April–May rains are steadier; November’s, briefer and more dramatic. If you don’t mind getting mud on your new safari boots, you’ll dig it. Perhaps literally, if your safari vehicle gets stuck and you want to participate in its liberation. Ponchos and pop-down roofs will keep you dry though, and you’ll never forget seeing forked lightning seek a lone Masai Mara acacia.
April sees the migration of elephant from the Kilimanjaro forests back to Amboseli. Much as we hate to say it, however, the coast is probably best avoided at this time of the year, due to high humidity levels. In November, however, these are offset by wonderful diving and snorkelling, so why not take the plunge?