The most important thing that want your trip to meet your expectations is choosing the right time. Seasonal changes affect many of the countries that make up this magnificent continent, and certain times of year are infinitely better than others, particularly in terms of weather and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Getting it right is especially important when travelling with children- and yet, doing so is often made more difficult by the need to align your adventure with the school holidays. In order to make the selection process a little easier, this article takes a look at those African countries that offer amazing family travel experiences that also coincide with the dates of the British school year.
In the southern hemisphere, the Christmas holidays take place at the height of summer, and as such African travel is an excellent way to escape the winter blues. Beach holidays are an obvious option, although younger children may find the scorching temperatures of the East African coast at this time of year a little overwhelming. Instead, this is an excellent time to experience the idyllic summer climate of Cape Town and the Garden Route in South Africa.
For budding birders and wildlife enthusiasts, December and January also offer excellent game viewing, particularly in the Southern Serengeti where great herds of wildebeest gather at this time of year ahead of their annual migration. For older children capable of trekking long distances, this is also the optimum time to go in search of gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, as the dry season makes the going a little easier along these countries’ spectacular mountain trails.
Of course, for some children, Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without a dusting of snow- and in Morocco’s Atlas mountains it is even possible to take your family skiing during the cooler winter months. Wherever you choose to go, remember that booking in advance is essential over the Christmas period.
Although February half term may only offer a brief window for foreign travel, a week is just long enough to take your family on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Africa. February is wildebeest calving season in the Southern Serengeti, and predator activity is high in the park as a result. If your children are fans of the Discovery Channel, they will love this opportunity to see their favourite documentaries come to life right in front of them.
Game-viewing season is at its peak elsewhere in Africa at this time, too, especially in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Here, countless species of African wildlife appear as if by magic as the seasonal rains paint the barren desert scenery with swathes of fertile green.
If watching high-octane animal predations is a little too much for the younger members of your family, however, there are plenty of less bloodthirsty ways to connect with nature at this time of year. In South Africa, February is peak leatherback turtle nesting time, and children will be awestruck by the sight of these giant creatures emerging from the ocean to lay their eggs on KwaZulu-Natal’s beaches.
As one of the three longest school holidays, the Easter break is a great opportunity to book a more lengthy trip to Africa. This is a good time to visit the game parks of Southern Africa as March marks the beginning of a cooler, drier period in those areas. Easter is also an optimum time to visit East Africa, where the central and southern Serengeti seem to vibrate with anticipation as the wildebeest herds prepare for their imminent migration west.
Elsewhere in Africa, seasonal changes are also coming into effect. March marks the beginning of an increased volume of water flowing over Victoria Falls, and whilst adults will marvel at the breathtaking spectacle of this natural phenomenon in full force, younger children will squeal with delight as the ‘Smoke That Thunders’ drenches them with spray from head to foot.
This is also a good time for visiting Namibia’s famous Sossusvlei region, where temperatures are at their most comfortable and families can explore the wild beauty of the dunes together without worrying about heat exhaustion.
The second half-term of the calendar year offers another opportunity for a whistle-stop African tour; and a good way to make the most of limited time is to keep your travel plans relatively simple. As Africa’s most accessible country, South Africa is the perfect destination for a week-long holiday- especially in May, when the weather is at its most beautiful.
Particularly, this is a fantastic time to go on safari in South Africa, as the start of the dry weather causes game to congregate at the reserve’s waterholes. Best of all, South Africa’s game parks are malaria free, meaning that you have one less thing to worry about when planning for your family holiday.
The long summer holidays offer the perfect excuse to go travelling, and fortuitously, they happen to coincide with one of the very best times to visit the African continent. In the western Serengeti, the wildebeest migration is in full swing throughout June and July, and the iconic sight of a herd attempting to cross crocodile-infested rivers is one that will last a lifetime. Towards the end of August, the wildebeest arrive in Kenya’s Masai Mara, and this is the single best time to visit this legendary game reserve.
Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana also enjoy their peak safari season at this time, and the flooding of the Okavango Delta is a sight not to be missed. In the Delta, you will be able to show your children nature at its most magical- through walking safaris, mokoro canoe trips and nights spent under canvas listening to the sounds of the surrounding wilderness.
Africa is just as exciting on the coast at this time of year as it is inland. In South Africa, June marks the beginning of the annual whale-watching season, and children and adults alike will watch enthralled as these leviathans come within a stone’s-throw of coastal towns like Hermanus. This is also a great time for families to visit the beaches of Zanzibar and Sao Tome & Principe, both of which benefit from the arrival of cooler, drier weather at this time.
Autumn half-term often marks the onset of winter weather in the UK- and yet elsewhere, summer is only just beginning. Beach season is at its peak at this time of year in the Seychelles and Mauritius, where opportunities for family bonding time abound. For children aged ten and over, scuba diving lessons are a great way to discover new horizons as a family; whilst snorkelling trips and days spent playing on the beach together are also ideal.
If your children are fans of the Madagascar movie franchise, October is an excellent time to introduce them to the real-life lemur colonies of this Indian Ocean island. At this time, Madagascan weather is warm and pleasant, the air is fragrant with blooming jacarandas, and it is baby season for many of the island’s endemic lemur species.