Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. If you’re itching to get away to avoid the short days, long nights and chilly drizzle which sits miserably on the horizon, then lucky you – a winter African safari is always incredible.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to be away for Christmas – the first normal one since the dreaded 2020. In fact, all the best camps and lodges are pretty chocker over the festive weeks already. But no fear, here’s a little secret: if you go just either side of the main Christmas and New Year weeks you can get an identical experience – for half the price.
Here’s what I would recommend…
Where better to blow off the Christmas tree cobwebs than in the rolling hills of Kenya’s iconic Masai Mara? There’s a reason this park is the continent’s most famous.
Flat-topped acacia trees and bouldering kopjes pepper the undulating horizon of this beautiful, action-packed park. You won’t get the Great Migration in Kenya at this time of year (see Tanzania below), but you will get incredible game-viewing and an unforgettable adventure.
Particularly good for families and composed of privately-owned large ranches, head over to Laikipia once you’ve ticked off the big five for all the activities you can think of from horse riding to quad biking and walking.
What can I say about Tanzania? It’s just exceptional from top to bottom. And contrary to popular opinion, its top is at its most mesmerising in the winter months. Specifically, from the end of November to March the Serengeti is unparalleled when it comes to game-viewing. This is when the Great Migration herds gather in the Ndutu plains towards the southern Serengeti for calving season – and wow, this really is safari at its most brutal and breath-taking.
Wake under canvas to a great echoing chorus of grunts and peak out to find thousands of buzzing brown specks marching all the way to the very distant horizon. With young wildebeest being born left right and centre, it’s no surprise that many predators prowl behind this huge moving feast in hope of an easy meal.
Whilst the Great Migration is famed for the river crossings, which happen in both The Serengeti and the Masai Mara in the north of the park, for many seasoned safari goers, the calving season is much more spectacular.
Rwanda is a remarkable country. You wouldn’t think whilst driving around the pristine streets of Kigali that its people have endured such a devastating recent history – for the country is unrecognisable now.
The tourism infrastructure is outstanding, with a sophisticated network of high-end safari experiences and of course, incredible gorilla trekking guides, routes and lodges.
You are pretty much guaranteed to see a gorilla if you head out on a hike into Volcanoes National Park. What awaits is one of the most spine-tingling wildlife experiences in the world. Spending time with a primate of any kind in the wild is always a life-affirming experience, but sitting in the shadows of a silverback mountain gorilla is truly humbling.
If you haven’t heard of Principe Island, don’t worry – you’ll no doubt hear a lot about it in years to come. Largely untouched, this Galapogas-esque island off the west coast of Africa is truly one of a kind.
Laze around on its wild shores and watch the waves lap in the February sunshine, or adventure into the island discovering its ancient mountain tops, unique wildlife and some of the most bio-diverse tropical forests on the planet. Or, if you want, watch turtles in their hundreds hatching and scurrying into the sea.
Principe is by far one of the most unique destinations throughout Africa. Here, you can experience wildlife and landscape at its most captivatingly raw and innocently untouched. I could think of worse ways to spend a winter week…
The dazzling lights of Cape Town are particularly bright when compared to a grey January day in the UK. The weather is warm and the streets are dappled with sunshine in our winter months. But let’s face it, no one goes on a cosmopolitan trip to Cape Town just for the weather.
Get glammed up and enjoy some of the world’s best restaurants, before heading to the wine valleys for some R&R in beautiful rolling scenery, with a delicious glass of Pinotage in hand – of course. Endless luxury, awe-inspiring scenery and heaven for foodies, heading to The Cape in our winter months is always a great idea.
Unlike its neighbouring countries, Botswana is a safari destination year-round. Whilst the parks of Zambia and Zimbabwe are washed out with rainwater in the winter months, Botswana blooms. Confusingly, the Okavango Delta, which is in full flood from June to September, recedes and evaporates in the remainder of the year. But don’t be fooled, the rainfall in November/December time means the birding is spectacular throughout our winter months. And being home to so many species fortunate enough to call this watery, luscious paradise home, your wildlife experience will still be unforgettable, even in the low season.
Botswana is also home to the continent’s most luxurious and opulent safari experiences, which in low season means one thing: bargains. So sit back and watch the birds swishing past in huge clouds of colour whilst baby elephants trumpet happily, and like them, you’ll think how lucky you are to be there in that moment too.
What better way to forget about the woes of the world than to head to the Maldives for a winter break? Luckily, this is the very best time to visit, with brilliant sunshine and balmy waters.
Imagine the most paradisiacal, pristine Indian Ocean scene possible, and you’ve just about got the measure of this dreamy destination. With some seriously cool accommodation offerings – think slides from bedroom windows into crystal clear waters level of cool – in what can only be described as heaven on earth, you are guaranteed to be just a little bit comfortable here.
Personally, I would skip the January blues in a heartbeat for a trip to one of the most spoiling beach spots in the world.