December heralds the height of the summer rainy season in Southern Africa. The bush is lush and life-filled with green scenery, dramatic cloud formations, an abundance of butterfly and birdlife and baby animals to be found everywhere. It can be harder to find animals in certain areas, as they disperse, no longer constrained to permanent water sources, however in other areas good grazing causes them to gather. This is the ideal time for photography with golden light, saturated green foliage and moody grey clouds as a backdrop proving to be an unbeatable combination.
Most people think of Botswana and imagine the Okavango Delta. But this magnificent African safari destination also has the desert wilderness of the Kalahari. The rainy season, from December to March, is the best time to visit. Animals concentrate around the grassy pans during these months as they migrate through the park. After the rains, these areas are carpeted by fresh young grass, drawing wildebeest, gemsboks, springboks, and in turn, their predators. Notable are the black-maned Kalahari lion. The sound of their roars echoing across the sparse landscape at night is never to be forgotten.
In Zambia, South Luangwa is one of southern Africa's most beautiful parks. Mopane and miombo woodland, acacia shrub, grassland savannah, and riverine forest make up the terrain. You'll almost certainly witness large herds of elephants and buffalos, as well as lions and leopards here. The green season brings an abundance of fresh vegetation, newborn animals and dazzling birds. Boats provide fantastic viewing in valleys inaccessible by road at this time of year, as well as close encounters with numerous hippos and crocodiles. To top things off, the lush foliage and vibrant stormy skies make for excellent photo opportunities. This is a fantastic safari experience by any measure.
Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, between Zimbabwe and Zambia will leave an indelible impression on you at any time of the year. Throughout the year, the river and consequently the waterfall experience rising and falling water levels. December is the rainy season and a month in which water levels in the Zambezi rise rapidly. The weather is warm and typically, rain falls in sudden afternoon thunderstorms. You will be able to appreciate the geological formation of the waterfall with exposed rock face between cataracts and good visibility at the beginning of December while toward the end of the month the volume of water creates impressive rising plumes of spray.
1. Botswana - Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Kalahari is a spectacular place from which to witness a diverse range of desert fauna, stunning grasslands, and incredible night skies. This semi-arid sandy savannah stretches over an area similar in size to Denmark. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the second-largest wildlife reserve in the world and is rarely visited. The vast reserve has a wild, enigmatic beauty. There's a sense of endless space and peace to be found in its sweeping landscapes and broad horizons.
In December the flat plains of the reserve's north teem with animals, which congregate at these grazing areas after summer rains. The Kalahari is transformed into a carpet of greens pulsing with life and colour. Springbok and gemsbok herds gather in their thousands and wildebeest, hartebeest, eland, and giraffe accompany these herds. This is also the time of year when springboks give birth. The park has many predators, and you're likely to witness black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetah, black-backed jackal, and brown and spotted hyenas.
2. Zambia - South Luangwa (Mfuwe)
In South Luangwa, several companies provide emerald season safaris, which include boat rides through the flooded valley bottom. During the wet season, Luangwa offers plenty of smaller wildlife and flora with frogs, insects, flowers, butterflies, and birds in breeding plumage. Elephants, lions, and even leopards are frequently seen, making big game viewing rewarding too.
The fruits of the Wild Mango trees ripen in time for the rains. Elephants, monkeys, baboons and huge numbers of birds flock to the bountiful crop. Expect tussles and a lot of commotion, especially as ravenous elephants with calves want to get a piece of the action. Families of elephants frequently roam through the lobby of Mfuwe Lodge, drawn by a nearby wild mango tree. As an added bonus Thornicroft's giraffe, Crawshay's zebra, and Cookson's wildebeest are just a few of the animals that can only be seen in this area.
3. Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls
The beautiful Victoria Falls, located on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is one of Africa's most evocative sights. December is the height of summer and the rainy season, with daytime temperatures averaging 31C. There are often dramatic thunderstorms in the afternoons, especially on hot days, resulting in an instant cooling effect. In early December the water levels in the Zambezi are near their lowest and they rise as the month progresses and may even be classed as high water by month-end. Low water levels expose the rock face of the eastern cataract in Zambia, hence we recommend visiting the Zimbabwean side of the waterfalls while the water level is low.
This is the perfect time to see incredible colourful rainbows as the air is clean and crisp with the high moisture content needed for rainbows. As with elsewhere dramatic cloud formations form the ideal backdrop for photography. The birdlife is spectacular at this time of year, with birds in full plumage and a plethora of migratory species in the area. The water level of the Zambezi River makes December the last month for outstanding white-water rafting while a sunset boat tour on the Zambezi above Victoria Falls is a fantastic way to spend the evening.