The country lies between 22º and 35º south, flanked on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean, whose waters meet at the country’s – and Africa’s – most southern tip, Cape Agulhas.
A subtropical location moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, makes South Africa a warm and sunny country. But it’s also dry, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm. While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is mostly a summer-rainfall region.
Botswana’s climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration.’Pula’, one of the most frequently heard words in Botswana, is not only the name of Botswana’s currency, but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time.The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest.
The in-between periods – April/early May and September/October – still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter.
The rainy season is in the summer, with October and April being transitional months. January and February are generally regarded as the peak months. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District (see the map for districts). Almost all rainfall occurs during the summer months while the winter period accounts for less than 10 percent of the annual rainfall. Generally, rainfall decreases in amount and increases in variability the further west and south you go.
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so – frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.
In summer during the morning period humidity ranges from 60 to 80% and drops to between 30 and 40% in the afternoon. In winter humidity is considerably less and can vary between 40 and 70% during the morning and fall to between 20 and 30% in the afternoon.For tourists, the best visiting months are from April through to October – in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife of the great spaces gather around what water there is – the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams – and are at their most visible.
This classic Kalahari environment is dominated by the silver terminalia, Terminalia sericea, identified by the silvery sheen on its blue-grey leaves and the Kalahari appleleaf, Lonchocarpus nelsii. You’ll also find some bushwillows, Combretum callinum, and wild seringa bushes, Burkea Africana.
Raisin bushes, Gwewia flava, are here accompanied by sandpaper raisin bushes, Grewia flavescens, and the false sandpaper raisin bushes, Grewia retinervis. Rub a leaf of either of the latter between your fingers and you’ll soon realise how they got their common names.
One tree worth noting here is the Namaqua fig, Ficus cordata. This is well known throughout the central highlands of Namibia and down to the Cape – but otherwise unrecorded in Botswana. Here you’ll find it growing all over these hills, its roots often flattened against the rocks. Several strong specimens grow around the entrances to the Gcwihaba Caverns, green and thriving even during the dry season, perhaps due to the cooler, moister microclimate in the air of the caves.
Similarly, the mopane aloe, Aloe littoralis, is found here and throughout Namibia, but nowhere else in northern or central Botswana. It’s a striking plant with a single, vertical stem, succulent leaves with serrated edges and a flower head that branches into pointed spikes of red flowers.
All around the region you’ll certainly find the Devil’s claw creeper, Harpogophytum procumbens procumbens. Recognise it for its pinky-mauve flowers with a hint of yellow in the centre in January to March, and after that its small but wicked oval fruit that has hooks on all sides – like some tiny medieval jousting ball with grappling hooks. (This could be confused with the large Devil’s thorn, Dicerocaryum eriocarpum, which has a brighter pink flower but a much less elaborate fruit.)
The Devil’s claw is found all over the Kalahari, but has recently been in demand from overseas for its medicinal properties. Extracts of this are variously claimed to aid in the treatment of intestinal complaints, arthritis, and many other ailments. Hence anywhere near a centre of population is likely to be largely devoid of these plants, but in the more remote areas of the Kalahari you’ll often find it beside the sandy track.
From October to April. Days are hot and generally sunny in the morning with possible afternoon thunder storms. Day temperatures average 25C – 35C and night temperatures drop to 14C – 20C. Low-lying areas such as Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, Mana Pools National Park, Hwange National park, Gonarezhou National Park, Limpopo Valley and the Zambezi Valley can also be considerably warmer all year round (35C – 50C). The rainy season from November to March (the Eastern Highlands year round rainfall).
From May to September. Days are dry, sunny and cool to warm (20C) while evening temperatures drop sharply to 5C – 10C. Exceptionally cold spells can occur (-5C – 5C) we recommended to bring appropriate clothing.
The sun can be very harsh and it is advisable to wear a hat and sunblock.
The rainy season runs from November to March.
When to visit Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is an all year round destination. However there are certain seasons for special interest groups to take note of:
– For Victoria Falls adventure enthusiasts, white water rafting is most exciting when the Zambezi waters are low, generally from August to December (although rafting is cancelled when the water levels are to low or high)
– Best wildlife months are May to September, minimum rainfall forces the wildlife to the main watering holes, the bushveld is dry i.e. grass is short, trees are not have as dense a foliage as they would normally have in summer
– Best botanical enthusiasts December – May when the vegetation is lush and green, and also when most plants are in flower.
Zambia has three distinct seasons. December to April: warm and wet, May to August: cool and dry. September to November: hot and dry. Average temperatures in Summer range from 25° C to 35° C and in winter from 6° C to 24° C