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BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN FEBRUARY AND WHY

In South Africa it is the ideal time to visit Cape Town to go on a wine tour on the many wine estates or spend the time under palm thatched bandas on a tropical beach. Want to snorkel with a 12-metre whale shark or trek an endangered gorilla in its natural habitat? Now is the time to book that holiday or safari trip. Countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda are in their dry season and wildlife viewing is excellent. It is the calving season for zebra and wildebeest and the ever opportunistic cats are most active increasing your chances of experiencing the excitement of a kill.

Reasons why to visit Africa in February

  • It is the driest time of the year and in most cases the end of the rain season. It is the best time to go on a safari as the undergrowth in the veld is barer and animals tend to gather around the water sources. It is also the best time to go on a gorilla trekking safari.
  • The days will be hot with temperatures around 30°C with pleasant temperatures in the evening. Spend your days on the beach and take part in the many nightlife activities.
  • It is the cheapest time of the year to plan a trip in Africa as the school holidays are over and the Africa pace returns to normal as everyone returns to work. Flights and accommodation will be much cheaper, and it is less crowded.
  • Although the Great Migration in Tanzania and Kenya only starts in April, February is calving season for the wildebeest and zebra which brings out the predators in huge numbers for an easy kill.
  • This is the time of year that you will spot the migrating whale sharks along the coast of Tanzania and Kenya and at Djibouti you can snorkel with these giants of the ocean.
  • Bird watching is great all year round so this is always an added plus to your travel plans.
  • For the more adventurous climbing the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro can be done without the usual crowds. The slopes are also dry, and it is much cooler than during the peak season in June to October.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa on the southernmost tip of Africa is a great destination in February, especially Cape Town, known as the mother city of South Africa. The garden route along the east coast is very popular and since the cape province experience its rainy season in the winter, you will have sun filled days to explore the country.

South Africa is known as a Big 5 destination and the world famous Kruger National Park in the north of the country and together with the adjacent parks like Sabi Sands and Timbavati, it is the best places to see these magnificent beasts. However, a malaria-free safari in the Eastern Cape reserves like Shamwari, Kwandwe, Madikwe and Tswalu would be a better option in February.

South Africa is an ideal destination for family holidays with many adventure activities like wildlife safaris, quad biking, hiking, animal sanctuaries, elephant parks, hot air ballooning, abseiling, horse riding, to mention but a few. Options to entertain children are endless. A tour up the east coast starting at Cape Town will take you on the garden route which is a scenic road with stunning views through Mossel Bay, Knysna and various picturesque towns up to the Storms River.

Another destination to visit in February is the province of KwaZulu Natal to the north-east of South Africa. Most of the activities offered in the Drakensberg Mountains can be utilized from KwaZulu Natal. It is an ideal of the year to visit this area as the days are warm and the nights cool down making hiking and walking the different trails much more enjoyable.

The beaches on the KwaZulu Natal north and south coast give you a big choice of accommodation and activities that is a pleasure to participate in as this is out of season with no crowds.

If you enjoy history and visiting historical sites, South Africa will not disappoint as it has a rich diverse history that include the Battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars.

Cape Town

Cape Town is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities in South Africa if not in the world. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, one of the seven wonders of the world, with beaches and scenic drives that holds a new surprise around every corner. It offers a wide choice of accommodation, activities and cuisine. You will find something that will fall into your budget.

Going up Table Mountain is one of the must do’s when visiting Cape Town. Be sure to pick a clear day and plan this at the beginning of your stay as you never know when it will be covered with clouds. Other activities include a visit to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the harbour, Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, the Chapmans Peak drive, Hout Bay, Boulders with its resident colony of African penguins, Robben Island, District 6, the Castle, Groot Constantia, Cape Point and many more. The list of things to do and see just goes on and on.

There is no better place to go on a wine tasting expedition than in the Cape Winelands which is within reach if you stay in Cape Town.  Not only is the wine the best in the world but the wine estates and scenery of the area is stunning.  Vast vineyards stretch for kilometres between mountains, with vineyards where black, red, and white grape varieties are grown for making wines, ports, sherries, and brandies. Many wine estates offer wine tasting, group or private tours. This can be combined with cheese or chocolate tours.

Three towns found on the wine routes that need special mention is Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. Not only do they have the prime of wine estates but the cuisine in the area is divine and every taste bud is catered for.

Stellenbosch is the second-oldest town in South Africa, after Cape Town and was founded in 1679 by the then Dutch governor Simon van der Stel. Its buildings and houses displays architect from the Cape Dutch, Victorian, and Georgian periods and has many museums and monuments to visit. The whole Dorp Street is a national monument and draws you back to bygone days. It is also known as a student town as you will find the University of Stellenbosch along the banks of the Eerste River.

Paarl is the third-oldest city and the largest town in the Cape Winelands and known for its scenic beauty, viticulture and fruit-growing farms. The town boast a unique cultural attraction as it was here that the foundations of the Afrikaans language were laid. Be sure to visit the Afrikaanse Taalmonument, the Language Museum and follow the Afrikaans language Route through Dal Josaphat. The headquarters of the wine industry, Co-operative Wine Growers’ Association (KWV) is situated in Paarl and well worth a visit too.

Franschhoek, also known as the French corner, is referred to as South Africa’s culinary capital and you will find a choice between French, Dutch, Greek, Italian, or South African cuisine served in the quaintest restaurants in the most scenic surroundings. Be sure to visit the Huguenot Memorial, the art galleries and boutique-style shops.

Although all of the Winelands can be easily reached from Cape Town it will be worth it to spend a couple of nights in one of the towns. There are also many hiking and biking trials in the area as large areas of the region are nature reserves.

TANZANIA

The Northern part of Tanzania is the best option for a safari in February and although the safaris options might seem a bit daunting, all the parks have their own unique appeal. You just need to decide whether you want to holiday in the North or in the South.

North you will find the famous Serengeti National Park renown for the Great Wildebeest Migration. Combine this with a visit to the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, or along the shores of Lake Manyara or Lake Natron. These parks would be the first choice for a safari in February. You could also combine your holiday by heading off to western Tanzania to the Mahale Mountains and go on a chimpanzee trekking safari.

Although you could experience a more off-the-beaten-track wildlife regions in the south in such regions as Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve, it is much better to stick to the north during the month of February.

Just of the coast of Tanzania lies Zanzibar with its pristine beaches and captivating history. You could even combine your adventurous wildlife safari in February with a few days of relaxation on the archipelago’s beaches soaking in the sun or have a night out in one of the vibrant towns.

Serengeti

Visiting the Serengeti is the ultimate safari adventure and although the Great Migration only starts in July, during February around 500 000 wildebeest calves are born within the month. Besides the huge number of wildebeest, it also has the highest concentration of predators in Africa, and they are all seen in action during this time when the wildebeest calves are at their most vulnerable and easy to catch. Experiencing a kill in the wild is one of the most exhilarating experiences on any safari.

The concentration of game in the Serengeti is truly phenomenal and it is also Big 5 territory. It is one of the places that exceeds your imagination with its endless grass plains peppered only by the flat-topped acacia trees. The huge herds follow the ancient migration routes that is embedded in their genes, through an authentic environment with no fences and no interference of man.

A visit to the Serengeti is one of the best wildlife experiences and even without the great herds that calls the Serengeti their home, it would still be the best safari reserve in Africa if not the world.

Grumeti Game Reserve

The Grumeti Game Reserve is located north of the famous Serengeti National Park and covers over 140 000 hectares. It forms an important part of the ecosystem comprising the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It was founded in 1994 to protect its diversity of species and being part of the Great Migration. Since 2006 the management rights of Grumeti were transferred to the Singita safari company.

Although the Great Migration months fall later in the year, the Big 5 can be seen in Grumeti together with predators such as cheetah, serval, caracal, hyenas, wild dog, and jackal.

There is also no shortage of birdlife in Grumeti and it is said that you could find a bird for every letter of the alphabet when you go birding in Grumeti.

Although games safari drives are the main attraction at Grumeti, tourists can also enjoy archery, community visits in some areas, anti-poaching observation posts visits, and a range of activities to keep the children busy.

Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area situated south in the Serengeti National Park features the world’s largest intact volcanic hole. Three million years ago the volcano exploded, leaving the world’s largest caldera with over 600 metres high walls. The fertile volcanic soil and constant water supply has attracted one of the highest concentrations of game in Africa.

It is home to the Big 5 with the highest density of lions in Africa. It house huge buffalo herds, around 40 rhino and many elephants. Although leopard are also plentiful it is the only sighting that can be difficult, but the safari guides know where to find these elusive cats.

Cat lover’s eyes will feast on spotting cheetah, serval, caracal and golden cat. Although the golden cat and caracal are not often seen, serval is often spotted on game drives.

Most of the animals that live in Ngorongoro do not migrate like their more northern families as the high walls of the crater has created its own self-contained ecosystem and with water being plentiful all year round. Game viewing is basically a given right through the year.

In addition to the Big 5 and the cats, Ngorongoro is also home to mountain reedbuck, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle, eland, hartebeest, warthog, baboon, hyena, jackal, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, and hippo.

Birders will love Ngorongoro with over 200 species of birds to keep you busy, especially the vast number of dwarf and common flamingos.  Raptors like the black kite, marsh harrier, tawny eagle, white-backed vulture and augur buzzard are often spotted. Do not forget the bino’s!

Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara might be the smallest of the four parks in the northern region of Tanzania but is definitely the prettiest. Two thirds of the park is taken up by the Lake, which does not leave much space to move around in. It is situated at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley and the busiest park in the region. It is famous for its tree-climbing lions and visitors come from far to witness these world famous lions and to see with their own eye if the myth is true.

Manyara is just of the main road, en route to the bigger Ngorongoro and Serengeti parks which means many tourists stop here on their way further north.  Day and night game drives are offered at the park as well as short walk when staying in the park. Manyara’s hippo pool is a great spot for a picnic lunch.

The games is fairly constant throughout the year but the first couple of months of the year is the best especially when the lake is full.

Lake Natron

Lake Natron is close to the Kenya border in the Arusha region and not a destination visited by many travellers. It is well of the beaten track and consists of pristine forests, extensive grass plains, rocky hills and a live volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai in Maasai, which translates to Mountain of God.

Although big game is scarce here, the scenery is breath taking with the largest lesser flamingo breeding colony in the world of over 2.5 million. Another highlight is spotting the long-necked gerenuk.

Ascending up the Ol Doinyo Lengai is an extremely steep climb, but the views over Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro and the other volcanoes of the Rift Valley is absolutely worth it. Back on the shoreline of the lake you will find the largest collection of human footprints. The fossilised footprints were made over 120 000 years ago when a group of primitive people crossed the volcanic-ash terrain.

The uniqueness of this area, however, lies in the coexistence of humans and wildlife communities. It is mostly Maasai that reside her benefitting from local tourism and travellers can in turn enjoy a genuine cultural experience. Natron is a stunning region reserved for the adventurous.

Mahale National Park

The Mahale National Park is located in the far west of Tanzania and the most remote park in the country. It is situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, from where the Mahale Mountains rise up to the heavens. It is home to troops of chimpanzees and regarded as one of the finest chimpanzee-viewing in the world.

Approximately 1 000 chimpanzees live in the forest around the mountain split into 12 groups. The excitement and adventure of the region does however not begin and end with chimpanzee trekking. Travellers can also enjoy water activities like swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, and canoeing on the crystal clear lake, or simply relax on the beautiful beaches that surround the lake.

One of the most famous camps is situated at the edge of the lake that makes the cost and effort of getting to this remote area worthwhile. Greystoke Mahale’s A-frame bandas are open in the front to offer views of Lake Tanganyika with an upstairs viewing deck from where guests can relax after a day of chimpanzee trekking. The guest recreation area consists of a bar, dining area, sitting areas overlooking the lake, and a library

Staying here will linger in your memories for years to come.

KENYA

During the hot dry month of February, Kenya is an excellent destination for both big game and bird viewing in the Maasai Mara and Laikipia.  Many water sources dry up and animals gather around the water holes that are still left making viewing much easier than in the wet season.

Maasai Mara National Reserve globally known for the Great Wildebeest Migration and Big 5 sighting lies to the southwest in Kenya and a must stop for a wildlife safari adventure. If you want to see magnificent elephants travel to Amboseli in the southeast near the Tanzanian border. Not only is this area well known for its elephant viewing, but it also offers scenic views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Amboseli is one of the country’s most untouched parks.

The Laikipia area situated in central Kenya is another of Kenya’s unspoiled wildlife area and is host to various conservation areas and home to the biggest rhino population in East Africa. To the north lies Samburu, home to the Samburu people. If you want to experience the Samburu culture this is a fantastic area to visit. You also have the Kenyan Coast with beautiful beaches and water activities in Watamu, and Diani in the Lamu Archipelago.

Maasai Mara National Reserve

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is Great Migration country since it lies on the migration route through the Serengeti. The route the animals follow is not always the same as it depends on the location of the best grass and the occurrence of predators. The animals follow routes through the Loliondo, Moru Kopjes, Seonera, Grumeti and Ikorongo regions to finally arrive in the reserve.

The reserve stretching over approximately 1 500 square kilometres consist of endless plains of short sweet grasses, which is to where the great migration herds heads. With the Mara and Talek Rivers flowing through the reserve there is always enough water. Although the migration takes place from July to October and then return to the Serengeti area, February is still a good month to visit the Maasai Mara as the wildlife will still be plentiful.

Dramatic scenes of wildebeest, zebra, impalas and other herbivores crossing the Mara River and becoming an easy meal for crocodiles, while the carcases that wash up ashore is consumed hyenas, jackal and vultures, is the reason why the reserve is frequented by safari enthusiasts.

However, the Big 5 can be viewed all year round and since there has been strict action taken against rhino poachers, their numbers are slowly increasing. The reserve has many carnivores that include, hyena, jackal, hyena, lion, cheetah, bat-eared fox and wild dog resulting in plenty of hunts experienced while on safari.

Besides the animal wildlife, Maasai Mara is a birders paradise comprising over 470 resident and migrant species. The raptors alone include eagles, harriers, kites, falcons, hawks, and kestrels. Water birds are plentiful as are the stately secretary bird and ostrich that favour the open grasslands.

Guests also have the option to take all this beautiful scenery in from out of a hot air balloon or a light aircraft.

Amboseli

If you are an elephant lover, Amboseli is the best place to get close to these gentle giants. The Chyulu Hills National Park divides the plains of Amboselli and Tsavo National Park and comprise of a mountain range topped with hundreds of volcano cones. The terrain includes forest and savannah that teams with wildlife.

The only one of the Big 5 that is not seen here is the rhino, but you can be sure to see lion, buffalo, leopard and lots of elephants. Other predators spotted in Amboseli is cheetah, jackals and hyena. Great numbers of Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, eland, waterbuck and hartebeest is splattered all over the grassland plains. Lake Kioko in the west has an abundance of hippo and water birds

If you love birding, you will love Amboseli with over 400 species recorded. The park is also home to a number of endangered species like the lesser flamingo, Madagascar pond-heron and the lesser kestrel.  Name a bird and chances are you will spot it in Amboseli.

Besides the wildlife of the region it also offers cultural excursion to the Maasai homesteads which is a great way to get to know the locals.

Laikipia

Laikipia is a Kenyan county located on the equator with the Great Rift Valley to the south-west of the region and the majestic Mount Kenya rising in the south-east. It has gained popularity as a safari destination over the years and within the county there are several conservancies and ranches which are home to a wide range of wildlife.

You will spot the Big 5 in this region and it boasts more than two thousand elephants together with other predators like leopard, cheetah, aardwolf, fox, wild dog, hyena, and jackal. The region is also home to more than 85 mammal species like zebra, giraffe, and many antelopes.

Conservation plays a big part in the Laikipia region and tourists can visit the Rhino Sanctuary in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is also located in the conservancy and is home to over forty chimps that were confiscated from locals who kept them as pets, or some have been orphaned having lost their parents to the bush meat trade.

Birds flock to the area and more than 500 species have been identified including many water birds, predators, and game birds.

RWANDA

Rwanda is another country that is a popular time to visit in February due to the warm and sunny weather. It is situated just south of the equator is landlocked between Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is only 26 338 square kilometres and although small in size it is the biggest hit for gorilla trekking.

Rwanda has many lakes and the largest is the Kivu on the western border.  It also has many rivers of which the Akagera runs along the eastern border of Tanzania through the Akagera National Park.  Mountains is another prominent feature of this small country with the Albertine Rift Mountains in the west and the Virunga volcanos to the north. The Nyungwe National Park with its beautiful forests, which is one of Rwanda’s reserves, is situated in the Albertine Rift. The others are Volcanoes in the north and Akagera in the East.

Besides featuring the best gorilla experience, Rwanda also has much to offer of a cultural and historical value. Many museums and memorials can be visited while in the country for a gorilla safari.

Volcanoes National Park

The Volcanoes Mountains in the north of Rwanda spanning Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, is a thick forest area that comprises of extinct and active volcanoes. The Volcanoes National Park offers the easiest gorilla trekking safaris in the rainforest and hosts more than 300 mountain gorillas.

The principal reason wildlife enthusiasts come to Volcanoes is to track gorillas but walking through the forest you will also come face to face with several types of monkeys and more than 180 forest bird species that live in this most bio-diverse destination in central Africa.

It was here that conservationist Dian Fossey spent 20 years of her life studying gorillas and she was the main reason that poaching was curbed before the creatures went extinct.

Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park is the only park in Rwanda where you can see the Big 5. It is also the largest protected wetlands area and Rwanda’s only refuge for savanna-adapted wildlife. The park was founded in 1934 but due to civil wars and poaching it lost a lot of land and animals. The area was reclaimed as a park in 2009 and with it came the reintroduction of species that became extinct due to poaching.

Today it once again boast a wealth of wildlife with lions introduced back in 2015 followed by black rhino in 2017. Visitors can also see giraffe, zebra, hyenas, jackals and a variety of antelopes. The lakes and rivers team with crocodiles and hippos and birders will spot the fair share of the 480 species documented in Akagera.

Activities not only include gorilla trekking, but also games drives, birding, walking trails and boat trips. If you want to add a cultural flavour visits to the local villages and communities can be organised.

UGANDA

Uganda is landlocked between South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, DCR, and Rwanda, situated on the East African Plateau and home to about half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. The country is situated almost entirely within the basin of the Nile and boast a number of large lakes, such as Tanganyika, and Victoria to mention only the two most well-known.

The country boast ten national parks withing sixty protected areas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Rwenzori Mountains National Park are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Conservation features high on the country’s priorities and species seen here are the mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, black-and-white colobus, elephant, golden cat, jackal, and the giant forest hog. In addition, it has more than 350 bird species including many crested cranes, Uganda’s national bird.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated in the south-west of Uganda right next to where the Virunga Mountains rise up into the sky. Visiting this area in February is ideal as it is just before the rainy season starts and the forest functions as a water catchment area. This is also the reason why it is the best habitat for the mountain gorilla with its many different type of trees. Not only do the park provide the foliage and fruit the gorilla needs in their diet, but the trees are also used to build their nests in.

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is an experience you will not forget and spending time in the company of these forest giants is and indescribable event. Besides the gorilla trekking the park also has other primates, including the vervet monkey, black-and-white colobus, L’Hoest’s monkey, and the red-tailed monkey.

Other activities include guided walks and bird watching and you will spot elephant, jackal, golden cat, civet, and some small antelopes, among others.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park situated in the west is one of the most popular parks of Uganda and receives more visitors than any other park. The area stretching over 1 978 square kilometres, includes the games reserves of Kyambura, Kigezi, the Maramagambo forest, the George and Edward lakes, and the Kazinga Channel. It also features volcanic cones and craters. All these geographical features results in a wide variety of wildlife.

The park also boast five different types of vegetation, including savannah grassland, forest grassland, acacia woodland, Lakeland, and swampland. Mammals found here include elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, chimpanzee, the different monkey types already mentioned, hippo, crocodile, warthog, the giant forest hog and an array of antelope. Spotting the tree-climbing lions is most definitely a major highlight.

Birders will also not come short with over 600 species identified in the area. Other activities include chimpanzee trekking, game drives, guided walking trails, hot air balloon rides, kayaking, river cruises and village visits.

Kibale National Park

Kibale National Park is located in the southern parts of Uganda and boast a moist evergreen rainforest and other landscapes. Visitors come to Kibale for the soul purpose of tracking chimpanzees. The park is also home to a broad range of primates, but it boasts the highest density of chimpanzees in Africa.

The park was established in 1932 but officially re-established in 1993 with the aim to protect the forest that was gradually becoming smaller due to the logging of timber.

Besides the chimpanzees that reside in the forest it also has a further 12 primate species which include the blue monkey, black-and-white colobus monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey, and the red colobus monkey. Kibale also has elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, blue and red duiker, bush pig, warthog, golden car, serval, and otters.

Birders will have a feast spotting the 325 species that has been documented in the park, including six that are indigenous to the Albertine Rift, namely the red-faced woodland and dusky crimson wing warbler, collared and black-capped apalis, blue-headed and purple-breasted sunbird. Many of the other colourful birds and raptors are found here.

Besides the chimpanzee trekking Kibale also offers a variety of other activities, such as crater lake walks, swamp trails, mountain biking, forest walks, kayaking, and other water activities.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is situated in the far south-western part of Uganda is another park that offers gorilla trekking as well as golden monkey trekking. This is Uganda’s smallest park only covering 33.7 square metres but is set to offer protection primarily for the forest gorilla. The best time to go trekking is during the dry season which stretches from December to February and again from June to October. The trails are then less slippery.

Mgahinga is home to just one habituated group of mountain gorillas known as Nyakagezi. The group is made up of nine members which include two babies and a 50-year-old silverback called Bugingo. Trekking the gorillas can last between one to 8 hours and you only get to spend one hour with the forest giants.

The park also offers golden monkey treks are also possible within the park and both trekking activities involve spotting many other animals. Look out for buffalo, elephant, golden cat, porcupines, giant forest hog, and many more. Birders will not be disappointed as around 180 species have been documented by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Other activities in the park on offer is caldera hiking, volcano hiking and visiting the Batwa villages that might include song-and-dance performances.

REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The Republic of the Congo, not to be mistaken for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located along the equator in central-western Africa and another destination that is a good place to visit in February.

The area has an interesting history stretching from its Pygmy inhabitants in 1500 BCE to the post-independence era from 1960. The Congo River which is the second largest river in the world was an important trade route in the Congo.

Today the basin of the Congo River forms part of Odzala-Kokoua National Park. It is an important stronghold for gorilla and forest elephant conservation.

Odzala-Kokoua National Park

At present the park has two safari lodges, namely Ngaga Camp and Mboko Camp, from where safaris and walks are organised. Ngaga Camp is situated close to Odzala-Kokoua in the Ndzehe Concession and from here the lowland gorilla trekking take place into the forest. From Mboko Camp with its scenic views over the Likeni River, guests can go on guided games drives, walking safaris, mountain biking, boating and adventure trails.

 

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