South Africa is a large, diverse country with distinctive regions, different activities and a variety of wildlife all peaking at different times of year. Here are our tips for the best time to visit South Africa.

South Africa is a large and diverse country ranging from coastal forest to semi-arid deserts; from sweeping grasslands to 3,500m high mountains. In the west, Cape Town and the Western Cape have warm summers, and chilly wet winters. While in the east, the sub-tropical climate means hot, humid summers and dry winters.

To top it all off, there is a vast array of wildlife to be spotted year round. The Big 5 and other large mammals are best seen when the foliage has died back in the game reserves. Whereas whales and turtles that surround the coast are seasonal; making only a fleeting visit for a few months a year.

Deciding the best time to visit South Africa very much depends on what you want to see and which places you want to visit. So, here’s a breakdown of when to visit each of the main tourist destinations in the country plus some suggestions for how to see as much as possible on an inspiring road trip.

BEST TIME TO VISIT CAPE TOWN & THE WESTERN CAPE

Cape Town is a great all year round destination with plenty of interesting things to do, but it is best to avoid the wet colder months of July and August. If you want to spend time on the beaches then the summer months of December to March bring temperatures in the high twenties Celsius (80’s F), longer days and sunsets to sip a cocktail by.

LONG DAYS & FESTIVALS

We recommend mid-November to mid-December and mid-January to mid-March to get good weather, long days and fewer crowds (outside the school holidays). This time of year also presents the opportunity to enjoy wine festivals and outdoor concerts. If you want to try your luck whale watching, your chances are best from mid-June to December.

A slight note of caution: the Atlantic seas around Cape Town are cold almost all year round. Swimming in Cape Town requires a sharp intake of breath, or a short drive east. The warmer Indian Ocean waters lapping the coast of Hermanus and the Garden Route are much better for swimming if you have an aversion to cold water.


BEST TIME TO VISIT KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

Kruger National Park has two seasons. The wet summer season runs from November to April and the dry winter season from May to October. In the wet season, the land is green and lush and vegetation thick. As the animals are spread out over the vast plains, they can easily disappear into the bushy shrub.

THE DRY SEASON

The dry winter season parches the land. The vegetation dies and animals congregate around waterholes. As zebra, springbok and impala gather to cool off and quench their thirst, lions and cheetahs make the most of knowing exactly where their prey is going to be. This creates the perfect environment for a great game viewing experience.

PRIME GAME VIEWING TIME

July and August are great game viewing months and daytime temperatures only reach the high 20’s. However, later in the dry season, foliage will be even more sparse, making those incredible wildlife spotting opportunities more frequent. So, September and October are better still, but at the cost of temperatures now rising into the thirties Celsius. (86°F)

BEST TIME FOR SELF-DRIVE SAFARI

Finally, early or late in the year – when the days are longer – the game park gates will open earlier in the morning and close later in the afternoon. Therefore, if you are planning a self-driving safari, when you can be out on your own schedule, later in the year is best. September is the best time for self-drive, if the rains arrive a bit late, early November is even better.


BEST TIME TO VISIT KWAZULU-NATAL

KwaZulu-Natal is a diverse area of lowlands and mountain kingdoms, of coastal forests, sweeping grasslands and tropical beaches. It also has an abundance of sea life that can only be seen at certain times of year, so choosing the best time to visit Kwa-Zulu Natal can be tricky.

BEST TIME TO VISIT THE DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS

The Drakensberg Mountains rise from the KwaZulu-Natal plains to the 3,000m Kingdom of Lesotho. In summer (December through February) torrential rains arrive almost every afternoon and temperatures reach the mid-30s Celcius (95°F). In winter (June to August) the temperatures drop rapidly, and the summit of the amphitheatre can be snow-covered, making exploring a chilly experience.

The best time to visit the Drakensberg is from March to May when the rains have subsided, the temperatures comfortable and the hills are still a verdant green from the winter downpours. September to November are also good but as it is after the dry season the rivers and waterfalls can be dry and the land a parched brown.

BEST TIME TO VISIT ST LUCIA

The St Lucia Wetlands are a good all year destination however the coastal wildlife is seasonal. Giant female turtles lay their eggs on the beach between November to January; while their hatchlings appear January to March. Whale watching season begins mid-June and runs to November. So, unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely you can see both on a single trip.

BEST TIME TO VISIST HLUHLUWE-IMFOLOZI

Like Kruger, the best time to visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve is during the dry months of July to October when vegetation is less thick. But because there are less cats in the park and a higher proportion of larger mammals like rhino, elephant and buffalo it is a decent year-round destination. We went in January and in spite of lots of vegetation we saw the Big 5 (except leopard) while self-driving over 3 days.


BEST TIME TO VISIT SOUTH AFRICA FOR EXPERIENCES

It’s no surprise there are many amazing experiences to be had in South Africa. But, many of these are seasonal so it’s important to pick the right time to plan your trip. Here’s our quick breakdown of the best time to visit based on the type of experience you’re looking for.

NOV TO MAR
LAZING BY THE BEACH

CAPE TOWN

Escape the winter blues and beat the school holidays when Cape Town is at its best

JAN TO MAR
WINE FESTIVALS & CONCERTS

WESTERN CAPE

Live it up at the wine festivals in the winelands or outdoor concerts in Cape Town

SEP & OCT
SPOTTING THE BIG 5

KRUGER

Make use of the dry season for incredible wildlife spotting opportunities

MAR TO MAY
HIKING

DRAKENSBERG

Strap on the hiking boots and enjoy spectacular scenery in the Drakensberg

JAN TO MAR
TURTLE HATCHLINGSS

ST LUCIA WETLANDS

Watch the dangerous migration of baby turtle hatchlings going to the sea

JUN TO NOV
WHALE WATCHING

HERMANUS

Try your luck spotting the Southern Right Whale off the coast of Hermanus

OVERALL BEST TIME TO VISIT SOUTH AFRICA

Being such a diverse and large country it is difficult to pick a best time to visit South Africa. A lot depends on what you want to do. But overall September to November would be our pick. The coldest and wettest weather around Cape Town has disappeared, the game viewing is at its prime, whales are lurking off the coast and the hiking in the Drakensberg is excellent.

April to May is another good time to visit. Although the weather in the Western Cape and the wildlife viewing will be a bit less optimal, it is a great time to be exploring Kwa-Zulu Natal. Its game reserves are good year-round destinations and the Drakensberg mountains are at their finest.

However if you intend to stick to Cape Town and the Western Cape aim for mid-November to mid-March. This will provide glorious sunny days in comfortable temperatures. It’s also when the city is at its most energetic and the coastline at its most beautiful. If possible, avoid the summer holidays from mid-December to mid-January).

Finally, if you are limited to July and August, then consider spending less time in Cape Town and the Western Cape and instead focus more on KwaZulu-Natal and Kruger, where the temperatures are much warmer and the game viewing excellent.


MORE SOUTH AFRICA READING

If you’re planning a trip around South Africa, here are our guides to help you get the best out of this stunning country.

PLANNING / All our tips on how to construct your own South Africa itinerary.

HIGHLIGHTS / Our favourite destinations to visit in South Africa.

CAPE TOWN / The best things to do in this remarkable city.

WILDLIFE / Check out all the animals you might see on a Kruger safari.

HIKING / There’s great hiking in South Africa. None better than the Royal Natal National Park.

WETLANDS / See whales, nesting turtles and hippos in St.Lucia Wetlands.

ADVENTURE / If you’re looking for adventure in South Africa then head to the Drakensberg.


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