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.

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IN THIS GUIDE

BEST TIME TO VISIT SOUTH AFRICA

01 – WESTERN CAPE
02 – KRUGER
03 – KWAZULU-NATAL
04 – BEST OVERALL

01 – 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.

FESTIVALS & CONCERTS (NOV-DEC & JAN-MAR)

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 is also the best time to go to South Africa to booze up at wine festivals and outdoor concerts.

WHALE WATCHING (JUN-SEP)

The best time to go to South Africa to try your luck whale watching around the Western Cape is from mid-June to December. Read more about how to see this part of the country on our Cape Town itinerary.

BEST BEACH DAYS (DEC-MAR)

The best time of year to visit South Africa for long beach days is December to March. A slight note of caution, however, the Atlantic seas around Cape Town are cold almost all year round. The warmer Indian Ocean waters lapping the coast of Hermanus and the Garden Route are much better for swimming if you find the Cape Town beaches a little chilly.

Things to do in Cape Town, South Africa.
Girl walks in front of colourful houses in Cape Town

02 – 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 safari animals are spread out over the vast plains, they can easily disappear into the bushy shrub. Therefore, if you’re up for animal spotting, the dry season is the best time to go to South Africa.

THE DRY SEASON (MAY-OCT)

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 time to visit South Africa for great game viewing experiences – read more in our 3-week South Africa itinerary.

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 (SEP)

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, however, if the rains arrive a bit late, early November is even better.

Alternatively, you could try the more luxurious option of private game drives at the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.

South Africa Itinerary, Kruger
3 week south africa itinerary

03 – 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.

DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS (MAR-MAY)

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.

Royal Natal National Park, Drakensberg Hikes

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, which makes this one of the best times to go to South Africa. Their hatchlings appear from 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 VISIT HLUHLUWE-IMFOLOZI (JUL-OCT)

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, elephants 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
Best time for safari South Africa

04 – BEST TIME TO VISIT SOUTH AFRICA (BY MONTH)

Being such a diverse and large country it is difficult to pick one best time to visit South Africa as a lot depends on what you want to do. Here is what you can expect to experience over the key tourist months in South Africa.

SEPTEMBER TO NOVEMBER

Overall, September to November would be our preferred time to visit South Africa. 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

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. The game reserves here (such as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi) are good year-round destinations and the Drakensberg mountains are at their finest.

MID-NOVEMBER TO MID-MARCH

If you intend to stick to Cape Town and the Western Cape mid-November to mid-March is the best time to visit South Africa. 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).

JULY & AUGUST

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.

cape town itinerary

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WHERE NEXT?

As one of our favourite places to visit for winter sun, great hiking and incredible wildlife opportunities, we’ve been to South Africa several times. Find all our writing on our South Africa Page or read these guides next.

Tip to help you construct your South Africa Itinerary

Our Cape Town itinerary

10 reasons to visit the Drakensberg Mountains

An exhilarating 4×4 adventure to Lesotho via the Sani Pass

A guide to Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg

20 incredible safari animals and where to see them

Sabi Sands or Kruger

10 tips for seeing the most on a Kruger self-drive safari


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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. | Best time to go to South Africa | South Africa travel