The Best Time to Visit South Africa
South Africa by season
Unlike the UK, South Africa does not experience four distinct seasons, but instead a long summer and winter are sandwiched between a very short autumn and spring. At any one time, the weather can vary considerably from one side of the country to the other, so depending on whether you’re here for wildlife, beaches, hiking or whale watching, it’s always a good time to visit somewhere. To help you plan, we’ve put together a guide to the seasons:
August – October
Spring is a lovely time to visit South Africa. Across the country, days are sunny and warm although Cape Town remains cooler than elsewhere. Lower temperatures make spring an excellent time for hiking in the Eastern Cape’s Drakensberg Mountains, and for spotting migratory birds in the Kruger National Park. But by far the best reason to visit at this time is the carpet of wild flowers that blooms across Namaqualand in August and September.
Whale watching: follow the Garden Route to watch migrating humpback and southern right whales, with peak calving season occurring in August.
Namaqualand flowers: from August to October, the wildflowers bloom across Namaqualand, making for a vibrant, colourful spectacle. Base yourself in Springbok to see it at its best.
October – February
South Africa’s summer is long, hot and sunny. October is mostly dry and is a great month to visit if you’re exploring multiple areas of the country. By November, spectacular afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially in the Kruger area, although these usually pass quickly and make conditions ideal for birdwatching. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape’s beaches remain dry, although by Christmas they are busy with international visitors in search of the winter sun. Bright and sunny January is an ideal time to combine the Cape and the Garden Route, and by February the country’s interior is very hot, so it’s best to stick to the breezier coast.
Christmas: for Christmas Day on the beach, spend the festive season in Cape Town, the Garden Route or the Eastern Cape.
KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields: visit in January for the anniversaries of the Battle of Isandlwana and the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, when battle re-enactments take place.
March – April
By autumn temperatures across South Africa have begun to cool. Patches of rain remain in the Kruger area, where the foliage is lush and the rivers full and fast-flowing. The Easter holidays are a popular time for visitors looking to explore multiple regions, as the whole country is warm and dry. Autumn is a great time to enjoy balmy evenings by the waterfront in Cape Town and by now temperatures have cooled enough for hiking conditions to be ideal in the Eastern Cape.
White water rafting: the rivers of the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are in full flow, optimum conditions for white water rafting.
Freedom Day: on 27th April, join the locals in Cape Town and Johannesburg as they celebrate the anniversary of the country’s first non-racial democratic elections, held on this day in 1994.
May – July
The dry winter is the optimum time for game viewing in Kruger National Park, as the wildlife heads out in search of water, congregating in vast numbers around the waterholes and rivers. May, with its warm days and cool evenings, is a lovely overall time to visit too, although by June the Winelands have cooled right down and frost is a common sight. This is no bad thing – think roaring log fires and even sprinklings of snow on the mountaintops. July marks the start of the whale watching season, although it can get a little wet in Cape Town at this time, so go to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal for warm weather and excellent diving and surfing conditions.
Whale watching: Look out for humpback (May to December) and southern right whales (June to November) in Plettenberg Bay and Hermanus.
Knysna Oyster Festival: in early July head to Knysna for oyster shucking competitions, charity races, and the chance to taste the juicy local oysters and excellent Cape wines.