October 2

When is the Best Time to Visit South Africa?

October 2, 2017

The best time to visit South Africa is whenever it suits you, as it’s a year-round destination! However, when planning a trip to the country, it’s always valuable to know what you can expect from the weather, experiences, seasonality, and more.

That’s why our Rhino Africa Travel Experts answered when is the best time to visit South Africa and other frequently asked questions.

When is the best month to travel to South Africa?

When is the best month to visit South Africa, you ask? Well, how many seasons are there in a year? When it comes to pinning down the best time to visit South Africa, you’ll find that it’s a year-round vacation destination with diverse landscapes, cultures and activities, ensuring a thrilling getaway regardless of what time of year you visit.

However, although we try not to pick favourites, there’s one month in the year that we consider the very best…

The best month to travel to South Africa is in September. It’s the month that allows you to get the most out of South Africa. 

Highlights during this time include seeing newborn wildlife on safari and watching whales breach in the ocean at Hermanus and along the Garden Route. Although it’s considered the best time, it’s not the peak time, which means fewer crowds and often better prices.

When is the best time to visit Cape Town?

Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and is affectionately referred to as the Mother City. The best time to visit Cape Town is the autumn season, between March and May. The sun is high in the sky during this season, but the average temperature stays around a pleasant 22-24°C. The City Bowl is also less crowded, and you’ll be able to enjoy all the excellent accommodation options at a more wallet-friendly cost. 

When is the best time to go on a safari in South Africa?

There’s no ‘bad’ time for a safari in South Africa. Whenever you want to go, there’s a game reserve or national park somewhere in South Africa that will offer you the safari experience you’re looking for. However, there is a time of year that’s considered the best for wildlife sightings. 

The best time to go on a safari in South Africa is between May and September. This is the dry season for the country’s east, where almost all the main national parks and game reserves are located. During this season, the weather is hot, the sun is high in the sky, and rainfall is rare. You’ll be able to experience an authentic African safari experience, witnessing the wildlife in their natural habitat. And because it’s the dry season, vegetation is more sparse, making it easier to spot wildlife. 

Best time to visit South Africa from Season to Season

That being said, you’ll still want to know when to go to South Africa for what you want to see. And that’s where we come in. We’ll take you season by season and give you a blow-by-blow about what to see wherever you go.

Elephant herd shuffling past with baby
Safari sights like these are some of the most memorable moments

1. Spring Season (September-November)

The birds are chirping, and the flowers are blooming! Spring in South Africa sees visitors flock to the West Coast to see the magnificent springtime flower displays on offer. Prime destinations for this include the Namaqualand Flower Route and the West Coast National Park. Photographers and nature lovers alike are sure to be wowed by South Africa’s flower season.

Spring in South Africa is flower season.

Meanwhile, Cape Town is warming up nicely in time for the sun-drenched summer months but is still devoid of some of the larger tourist crowds that flock to South Africa’s darling city.

You can also see whales up the country’s east coast, making it a great time to head to towns like Hermanus on the Whale Route. Spot southern right whales, humpbacks, or hang around for the annual Whale Festival.

whale emerge from water south africa
Whales breaching is a common sight during spring

Discover our Hermanus whale-watching destinations.

Spring is also a superb time to visit South Africa if you want to go on safari, and Kruger, in particular, promises excellent African wildlife sightings. The dry season is at its peak, with thin foliage and dwindling water sources making for easy game viewing, accompanied with a good dose of “Aah!” from your safari vehicle at all the newborn spring babies.

Bush buck on African safari
Wonderful creatures around every corner await in Africa

KwaZulu-Natal‘s game reserves are incredible at this time of year, just before the summer months, when the sub-tropical climate makes it a bit too hot and humid. Towns such as Ballito and Durban along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline are the perfect spots from which to take many a dip in the warm Indian Ocean.

Spring in a Nutshell

So if you think the best time to visit South Africa according to your needs is during the spring season, between September and November, be sure to see the beautiful blooming flowers in the West Coast National Park. You also have the chance to watch the whales breach at Hermanus on the Whale Route. And of course, don’t forget to add a safari in Kruger National Park to witness newborn wildlife taking their first steps. 

2. Summer Season (December-February)

Ah, summer! The days are long, and the holiday cheer is plentiful. During the South African summer, Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations. And if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s certainly the place to be. Rub shoulders with the crème de la crème of the local and international social scene, spend your days on the beach, or party the night away at the many rooftop bars.

Visit South Africa's Cape Town Beaches - Clifton
Clifton Beach, Cape Town

Discover our Clifton Beach & Camps Bays hotels.

If escaping summer in the city is what it’s all about for you, head up the coast towards the Garden Route and its multitude of quaint beach towns. Spend lazy days with your toes in the sand, take cruises on the Knysna lagoon or out to sea, or even venture into the welcome shade of Tsitsikamma and its never-ending horizon of forest ferns.

Visit South Africa Garden Route - Tsitsikamma
Tsitsikamma National Park on the Garden Route

Discover our Garden Route Tours.

When it comes to Kruger during this time, the babies born a few weeks before are now more confident and playful. Therefore, the park is dotted with various antelope and their mini-mes strutting about. That said, danger is always lurking thanks to resident big cats and the most vulnerable members of any herd are always the young. On a lighter note, afternoon showers wash the landscape in green while migratory birds flock into the area, making bird-spotting a terrific pastime.

Lions in Kruger National Park
Lions are a regular sighting in the Kruger National Park

Summer in a Nutshell

If you consider the best time to visit South Africa to be during summer, between December and February, then we definitely recommend you visit Cape Town. Days are long and warm, and you can soak up the sun on the sandy beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay. Moreover, you can head up to the beautiful Garden Route for an unforgettable Garden Route Tour.

3. Autumn Season (March-May)

During the autumn season, the sun sets earlier and rises later. You might need a light pullover at times, but the days are generally still pleasantly warm. With cobbled streets and oak-lined avenues, Cape Winelands destinations such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are indeed a sight to behold when trees turn the buttery, warm hues of autumn.

Vineyards in front of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch
The spectacular scenery of the Cape Winelands, South Africa

Discover our Cape Winelands Tours.

Across the country, this is also a terrific time to head outdoors. With days being cooler and allowing for more comfortable hiking and outdoor excursions, enjoying nature is mandatory! The crowds have left Cape Town, but the weather is excellent, giving you a more exclusive, uncrowded city experience.

Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town
The world-famous Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town

KwaZulu-Natal has cooled down again, and the breeze coming off the ocean will almost make you think that Mother Nature is breathing a sigh of relief at the lowering humidity. This is also rutting season, so safari spectacles can be pretty exciting, with the quest for dominance spurring many a head-on in the antelope community.

Autumn in a Nutshell

Suppose your best time to visit South Africa is the autumn season, between March and May. In that case, you arrive at the perfect time to explore the Cape Winelands, which is renowned for its award-winning wine farms, galleries, restaurants, and accommodation. 

It’s also the ideal time to head outdoors and enjoy hiking in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch surroundings. If you’re a safari enthusiast, KwaZulu-Natal has cooled down and invites you for an impressive safari during the rutting season.

4. Winter Season (June-August)

Countless winter specials and the city all to yourself certainly take the chill out of a Cape Town winter, so don’t discount the Mother City between June and August when you visit South Africa. There are plenty of wine farms in the Cape Winelands with happily crackling fireplaces lit all winter long – the best place to warm up with a glass of merlot in hand.

Wine tasting in Cape Town's Winelands
Wine tasting in Cape Town’s Winelands

Wildlife sightings are easier than ever in winter, with safari destinations, such as Madikwe and Kruger, in their dry season. The foliage thins, the river and water sources dry up, and wildlife cluster together and search a little harder for food and water. This is great news for safari-goers, who will then be able to observe wild animals roaming in their natural habitat.

two cheetahs lying down
Some of Africa’s most remarkable big cats, the cheetah

You should not miss a safari experience at one of the Eastern Cape’s Big 5 private game reserves during this time. And the low rainfall also brings out the best in places such as Kwandwe. Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal’s humid heat has subsided, making for a far more comfortable safari experience.

Discover our Big 5 Safari Tours.

Three Rondavels on South Africa Panorama Route
Three Rondavels on South Africa’s Panorama Route

Nearby, the most picturesque self-drive route in the country, the Panorama Route, is most appealing after the rains. The rainy season often brings mist, ruining the incredible viewpoints that dot the area, from God’s Window and the Three Rondavels to the Blyde River Canyon. This area is also a perfect add-on to any Kruger itinerary, with both regions conveniently at their best in the winter months.

Visit South Africa's Route 62
The Cederberg Mountains showcase astounding natural beauty

Believe it or not, the Cederberg is a great place to visit at this time of year. As the temperature drops and we spend more evenings indoors stoking fireplaces, Mother Nature sometimes dusts the surrounding mountains with snow, bringing an air of winter magic to the area. The mountains along Route 62 and parts of the Klein Karoo also get snow at this time of year.

Visit South Africa's Whale Route
Whale-watching in Hermanus is among the best anywhere in the world

In Hermanus, the whale season continues with sightings of humpback and southern right whales all along the Western Cape coastline. Don’t miss the Garden Route just because the winter chill has set in. There’s more than enough to keep travellers warmed up with its annual Oyster Festival bringing gourmands, wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts together. Be sure not to miss its marathon, fishing competition and cycle race during this time.

Cape Town's V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront is a hub of culture, shopping and entertainment

Discover our Cape Town Tours.

Winter in a Nutshell

If your best time to visit South Africa is between June and August, welcome to our South African winter! Just because the air is crisp does not mean that there will be nothing to do because it’s quite the opposite. 

During winter, national parks such as Madikwe and Kruger are in their dry season, making safari sightings a lot easier as the vegetation is sparse. 

Cape Town and the Cape Winelands are more welcoming than ever, and from there, you’ll be able to explore and experience the Panorama Route and the Garden Route.

The best time to visit South Africa is YOUR best time to visit South Africa

All in all, there’s something to see and do whichever time of year you decide to visit South Africa. This is what makes our wonderfully diverse and intoxicatingly beautiful country an incredible year-round holiday destination.

If you’re interested in organising a trip to South Africa, please get in touch with one of our Rhino Africa Travel Experts. 

We know what we’re talking about and doing as we’ve planned unforgettable trips for our guests since 2004. Furthermore, we have personally visited every one of the locations we suggest to you. Contact us today, and let’s start planning your dream holiday in South Africa! 

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If you want to read more about travel tips for when you visit South Africa, take a look at our other blogs below:


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About the author 

Melanie Du Toit

Jozi-born, Knysna local, and recovering yachtie, Melanie decided that she missed being land-based after 18 months sailing the seas. Now that she lives in the most beautiful city in Africa (she is adamant about this fact), you will find her trying out new things around Cape Town, dreaming about her next holiday, and using Wikipedia to enhance her skills as an encyclopaedia of useless information.

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