October 2

When is the Best Time to Visit South Africa?

October 2, 2017

When is the best time 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 the Rainbow Nation, you’ll find a year-round vacation destination whose varied landscapes and kaleidoscopic attractions promise a thrilling getaway no matter what time of year you visit.

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

Zebra in South Africa in Spring

Spring, 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.

Tortoise among spring flowers, South Africa

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. Up the east coast of the country, whales are spotted, 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.

Visit South Africa's whale season
Breaching whale in Hermanus – Photo credit: Michael Catanzarti

Spring is also a superb time to visit South Africa if you want to go on safari, and Kruger, in particular, promises excellent 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 spring babies that have been born.

Visit South Africa's Kruger National Park
Herd of impala – Photo credit: Ulusaba Private Game Reserve

KwaZulu-Natal‘s game reserves are winners at this time of the 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’s waters.

Summer, December – February

Ah, summer! The days are long, the holiday cheer is plentiful, and the sun shines down on the landscape day in and day out. Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations if you visit South Africa during the summer months, and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s certainly the place to be. Rub shoulders with the creme de la creme of the local and international social scene, spend your days on the beach, or party the night away at many a rooftop bar.

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

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 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 neverending horizon of forest ferns.

Visit South Africa Garden Route - Tsitsikamma
Tsitsikamma National Park

In Kruger, the babies born a few weeks before are now more confident and playful, and 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.

Lion sighting in South Africa's Chitwa Chitwa Lodge Kruger National Park
Lion in Kruger National Park

Autumn, March – May

The sunlight hours are becoming fewer and the evenings may require a cardigan, but the days are still filled with warmth. Cape Winelands destinations such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, with its cobbled streets and oak-lined avenues, are truly a sight to behold when trees turn the buttery, warm hues of autumn.

Visit South Africa Cape Winelands
Cape Winelands, South Africa

Across the country, this is also a terrific time to head outdoors, what with days being cooler and allowing for more comfortable hiking and outdoor excursions. The crowds have left Cape Town but the weather is great, with the city being notorious for its late summers.

Hiking in Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Gardens South Africa
Kirstenbosch Gardens Cape Town

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

Winter, 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, too – 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, being hit by their dry season. The foliage thins, the river and water sources dry up, and wildlife is forced to cluster together and search a little harder for food and water – which is great news for safari-goers!

Cheetah stretching in the morning sun, South Africa
Cheetah stretching in the morning sun, South Africa

The Eastern Cape‘s Big 5 private game reserves shouldn’t be missed during this time, with the low rainfall also bringing out the best in places such as Kwandwe. Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal‘s humid heat has subsided, making for a far more comfortable safari experience.

Three Rondavels on South Africa Panorama Route
Three Rondavels – Image credit” South African Tourism

Nearby, the most picturesque self-drive route in the country, the Panorama Route, is at its 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 areas conveniently at their best in the winter months.

Visit South Africa's Route 62
Cederberg Mountains

Believe it or not, the Cederberg is a great place to visit at this time of year, too. As the temperatures drop and more evenings are spent inside 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 are also visited by snow around this time.

Visit South Africa's Whale Route
Whale watching in Hermanus

In Hermanus, the Whale Season is ongoing 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
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town – Image credit: Cape Grace Hotel

All in all, there’s something to see whatever time of year you decide to visit South Africa, making this wonderfully diverse and intoxicatingly beautiful country an incredible year-round holiday destination. Contact one of our expert consultants today for more advice on what to do and where to go on your South African vacation.

Need some more travel tips for when you visit South Africa? Take a look below:

A Guide to South African Slang

FAQ: Going on Safari in Kruger


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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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