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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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