South Africa has something to offer every type of visitor. The best time to visit South Africa will depend on where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there, from dynamic Cape Town and the cosmopolitan vibes of Johannesburg to wildlife-filled expanses of wilderness such as the Kalahari and the Drakensberg mountains.
South Africa’s climate is generally warmer in the north and cooler in the south. The weather on the coasts is also different from the weather on the elevated plateau that makes up the majority of the country, which is drier. The Indian Ocean coast is usually more tropical, while the Atlantic coast is milder, though cold fogs and hot desert winds can still blow in.
Weather-wise, Cape Town and the Western Cape are distinct, with their rainy season occurring in the winter (June to August). The rains arrive in the rest of the country during the southern hemisphere summer (November through March), but they rarely last long (and there’s a chance of a photogenic thunderstorm). Many visitors are drawn to South Africa because of its vibrant festivals and the annual migrations and breeding seasons of the country’s diverse wildlife populations. Whatever brings you to South Africa, here’s a calendar of the best times to visit.
Festivals abound from November through March, which is prime season
South Africa has summer from November to March, when daytime highs can exceed 32°C (90°F), frequently with high levels of humidity. You’ll need to make travel arrangements in advance if you want to go during this busy time. A month or more in advance reservations are common for lodging in coastal regions and national parks, and costs in these destinations typically increase by at least 50%.
Having said that, there are many festivals and events to attend if you have the means to visit during the busy season. Beginning in December is AFROPUNK, a significant multiday international music event that attracts musicians from all over the world. The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, also known as Kaapse Klopse locally, is an annual street parade that takes place on January 2. It has significant historical connections to the struggle against apartheid and South Africa’s protracted slave trade.
The Cape Town Cycle Tour, which attracts cyclists from all over the world, takes place after Cape Town’s Pride Festival in late February or early march. Additionally, in March, Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape hosts the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, one of South Africa’s biggest arts festivals.
Lower pricing and excellent wildlife viewing can be found in April, May, September, and October
Smaller crowds and some significant festivals, such as April’s Splashy Fen Music Festival in Durban, can be found in South Africa’s shoulder seasons. Species watching is a major draw in the fall because the last of the dry summer weather encourages wildlife to come out into the open. The highest chances of seeing cetaceans are in the spring, in the months of September and October. While flowers can start to develop as early as July depending on the rains and last into October if it isn’t too hot, wildflower season peaks in late August in the north and early September in the south.
The ideal time to travel on a budget is during low season (June to August)
There are fewer tourists and reduced pricing (except from safaris) during the South African winter, which lasts from June to August. Although it is wet season in Cape Town and the Western Cape, there is still a lot of sunshine to be found. Cape Town restaurants frequently offer affordable winter deals. The weather is perfect for a safari in other parts of the country where winters are more drier (be prepared, though, for chilly nights and cold early morning game drives). The National Arts Festival in the Eastern Cape and the 10-day Oyster Festival in Knysna in July are two popular winter festivities.
The greatest time to visit South Africa’s game reserves is in the winter
If you’re on safari, rain will most certainly hinder your excursions. The South African winter months of May to September are the driest for northern game reserves like Kruger National Park. Wildlife is frequently simpler to see due of the dying down of the foliage and animals congregating near water holes, even though you might not have the lush backgrounds to your shots that you would have in the spring and summer.
However, you’ll need to pack clothes if you want to stay warm during dawn game drives because the cold winter nights also mean fewer insects. The summer months are drier for safaris in the Western Cape, but they also fall around the busy Christmas season and South Africa’s summer school break.
The best time to visit South Africa and to see whales are September and October
Although whales and dolphins can be spotted all year long off the southern and eastern beaches of South Africa, the best months to watch them are in September and October. Southern right whales and humpback whales travel to and from Antarctica between June and November in order to reproduce and give birth in the warmer waters near Madagascar and Mozambique. A significant sardine run occurs from May to June as well, attracting whales, dolphins, sharks, and seabirds (Durban is an excellent base to watch the spectacle).
Whales frequently come close enough to the shore to be seen from land, however you’ll see more from a whale-watching boat. This is especially true in the area around Hermanus, which is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the best places in the world to go whale watching and where whale sightings can begin as early as April. The Eastern Cape’s Gqeberha (formerly known as PE) is renowned as the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world, and pods are commonly spotted there from January to June.