Best time to visit South Africa

The best time to visit to South Africa will depend mostly on what exactly you want to get out of your trip. The Cape has warm, dry weather in its summer months (November to February), for example, but the prime whale-watching season is September and October. Here is our month-by-month guide to visiting South Africa. Read on for a detailed overview of weather patterns to help guide you on the best time to plan your trip. 

When's the best time to visit South Africa?

South Africa is on the whole a dry, sunny country. Overall, the best time to visit South Africa is typically during the dry, warm months of autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November). You'll find during this window pleasant weather for outdoor activities and wildlife viewing, while avoiding the crowds and higher prices of the peak summer season.

That said, when considering when to go to South Africa, you need to take into account the country’s distinct climatic zones. Though South Africa on the most part is known for its warm to hot temperatures, the climate does vary a bit depending on the region. 

In Cape Town and the Garden Route coastal belt, summers tend to be warm, mild. However, rain can fall at any time of the year and winter days can be cold and wet. Subtropical KwaZulu-Natal has warm, sunny winters and tepid seas. In common with the Lesotho highlands, the province’s Drakensberg range has misty days in summer and mountain snow in winter.

Johannesburg and Pretoria lie on the highveld plateau and have a near-perfect climate. You can expect hot summer days frequently broken by dramatic thunder showers, and dry winters with chilly nights. East of Johannesburg, the lowveld, which includes Kruger and much of Swaziland, is subject to similar summer and winter rainfall as the highveld. However, its considerably lower altitude results in far greater extremes of temperature.

MonthJanFeb MarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg temp. (°C)252524222018171820222324
Avg rain (mm)605550403020151825354555
Hobie Beach, Port Elisabeth, South Africa © Shutterstock

Hobie Beach, Port Elisabeth, South Africa © Shutterstock

When is peak season in South Africa?

Generally speaking, the peak tourist season in South Africa is during the summer months of December to February. This is when the weather is warmest and driest, and for many a great time for outdoor activities such as safaris, beach holidays, and hiking.

You'll find that during this time popular tourist destinations such as Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and the Garden Route tend to be bustling with visitors. Accommodation and attractions may be more crowded and prices may be higher during this period, and you'll certainly want to book as far ahead as possible.

Some specific destinations in South Africa will have their own peak seasons. In Hermanus, renowned for its excellent whale watching opportunities, the peak time is usually from July to November when southern right whales migrate to the area to calve and nurse their young. Similarly, for shark cage diving enthusiasts, the peak season in places like Gansbaai is typically from June to September when the waters are cooler, attracting larger numbers of great white sharks.

What is the rainy season in South Africa?

The rainy season in South Africa varies depending on region. While rain can fall any time of the year across the Cape, showers typically hit Cape Town and the Western Cape from June to August. On the other hand, the northern regions tend to be rainy from November to February and dry from May to October.

For more details on the weather in Cape Town, read our guide to the best time to visit Cape Town.

Cape Town, South Africa - aerial view © Mark Van Overmeire/Shutterstock

Cape Town, South Africa - aerial view © Mark Van Overmeire/Shutterstock

Best month to visit South Africa

From once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters to fantastic times by the beach — each month in South Africa brings its unique charm. 

January: best for beach holidays

Kick off the year in January in South Africa with soaring temperatures ranging from 25°C to 35°C (77°F to 95°F). It's peak season, with locals and tourists flocking to the beaches. Expect lively festivals, but also occasional downpours in the northeast.

February: best for Wineland tours

February offers prime wildlife viewing opportunities with temperatures averaging between 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F). It's an ideal safari time, as animals gather around watering holes. Don't forget to book your accommodations and tours in advance!

March: best for cultural festivals

As temperatures drop to a comfortable 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F), March is perfect for exploring South Africa's rich cultural heritage. Enjoy fewer crowds and reasonable prices for accommodations and activities.

Augrabies Falls, Northern Cape, South Africa © Leon Marais/Shutterstock

Augrabies Falls, Northern Cape, South Africa © Leon Marais/Shutterstock

April: best for surfing in Durban

April marks the harvest season in the wine regions, with temperatures cooling down to 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). Indulge in wine tastings amidst picturesque vineyards, with fewer tourists and moderate prices.

May: best for game viewing

May invites you to delve deep into South Africa's vibrant culture, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). Explore art galleries, museums, and traditional festivals without the hustle and bustle of peak season.

June: best for whale watching

Bundle up for crisp mornings and chilly evenings in June, with temperatures averaging between 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F). It's an excellent time for wildlife viewing, with fewer tourists and off-season discounts available.

Basotho tribe village, South Africa © Ariadna22822/Shutterstock

Basotho tribe village, South Africa © Ariadna22822/Shutterstock

July: best for safari and snow in the Eastern Cape mountains

July brings clear skies and cool temperatures, ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F). Embark on thrilling outdoor adventures like hiking and safari tours, with slightly higher accommodation prices during the school holidays.

August: best for wildflowers in full bloom

August is the peak of the whale-watching season, with temperatures warming up slightly to 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). Witness the majestic Southern Right whales along the southern coastline, despite the higher accommodation prices.

September: best for hiking and outdoor activities

September heralds the arrival of spring, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). It's perfect for outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching, with reasonable accommodation prices and minimal tourist crowds.

The Big Hole in Kimberley, South Africa ©  Jennifer Sophie/Shutterstock

The Big Hole in Kimberley, South Africa ©  Jennifer Sophie/Shutterstock

October: best for bird watching

October offers warm temperatures and minimal rainfall, averaging between 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F). It's one of the best months for wildlife viewing in national parks and game reserves, with plenty of opportunities for fantastic safari experiences.

November: best for adventure sports

November signals the start of summer, with temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F). It's the perfect time for sun-soaked beach vacations, although popular coastal destinations may have higher accommodation prices.

December: best for vibrant nightlife and festive markets

December brings warm temperatures averaging between 25°C to 35°C (77°F to 95°F) and a festive atmosphere. From Christmas markets to beach parties, there's no shortage of celebrations to enjoy, despite the crowds and higher accommodation prices.

Great sardine run, South Africa © wildestanimal/Shutterstock

Great sardine run, South Africa © wildestanimal/Shutterstock

When is the best time for a safari in South Africa?

Most when planning a safari trip to South Africa will aim for the dry season that spans from May to September. During these months, animals gather around water sources — which makes sightings easier. This is a great time of year for game drives as the weather brings cooler (and more comfortable) temperatures, especially during the mornings and evenings when animals are most active. 

If you're particularly keen on spotting newborn animals, you’ll want to plan your visit for May or June, which is the birthing season for many species. July to September on the other hand offers prime opportunities to encounter predators like lions and leopards, as this is when they are the most active.

If you’re traveling to South America for birdwatching or photography, you might enjoy the low wet season from October to April. This time is known for great birdwatching due to the breeding activity, lush landscapes, and diverse bird populations — including resident species and migratory birds from Europe and Asia.

Get more useful information for your trip with our tips for travelling to South Africa.

Festivals in South Africa

No matter when you choose to go to South Africa, you’re likely to have your trip fall during one of this country’s lively festivals. South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, and its festivals reflect this diversity, celebrating everything from music and dance to food and heritage. 

Want to make sure your trip coincides with one of the festivals below? Speak to our local experts and get inspired by our South Africa itineraries.

Cape Town Pride Pageant (Late Feb)

Series of LGBTQ-themed events over a week, kicking off with a pageant at which Mr and Miss Cape Town are crowned, and taking in a bunch of parties and a street parade.

Dance Umbrella, Johannesburg (Early March)

The country’s leading contemporary dance festival showcases a variety of local dance forms.

Cape Town Carnival (Mid-March)

A Rio-style street extravaganza centred on Green Point’s Fan Walk, with floats, parades and general euphoria intended to celebrate Cape Town’s cultural diversity and richness.

Cape Fox cubs come up from the borrow to play in the sun in the Kgalagadi, South Africa © AdobeStock

Cape Fox cubs,  Kgalagadi, South Africa © AdobeStock

Cape Town International Jazz Festival (Late March)

Africa’s largest jazz festival attracts big stars like Courtney Pine, Herbie Hancock, and African greats such as Jimmy Dludlu, Moses Molelekwa, Youssou N’Dour, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.

Afrika Splashy Fen Music Festival Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal (Mid-April)

South Africa’s oldest music festival draws thousands of punters to a beautiful farm in the Drakensberg foothills, with a spread of mainstream and alternative rock and pop, trail running and glamping.

Pink Loerie Mardi Gras & Arts Festival Knysna, Garden Route (Late April)

Gay pride celebration of parties, contests, cabaret, drag shows and performance over a long weekend in South Africa’s oyster capital.

Franschhoek Literary Festival Franschhoek, Western Cape (Mid-May)

Three-day celebration of books, writers and wine in the Winelands food capital, featuring leading local and international writers, editors and cartoonists.

National Arts Festival Grahamstown, Eastern Cape (Early July)

Africa’s largest arts jamboree, with its own fringe festival – ten days of jazz, classical music, dance, cabaret and theatre spanning every conceivable type of performance.

Kirstenbosch National park in cape town, South Africa © Shutterstock

Kirstenbosch National park in cape town, South Africa © Shutterstock

Knysna Oyster Festival Knysna, Western Cape (Early July)

Ten days of carousing and oyster eating on the Garden Route, kicked off by the Knysna Cycle Tour and closed by the Knysna Forest Marathon.

Jive Cape Town Funny Festival, Cape Town (Early August)

Month-long comedy festival at the Baxter Theatre, beginning in mid-July and attracting both local and international names.

Arts Alive Johannesburg (September)

September is the best month to visit South Africa for culture, when Joburg’s largest arts event features a month of dance, theatre, poetry and music at venues in Newtown.

Hermanus Whale Festival Hermanus, Western Cape (Late September)

To coincide with peak whale-watching season, the town of Hermanus stages a weekend festival of arts and the environment.

Joy of Jazz Johannesburg (Late September)

Joburg’s flagship jazz festival offers three days of varied music, including big names such as Abdullah Ibrahim and Salif Keita.

Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival Franschhoek, Western Cape (Early December)

Popular two-day bacchanalia of bubbly sampling – a vast selection of local and French sparkling wine is on hand – and gourmandizing in the Cape Winelands.

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 20.05.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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