Best time to visit South Africa

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When is the best time to visit South Africa?

The best time to travel to South Africa depends on which parts of the country you want to visit and your interests. The Cape has warm, dry weather in its summer months (November to February), for instance, but the prime whale-watching season is September and October. If you’re trying to decide when to go on safari in South Africa, the game-viewing conditions are excellent in the cooler winter months (May to September).

Here is our month-by-month guide to visiting South Africa. We look at detailed weather patterns and suggest how these might affect any sightseeing plans, getting around, outdoor activities, and festivals taking place throughout the year. All this will help you to work out when is the best time to visit South Africa.

Weather in South Africa

South Africa is on the whole a dry, sunny country. When it does get cold you feel it, since everything is geared to fine weather. Midwinter in the southern hemisphere is in June and July, when temperatures can drop below zero in some places. Be prepared for average minimums of 4°C in Johannesburg, 7°C in Cape Town and 11°C in Durban. At the other end of the spectrum, midsummer is during December and January, when the country shuts down for its annual holiday and popular coastal and inland resorts quickly fill up.

When considering when to go to South Africa, you need to take into account the country’s distinct climatic zones. In Cape Town and the Garden Route coastal belt, summers tend to be warm, mild and unpredictable. 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.

What is the rainy season in South Africa?

The rainy season in South Africa varies depending on location. 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 – the best time of year to visit South Africa for safari.

Best month to visit South Africa

The best month to visit South Africa depends on whether you’re heading west or the east. The west is wonderful in the summer months (November to April), while the eastern flank of the country is better suited to the cooler months (May to October).

The best time of year to visit South Africa is also influenced by your interests. The Garden Route is warm and dry from November to February, for instance, but prime whale-watching season is September and October.

November to February is when to go to South Africa for birdwatching in the north of the country, if you don’t mind occasional rain showers. Safari-goers are best travelling to South Africa in the cooler winter months (May to September), when game-viewing conditions are superb.

All things considered, September is the best month to travel to South Africa to experience a combination of all the country has to offer. It is still warm in much of the country, plus you have the highest chance of seeing breaching whales and wildlife with their young.

Visiting South Africa in winter

South Africa’s midsummer is December and January, when resorts in popular tourist destinations are often booked up months in advance. Reserve a room at least a few months before your travel dates, possibly more if you’re heading to Cape Town and the Garden Route.

Weather in South Africa in December — February

The hot, dry days make midsummer the best time to visit South Africa’s coast or national parks, but the downside is inflated prices and jam-packed accommodation. Be sure to book accommodation, tours and excursions early for December or January, especially if you’re staying over Christmas and the New Year.

With the exception of the festive holidays, December and January is a good time to explore Cape Town and the Garden Route, when the weather is warm and dry. The mercury rises in February along the Cape, though an ocean breeze cools the coast. It is also hot in Kruger and KwaZulu Natal, but sunny spells are often broken by tropical storms.

Visiting South Africa in spring

The Easter school holiday is an extremely busy period for tourism in South Africa, making it extremely hard to find any available rooms, and you can forget about bargains.

Weather in South Africa in March — May

March to May is usually warm and sunny in South Africa, and while you may have occasional showers in the Northern Cape, these tail off as the rainy season draws to a close.

March, at the end of the rainy season, can be a rewarding time to go on safari in Kruger as the bushveld will be lush and the rivers full. April is drier the length and breadth of the country, so you could perhaps combine a city break in Cape Town with wildlife adventures in the north. Chilly evenings creep in from May, though days remain warm and dry, and the summer hordes have usually dissipated.

Visiting South Africa in summer

June to August is the best time of year to visit South Africa for wildlife-watching. July is the start of the whale-spotting season, though the weather can be a dampener on your holiday – drizzly and cool.

It is warmer and drier to the north and east, and it is a good time to visit Kruger or Addo Elephant national parks to see herds gather around watering holes.

When August arrives in spring, wildflowers begin to blossom across the Western and Northern Capes, painting the dry, dusty landscape in bold colours.

August is also the beginning of the sports season, with the opportunity to potentially watch South Africa play an international football, cricket or rugby game on their home ground.

Weather in South Africa in June — August

Come June, the weather is becoming cooler in Cape Town and the Western Cape; however, the chill is mainly noticeable at night. When the sun is out, it is pleasant, though you may experience light misty rain.

Visiting South Africa in fall

September and October are the best months to visit South Africa for whale-watching, when the majestic mammals migrate from Antarctica to the warm waters off South Africa; the best spots are Hermanus and Plettenberg Bay.

The wildflowers are in full bloom by September; visit Namaqualand to see its vast arid expanses carpeted with bright flowers.

Cricket fans may like to try to catch South Africa compete in an international test or one-day series between October and March.

Weather in South Africa in September — November

September and October are on the whole sunny, with temperatures rising as the year goes on. November sees the start of the rain in the Kruger and KwaZulu Natal, often followed by spectacular afternoon thunderstorms. This is when to visit South Africa’s arid areas such as the Karoo, before the heat becomes unbearable.

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

The best time to visit South Africa to go on safari is the dry season, from May to October. The grass is low, visibility is better and the dry conditions mean you'll find more wildlife congregating around the watering holes. The temperatures are also much cooler than the sticky, hot summer. That said, the summer months (November to April) are often cheaper, the lush vegetation is spectacular, and baby animals can make an appearance.

Festivals in the South Africa

It can be rewarding to choose when to go to South Africa so that your visit falls on the date of one of its lively festivals. South Africa has no shortage of cool events, from annual music festivals to concert series in city parks. Although Johannesburg and Cape Town tend to monopolise the event programme, the country’s biggest cultural event – the National Arts Festival – takes place in the far-flung towns of Grahamstown.

Here are some festivals and events to consider when deciding when to visit South Africa:

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

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Rough Guides Editors
8/29/2020
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