A Little Secret About When to Visit South Africa
“When’s the best time to visit South Africa?” This question come up often, and our answer is always this: South Africa offers endless epic experiences year-round. No matter when you decide to go, it’s the perfect time for some kind of epic experience.
First thing to know: The southern hemisphere is seasonally opposite of North America.
So Spring (August to mid-October) is great for wildflower blooms and whale migrations. It's also an ideal weather for visiting multicultural Durban, in the north. Summer in South Africa (mid-October to mid-February) is magical if love to see baby animals —as most animals give birth at the start of the rainy season. Fall (mid-February to April) is perfect for visiting the Winelands when the weather is cooler, and the trees start to change color.
South Africa is a vast country, marked by several distinct ecosystems. There’s a mix of desert, tropical coastlines, temperate woodlands, and snow-capped mountains. Because of this, climates can vary, and unlike the rest of the African continent, there are seasonal distinctions beyond “rainy” and “dry.”
Rule of thumb? For generally good weather, the best time to visit South Africa is March through November. The days are still clear and warm, nights are cooler.
May through October is the southern hemisphere’s winter plus a short bit of spring. Typically, it’s the drier season and ideal for watching big game and other outdoor activities. While the mornings and nights are cool, most days are sunny and mild with clear blue skies and little to no rain except perhaps in the southwest. You can expect daytime temperatures of about 70 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 45.
October through April is South Africa’s summertime, considered a wet season, encompassing fall and summer. But rains in South Africa are often quick showers and unlikely to affect your trip. This is an excellent season for bird-watching. Many think this is the best weather overall, with daytime highs of about 82 degrees and nighttime lows of 60. December through February is very hot (the equivalent of summer for the Northern Hemisphere) and can be crowded since schools are on holiday.
Best time to go if you’re looking for big animals:
The most reliable time to go on safari is during the dry season. For most of the country, this means traveling during the southern hemisphere winter (May to October). Days are warm and clear, nights are cool. At this time of year, there is less foliage on the trees, making it easier to spot animals in the bush. The lack of available water draws wildlife to dams and waterholes, which is where you'll get some of your best sightings. Bonus: the nighttime chill keeps mosquitoes at bay.
But if you’re headed to game reserves near Cape Town, in the southernmost part of the country, summers are the driest time of year. Therefore, between November and March will have best safari sightings.
But not if you’re looking for animal babies …
Most animals are born at the start of the rainy season (mid-October to mid-February), when food is plentiful and life is relatively easy. If you want to see elephant calves covered in ginger fuzz or warthog piglets or playful lion and cheetah fur balls, this is the best time to go.
… or if you’re looking for migrating birds
For birders, the rules are reversed. Go during rainy seasons. The rains bring an influx of insects. They fills up the rivers and lakes, attracting a host of migratory birds from Europe and Asia.
The best time to visit Cape Town
Picturesque Cape Town is undoubtedly a year-round destination. Each season brings unique opportunities. But, if you want to make the most of the region's outdoor activities (a hike or ride up Table Mountain, perhaps) or the extensive beaches of the Cape Peninsula, the endless summer days of the hot, dry summer months (November to February) might be your best bet.
The best time to visit the Drakensberg
The Drakensberg is the name given to the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau. One of South Africa's top attractions, there’s something there for everyone in every season. For hikers, fall (April to May) is when you can expect warm, dry days and cool nights. At this time of year, the scenery is lush in the wake of the summer rains. But if you’re mountain-gazing, temperatures drop dramatically during the winter, and the peaks are covered in ice and snow. In summer, the range's many waterfalls are at their most spectacular.
The best time to head to the coast
South Africa’s coastlines stretch more than 1,770 miles from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast southward around the tip of Africa and then northeast to the border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean. As ocean lovers can attest, there is drama in every season.
For sun and surf, summer (November to January) is the hottest time of year. Whale-watching is best in winter and spring. June to October, humpbacks and southern right whales can be seen passing close to shore on their annual migration to the breeding grounds off Mozambique. Peak calving season is July and August.
The best time for wildflowers
Every year, the arrival of spring (August to mid-October) sparks the start of an incredible natural phenomenon in the Northern Cape, the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. Almost overnight, arid desert landscapes are transformed into a riot of color by the simultaneous blooming of 3,500 wildflower species: seas of orange, pink, purple, yellow, and white. Rains dictate the blooms, which usually start in the north in late July or early August and move slowly south until they fade in September.
Explore South Africa’s culture through cuisine. More information about Access Culinary Trips’ 9-day trip to South Africa.