Best time to visit South Africa
When to go to South Africa
Visiting South Africa in January
The hot, dry weather makes January an ideal time to visit Cape Town. Arrive early in the month for the all-singing, all-dancing Kaapse klopse at the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. This annual celebration sees thousands of performers parade through the streets in vibrant costumes to the sound of brass and banjo. Join dandies with brollies and minstrels in make-up for a New Year celebration like no other.
The colourful fashion is only marginally toned down for South Africa’s most prestigious horse racing event. The Sun Met in Cape Town is held in late January, and frequented by the country’s rich and famous. Rub shoulders in the summer sun with chic attendees whilst stallions gallop around Kenilworth Racecourse.
Make the most of that same summer sun with a stroll through award-winning Kirstenbosch. A floral idyll at the foot of Table Mountain, the botanical garden is a draw for culture lovers as well as nature lovers, thanks to its summer schedule of live music.
In the evening, sip a cocktail as the sun dips behind the horizon from the plateau of Signal Hill. A hike or drive up this Cape Town landmark promises broad vistas of the Mother City, Table Mountain and the deep blue of the Atlantic.
Read more about the best things to do in Cape Town during January.
Visiting South Africa in February
February’s warmth and humidity makes this the perfect time for birders to dust off their binoculars. You’ll see birds both great and small throughout South Africa, though species-rich Kruger National Park is a good choice of destination. Spot lilac-breasted roller perched on swaying branches, crowned eagle soaring overhead and saddle-billed stork spearing fish between their feet.
Though birds are a common sight, it’s rare to see prawn and horse side by side. The Cape Town Prawn Festival at Kenilworth Racecourse has made it an annual tradition, however. Place your bets as jockey and steed vie for the top spot during several high-octane horse races. Meanwhile, sample fresh Cape Town crustaceans, served hot and spicy or mild and buttery.
For an elaborate exit from Cape Town, board the Blue Train. The scenic railway journey spans the 1,600 kilometres between the Mother City and Pretoria. Watch the landscape of South Africa roll by from the luxury of its vintage interior, complete with dining carriage and elegant suites. A candlelit dinner on the Blue Train is a Valentine’s Day gift to remember.
Read our blog article about the five coolest places to stay in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa in March
The afternoon rains are waning, but the temperature still averages around 25 degrees. Wine harvesting in the Southern Hemisphere takes place between February and April, so this is an ideal time to visit the Cape Winelands.
For an immersive experience, stay over at one of the region’s vineyards. Babylonstoren offers comfortable accommodation set among a tranquil, fruit-filled garden. Children will love the resident farmyard animals, too.
Or, for a whistle-stop tour, the Franschhoek Wine Tram rattles along multiple routes, stopping off at renowned vineyards along the way. Wind slowly through the Franschhoek valley, surrounded by sun-drenched meadows and mountain vistas. After alighting from the hop-on tram, sample everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Noir. If beer is more your tipple, micro-breweries have been springing up throughout the country, such as Tuk-tuk in Franschhoek which offers seasonal craft brews by the pint.
Whilst you’re in wine country, a visit to Stellenbosch is a must. Join a Foodies on Foot tour to sample the superb local produce; enjoy exquisite coffee, ice cream, cheese, fresh bread and wine, stopping off at artisanal shops along the way.
Find out more about grape harvesting season in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa in April
The tail end of the rainy season sees temperatures in the comfortable 20s. There’s also less risk of a downpour during an afternoon outing than earlier in the year.
Take advantage of the Easter break with a family safari at one of South Africa’s malaria-free nature reserves. Shamwari in the Eastern Cape features several accommodation options, ranging from explorer tents to family-friendly lodges. Visit the Born Free Big Cat Centres on-site to meet rescued lions and leopards, and discover the conservation efforts keeping Africa’s beloved big cats alive.
Combine a trip to Madikwe and Waterberg to improve your chances of spotting the Big Five. With luxury cliff-side lodges overlooking a waterhole popular with wildlife, Ant’s Hill is the perfect retreat in mountainous Waterberg. While here, saddle up for a horseback safari, suitable for all ages and riding levels. The Sesotho word for family translates as Lelapa, and the Madikwe Lelapa Lodge’s spacious, warm suites put family at the centre of a visit to Madikwe Game Reserve. It’s one of the few places in South Africa where you can catch a glimpse of the endangered African wild dog.
You can find out more about planning a family holiday to South Africa on our blog.
Visiting South Africa in May
May is the beginning of the dry season, meaning clearer skies and cooler weather. For an unforgettable road trip, hit Route 62, the scenic alternative to the N2 highway. Stretching coast-to-coast between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the route takes you past towering mountains, through verdant vineyards and rich ochre-hued scrubland.
Many of the towns dotted along the way are worth a visit. Following a northerly detour, wrap up warm in the town of Sutherland for a breath-taking view of the stars. The skies here are famous for their clarity, which is why the South African Astronomical Observatory was established nearby. Peer up at the same twinkling night sky the Khoisan would have mythologised many thousands of years ago.
Further east along Route 62 lies Oudsthoorn in Little Karoo, dubbed the ostrich capital of the world after its farms full of the big bird. From Oudsthoorn, drive up to the Cango Caves in the Swartberg Mountains, Africa’s largest show cave system. Wander under dangling stalactites, surrounded by fascinating limestone formations with the appearance of melted candlewax.
Southeast of Oudsthoorn, towards the Indian Ocean, is the Western Cape town of Knysna. Each May since 2001, Knysna has hosted the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival. Taking its cue from European Pride, the event is a flamboyant celebration of South Africa’s gay community, with a carnival drawing crowds from across the country. As well as a parade full of music and dance, there are talks and fundraisers supporting local charities. It’s a great time to experience the hospitality of Knysna’s people – and the perfect excuse for a party.
You can read about some of South Africa's community and conservation projects in our blog.
Visiting South Africa in June
In June, the weather cools as South Africa's winter takes hold. The sparser foliage means wildlife has fewer places to hide, so it’s an ideal time for a walking safari.
Hike the bush trails at Marakele National Park, a Big Five reserve in the Waterberg. Spot herds of elephant navigating thickets, kudu glancing from the grasslands and Cape vulture scouting overhead. Perched on the mountainside within the park, Marataba Trails is a luxury lodge with a view. Every part of this solar-powered retreat was built to reflect the beautiful wilderness surrounding it, making it an ideal eco-friendly base from which to explore Marakele.
Spreading across Mpumalanga and Limpopo, Kruger National Park is South Africa’s best-known game reserve and one of the continent’s largest. The park boasts more mammal species than any other in the country, with each of the Big Five calling it home. In the Sabi Sand of Kruger, walk between the five-star lodges of Savanna and Dulini through the bushveld, guided by an experienced tracker, keeping an eye out for the elusive cheetah.
For a hike with height, Drakensberg is perfect. Forming the border of Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, the Drakensberg escarpment stretches almost 1,000 kilometres and features gorgeous mountain passes. While staying at Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, tucked away in the Kamberg Valley, head out with your walking boots tied tight to experience the beauty of this region. Aside from ambling at dizzying altitude, cast a line to fish trout, ride the trails on horseback or hop in a helicopter for a bird’s-eye view of this magnificent massif.
If you're ready to embark on your own two-footed adventure, read our guide to the best walking safaris in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa in July
July is typified by dry weather, plenty of sun and cool, comfortable temperatures. Between the end of June and early July, visit the former goldrush town of Knysna in the Western Cape for the annual Knysna Oyster Festival. The harbourside locale welcomes revellers from across the region for 10 days of fun. Sample fresh oysters served every way, attend concerts ranging from live music to comedy, and cheer on athletes competing in the Maserati BIG5 Challenge.
Grahamstown’s contemporaneous National Arts Festival is a vibrant celebration of creativity that has been running annually for decades. Enjoy one of the biggest arts festivals in Africa, featuring a line-up of music, drama and dance. Don’t miss out on the eclectic fringe events, either.
Click here to read our blog - 'A foodie's guide to South Africa'.
Visiting South Africa in August
August marks the beginning of South Africa’s springtime. Temperatures around the cape are a little chilly, but colourful carpets of wildflowers come into bloom as winter recedes.
To make the most of the spring bloom, visit Namaqualand National Park in the far north-west of South Africa. The area is famous for the beautiful blankets of wild flowers that vivify its arid plains. Close to 4,000 flower species erupt through the soil of the Succulent Karoo in a riot of violet, sunshine yellow and magnolia. Tucked in the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains, Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve is in a prime location to enjoy this spectacle. From one of its unique lodges, undertake nature drives and guided walks through this unusual landscape. Whilst the flowers are best appreciated in the daylight, venture out for a night-time drive to experience the region’s nocturnal wildlife. Spot aardwolf, porcupine and bat-eared fox as they emerge under the cover of darkness.
Click here to read our blog 'South Africa in spring: wildflowers and whale watching'.
Visiting South Africa in September
Whale migrate to South African waters from June onward to breed and raise calves, staying until as late as December. Thirty seven species of whale and dolphin swim in the surrounding ocean, including the southern right whale, which rallies north from the chill of Antarctica. Witness these magnificent marine mammals by land, sea or air, keeping an eye out for blowing, lobtailing, spy-hopping and breaching.
Time your visit to coincide with the Hermanus Whale Festival, held annually at the end of September in the Western Cape town of Hermanus. A celebration of aquatic wildlife, the event has an eco-tourism angle, promoting environmental protection and animal conservation. Enjoy the lively Saturday street parade, the interactive marine tent and the fascinating talks about oceanic critters from penguin to shark. There’s a treasure hunt as well as entertainment in the market square to keep the kids keen.
Take a break from watching the water and head inland along the Hermanus Wine Route. Beginning in Saandbai, follow the R320 through swathes of rural Overberg, replete with verdant vineyards, arriving in the idyllic Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Aside from opportunities to sample the delicious, local tipples, the valley boasts gourmet restaurants, hiking routes, colourful gardens and mountain bike trails.
Click here for more information on whale watching in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa in October
It’s springtime in South Africa and the fynbos is blooming. It’s also the end of the dry season, so both the mercury and the likelihood of showers are rising.
Take advantage of the October half-term with a journey along the Otter Trail, one of the most popular hiking paths on the Garden Route. Beginning at the Storms River mouth, skirt the striking Tsitsikamma National Park coastline, renowned for its rugged mountains, moss-green forests and sparkling rivers. Keep watch for Cape clawless otter, which feed off crab, octopus, fish and frog. You may also spot the vivid red bills of African black oystercatcher and the tentative steps of the Knysna dwarf chameleon. You can tackle a portion of the trail in a day, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, undertake the entirety of its 41 kilometres over five days.
While you’re in Tsitsikamma, set your pulse racing. Bungy jump from the 216-metre high Bloukrans Bridge, navigate the Storms River mouth by kayak, tube along blackwater tributaries or quadbike through dense forest. The rugged, natural beauty of this coastal region lends itself to high-octane fun.
There are many ways to tailor a trip to the Garden Route to suit your particular interests. Click here to read our blog.
Visiting South Africa in November
The wet season has begun, promising heat, humidity and afternoon showers.
Visit South Africa’s largest city and financial hub, the effervescent Johannesburg. With its colourful townships, trendy suburbs and tumultuous history, Jo’burg offers a multifaceted view of the country. The Apartheid Museum in the centre of the city provides an essential insight into the institutionalised segregation that marred South Africa post-independence. Take a tour of Soweto, by foot, by bicycle or by quadbike, making sure to stop off at the Nelson Mandela National Museum, Madiba’s former home. Travel a little beyond the sprawl of township houses to the Orlando Power Station. The station’s decommissioned cooling towers, adorned with vibrant murals, are a local landmark that can be climbed up, bungeed off or jumped into.
For an unforgettable tour of the Western Cape, hop in a motorcycle side-car and hit the road. Side-car tours can last two hours or a whole day, depending on how far you want to travel and how much you want to see. Rumble through Cape Town’s inner city, past its harbour and beaches, around the mountainside of Chapman’s Peak and beyond. Biker’s jacket and bandana provided, of course.
For alternative ways to see Cape Town, click here to read our blog.
Visiting South Africa in December
It’s summer and the wet season is in full swing, so expect occasional afternoon downpours, especially in the north.
Not in Cape Town, though. The city’s unique climate means it’s driest in the summer, as well as warm, making it a popular destination at this time of year. Ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in the early evening to enjoy a spectacular sunset. The famous landmark dominates Cape Town’s horizon, its peak offering vistas of the city below and ocean beyond. Alternatively, shun the car and don your walking boots to hike up one of the trails to the mountain’s two-mile wide plateau. Venture further into the Cape of Good Hope to spot troops of Chacma baboon bounding across grassland, as well as endangered African penguin waddling along Boulders Beach.
For the best ways to see Table Mountain, click here to read our blog.
- Holiday ideas
- Holiday ideas
The rock art sites at Bushmans Kloof have been described as the 'The World's largest open-air gallery'. Seven luxury rooms, six deluxe rooms and three suites all have private terraces with spectacular mountain and river views
Experience spectacular views from the Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge's viewing decks. Set along the lush green banks of the river after which it is named, every aspect of the lodge is designed to amplify the endless landscape
Located on the highest crest along the magnificent Helshoogte Mountain Pass linking the Cape's two leading wine districts, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Delaire Graff Estate combines understated elegance with state-of-the-art design
Nestled within a 30-acre private wine and olive estate in the Franschhoek Valley, La Residence is conveniently located just forty-five minutes' drive from Cape Town and offers 11 individually-furnished suites and five Vineyard Suitesbedroomed Vineyard Suites
Located in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve adjacent to the world renowned Kruger National Park is Dulini River Lodge boasting access to a vibrant conservation area of over two million hectares in which lie the 'big five' and in particular the elusive leopard
Our favourite photos of South Africa
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