South Africa

A Monthly Guide

A Month by Month Guide to South Africa

South Africa stands out as one of the most popular travel destinations in Africa, not just because of the variety of experiences on offer and the quality of places to stay, but because it is a genuine year-round destination, with varying climates across the country meaning there is something for everyone throughout the year.

Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate sees it enjoy hot summers whilst the winters can be amazing as well with some lovely warm and clear days. Safaris are possible throughout the year and the cooler conditions of Austral winter between May and September is perfect for adventure activities, especially hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains or relaxing on the remote beaches of the Indian Ocean coastline. Being such a vast country with so many considerations of where and when to go, the below guide is by no means definitive, but a useful signpost as to what is happening around the country as you move from month to month.

January

One of the most popular months to be in South Africa, a legacy of the Christmas and New Year period, the Western Cape, especially Cape Town, The Winelands and coastal areas are incredibly popular in the first half of January, but do become quieter as the month draws on.

The weather here is excellent with warm, clear days and plenty going on. Equally, The Garden Route is superb to visit at this time of year and the private game reserves of the Eastern Cape offer some of the country’s best wildlife viewing at this time owing to the absence of rain. Safaris in the Kruger region are popular at this time, but rainfall can be heavy across the north of the country, so this is worth bearing in mind. Equally, the KwaZulu-Natal area is very hot and stormy at this time and whilst trips are possible, it isn’t the ideal time to visit.

After a lull in visitor numbers towards the end of January, the popular season for being in South Africa, especially the Western and Eastern Capes, returns in full force with visitors escaping the northern hemisphere winter to enjoy the amazing weather that this part of the world enjoys.

Alfresco dining, long sunny days and superb safaris are the order of the day across the region and are a reason why South Africa is so popular. Further north the rains are at their highest, so whilst lodges remain open, it isn’t the ideal time to be on safari in areas such as Madikwe and the Kruger. Likewise, KwaZulu-Natal gets very hot and rainy at this time of year, so it isn’t a great time to be there when the focus is on exploring outdoors, often on foot.

Visitors looking for something a little different should consider one of the luxury trains – Rovos Rail or The Blue Train – which take you through the interior of South Africa where the landscapes are transformed by the summer rains.

Summer continues in full swing across the country with the coastal areas remaining ever-popular and Cape Town continues to show off with long sunny days and a laid back feel to proceedings, as do The Winelands. Further north the rains are starting to subside and make safaris in this area a more viable option, especially in the stunning Tswalu Kalahari Reserve where the usually dry red desert floor is transformed into a sea of lush green grasses thanks to the summer rains.

With black-maned Kalahari lion, rhino and meerkat amongst the headline species here it is a truly remarkable part of the country and well worth considering as a safari destination.

Visitors to the KwaZulu-Natal area will enjoy a drop in temperatures and rainfall, but it still remains lovely and warm so plenty of time to soak up the sunshine as well as to explore.

Easter brings a noted change to the weather across South Africa, with the Western and Eastern Capes starting to become much cooler and rains a more frequent feature.

They remain popular destinations to visit, especially during the holiday season, but visitor numbers drop off notably after this. Conversely, it becomes an increasingly popular time to head further east and north, with the weather becoming ideal for exploring the Natal Midlands, Drakensberg Mountains and Battlefields areas of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the excellent game reserves which are a hugely underrated feature of the region.

Some rain can persist in the Kruger and Madikwe regions, but it is an excellent time of year to be on safari in both and for those with the time and inclination, they work really well in combination, offering two very contrasting and complementary safari experiences.

Winter seems to arrive rapidly in the Cape region, with the trees losing their leaves offering a very serene feel to proceedings, especially in the genteel surroundings of the Cape Town suburb of Constantia and historic Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands.

The whole area remains viable to visit, especially as prices can drop considerably and top hotels start to offer free nights, but it should be noted the weather isn’t as reliable as what you would experience at the start of the year.

The Garden Route does start to somewhat shut down for the winter, with many restaurants and experiences closing for a few months, so adventure seekers should continue looking east towards KwaZulu-Natal which really comes in to its own in the cool, dry winters they experience there.

Safaris in the Kruger and Madikwe regions are approaching their very best, although early mornings and late afternoons/evenings can be very cold, so it is worth wrapping up warmly for your game drives.

As winter continues to exert its grip on the Western Cape visitor numbers drop to their lowest level. That said, there can still be some lovely warm and clear days at this time of year which, combined with the low prices of hotels and flights can make it an attractive time of year to visit, especially if you are looking to avoid the crowds.

Further along the coastline, much of The Garden Route shuts down for a winter break, so it is best avoided, as are the game reserves of the Eastern Cape which receive the bulk of their rain over the coming months.

Moving further east and north, it starts to become the perfect time to explore The Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, with interested visitors able to head out for longer day trips to more remote and obscure areas to learn the fascinating tales of the Zulu and Boer Wars.

The conditions for safari in the north of the country are starting to approach their peak, with cool and dry days meaning wildlife stays out in the open much longer and is easier to spot thanks to the sparse vegetation.

We have reached the middle of winter now and whilst life continues to run at a slow pace across the Western Cape, an influx of visitors is often seen thanks to safari goers from the rest of Africa taking advantage of their proximity to spend some time exploring Cape Town.

Restaurant choices can be somewhat more limited at this time of year, so it is worth a little more forward planning, but it can still be a great time to visit. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape safari areas continue to be limited in their offering, but prices are at their very lowest.

The KwaZulu-Natal coastline is especially appealing at this time of year, with warm and dry days offering the chance to relax and soak up the sunshine – often best-enjoyed in combination with a safari in one of the area’s excellent private game reserves.

Safaris further north continue to delight visitors with the variety and abundance of wildlife that they offer and train trips through South Africa offer a step back in time to enjoy a true luxury experience.

Visitors continue to combine Cape Town with safaris across South Africa and further afield within Africa, so it remains a busy time to be there, albeit with a very slow pace to life and many restaurants remain closed. Further along the coastline at Hermanus the first whales of the season are starting to arrive in Walker Bay and the popularity of the region soars thanks to this.

Added to this is the blooming of thousands of acres of spring flowers in the Namaqualand region to the north of Cape Town, which is ideally combined with some time in the breathtaking Cederberg Mountains area where a wealth of outdoor activities can be enjoyed.

KwaZulu-Natal continues to come into its own, with the snow-capped peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains offering a dramatic backdrop to drives and walks through the region.

Safaris in the north and Kruger regions are now at their very best and most popular, so it is worth booking early to get space at specific lodges, especially in the world-renowned Sabi Sand Wildtuin where the most popular lodges sell out a year or more in advance. Tswalu Kalahari Reserve remains an excellent choice for those looking to experience the extraordinary desert landscape at their dry and clear best.

Often ignored by many visitors as an extension of winter, September is a hugely rewarding month to visit South Africa and one of our favourite times to be there. The weather in Cape Town and The Winelands is rapidly improving making it a great time to be out and about exploring with the coastline at its best and whale sightings plentiful.

The Garden Route starts to become a viable option again and it is a superb time of year for coastal walks, whilst the rising temperatures and decrease in rainfall makes it a great time to start exploring the game reserves of the Eastern Cape once more.

KwaZulu-Natal remains a shining star of where to go in South Africa, albeit with rising temperatures and the increased risk of thunder and rain as summer starts to arrive. The Kruger region continues to be at its best, with as with areas further to the south the rising temperatures bringing a higher chance of afternoon rains, with the same being true in Madikwe and Tswalu. Trains continue to be a great choice for exploring the dramatic interior of the country.

Summer is very much on its way now, with temperatures continuing to rise across the Cape region and visitors flocking back to enjoy the outdoor charms of Cape Town as well as The Winelands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Whale sightings in Walker Bay, both from land and the boats that take visitors up close to these gentle giants of the ocean remain outstanding, complemented by the warm weather which the region enjoys. Trips to The Garden Route are now in full swing again, as are safaris to the Eastern Cape which continues to revel in warm and dry days – ideal for game viewing.

The summer rains are starting to become more regular around the Drakensberg Mountains which run all the way to the southern tip of the Kruger National Park, so whilst these areas are still very popular to visit it should be noted that safaris especially can be wet. Madikwe remains a superb option at this time of year, especially for families looking to enjoy wildlife viewing in a malaria-free environment.

Despite summer now being in full swing, November is often a quieter month in South Africa, with many visitors choosing to wait until the Christmas period to head down there. This makes it a great time to enjoy optimum weather conditions but without the crowds of peak summer.

Enjoy al-fresco dining in Cape Town, lazy lunches amongst the vines of some of the country’s finest wine estates and plenty of opportunities to see the last of the whales migrating around the Cape of Good Hope.

Whilst visitors to KwaZulu-Natal will experience plenty of rain and hot days, it is the start of the turtle nesting season on the beaches that lead up to the Mozambique border – a great reason to spend some time in this part of the country as you get to experience one of Africa’s most fascinating wildlife phenomena.

Rain is now a more regular occurrence in the Kruger region as well, but it shouldn’t put you off going there, with vehicles adding canopies to keep the rain off and ponchos provided to keep the worst of the rain off guests. Likewise, rain is starting to return to Madikwe as well, but thanks to this being a desert environment, they are less frequent and tend to take the form of spectacular afternoon storms.

Much like November in terms of temperature and rainfall, December is regarded as the peak of the South African summer and is a great time to visit.

The month is split into two distinct parts when it comes to visitor numbers – the first half tends to be very quiet, with far fewer tourists than one would expect, which makes it a great time to go for good weather and ambience but without the crowds.
The second half becomes incredibly busy, with both locals and international tourists flocking to Cape Town, The Winelands, Hermanus, The Garden Route and The Kruger in particular. Indeed, such are the popularity of these areas that we recommend booking trips over the Christmas and New Year period a year or more in advance to ensure you can find space in your preferred places to stay.

There is something innately magical about Christmas in Africa and South Africa is no exception, with hotels and lodges decorating, putting up Christmas trees and cooking festive meals to celebrate the season.

Perhaps more than any other African country, South Africa has plenty of considerations to make when it comes to choosing what time of year to travel. Naturally, some areas have distinct advantages over others at certain times of year, but one of its great strengths as a destination is that there is something for everyone no matter what time of year you choose to travel.

Safaris can be enjoyed throughout the year, as can the beautiful beaches, adventure activities and the cosmopolitan cities for which it is becoming increasingly well known. Our team of expert Africa Travel Designers know South Africa as well as anyone and are on hand to guide you through the best time of year to visit and create your perfect trip.

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