Seasonal Planning for South Africa Travel
Thanks to its varied geography and diverse ecosystems, South Africa is a great destination year-round, although fall and spring are the best seasons to visit. If you're coming from the Northern Hemisphere, keep in mind that due to its position south of the Equator, South Africa's winter falls between June and August, and the summer months are December to February. Any time of year is great to visit, but if you want to avoid the rain or crowds, it's best to plan your trip around the summer thunderstorms in the north and cloudy winter days in the south.
Both spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May) have predictable weather, with crisp nights and balmy days throughout the country. It's the best time to visit, with fewer crowds, lower prices, and active wildlife. During these seasons, the Cape Peninsula enjoys sunshine and warm weather with occasional showers. By visiting in the shoulder season, you'll avoid rain in the north near Johannesburg and Kruger, and you won't have to contest with crowds in the national park. Visit in the spring to see the wildflowers blooming in the normally-arid landscape and see the migrating whales, and in the fall, enjoy wine and changing leaves.
Cape Town is one of the most popular places to visit in South Africa, and most people visit between September and April (summer in the Southern Hemisphere). In the winter months (between April and September), Cape Town can get quite rainy and windy while the nearby Winelands are in their off-season garb—that is, without fruit on the vines. If you want to experience romantic evenings in the dusky vineyards and hazy hills, it's best to visit the Winelands in spring, summer, or fall, when the grapes are ripening. It's worth noting, however, that the summer months inland can get quite hot, while spring and fall have cool mornings and warm afternoons.
If you're planning a trip to Johannesburg or the surrounding savannah, visiting during the winter on a safari to Kruger National Park is a great option. These areas experience virtually no rainfall during the winter months, with fairly warm days and chilly nights. A bonus: the leaves are mostly gone, so it's easier to spot wildlife. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit the north thanks to predictable weather, but a trip in the summer (the busy season) means you'll get to see baby animals. Summer in the north sees much hotter temperatures and rainfall, usually in the form of afternoon or evening thunderstorms, so make sure to plan travel and outdoor adventures accordingly.
Spring in South Africa (September to November)
- Mild weather, with warming days and cool nights
- Together with autumn, this is peak season—ideal for travel
- Best time for whale watching near Hermanus
Spring is one of South Africa's shoulder seasons and arguably the best time to visit. You'll usually get good weather, plenty of options to keep the whole family entertained, lower prices, and more availability at hotels and restaurants. Visit during these months to take advantage of cool mornings and nights and warm, sunny days. If you're a fan of flowers, visit in September for the incredible blooms of the Northern Cape in early spring. Here, the usually arid landscape is transformed into a canvas of color as the blooms take hold. Namaqua National Park is one of the prime viewing spots, with a rainbow of flowers blanketing the ground.
Springtime is the best season for whale watching, with several species of whales—humpback, southern right whales, and Bryde's whales—all spending time near Hermanus, off the southern coast.
In Cape Town, it's perfect weather for hiking to the top of Table Mountain and enjoying the city's best restaurants without having to fight for your spot at a table. The weather can be a tad unpredictable, so it's advisable to pack something warm and a light waterproof, but you're unlikely to get rain for more than a day or two of your trip. The weather is nice enough to allow for a road trip along Route 62 and the Garden Route, with plenty of attractions—like wildlife refuges, Bloukran's Bridge (a hotspot for bungee jumping), and quirky towns—to keep your attention.
Just up the coast in iSimangaliso Wetland Park and adjacent regions of KwaZulu-Natal, sea turtles come ashore to the soft-sand beaches to lay their eggs. In November, Richards Bay and St. Lucia are great bases to see the spectacle. Spring is also one of the best times to go on safari in one of South Africa's many national parks or game reserves. The animals are more active, and the foliage less dense than in summer, but you won't have to contend with cold mornings. Several species of wildlife also have their young during these months, which means you might spot baby animals resting in the bush.
Events in Spring
Hermanus Whale Festival, Hermanus. Capetonians flood Hermanus in late September and revel in three days of music, street parades, arts, culinary treats, "eco-marine" exhibitions, and of course, whale watching activities. If you plan on staying, book your accommodations months in advance.
Royal Reed Dance Festival, Nongoma. This colorful four-day celebration at Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, is a rite of passage for thousands of young Zulu women who parade in traditional costumes.
Oktoberfest, Port Elizabeth. Pack your dirndl and lederhosen and head to Port Elizabeth for Africa's largest Oktoberfest, with all the frothy beer, oom-pah-pah music, and schnitzel and wurst you can handle.
Summer in South Africa (December to February)
- Hot weather throughout the entire country, with thunderstorms in the north
- Summer is peak season—book in advance, especially from December to January
- Pack for sunny beach days near Cape Town and prepare for rain near Kruger
Summer is one of the best times to visit South Africa, but it's also the busiest, with warm weather and sunny skies, but also local crowds (it's summer vacation for South African families) and higher prices, so plan ahead. In general, summer in the Cape Provinces is hot and dry, with crystal-clear skies and average temperatures near 75°F (24°C). The nearby Winelands offer afternoon picnics underneath the oak trees and lazy days spent exploring vineyards, and it's a great time to explore the Cape Peninsula. The water is still cold, though, so if you love beaches, you'll want to head north up the coast, where the water often hovers around 81°F (27°C).
It's an excellent time for a windows-down road trip on the popular Garden Route (one of South Africa's longest wine-tasting routes) or the quirky Route 62 (with plenty of fun stops like Ronnie's Sex Shop—in actuality, an eclectic restaurant). Summer in the north is the rainy season, with frequent afternoon thunderstorms and average temperatures of 77°F (25°C) in Johannesburg. If you don't mind wet weather, this can be an excellent opportunity to see Jo'burg and surrounding national parks as locals empty to the coast to take advantage of the fresh air on the water.
Game viewing in national parks and reserves is popular during summer, although the lush foliage makes it a bit harder to see wildlife. These months offer plenty of photo opportunities of baby animals—if you can spot them in the trees. Keep in mind that summer weather in Kruger can be oppressively hot and muggy, and sitting in an open-top game vehicle in the African sun can become tiring, especially for small children. Consider spending time in one of the country's smaller game reserves, like Phinda Private Game Reserve, Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve, or Gorah Elephant Camp, for a more intimate experience. It's not the best time to camp out, however, so book early to secure rooms at the lodges.
Summer on the nearby KwaZulu-Natal coast is also swelteringly humid, with dramatic summer thunderstorms. For those that can stand the heat, birding in the north is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as hundreds of migrating species flock to the wetlands and protected coastal areas. Summer is South Africa's main growing and farming season, with fresh produce, wine, and seafood readily available. Consider exploring the country through the medium of food on this 11-day food & wine itinerary.
Events in Summer
Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival. Held in early December on the lawns surrounding Franschhoek's iconic Huguenot Monument, this themed annual event is a highlight of the social calendar. Sample the best bubbly from wineries around the area, plus treats from Franschhoek's world-class restaurants.
Durban Jazz Festival. This one-day al fresco event is held each December 26 and features a line-up of top African jazz performers.
Re-enactment of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. Every January 21, local Zulu warriors and the Dundee Diehards re-enactment team in period military costume clash bloodlessly in commemoration of these same-day battles during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.
Fall in South Africa (March to May)
- An ideal time to visit, with mild weather in the Cape and beach days in Durban
- Visit the Winelands for cooler temps, autumn colors, and wine
- Goldilocks season in Kruger: sunny and cool, with good wildlife viewing and few crowds
As one of the shoulder seasons, autumn is an excellent option for visitors looking to escape the heat and beat the crowds. April and May make up the bulk of the season, with changing leaves, dryer days, and less chance of unexpected rainfall in the north. Kruger is just emerging from summer rains, and with fewer crowds in the park in March and April, it's an excellent time to score a deal to see the wildebeest, warthogs, and impala in the rutting season. Although you're less likely to see wildlife congregating in water holes like in the winter months, you'll catch the last of the migrating bird flocks before they depart for the season.
If you visit Kruger in May, you'll have better wildlife viewing, but you'll also have to contend with more crowds—consider less frequented locations, like Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park or Namaqua National Park, for a more remote experience.
Meanwhile, in the Cape Provinces, cloudy weather is rolling in, and you can expect afternoon thunderstorms and cooler weather. In March and early April, the weather is still dry enough to allow for afternoon hikes up to Table Mountain—be sure to check the weather before you go. Autumn in the Winelands is romantic, with great weather and little competition for dinner reservations. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are particularly beautiful, as the vines turn vibrant shades of red and orange against the mountains. It's a great time to visit and enjoy the end-of-season wines as you bask in the sunshine and take in the mountain views.
For some sun and sea, autumn is an ideal time to appreciate the KwaZulu-Natal coast without the crowds. Here, the water is warm enough for swimming year-round. Visit in April or May, and you'll find yourself comfortable in just a t-shirt after a morning dip in the Indian Ocean. Near the end of the season, the annual sardine migration attracts vast numbers of sharks and dolphins, making for fantastic scuba diving near Durban. Just inland from there in the Midlands district, the summer heat has faded, and it's a great time to visit the grand country houses and spa resorts in the region. And in the Drakensberg mountains, the moderate weather makes for great hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Check out this 16-day itinerary to enjoy a bit of everything: hike on Table Mountain in Cape Town, sample wine and cheese in Franschhoek, ride in a hot air balloon in Johannesburg, go on a wildlife safari in Kruger, and soak in the sun on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
Events in Fall
Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Outsdoorn. Held annually for the past decade, this celebration of Afrikaans culture features exhibitions, music, and theater and has a significant classical music component. Held in late March, it extends into April.
Cape Town Cycle Tour. Almost 50,000 cyclists from around the world converge for what is billed as the world's largest cycling event—the highlight of the nine-day Lifecycle Week. This celebration of all things cycling includes an Expo, a kid's race, a mountain bike challenge, plus the 68-mile (110-km) Cycle Tour race. The event draws tens of thousands of visitors, so make your reservations for accommodation early.
Zoo Lake Family Braai Picnic & Color Festival, Johannesburg. If there's one thing that South Africans do best, it's a braai (barbecue), and this festival is the biggest "bring and braai" picnic of all.
Winter in South Africa (June to August)
- Winter storms in the Cape Provinces, with cloudy days and cooler temps
- Dry and chilly in Kruger with vast animal herds gathering at water holes
- Ideal for whale watching near Hermanus
For safari lovers, winter is the perfect time for a trip to the national parks of South Africa. You'll be chilly on game drives in the evenings and early mornings, but the payoff is entirely worth it. Due to a lack of rainfall, the vegetation is usually quite sparse and dry, making it easier to spot wildlife. The cooler weather also means that the animals are generally more active than they are during summer, so you'll get to experience the animals in motion rather than taking a midday nap in the African sun. However, the great weather means that crowds are thick and prices are high, so plan to visit in early June or late July to avoid the annual mid-July school holiday rush.
Winter is prime time to enjoy whale watching around the Cape or Hermanus, as the whale migration season typically runs from June to November. Roads are crowded with visitors, so book ahead if you plan to stay on the coast. By contrast, winter is the quiet season in the Winelands, where you'll find it easier to get restaurant reservations in Franschoek.
Snow is an uncommon occurrence in South Africa, even in the middle of winter, though some areas receive snowfall every year. If you're dreaming of a snowy holiday, book a trip to Tiffindell, which offers skiing and snowboarding in June, July, and August. Lucky visitors might also wake up to a white blanket in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains in the winter. For those who don't mind a road trip, Sutherland is famed for its cold weather and remarkably clear skies. It's home to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), so if snow, stargazing, and hot chocolate sound like a good time, head here for a cozy getaway.
Those dreaming of a sunny beach getaway should take a trip to Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast, where the water is warm and the weather is sunny and dry.
If you're planning to stay around Cape Town in winter, you'll benefit from low rates and lots of availability. The downside is that it's likely to be quite cold and wet, with afternoons in museums and rare sunny days for hiking Table Mountain. For this reason, we'd suggest leaving the Western Cape for autumn, spring, or summer, if possible.
Events in Winter
National Arts Festival, Makhanda. Makhanda (Grahamstown), in Eastern Cape, hosts South Africa's largest arts festival, featuring genres from art to fringe theater. Performances take place in dozens of venues across town. Pack warm clothes—at almost 2,000 feet (600 m) elevation, Makhanda can get chilly.
Vodacom Durban. Part horse race, part fashion spectacular, South Africa's top sports event draww huge crowds to a social scene par excellence. Fashionistas and thoroughbreds strut their stuff at Durban's Greyville Racecourse. Book your accommodation in Durban well ahead.
Knysna Oyster Festival. Timed to the early July school holidays, this 10-day festival spans sporting events from cycling to running, plus cooking classes and competitions, wine and whiskey tastings, live music, and all the oysters you can eat.
When's the Best Time to Visit South Africa?
The shoulder seasons (fall and spring) are best, with low prices, smaller crowds, and good opportunities for a variety of nature-based activities, like safaris, whale watching, and surfing. Autumn (March to May) is a particularly lovely time to visit the Winelands, as the changing colors of the grapevines provide a romantic backdrop to your afternoon wine tasting. In the spring (September to November), the town of Hermanus transforms into one of the world's biggest whale watching capitals.
Summer (December to February) is a good time for road trips and sightseeing near Cape Town and on Route 62, while winter (June to August) is the perfect time to go on safari near Kruger—the mornings are crisp, and the wildlife is active.