Mid-summer weather is delightful and warm, with regional variations. Cape Town has hot temperatures and warm seas and is dry, making it a great time to explore the Garden Route. Northern regions, including Kruger National Park and Kwazulu-Natal, are very hot and generally sunny, interspersed with heavy tropical rainstorms. Plan on averages of 70°F (21°C) in Cape Town and 68°F (20°C) in Johannesburg.
Crowds & Costs
This is the busiest month for visitors, as the long summer school vacation extends through mid-January. Although Cape Town and the main beach resorts of Western Cape can be crowded, South Africa is big enough to absorb the increased numbers, so consider destinations further afield. Prices reflect the popularity of the summer months, with hotel rates often doubling or tripling in mid-summer. Domestic flights are usually booked solid, so it's imperative to make your reservations well in advance.
Where to Go
If you're excited by the thought of a safari, note that Kruger can be oppressively hot and humid in mid-summer. Still, there's no wrong time for a safari. Kruger and the northern game parks transform into lush green oases with the summer rains. Although the dense undergrowth makes wildlife viewing harder, January is a predator's paradise as young summer-born animals abound, and birdwatching is at a prime. The muggy weather makes camping no joy at this time of year; however, book early to secure rooms at the lodges.
January is a great time to drive the Garden Route, and the southern game parks near Cape Town offer their best safari sightings in the dry summer months. Popular options include Addo Elephant National Park and Kwandwe Private Game Reserve.
History and culture buffs might set their sights on KwaZulu-Natal. In late January, a reenactment of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift commemorates these two seminal conflicts of the Anglo-Zulu War on January 22-23, 1879. And in Cape Town, the downtown streets are a riot of noise and color during the week-long Kaapse Klopse Festival, when troupes of costumed minstrels parade through the streets. The city and its famous beaches are at their most crowded, however.
What to Do
In Cape Town, southeasterly breezes are at their most forceful, often clearing the busy beaches and shrouding Table Mountain in fog. The Garden Route offers plenty of alternatives for sunning and hiking away from the crowds. Tiny, cliff-bound Victoria Bay offers safe swimming, and kids will love the tidal pools, while avid surfers are drawn to the big waves further out. Further east, Noetzie Beach, near Knysna, is a secluded gem accessed by an unpaved road and a flight of stairs. Hop into a kayak with Knysna Kayaking to paddle upriver or hike the trails through dense coastal forest along the Buffalo Hiking Trail.
Adrenalin junkies can take a leap of faith from the Bloukrans Bridge, east of Knysna. The world's highest bungee jump plunges 709 feet (216 m) into the Bloukrans River Gorge. Even the bravest of daredevils will feel their heart pounding. Inland of Cape Town, mild temperatures in the Langeberg Mountains entice hikers to the 6-day Swellendam Hiking Trail or shorter fare beyond Swellendam in the Marloth Nature Reserve and Boosmansbos Wilderness Area.
Events in January
Kaapse Klopse Festival, Cape Town. On January 2, Cape Town bursts into color when thousands of Cape Coloured minstrels parade through the streets playing jazz during the week-long Cape Town Minstrel Carnival.
Up the Creek Music Festival, Swellendam. Dozens of local and international artists please the crowds at Swellendam's 4-day, end-of-January festival. Attendance is limited to the first 2,500 ticket buyers.
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 to commemorate these same-day battles during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.
Traveling to South Africa in January? Check out this great itinerary
Cape Town & Garden Route – 8 Days. Enjoy a foodie and art tour in Cape Town, explore along the world-famous Garden Route, and sample the wines and gourmet cuisine of the Winelands.