July might be right in the heart of the chiller South African winter, but those who venture here during this month are in for some pleasant surprises. July is as good a time as any for a safari, pregnant female whales are giving birth close to shore off the Western Cape, the wildflower season is beginning, and snow in the mountains means skiing! Plus, South Africa hosts some cool shindigs, from film festivals to the nation’s top horse-racing event.

Weather

Mid-winter weather brings clear skies, mild days and cold nights that can fall below freezing in the high veld and northern game parks: you’ll need warm clothing for late afternoon and early morning game drives. Game viewing in the northern parks is fantastic, as the bush has thinned out and wildlife now concentrates at waterholes.

While it’s tempting to add Cape Town to your safari, the Western Cape is often clouded by rainswept skies in July, earning the Cape of Good Hope the mariners’ nickname, “Cape of Storms.” Beach-lovers should head north to KwaZulu-Natal, where the Indian Ocean coast basks in tropical winter sunshine—perfect for a safari-and-beach combo. The mercury averages around 55°F (13°C) in Cape Town, 51°F (11°C) in Johannesburg, and 75°F (24°C) Kruger, while the Drakensberg Mountains will likely be coated in snow.

Crowds & Costs

Accommodation in popular tourist areas is often booked solid during the mid-year school holiday break, which extends into mid-July. Prices are at a premium. However, many safari game lodges offer bargain rates once the mid-winter school break is over by the end of the month, so it’s best to delay your safari until then. And Cape Town prices are at their lowest, as the city is at its least crowded. Further east, whale-watching season is in full swing, the roads can be crowded, and you’d be wise to book accommodations well in advance if you plan on overnighting in Plettenberg Bay.

Where to Go

July in South Africa is synonymous with a northern game park safari. Summer rains are a distant memory. The skies are clear. Visibility is excellent. And with wildlife clustering around waterholes, the game viewing can’t be surpassed. Kruger National Park is correspondingly crowded, but becomes quieter when the schools go back in mid-July.

Consider a lesser-known reserve, such as Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park in KwaZulu-Natal, or—to the northwest—Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, bordering Namibia, or even nearby Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Only high-clearance 4WD vehicles can access the latter, where the stunning desert landscapes are brightened by spectacular wild flowers that bloom each July along the West Coast. August is the prime month for flower tours, so catch them now to avoid the crowds that descend on Ai-Ais Richtersveld and nearby Namaqua National Park by August.

Nature offers another July sensation along the coast east of Cape Town, as Southern Right whales gather in large numbers close to shore after their long migration from Antarctica. Plettenberg Bay is the best place to view them as the females give birth. En-route to Plettenberg, stop at Stony Point to view the African penguin colony close up. Warm clothing is recommended.

Don’t let the inclement winter weather put you off Cape Town. Do as Capetonians, and get cultural at the Two Oceans Aquarium and many cool museums. And for gourmands, this a perfect time for a food-and-wine holiday in the Cape Winelands, sampling its fruity red varietals at cozy fireside venues. Plus, it’s easier to find a table at Franschhoek’s famous and most popular restaurants, The exception is on the July 14, when the town celebrates its French roots with the Bastille Day Festival. Early July is best, before popular venues get crowded when the school winter holidays begin mid-month.

What to Do

After a de rigueur game safari in Kruger, take the plunge to get up close and personal with Great White sharks on a cage-drive in the Gansbaai area. You’ll need a thick wet suit before braving the chilly sea and for when the adrenaline rush wears off. No cage is needed for diving with tiger sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, and hammerheads drawn to feast on the sardine run off the KwaZulu-Natal coast in mid-winter, when water clarity is at its best.

Winter means snow in the mountains. And snow means snowboarding and skiing. So take a scenic road trip by 4WD to Tiffindell Ski Resort, on the slopes of Ben Macdhui mountain, near the Lesotho border. With only 6 acres (2.5 ha) and a drop of a mere 300 feet (90 m), South Africa’s only alpine ski resort isn’t quite Vail or Chamonix, and most years the snow is manufactured. But you’re sure to have fun.

Speaking of mountains, although July is Cape Town’s wettest and coldest month, when the sun shines head up Table Mountain for the views. But note that the Table Mountain Cableway closes in the second week of July for a six-week annual maintenance.

Events in July

Vodacom Durban. Part horse race, part fashion spectacular, South Africa’s top sports event is the equivalent of Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby—drawing 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.

Durban International Film Festival. Movie buffs can indulge in 12 days of thought-provoking films themed to African subjects. Held in late July, the festival includes workshops and talks by the filmmakers.

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 whisky tastings, live music, and all the oysters you can eat.

Traveling to South Africa in July? Check out these great itineraries.

Garden Route from Cape Town to Johannesburg: 21 Days. Hit many of South Africa’s winter highlights as you journey from the Cape Winelands via Knysna and the Wild Coast of Eastern Cape to the snow-clad Drakensberg Mountains and vibrant Jo’burg.

Explore South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg & Kruger Safari – 8 Days. Visit Table Mountain, Johannesburg and its Nelson Mandela Museum, plus thrill to Big Five sightings in Kruger National Park.

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