May is the first month of winter in South Africa and although generally warm by day and cool at night, can be quite wet and stormy in Cape Town and along the Garden Route. In the interior the nights get colder, chairs are getting pulled closer to the campfire, and warm clothing is necessary for game drives.
But this is also dry season in Kruger and the northern game parks, where daytime temperatures can still hit 77°F (25°C). Expect average temperatures of 68°F (20°C) Cape Town and Johannesburg, and 80°F (27°C) in Kruger. KwaZulu-Natal has a sub-tropical climate and remains warmer than southern regions during winter months. Snow is beginning to blanket higher mountains.
Crowds & Costs
May is a shoulder season month, when prices drop in Western Cape province, hotel availability increases, and traffic thins along the Garden Route and beyond. Although this is also the beginning of high season in Kruger and the northern game parks, most reserves don’t yet feel too busy and you may still be able to find accommodation at below peak season rates.
Where to Go
Having been soaked throughout summer, South Africa’s northern safari destinations are drying out quickly and large game is on the move in search of water; large elephant herds are especially mobile. Winter’s empty blue sky and the landscape are nearing optimum for wildlife sightings in the northern game parks as trees lose their leaves. Visitor numbers are increasing, especially in Kruger National Park. For a remote wilderness, head to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Namaqua National Park, and other lesser-visited reserves of Northern Cape. Plan a looping itinerary combining the semi-arid Klein Karoo via Sutherland, with the first sprinklings of snow now blanketing the surrounding mountains.
The Cape Winelands region is also at its most beautiful in May, when the weather is delightful and the vineyards are a blaze of flaming autumnal colors. From here, hit cruise control and head along the verdant, unspoiled Indian Ocean coastline for Eastern Cape: you can easily check off the Big Five in a variety of small private game reserves. Since this region is malaria-free, it’s especially appealing to families with children.
Further north, May is a great time to visit Durban and the beaches, from the Wild Coast to iSimangaliso. The summer humidity has receded. Days remain warm, with cool evenings. The sea is still warm enough for swimming. And the seaside resorts are uncrowded. There are plenty of cliff-top hotels and fabulous game lodges to stay at, and you can round out your adventure with activities from hiking to golf.
What to Do
The annual sardine run up the coast of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal is the marine equivalent of the Great Migration, creating a feeding frenzy for sharks and dolphins. Fly into Durban and go scuba diving or take a boat safari to get in on the action. Fishers can also experience world-class fishing along the Transkei coast during the sardine run. And diving with giant tiger sharks is at its prime in May in the Indian Ocean, with average sea temperatures around 77°F (24°C). From here you can take a road trip inland through Midlands—a foodie heaven—then head north to hike in the Drakensberg Mountains; dress warmly, as crystal-clear air is now invigoratingly chilly.
The adventure of the dry winter season is prime-time for hot-air ballooning. For the best experience, head to the northern provinces of Limpopo and Gauteng, where Magaliesberg and the Magalies River Valley are among the main venues. Choose wisely and you can fly silently over the private game reserves adjoining Kruger National Park. Combine with two or three days in Johannesburg and/or Pretoria, with their plethora of cultural venues.
Events in May
Groves & Vineyards Summer Festival. Gauteng hosts this weekend fair in late May. Every year the list of chefs, wine producers and music artistes that attend expands, guaranteeing a good time, whether you’re a foodie, wine lover or a lover of great music.
Zoo Lake Family Braai Picnic & Color Festival. If there’s one thing that South African do best, it’s a braai, and this festival at Zoo Lake City Park, Johannesburg, is the biggest “bring and braai” picnic of all.
Schulbasar. For more than a century, Johannesburg has hosted this celebration of South Africa’s German heritage. Held in late May, the epic festival traditional German food and beer, plus live stage performances.
Traveling to South Africa in May? Check out these great itineraries
Explore South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg & Kruger Safari – 9 Days. After touring Cape Town and the Winelands, head north to vibrant Johannesburg to explore Soweto and the Nelson Mandela Museum, then end with a sensational safari in Kruger.
Discover South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands, Johannesburg & Tswalu Kalahari – 13 Days: Visit four of South Africa’s iconic venues, including the Kalahari Desert after the blazing heat of summer subsides.