South Africa is home to some of the world's biggest and oldest game reserves, with national parks such as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Kruger and renowned private reserves like Shamwari and the Tswalu-Kalahari. Safaris usually mean game drives, but there are more unique options: a hot air balloon over the Pilanesberg National Park, a light aircraft above Kruger National Park, or a cruise with hippos in Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Whether you are a budget backpacker, a romantic couple, a family of exuberant kids, a crazy adventurer, or a stressed-out executive, there is a safari for you.
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January is a great month to visit South Africa: it's right in the middle of the bone-dry summer, offering lovely weather in the Western Cape. However, this region—where southeasterly breezes and often gale-force winds take the edge off the heat—is at its busiest, while Kruger National Park is at its hottest and rainiest, making off-the-beaten-track venues so much more appealing.
February is considered one of the best months to visit South Africa, especially for northern hemisphere travelers escaping the cold winter snow. Although summer is in full swing, the crowds of peak season begin to thin at this time, and the strong winds that batter Cape Town and coastal zones in January give way to pleasingly cool sea breezes.
March is a fabulous time to visit South Africa as the country transitions into autumn, with warm weather and low rain nationwide. Those in the know consider this perhaps the best month overall. Kruger and the other major game parks will be green with fresh foliage, and there's room to spread out on Cape Town's beaches. And March also sees two of the country's biggest shindigs: the Klein-Karoo National Arts Festival and Cape Town Jazz Festival.
By late April, the crowds have disappeared, and fall is here, with warm, generally dry weather throughout South Africa. In the north, safari destinations like Kruger emerge from months of heavy rain while the summer season of Cape Town is winding down. It's an excellent month for a more extended tour that combines regions, balancing the dry weather of the safari areas with still-warm sunny days in the Cape.
Although the days are shortening, there's no doubt May is one of the best months to visit South Africa, especially if your main focus is a safari. While temperatures vary depending on the region, the mild weather will likely be pleasant, with sunshine and clear skies. Plus, you're not competing with summer crowds in most areas, except in the game parks, which are beginning to reach their prime.
Halfway through the year marks the start of safari peak season in South Africa's north, where the wildlife viewing is enhanced by less dense winter foliage and the concentration of game at waterholes. By contrast, this is the rainy midwinter "green season" in the Cape, with cooler temperatures, unpredictable rains, and even snow dusting the mountaintops. Read on for more of what to expect and do in South Africa in June.
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.
Spring in South Africa is in the air as wildflowers begin their spectacular blooms on the West Coast by August. Throughout Northern Cape, fluffy penguin chicks are hatching on beaches near Cape Town, whales can be seen close to shore, and wildlife visibility in the game parks is at its best. Plus, temperatures are starting to rise nationwide, while rainfall remains relatively low. All in all, August is a fantastic time to visit.
Spring is in the air. Temperatures are rising throughout the country, whale-watching is at its peak off the southern coast, and wildlife viewing is at a prime as many animals give birth. And September offers a last chance to admire the wildflower takeover of the Western and Northern Cape provinces. It's a good month to vacation anywhere in the country and a great time to combine regions.
October is an excellent month to visit South Africa as temperatures are nowhere extreme, the rains in the north have yet to arrive in force, and you can still take advantage of low shoulder season rates. On the West Coast, the spring flowers are still in bloom. And in the game parks, many animals are giving birth as new foliage springs up with the first rains.
With warm weather throughout the country and low off-season rates without the crowds, what's not to like about South Africa in November? Even the northern game parks are worthwhile, despite increasing rainfall and thickening vegetation that makes wildlife harder to spot. This is your last month to view whales and the perfect month to view nesting leatherback turtles. Plus, it's a great time for a Cape Town beach holiday before the crowds pack the sands.
December in South Africa is the busiest month of the year, peaking during Christmas and New Year when prices are highest, and Cape Town's hotels and beaches are at their most crowded. Still, the festive season spirit is reason enough to visit Cape Town, where the weather is hot and clear. And this is an excellent time to seek out more remote beaches, such as iSimangaliso, where it's nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles, and the birding is splendid.