When is the best time to visit South Africa? We break it down month by month.
Wondering when the best time to visit South Africa is? South Africa couldn’t be more varied. First of all, it’s in the southern hemisphere – the land of opposites where Christmas is warm and July is cold. But not all of the country is exactly the same. The coastal areas are cool, the desert areas are, um, deserts, and there are some humid, subtropical parts.
The Indian Ocean may be suitable for swimming and surfing all year round, but the Atlantic gets super cold. And here in South Africa it even snows sometimes! So if you’re trying to figure out the best time to visit South Africa, stop right there; we’ve done the hard work for you with a handy month-by-month guide.
When is the Best Time To Visit South Africa?
Weather in South Africa in January
Unlike the northern hemisphere, where January means deep winter, in South Africa, the first month of the year is warm. Expect Western Cape to be hot and dry, making it a great time of year to be embarking on a road trip along the Garden Route.
The average temperature across the country hovers around 18°C, with about 12 hours of sunshine a day. Things are still warm, there’s a lot of sunshine, and the sea is still pleasant, which is good – surfers won’t need to worry about putting on a wetsuit yet. It’s one of the best times to visit Cape Town.
Johannesburg has hotter averages – 21°C here. More subtropical areas in the north (which includes the city of Durban) see wetter weather this time of year.
Weather in South Africa in February
February is the hottest time of the year in the Cape. The Kalahari Desert is also hottest at this time of year (obviously), as is Kruger National Park. Durban is pretty sweltering. Most places, actually, are pushing the mercury up.
The average temperature for Cape Town is 23°C, but don’t be fooled; it can still get seriously hot, and it’s best to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.
If you want something cooler, heading to the coast will yield refreshing sea breezes with plenty of sunshine, too. The average rainfall during February is 14mm, which isn’t a lot at all; expect more rain to fall in the northeast.
The Atlantic is a pleasant 21°C – good for swimming.
Weather in South Africa in March
There’s still a lot of warm weather going on in South Africa in March, but it’s cooler in general than the previous two months. March is the last of the summer months in South Africa. The sun is still out, for sure, and average temperatures in Cape Town sit at around 21°C.
Rain falls in the north. Kruger is just inching out of its rainy season, which means the rivers will be raging at this time of year.
In Johannesburg, evening temperatures start to drop to around 14°C. Crowds (of tourists) across the country won’t be as much of a thing as they have been. Sea temperatures start to dip.
March also sees an increase in rain, with an average of six rainy days in the month. Luckily, there’s still a ton of sun.
Weather in South Africa in April
Fall is just around the corner… but it’s not here yet! Meaning it’s still a fantastic time to go to South Africa.
The whole country is basically starting to cool down, and rainfall is increasing. But fall here won’t be like it is where you’re from (probably, anyway); Cape Town, for example, has more of a Mediterranean climate. The average temperature in South Africa is 18°C, so it’s definitely not freezing.
In the evening, however, the average temperature drops to 12°C. Bring layers.
The seas are still fairly warm, which means surfing is still very much an option. If you love surfing, the temperature (19°C) won’t be anywhere near to stopping you.
It’s a great time of year for sightseeing and birdwatching; KwaZulu-Natal Midlands this time of year is pretty nice.
Weather in South Africa in May
Things are pretty varied across South Africa in May. Cape Town, for example, sees one of the coldest months of the year, with fall definitely setting in. The average daytime temperature is 16°C; it’s pretty overcast, and the nights are verging on chilly, at 10°C. Half the month, it’s pretty rainy, too.
Elsewhere, it’s different. The north is warmer; the Kalahari and Kruger National Park both experience average temperatures in the low-to-mid-20s. Humidity isn’t too high yet, so these temperatures won’t be unpleasant at all.
Surfing this time of year definitely means a wetsuit – the sea is starting to get cold. The Indian Ocean, however, is decent for swimming year-round.
Weather in South Africa in June
June is wet season in the subtropical zones in the north of South Africa. The desert areas – Kalahari, for example – are dry and hot, and good for wildlife spotting.
The highest temperatures in the country can push above 30°C, while Cape Town sees temperatures of 18°C and Joburg is at a mere 12°C.
June is a winter month and the second-most rainy month of the year. This isn’t the time of year for hanging out on the beach at Camps Bay.
Along the Western Cape, this is the start of whale watching season, however. Some mountains get snow this time of year, making it a good time for skiing too.
The Cape Winelands becomes a more and more attractive prospect at this time of year (if you like cozy fireplaces and drinking wine!).
Weather in South Africa in July
This month gets pretty chilly. It’s one of the coldest, rainiest times of year to be visiting Cape Town, but is also – on average – the rainiest month of the year across the whole country.
It doesn’t stop there: mountain towns dotted at high elevations above Cape Town begin to see a sprinkling of snow.
Depending on what part of the country you’re visiting, you’ll either get a lot of rain or warm humidity. July in Kruger National Park is a rounded 25°C, with the north and east being generally drier; it’s a good time to catch a glimpse of animals around waterholes.
This is the best time to visit South Africa for whale watching, when southern right whales come close to shore to give birth. Head to Western Cape for the best chances to glimpse these marine mammals.
Weather in South Africa in August
It’s the start of spring! The Western and Northern Cape will start to see flowers in bloom. If you are heading to the Northern Cape, be sure to check out Namaqualand: in August this becomes the ‘Flower Route’ because it will be positively carpeted in a rainbow of spring flowers.
Outdoor activities become once again more of a viable option at KwaZulu-Natal, with warmer temperatures than the Cape.
Cape Town this time of year is still quite wintery; the average temperature is about 13°C, but it never gets super cold. And as a word to the wise: the top of Table Mountain can get pretty windy this time of year.
Weather in South Africa in September
September means even more spring. Flowers bloom across the Western Cape. Temperatures creep up. All is well with the world.
That said, things can still be pretty chilly early in the morning and at night, so a jacket and/or a sweater is a good option. Cape Town hits daytime averages of 14-16°C. The upside is that clear blue skies are pretty much a given.
In fact, there’s not a lot of rain going on anywhere. There’s an average of just 3mm of rain!
September is the best time of year to visit the Kruger National Park – the best, we tell you! Head out on safari, and you may catch sight of cute baby animals; it’s birthing season!
Whales can still be spotted frolicking off the Western Cape, too.
Weather in South Africa in October
Temperatures are starting to get warmer, there’s not a lot of rain, flowers are still in bloom on the West Coast, whales can still be spotted on their migration north from Antarctica… Yep, October is considered a best time to visit South Africa.
Most days across the country are sunny. Expect clear skies. The average temperature has jumped up to 28°C across the whole country; the south, however, sees daily highs of only about 21°C.
The Garden Route would be awesome this time of year. Sea temperatures also start to rise again, and the wind’s not so strong… That’s right: towards the end of October, you could be laying out on a beach!
Weather in South Africa in November
South Africa heats up in November. This also means that the rainy season is beginning in KwaZulu-Natal and the Kruger National Park. You can expect thunderstorms in late afternoon, but that can also clear the air of the quite oppressive heat and humidity that can build up.
Whales can still be seen off the western coast. Cape Town is basically heading into summer season now, meaning more visitors start making their way to the city. The average temperature in Cape Town is 18°C. It’s also pretty dry compared to other places.
November is a good time of year to visit the Karoo before the temperatures start to get too hot (and they do).
Weather in South Africa in December
Summer. December means summer in South Africa – or at least the start of it. Being the holiday season and all, it’s a time for tourists to visit the country.
Mostly, it’s dry. But the north is another story. Places like Kruger and KwaZulu-Natal are well into their subtropical rainy seasons by now. The humidity can be pretty high.
Cape Town has barely any rain, blue skies, lots of sunshine, and rising temperatures; the daytime average is 25°C.
It’s a good time of year to hit the beach; the Atlantic Ocean is about 19°C in December, so you could be laying out on the sand and swimming on Christmas Day!
Festivals in South Africa
Festivals in South Africa in Summer
Festivals in South Africa in the summer? Christmas is the obvious one. That’s on December 25 just in case you forgot. Don’t expect snow.
New Year is also a pretty big deal. In particular, there’s the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. Also called Kaapse Klopse, it dates back to the mid-19th century when slaves were given the day off. Expect sequins, satin, dance routines, floats, parades, and party atmosphere from January 2nd for around a month. It’s summer, don’t forget.
February means more revelry. There’s the first wine festival of the year at Robertson, for a start. Then there’s the vibrant Cape Town Pride. And in Joburg, there’s the International Mozart Festival, an annual celebration of the maestro himself (and classical music in general).
Festivals in South Africa in Fall
In late March or early April, you can see the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Spread over two days and across various stages, it’s actually one of the biggest musical events on the African continent.
Towards the end of April, there’s Splashy Fen Music Festival in Durban. It’s the longest-running music festival in South Africa, celebrating music, art, and culture
Festivals in South Africa in Winter
Do you like running? Do you like running really far? If you’re thinking ‘yes’ to both of those questions, then you may want to consider the Big Five Marathon. Set in Limpopo province, the course runs right through the wilderness with no fences separating the runners from the potentially dangerous wildlife. Equal parts scary and cool.
The National Arts Festival, held over 11 days in Grahamstown each July, is a showcase of local and international art, music, and theatrical performances.
Also in July – and this is one for foodies – is Knysna Oyster Festival. This is a 10-day festival dedicated to, well, oysters, which is held in the coastal town of Knysna every year.
Festivals in South Africa in Spring
The first half of September sees thousands of Zulu girls make something of a pilgrimage to the KwaNyoni Palace in KwaZulu-Natal (where the Zulu King lives) for a four-day event of singing and dancing.
Spring is a time of new life; that means flowers – and lots of them. For starters, there’s the Bloemfontein Rose Festival in September, featuring over 15,000 roses to stop and smell.
Jacaranda Festival in October takes its name from the crazy purple flowers on the jacaranda trees blooming this time of year. In the Free State eastern highlands, cherry blossom blooms, while in Namaqualand, the wildflowers are immense.
Hermanus Whale Festival in September and October marks the start of whale watching season; it’s held in Hermanus, obviously, which is one of the best whale-watching spots… on land, of course.
Thirsty? Head to Joburg’s Whisky Live, Africa’s largest whiskey festival taking place (in 2019 at least) November 6-8.
When is the Best Season to Travel South Africa?
High season (November and March)
This is the high season in South Africa, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best time to visit South Africa. The weather in South Africa really starts to warm up starting in November, some may say it gets unpleasantly hot in some places. December and January are particularly busy because of the holidays. If you can manage it I would generally try to avoid travel during this time.
Shoulder Season (April-May and September-October):
The weather throughout most of South Africa is pleasant during this time. Not too hot and not too cold. April and May is one of the best times to go on safari in South Africa. Crowds are low and the wildlife still gather around the watering hole making easier viewing.
Low Season (June-September):
This is South Africa’s winter season meaning low numbers of tourists and cooler weather. We traveled around South Africa in August and September and still had a fabulous time. The weather was cool, but only really at night did we need a jacket. Winter means the middle of the dry season making game viewing on safari generally quite good. This is also the time when you’ll be able to score deals across the country!
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit South Africa?
In my opinion, October is the best time to visit South Africa. The weather is starting to warm up to very comfortable temperatures, but it’s not quite high season yet. You’ll be able to score shoulder season rates especially if you are wanting to stay at some nice properties.
When is the Cheapest Time to Visit South Africa?
The cheapest time to visit South Africa is in the low season, between June and September. You’ll find good deals on accommodation in places like Cape Town and Johannesburg and you might even get lucky and score discounts on a safari.
Best Time to Visit South Africa for Honeymoon?
The best time to visit South Africa for a honeymoon is April and October. Spring and Autumn are a pleasant temperature, so it’s great for couples who want to do outdoor activities. Plus you’ll get lower prices than in peak season and far fewer people.
When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town?
Cape Town honestly is a fantastic city any time of the year. If you are going to Cape Town for a beach holiday it’s best to visit during peak summer season (December to February). While the shoulder season in Cape Town is perfect for spending time outdoors and hiking up Table Mountain and Lions Head. August is a crisp and cool time to head to Stellenbosh while whale watching is great from July to September.
When is the Best Time for Safari in South Africa?
The best time to go on safari in South Africa is during the dry season and spring months. Generally speaking that is May to early October when the safari animals gather around the watering holes.
Quick Travel Tips for South Africa
- Languages Spoken: The most widely spoken language is Zulu, then Xhosa, followed by Afrikaans. However, just about everyone speaks English.
- Capital: South Africa has no legally defined capital city. Instead, there are three South African capitals. They are Pretoria (executive capital), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative).
- Currency: South African Rand 4 (ZAR) – $.
- Visa: Some nationalities are issued a 90-day visa on arrival. Check with your embassy for the best information. The visas are consecutive, not concurrent, don’t be like us and get kicked out.
- Weather: Hot and humid especially during the summer months.
- What to Pack: Depends on the season and where you are at. Definitely bring hiking shoes, a bathing suit, and a jacket.
- Malaria: Not a major threat in South Africa. In the rainy season, areas around Kruger and the north are at mild risk of malaria.
- Stay Connected: Vodacom, Telcom, OneCell, and MTN are the cell phone and internet providers. Check here for more information.
- Adaptor: You’ll need this adaptor in Southern Africa.
- Tipping: This is a tipping country and visitors should expect to tip for anything from a lunch out, to gas station attendants, to security guards in parking lots. Tips to car guards can be anything between 2 and 10 ZAR while 10% is the norm for waitstaff.
Book A Safari in South Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
What to Pack for an African Safari
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
A good hat is both stylish and functional. In peak dry season there is little to provide shade, UV rays are intense and can easily burn the unsuspecting traveler. Check out our full break down of the best safari hats here!
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
You’ll want a safari shirt while on safari. They are lightweight and keep the bugs away. Plus they look ideal in photos and blend into the environment around you!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights. Are you going on safari? We always carry our Robert’s Southern Africa Bird Book and a good mammal guide.