Best Time to Visit South Africa
Before you discount a certain month to travel in South Africa it is important to remember that this vast country has several climatic zones and any given month in one of its many famous cities, game reserves and natural wonders can produce great weather for outdoor activities and a welcome escape from work and everyday life. It is true to say that the best time to visit South Africa for a safari is from May to September, when the cold dry South African winter provides ideal viewing conditions for wildlife photographers and enthusiasts. South Africa experiences plenty of sunshine with occasional rainfall compared to the global average, the rainfall increases from west to east, and with semi-desert regions in the north-west. While the Western Cape has a Mediterranean type of climate with winter rainfall, the rest of the country experiences rain in the summer (November to February).
January – First time visitors to South Africa from Europe looking for a little winter sunshine may come down to enjoy the many delights of Cape Town and maybe take a drive along the famous garden route. For those looking to see wildlife in South Africa we have the dry north west which borders Namibia to the west and Botswana to the north and it is here where you can visit the stunning Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. With epic remote camps and very few visitors annually, you may have the chance to see the famous Black Maned Lions here.
February – Expect hot conditions in the northern Cape of between 35-40 Celsius but wildlife sanctuaries like Mokola national park and the nearby Karoo national park are well worth a visit for those accustomed to hot weather on safari. Summer rainfall comes mostly in the form of thunderstorms or cold fronts from the Cape. The Karoo national park is one of the best places to see nocturnal mammals such as Aardvark, Aardwolf, Small Spotted Cat, Cape Porcupine, Bat-eared Fox and many more.
March – It might be worth avoiding the end of the month if the Easter holidays start early and it remains a time of year for hot temperatures in many parts of South African, including the famous Kruger national park with its nearly 20,000 sq kms of amazing game viewing and a stunning variety of accommodation and safari activities to take part in. The best time to visit Kruger national park for birds falls in the month of March as summer migrants arrive in great numbers. The habitat will still be green and lush making mammal viewing more difficult, however the ones you will find will be in great conditions and many will still have young babies in tow.
April – The last official month of the rainy season and again take care to avoid the long South African Easter holiday when the national park campsites and wildlife lodges will fill up fast during the 10 day break. Temperatures are starting to cool by the end of the month and you will certainly avoid the crowds with a visit to Kgalagadi, Karoo, Augrabie Falls and even Kruger national park. Expect the odd heavy shower and stick to the national parks which have good quality road networks. Consider some wildlife viewing in the north, hiking in the Drakensberg mountains and a few days to chill in Cape Town with a dawn climb of Table mountain.
May – Now we are officially in the long and sometimes chilly – especially during the nights and early morning safari starts – winter dry season and you clever ones out there will come during May to avoid the crowds, get a great deal on international flights and consider a longer more varied South Africa wildlife holidays visiting multiple habitats while taking advantage of the perfect temperatures. How about focusing on the rich wildlife safari options in KwaZulu Natal. The best time to visit KwaZulu Natal is from May to August and we would include at least three of the following – Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Phinda Game Reserve, Thanda Game Reserve and Amakhosi Game Reserve.
June – June is one of the best months to see wildlife in South Africa, although the parks get busier from around the 20th, as schools break up for the winter holidays. These usually run from the last week of June to mid-July and accommodation in popular parks, like Kruger national park, can quickly fill up. For visitors from Europe this is still a good time to get a ‘deal’ on your international flights and experience the best time to see wildlife in South Africa, with less vegetation and a chance to go on a Big 5 safari. We recommend organising a safari and beach South African wildlife holiday, visiting Kruger, Addo Elephant National Park in the eastern cape and the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
July – One of the peak months of the winter safari season in South Africa which brings the highest chill factor and you will be surprised how many layers of clothes you need to put on to keep warm on your morning safaris. That said, the game viewing in South Africa during July is simply stunning and as water resources start to dry up, both predators and prey will congregate around the remaining water holes and perennial rivers. Expect amazing big cat action and also include a visit to Madikwe national park for the best place to see African wild dogs.
August – The dry weather continues and the wildlife viewing remains spectacular. However, international flights during the northern hemisphere summer holidays and the fact that this is one of the busiest months of the year for South African wildlife holidays should be a warning to you, to either wait until September, or book your South African wildlife lodges and the best drivers/naturalist well in advance. Why not first head up to Augrabies Falls, where the Orange river thunders down from the gorge and drops 56 metres. This is also a great spot for nocturnal wildlife, with a chance to see bat-eared fox, jackal, and if you’re really lucky, African wild cat. From here you can easily drive north to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and stay at two wonderful eco-lodges, Rooiputs and the even more remote Polentswa.
September – This could very well be the best month to see wildlife in South Africa as you have everything in your favour to maximise your wildlife viewing and photography. The fine weather, mornings not as cold, short grass for game viewing, few remaining water holes attracting vast numbers of game and the heat and humidity of October/November is yet to arrive. We have not yet discussed the delights of whale watching off the coast of South Africa and during the season from June to October, many people visit Hermanus, where you can actually see the Southern Right whales from the shoreline. However, our personal recommendation is the stunning De Hoop nature reserve which is only 3 hours drive from Cape Town and whale can be spotted from the majestic sand dunes which fall away into the ocean.
October – Some people consider this the best time to visit Kruger national park but it is also true that temperatures can be 35C plus and if you prefer the cooler temperatures then maybe focus your wildlife activities on the western cape which will just be starting its summer season. It is important to note that Kruger is just not one vast park, there are different private reserves which also join up to the greater Kruger park and offer both incredible wildlife lodges and safari camps as well as the chance to see the Big 5. One of our favourites is the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. This scenic wilderness sanctuary is home to African elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo, African wild dog, lion, leopard, and an abundance of antelope species.
November – November brings consistent rains to the northern regions of South Africa, a great time for bird watchers as huge numbers of returning migrants swell the resident population and give us a few rarities to enjoy. Temperatures remain high and more regular rainfall in the north will increase humidity. The western cape remains mainly dry and all the major parks are accessible and not too busy. Towards the end of November and early December, Kruger National Park sees an explosion in the number of newborns and spotting wildlife with their young is one of the most memorable Kruger Park safari experiences. Located to the northwest of Zululand’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mkhuze is one of the best year-round birding sites in South Africa and well worth a visit.
December – The South Africa safari year comes to an end and the northern parks will be lush and green with many animals enjoying the easy access to food with their young. Spotting wildlife will be more challenging for the wildlife photographers, but the changeable weather and glorious landscapes will produce images you will come back to again and again. People more interested in a self-drive from Cape Town along the world famous garden route will enjoy less crowds before the Christmas break and why not head up to the dry north west for the chance to see Black Maned Lions and Brown Hyena in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park