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South Africa

January Overview

January is the peak of the summer season and you can experience contrasting weather depending on where you’re travelling in South Africa. You can expect bright sunshine, cloudless skies and dry weather on the Western Cape, making it an excellent time of year to travel to Cape Town, the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route. The Drakensberg Mountains also have high temperatures, however sunny periods are often interspersed with tropical storms.

If you’re planning to visit Kruger National Park you should bear in mind that the summer (January-March) is the rainy season and it can get very wet, hot and humid. Torrential downpours are likely, however these usually occur in the afternoons so it is still possible to enjoy morning and evening safaris when the weather permits. The rains fill the rivers and waterholes and the landscape is lush and beautiful at this time of year with many plants flowering and Marula trees fruiting, however game viewing is sometimes a bit more difficult in the summer because the vegetation is dense, making it harder to locate and observe wildlife.

February Overview

February is one of the hottest months on the Western Cape, although coastal towns are cooled by pleasant sea breezes. It is a fantastic time of year for a self-drive holiday exploring Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route, and the Eastern Cape Reserves.

The game parks and reserves are lush and green in February and the rivers and waterholes are full. Impala, gemsbok and eland give birth at this time of year in order to give their young the best chance of survival due to the availability of water supplies, but predators won’t miss out on the chance to catch vulnerable prey during this calving period and you might have some exciting and adrenaline-filled game drives.

March Overview

March begins with a decrease in rainfall from the previous summer months and it is generally a drier month than January and February. Temperatures also start to decrease, although not dramatically. This is a fantastic time to visit Cape Town and the Western Cape, as it experiences hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights.

Daytime temperatures in Kruger will be in the high 20s, but warm layers are recommended for early morning or evening game drives. Vegetation will still be fairly thick during March as it has not yet had time to dry out or be grazed down by the wildlife, but you will have plenty of chances to seek out the quintessential African animals. The slightly lower temperatures mean that the big cats are likely to be hidden away in shady spots during the day making sightings probable.

April Overview

April experiences very little rainfall which means that the vegetation in the northern and eastern reserves changes from thick lush green to a sparse brown, making it easier to spot big cats and other wildlife. The temperatures cool down at night, but the daytime is still pleasantly warm and humidity also drops so it can feel more comfortable than the earlier summer months. Birdlife remains abundant in April before departing for the warmer summer climes of the northern hemisphere, and the birds are slightly easier to spot during this time as the trees are thinner.

May Overview

Although May is the start of winter, it is still a lovely time of year to visit South Africa. The weather is typically warm and dry across the regions, although it does get chilly in the evenings and we recommend that you pack warm clothes. If you’re visiting the Western Cape you should expect some cloudy and rainy weather, interspersed with beautiful sunny days.

You can hike in the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu Natal all year round, however the night temperatures in winter can drop below freezing, and snow can sometimes be found in the higher reaches.

If you’re planning to visit Kruger National Park during the winter months you should be prepared for cold temperatures at night and at dawn. It is a fantastic time for game viewing as the vegetation thins out, making it easier to spot wildlife and you may be lucky enough to see leopards lurking in the trees.

June Overview

June-August is winter in Cape Town, therefore it is not an ideal time to visit if you want a beach holiday. It can get stormy as cold fronts come across the Atlantic Ocean and bring with them heavy rains and strong north-westerly winds. The sea is often very rough and you have to be a little more cautious when walking along the beaches or Seapoint Promenade.

Landscapes in the game parks and reserves start to turn into shades of browns, yellows and oranges which create superb scenes for photography, and wildlife is much easier to spot due to the thinning vegetation. 

The spectacular ‘Sardine Run’ occurs in June or July along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. This is a unique phenomenon when millions of sardines travel up the east coast of South Africa causing a feeding frenzy that attracts thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, birds and other ocean predators.

July Overview

The colder months of July-September are incredible for game viewing in South Africa. Wildlife encounters are heightened by sparse vegetation and a lack of water forces animals to congregate by the rivers and waterholes making their movements more predictable. This is a fantastic time to seek out elusive leopards in South Africa’s parks and game reserves. During this period it can get very chilly on the early morning and late afternoon game drives, therefore we suggest that you pack warm clothing and layers are ideal rather than thick jackets as daytime temperatures are generally warm.

The weather can be cool and drizzly in the Western Cape in July and we recommend that you pack a light rain jacket and an umbrella.

July sees the start of the incredible whale watching season when southern right whales migrate from Antarctica to mate and rest in the Western Cape’s waters. Whales can be seen all along the coast from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape, though the most reliable sightings are usually on the aptly named Whale Coast and the world’s shore-based whale-watching capital, Hermanus.

The spectacular ‘Sardine Run’ occurs in June or July along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. This is a unique phenomenon when millions of sardines travel up the east coast of South Africa causing a feeding frenzy that attracts thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, birds and other ocean predators.

August Overview

August is the start of spring and temperatures rise, but rainfall remains relatively low, therefore this is a fantastic time to visit South Africa.

During August the usually arid and desolate Namaqualand region becomes transformed with the blossoming of thousands of Namaqualand Daisies. The wildflowers bloom in a variety of vibrant colours completely covering the landscape. It is truly one of the greatest and most spectacular natural phenomena that one will ever witness and the journey to see the flowers of the Namaqualand in the Western and Northern Cape is an annual pilgrimage for many South Africans. The flower season is dependent on the winter rains and it usually peaks between early-late August.

The Western Cape is chilly at this time and early August sees the Table Mountain cable car close for annual maintenance. KwaZulu Natal is the best region to visit at this time of year with warm temperatures and plenty to see and do.

September Overview

You can feel spring in the air by the end of August and into September, and throughout September bright sunny days are common. It is a fantastic month for a self-drive holiday exploring the Garden Route, and the Eastern Cape Reserves such as Amakhala Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth.

Temperatures in Kruger National Park average around 22°C and although rainfall has risen from August, it is still only around 24mm average throughout the month which is unlikely to have a huge impact on your safari experience. Vegetation will remain sparse as the majority of shrubs and grasses will have been grazed down throughout the winter, however this makes spotting big cats much easier than during the wet season.

October Overview

This can be a great month to visit South Africa as the temperatures start to heat up throughout the country, but the rains are yet to come in the north.

October is the height of the dry season and if you’re visiting Kruger National Park you can expect hot dry winds and sparse vegetation. Because the rivers and waterholes are low, high concentrations of wildlife can be viewed at these areas and game viewing in general is very good. The first rains may start towards the end of October when the signs of spring and a new rainy season are evident.

December Overview

The festive season is a popular time to go on a South African safari as many people choose a luxury safari for a family Christmas break. Popular parks and lodges can get particularly busy at this time, therefore it is recommended that you book months in advance.

If you wish to avoid the crowds at this time it is best to choose one of Kruger National Park’s private concessions or one of the smaller, lesser-known parks. Early December is great for travel as it is still quiet before the rush of school holidays. As December is in the height of the wet season, landscapes are lush and verdant which create a fantastic backdrop for wildlife photography, although the wildlife can be harder to locate. 

With plenty of blue skies and sunshine and 11 hours of daylight each day, December is a wonderful time of year for a self-drive holiday exploring Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route, and the Eastern Cape Reserves – just remember to book your holiday early as hotels get booked up well over a year in advance for the festive and New Year period.

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