When Is The Best Time To Visit South Africa?

From vibey Johannesburg and Cosmopolitan Cape Town to vast expanding wildernesses and the Kruger National Park, South Africa has something for everyone.
See the world from atop Table Mountain. Photo: Thomas Bennie | Unsplash

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Whether you love sojourning on beaches, exploring exquisite fauna and flora, hiking mountainous trails, or indulging in decadent culinary delights, there is much to do.

But with all that said, when is the best time to visit? Well, that depends on what you want to do.

The penguins hanging out in Bettie’s Bay, Western Cape. Photo: Harry Cunningham | Unsplash

High Season – November to March

The best time for summer fun, festivals, and beaches

If you adore the sunshine, love playing in the waves, and want to visit various shoreside towns along the east and west coast, you’ll want to visit between October and April. The weather starts warming up in October, with January seeing high daytime temperatures of around 32 °C. This is peak summer season, and there is so much to do across the entire country. If you want to get in on all the action, revel in the sunshine, and be a part of the bustle, this is the time to visit.

The high season is also a great time to go on safari, albeit busy. While the vegetation might not be as lush and green, you will have a better chance of spotting the Big 5 or other elusive creatures like cheetahs and leopards. This is a brilliant time to visit The Kruger National Park or stay at a world-class game reserve like Sabi Sands.

A leopard takes watch over the Kruger. Photo : Geran de Klerk | Unsplash

Top festivals and events in High Season

  • Afropunk Festival – Art, music, and film festival held in December.
  • Cape Town Minstrel Carnival – A vibrant street parade by the ‘Kaapse Klopse’. The festival dates back to the early days of colonialism when slaves were allowed to celebrate the new year. The festival brings together song, dance, bright colours, and high-spirited vibes. It’s held on January 2nd, also known as ‘tweede nuwe jaar’ (second new year).
  • Pride Festival – Pride festivals are celebrated across the country in February. Celebrations are characterised by fantastic parties and energetic street parades. Each year there is a theme, making it a must for anyone who wants to celebrate equality whilst getting their dress up on.
  • The Argus Cycle Tour – The 109 km route in Cape Town brings together cyclists from all over the world and happens in March.
  • Cape Town International Jazz Festival – The festival hosts an array of musicians from all over the world and is held in March.
  • Klein Karoo Art Festival – If you love the arts, check out this famed arts festival that runs from March to April. Note that many of the productions are held in Afrikaans, but you will still love the music and vibes!
Check out the Minstrel Parade in Cape Town. Photo : Leo Moko | Unsplash

Top tip: High season gets seriously busy, so book accommodation and trips well in advance to avoid disappointment.

The Shoulder Seasons – April – May, and September – October

Shoulder season is also a brilliant time to visit. You’ll escape the super hot months and the rainfall while enjoying smaller crowds and some delicious deals. This is also a brilliant time to visit if you’re a nature lover. September sees the bloom of indigenous wild plants across many parts of the country. It’s also a must-visit time if you want to spot southern right and humpback whales who migrate from Antarctica for breeding season. They have their offspring in the warmer waters of Madagascar and Mozambique before swimming back.

Top shoulder season events and festivals

  • Splashy Fen music festival in Durban (April)
  • AfrikaBurn Festival (April)
  • Franschhoek Literary Festival (May)
  • The Hermanus Whale Festival (September)
  • Cape Town‘s Rocking the Daisies Music Festival (October)
Flower season at the West Coast National Park. Photo : Discott | Wikimedia

Low season – June to August

Best for travelers on a budget and those wanting to escape the crowds

The low season coincides with winter meaning that the period brings fewer crowds and lower prices in certain areas.

Since South Africa’s climate is so diverse, you can also escape the rains and enjoy warmer weather in certain parts of the country during winter. If you want to visit in the low season and get in on great deals, but you also want warmth, visit the coastal city of Durban. This spirited coastal region is often known as the ‘city with no winter’ since even the coldest month of July can see temperatures of around 24 °C. This sub-tropical climate makes it a popular destination as the ocean temperature rarely drops below 19 °C in winter.

Durban is also known for its huge Indian influences by virtue of the indentured laborers who arrived in the 1800s. If you adore curry, it’s a must-visit spot. Try the famed ‘bunny chow’, a local delicacy made from a hollowed loaf of white bread and Durban-style curry.

Durban at sunset. Photo: Dan Grinwis | Unsplash

Top winter festivals and events

• The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown – This is the largest performing arts festival in Africa, bringing together a plethora of creatives and showcasing local and international talent. The festival was created in 1974, and its origins are strongly rooted in anti-apartheid protest since it was open to all. It runs between June and July.

• The Knysna Oyster Festival – This is a must for foodies and is held each year in July. Enjoy oysters and bubbles as an array of exciting sporting events and live performances unfold.

• Knysna Forest Marathon – This race occurs at the same time as the Oyster Festival and is a popular event for locals and international visitors. Opt to run the full 42.2 km or the half marathon, which is 21.1 km.

Top tip: If you are a foodie, you can relish some of the incredible winter food specials around. Many fine-dining establishments have seasonal tasting menus and some fabulous discounts at this time.

The Takeaway

South Africa offers an abundance of activities, history, and natural wonders; no matter the month, there is always something to do. If you’re all about the warmer weather and festivals galore, visit in the high season. If you love a deal and want to check out Durban’s balmy winter, visit in the low season. Whenever you decide to visit, you’re bound to have a blast. Check out our Ultimate Cape Town and Joburg guides if you’re keen to visit.


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