Over the years of authoring Joburg Expat, I’ve answered many questions about expat life in South Africa. And often it’s not just future expats asking away, but friends and acquaintances who are intrigued by my love for a country they haven’t given much thought to in the past.
“I want to come visit; what is the best time of year?” is the most frequently asked question by these prospective travelers.
I’m always tempted to say, it doesn’t matter. There really isn’t a bad time to visit South Africa.
However, that’s not what they pay me the big blogger bucks for (ha! Who knew, right?), so I’ll try to be more specific. Meaning, it depends.
It depends on where you go
What time of year you should visit depends on where in South Africa you plan on going. If your most important destination is Cape Town and all you want to do in South Africa is stand at the Cape of Good Hope, have some wonderful wine in Stellenbosch, and scale the slopes of Table Mountain, I’d say go either in spring or fall. Bearing in mind that spring is in October/November and fall (or autumn) is in March/April.
Franschhoek near Cape Town, the heart of the South African wine region, in October
Cape Town, and also Kruger Park, tend to get very crowded during the South African school holidays from beginning of December until mid-January when everybody floods to the beaches. Incidentally, this is the most quiet time in Johannesburg and therefore a good time to visit and have less traffic to contend with.
I personally prefer South African summers (which really are one long stretch from October all the way to May), just because I love the heat, and you will be nice and warm on morning game drives. December and January are the hottest (but also rainiest) months. We’ve been on safaris year round and always enjoyed them and always saw plenty of animals. Winters (June through early August), on the other hand, can get very cold in Southern Africa, particularly on the Highveld around Johannesburg, and especially at night, so if you do go in winter, you have to bring enough layers of warm clothing.
Winters are great for safari holidays
Winter is a good time for a South African safari (photo taken in Pilanesberg National Park in June)
However, there is something to be said for going in winter as well: First off, it is the dry season, giving you several advantages. Because it’s dry, the animals tend to congregate around water holes, so it’s a tad easier to find them. Also, the bush is less dense as there is less foliage, so again, it’s easier to see the animals. If you are planning to go to Kruger Park, winter is also a better option because there won’t be any threat of malaria (it’s not a very high-risk malaria area, but you do have to reckon with it in summer). Also, it might be cheaper to travel than during the Christmas holidays, which is high season and also school holiday break for South African schools.
If you’re interested in any other locations besides South Africa, also consider this: The great migration in Tanzania (Serengeti) occurs in June and July. Those are also the best months for the Okavango Delta as it is at its highest flooding then, stretching from June and July all the way to October.
Flooding of the Okavango Delta (this picture taken in April before the peak of the flooding)
Some other factors to consider
There are other months that have a lot going for them in terms of visiting South Africa: March is the best month to view the Cosmos flowering in Mpumalanga province, September is great for Kruger Park (not too hot, no malaria, no crowds) as well as the Namaqualand wildflower bloom, October marks the beginning of jacaranda season in Johannesburg and Pretoria (once you’ve see the purple explosion of jacaranda season, you’ll be pining for your very own jacaranda tree, trust me) as well as prime time for whale watching in Hermanus.
Jacarandas in Rosebank, a Johannesburg suburb, in October/November
As you can see, any time of year has its attractions for South Africa-bound visitors. Your best bet is probably to go look for some good deals on flights. December/January is high season and therefore the most expensive. I think March is generally a very cheap month to fly, as is November before the start of summer break.
I can promise you this: You will fall in love with Africa, no matter when you come to visit, and your first time most likely won’t be the last.
A more in-depth version of this article, including a handy chart listing pros and cons for every month of the year, can be found on SA People.