Often referred to as “Sunny South Africa”, this phrase is not far wrong. South Africa, and Southern Africa in general has some of the more agreeable weather in the world and for most of the year. However the best time to visit South Africa depends on the purpose of your visit, and the areas you wish to see. The seasons in South Africa run opposite to the northern hemisphere and therefore a white Christmas is out of the question! The best time to visit South Africa really depends on your interests or reasons for coming to South Africa. Wildlife Safaris are often very high on the agenda, followed by the Garden Route, Cape Town, the whales of the south coast , the flowers of Namaqualand, the Drakensberg Mountains and of course the hundreds of kilometers of beach destinations to choose from.
The seasons fall in the year as follows:
Spring - September & October
Summer - November to February
Autumn - March & April
Winter - June - August
South Africa can be divided into summer rainfall areas and winter rainfall areas. The northern, central and east parts of South Africa, which include areas of interest such as: Kruger National Park, Johannesburg, Kwa Zulu Natal, Madikwe Game Reserve, Drakensberg Mountains and the Free State, has a summer rainfall, and cool and dry winters.
The Western Cape and Garden Route areas, which include Cape Town and surrounds and all along the southern coast to about Port Elizabeth, has winter rainfall and dry summers. The northern interior part of the country has a very low annual rainfall, and is considered to be semi-arid to desert in places.
In the summer rainfall areas, the rain comes predominantly in the forms of thunder showers or down pours, which may last anything from 20 minutes to heavy rain on and off over a few days. However the maximum average daily temperature varies between 28 - 35 deg cel, depending where in this region you are. As a result of the summer rains and associated warm & sunny weather, the vegetation is very green and often thick. From a safari perspective, the summer months (often referred to as the green season), is the best time to see the African bush at its greenest. The birdlife is at its best, and it is the calving season for many of the antelope species. The sunsets during this time of year can be a riot of pinks and reds and the air is generally very clean. The negative side to being on safari during the green season is that fact the bush is thick and therefore visibility can at times be limited. Another factor to consider is that surface water scattered all over the bush, causes game movements to become less predictable, in that there is now no reason for animals to go and drink at the traditional permanent water holes and rivers as they would have done in the dry season.
During dry season (the winter months), this region turns into shades of yellow and browns. The night time temperatures can vary between 0 - 12 degrees cel, depending on what part of the region you are in. It is during this season and into spring that it’s considered the best time to go on safari. Many trees and shrubs lose their leaves, the grass drops and becomes grazed and so the visibility increases dramatically. The surface water (pans and puddles) that were present in the summer months dry out and game movements become a little more predictable.
The winter rainfall areas of the Western Cape and Garden Route tend to be green in winter and less so during summer. The rains typically come in the form of cold fronts that sweep in from the south, bringing with them rain, cold and often wind. These cold and rainy spells can last 2 - 3 days, but are invariably followed by what can be only be described as champagne days - crystal clear air, blue skies and brilliant colours. The summer months are typically warm to hot and a great time to explore Cape Town and the Garden Route. During the mid-summer months of December and January, the south-easter wind (locallly referred to as the ‘Cape Doctor’ for its air cleansing habits), can arrive and hang around for a day or even a week and has been known to ruin expensive hair-dos, but at the same time raise the level of excitement of windsurfers, sailors and kite flyers!
Best time to visit South in terms of Activities
To sum up the areas, below is a good idea of when its best to do what activities
* South African Safaris are best from May - October (dry season)
* To visit the Cape & Graden Route, the best time would be the summer months , in particular Febraury & March.
* The best time to see whales off the Cape’s coast is July - October
* The wild flowers of the Western Cape & Namaqualand are best seen in early spring (August & September)
* The Drakensberg Mountains are best seen during the summer months (October - February)