Situated in the southern hemisphere, South Africa enjoys a hot festive season where Christmas is spent with family at the beach or near a swimming pool. Mid-year, the three winter months can get cold. But, while night-time temperatures can dip below zero in places, day-time readings rarely sit in the single digits.
South Africa’s seasons are as follows:
Spring - September and October
Summer - November to March
Autumn – April to May
Winter - June to August
In terms of weather, the best time to visit South Africa can be broadly divided in two regions, one of summer rainfall and another of winter rainfall. The northern, central and eastern parts of South Africa have hot summers along with rains and then cool, dry winters. These include places of interest like Kruger National Park, Johannesburg, Drakensberg mountains and the Free State and KwaZulu Natal provinces. Kingdoms within South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, also experience summer rainfall.
Below we give a brief idea of what each period in the year brings for the five most visited regions of South Africa. What is clear, is that the best time to visit South Africa depends really on what you want to do and which part of the country you will be visiting!
January & February (Mid - Late Summer)
Cape Town – With average day time highs of 28 – 29 degrees celsius (82 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit) and long day lights hours (13.5 – 14 hrs), your time is best spent outdoors, enjoying long lunches on or at the beach front. Early sunrises and late night sunsets create an incredible atmosphere. No significant rain can be expected as summer is the middle of the dry season for Cape Town & surrounds, however the middle of summer is also the windy months and the famous south easter that can pump for days can dictate where, when and what you do. The best time for weather dependant activities, such as the cable car up Table Mountain, is the first day that you see the weather is stable – Sieze the opportunity as the weather can change within hours.
Garden Route - This is an excellent time to visit the Garden Route, with day time temperatures between 28 – 29 degrees Celsius (82- 84 degrees Fahrenheit) and long day light hours (13.5 – 14 hrs). Many activity options exist, inclusing Malaria free Big 5 safari lodges, forests walks, log cabins and some of the most beautiful beaches to spend your time at. The rainy season for the Garden Route is fairly spread out over the year with an average ‘rainy day’ number of just 5.4 days per month.
Kruger Park & Safari – The height of summer is when the bush is at its greenest, thickest and prettiest, so visibility can be more limited from a game viewing point of view. The migrant birds are still around and the surface water in abundant. The rainy season for the Kruger Park area is between October – March, but the rain is made up of thunderstorms so the number of rainy days per month remain low at around 3 days / month. Very hot days can be expected, with average highs of 33 degrees Celsius+ (91 degrees Fahrenheit +). With the heat and rain, insect life is at its best and skies at sunset can be a riot of colour due to the moisture in the air.
Drakensberg Mountains - During the peak summer season, the mountains are lush and green with warm and pleasant weather conditions. Keen hikers are advised to take advantage of the early parts of the day during this time of year as this is also the rainy season – with the temperature rising and sudden bursts of rain from early afternoon. Kloofing enthusiasts can enjoy a 6-7 round trip in the Injisuthi Valley – a hidden gem in the Drakensberg Mountains. Average weather temperatures range between 14 – 30 degrees Celsius (57 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day – however high humidity levels bring thunderstorms which last anything from a few minutes to quite often the rest of the day. These heavy rains can often last for as long as a week.
Kwa-Zulu Natal Beaches – Hot & humid can describe the weather for this time. Average highs can be 29 – 30 degrees Celsius (84 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and coupled with the humidity air conditioning maybe important for travellers less used to heat. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean always allow for great swimming and surfing. Thundershowers can be a welcomed relief to the hot days.
March & April (Late Summer - Autumn (Fall))
Cape Town - With day time temperatures between 25 – 27 degrees Celsius (77 -80 degrees Fahrenheit), March & April is an excellent time to visit surrounding areas like the Cape Winelands. Enjoy exceptional cuisine at some of South Africa’s top vineyards, experience how wine is made with an informative cellar tour, followed by tastings of an array of world class wines. The colours of the autumn during April make this time in Cape Town particularly beautiful. This time also brings the last few weeks of the hot air ballooning season in nearby Paarl, where you float across the winelands country side at sunrise, before enjoying breakfast at the luxurious Grande Roche Hotel.
Garden Route – Still part of the best time of the year to visit the Garden Route. The weather is warm, with average highs of 26 – 28 degrees Celsius (78- 82 degrees Fahrenheit) and little chance of rain. Beaches, lagoons, forested mountains and golf courses are just some of the attractions waiting to be enjoyed. In Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn, the KKNK Festival (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival) takes place in March, and is a major event on the calender. It’s a festival of arts & music that attracts people from over South Africa and travellers from around the work.
Kruger Park & Safari – The bush slips into its autumn stage, trees are in full fruit and leaves begin to drop. The temperatures tone down to average highs of 27 – 30 degrees Celsius (80 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit). Although rain is still be expected in thunderstorms, the wet season is trailing off. Migrant birds will have left for greener pastures and visibility through the bush will start improving so it is the beginning of the best game viewing time of the year.
Drakensberg Mountains - With temperatures ranging from 15 – 25 degrees Celsius (59 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit), this is the optimal time for long and higher level treks through the mountains. Comfortable conditions allow for an unforgettable experience along some of the most beautiful mountain passes in South Africa.Mid-March and April can still see’s temperatures of up to 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) at times, with massive thunderstorms in the afternoons. By contrast as the weather turns towards Autumn it is a great time to visit the vast areas of the Drakensberg and maximise your time with as many activities from hiking and biking, to fly-fishing and swimming along the gorges of waterfalls
Kwa-Zulu Natal Beaches – The day time temperatures tone down to about 27 - 29 degrees Celsius (80 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit), and the possibility of thundershowers reduce, but can still occur. The warm waters of the south moving Agalhus Current that runs down South Africa’s east coast ensure that all water based activities are year round. However March – April could be considered as one of the best times for beach time and swimming.
May, June, July & August (Winter)
Cape Town – These are the winter months characterized by intermittent cold fronts that sweep in from the ocean bringing cold & wet weather for anything from a day, to a week at a time. Most of the annual rainfall in Cape Town falls between May – September. The days between fronts can be some of the best as they are clear, sunny and calm. The average day time temperatures in Cape Town range between 20 – 22 degrees Celsius (68 – 71 degrees Fahrenheit). .
Nearly all the summer activities available in the Cape are open in the winter months, but are governed by the weather of the day. If the weather is cold & wet a cosy winelands restaurant or a drive to the often snow covered Matroosberg Mountain Range is worthwhile. From about July through to October visitors to the seaside town of Hermanus will mostly likely be treated to close up views of the visiting Southern Right Whales who come close to the shore to birth their calves.
Garden Route – While number of rainy days per month remain low at 5.4 days per month, winter on the Garden Route brings the day time temperatures to range of 22 – 25 degrees Celsius (71 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit). For white shark diving at Gaansbaai (2.5 hrs from Cape Town), the underwater visibility is at its best. The Knysna Oyster Festival takes place in July each year and promises everything from fun fairs, sporting events, wine tasting and of course oyster sucking competitions.
Kruger Park & Safari – Warm, dry days and crisp cold nights characterize this time of year in the bush. Day time temperatures range between 26 – 29 degrees Celsius (78- 84 degrees Fahrenheit). It is considered one of the best times to go on safari as the bush is thin, therefore visibility is good. The movements of wildlife becomes more predictable because surface water becomes very limited. The safari lodges in the Kruger Park area often offer good specials during this time which adds to the area’s appeal.
Drakensberg Mountains - Winter in the Drakensberg Mountains brings with it some extreme weather conditions and below zero temperatures. Snowfall is more likely at the higher peaks – but not uncommon in the low lying areas. Despite the crisp, cooler weather, temperatures varying from 9 degrees Celsuis (48 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day to -3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight – rain is unlikely to ruin hiking trips and outdoor activities as this is the driest season of the year.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park, with mountain peaks exceeding 3000m, becomes a winter wonderland with dustings of snow as far as the eye can see. Area’s such as the Underberg in the southern Drakensberg are less likely to experience high levels of snow and are great locations for 4x4 trails.
Kwa-Zulu Natal Beaches – The winters along South Africa’s east coast are balmy, with day time temperatures ranging from 24 – 26 degrees Celsius (75 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit). The warm waters of the Indian Ocean are still very much swimable with temperatures rarely dropping below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also considered the dry season so little rain can be expected with an average of 3.5 days rainy days a month.
In June – July each year a natural phenomenon known as the sardine run takes place along this coast line, during which shoals of sardines come in close to shore attracting sharks, gannets, dolphins and of course people, all wanting to capitilize on this bounty.
September & October (Spring)
Cape Town - The month of September is the ideal time to visit Namaqualand and the Cederberg along the West Coast, the stretch of coast north of Cape Town. It is typically during this time that the country side is carpeted with the most beautiful wild flowers as far as the eye can see. The day time temperatures begin to rise, and range between 21 – 24 degrees celsius. The rainy season begins to tail off and you can expect between 5 – 8 rainy days a month. As the promise of summer is in the air there are a many festivals and events including Rocking the Daisies Rock Festival which has become a big attraction. The days start to lengthen in the spring with daylight hours 12 – 13 hours a day during this period.
Garden Route – With day time temperatures still mild at 22 – 24 degrees Celsius (71 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit), spring on the Garden Route is still a good time to explore this year round destination. Some of the nature based attractions still worth doing this time of year include boat based whale & dolphin watching, as well as swimming with seals.
Kruger Park & Safari – Spring in the bush is a time of struggle for both plant and animal. It marks the end of the dry season. Visibility through the bush is at its best and surface water is very limited, so wildlife movements become predictable, and therefore is game viewing is at its best! It is also the time that the heat begins to build, with day time temperatures ranging between 31 – 32 degrees Celsius (87 – 89 degrees Fahrenheit). The promise of much needed rain is often just a tease, and can only really be expected from November.
Drakensberg Mountains - The vibrant colours of the mountain range during this time of year make for a postcard worthy destination throughout the region. The area around the Drakensberg Amphitheatre boasts some of the best trails, with Sentinal Peak being the most popular. Home to the Tugela Falls (the second highest waterfall in the world), this area in the northern part of the Drakensberg in the heart of the Royal Natal National Park is one of the most awe-inspiring locations in South Africa. Comfortable weather conditions during this time of year with average temperatures of 12 - 20 degrees Celsius (53 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, make for an ideal time for hiking and outdoor adventures. Experience the trails via horse-back – and for the more adventurous, take a longer ride through the passes to view Bushman art and visit a local Zulu Village.
Kwa-Zulu Natal Beaches – Day time temperatures in the spring months are still a comfortable 24 – 25 degrees celsuis (75 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit), but also marks the beginning of the rainy months. The number of rainy days per month range from 8 – 11 days a month and remain at 11 days per month through the summer months.
November & December (Early - Mid Summer)
Cape Town – The wet winter well and truly over summer time in Cape Town is synonymous with days at the beach, the Christmas lights along Adderley Street, Carols by Candlelight, the smell of a seafood braai (barbeque)… and, not to forget the summer concerts at the Kirstenbosch Gardens where local and international talents set stage every Sunday afternoon – this is one outing for individuals, couples and groups of families and friends not to be missed. Long daylight hours (14 – 14.5 hrs) and day time temperatures ranging from 25 – 27 degrees Celsius (77 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit), summer in the Cape is a good time to be there!
Garden Route – Summer is up on the Garden Route! Day time temperatures range between 25 – 27 degrees Celsius (77 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit), the daylight hours lengthen to 14 – 14.5 hours a day. December itself is the busiest time of year to visit this area, as it is one of the most popular holiday destinations for South Africans to visit.
Kruger Park & Safari – Summer begins in earnest and rain is not just a possibility but a prayerful hope and sometimes a reality! Day time temperatures climb to 32 – 33 degrees Celsius (89 – 91 degrees Fahrenheit), the migrant birds return as the rain begin to arrive. After a couple of days of good rain, the bush begins to rapidly transform from the grey – brown dust of the winter months to the brilliant greens and crystal clear air of summer. Game viewing can still be good, but in the days during and after heavy thunderstorms the animals become more dispersed as the need for regular visits to waterholes abates.
Drakensberg Mountains - Drakensberg Mountains – With vast open spaces and an abundance of activities, this is an outdoor enthusiast dream location. With the rainy season in full swing during these months, this is the best time for flora lovers. Average temperatures during this time of the year are in the high 20’s Celsius (70’s Fahrenheit). Hot and humid, with thundershowers during the day – the unpredictable weather should not deter anyone wishing to visit during the peak of summer. Avid bird watchers can experience sightings of flocks of Drakensberg Rockjumpers, Drakensberg Siskins, Cape Parrots and the rare Blue Swallows. Various birding rock art tours are available throughout the year, particularly along the Sani Pass, which includes exceptional hiking trails.
Kwa-Zulu Natal Beaches – Summer on the beaches of Kwa-Zulu Natal are warm to hot with day time temperatures ranging between 26 – 28 degrees Celsius (78 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit). December, like the Garden Route marks the busiest time of year as many South Africans flock down to the beaches of the east coast for their annual holidays.
Regardless of the season in which you travel to South Africa, there will always be dozens of attractions in their prime. We’ll help you to plan an itinerary that takes in the best that the areas and seasons have!