South Africa is the ultimate year-round destination. No matter when you decide to travel, there's always something amazing going on - from whale migrations and prime game-viewing in winter; to blissful sunshine and Christmas festivities in summer. The best time to visit depends on where you want to go, and what you want to see. In this article, we take a look at the optimum times to enjoy some of South Africa's best attractions.
NB: If your main priority is enjoying the southern hemisphere sunshine, read this article for a more in-depth look at South Africa's weather.
Best Time to Go on Safari
The best time to go on safari is during the dry season. For most of the country, this means traveling during the southern hemisphere winter (May to October), when the weather is typified by clear, warm days and chilly nights. At this time of year, there is less foliage on the trees, making it easier to spot animals in the bush. The lack of available water draws wildlife to dams and waterholes - which is where you'll get some of your best sightings. Dry weather also means better road conditions for self-drive safaris at parks like Addo and Mkhuze, while the chill keeps mosquitoes at bay (a major plus for safaris in malarial areas of South Africa).
Game reserves near Cape Town are the exception to this rule. In the southernmost part of the country, summers are the driest time of year. Therefore, it's best to travel between November and March for the best safari sightings. Be aware, though, that this time of year coincides with the busiest period for tourism in South Africa and you'll need to book accommodation and game drives in advance.
Top Tip: For keen birders, the rules are reversed. The rainy season brings an influx of insects and fills up the rivers and lakes, attracting a host of migratory birds from Europe and Asia.
Best Time to Visit Cape Town
Cape Town is undoubtedly a year-round destination, with each season bringing its fair share of unique benefits. But, if you want to make the most of the region's incredible scenery, the most reliable weather occurs during the hot, dry summer months (November to February). Take the opportunity afforded by endless sunny days to browse the city's outdoor markets, hike up Table Mountain or catch a tan on one of the spectacular beaches of the Cape Peninsula. The nearby winelands of Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch are especially beautiful in fall, when the weather is cooler and the trees start to change color.
Top Tip: If you're traveling on a budget, avoid the rush of high summer, when accommodation and activities are at their most expensive.
Best Time to Visit the Drakensberg
For keen hikers, the Drakensberg Mountains are one of South Africa's top attractions. Weather-wise, the optimum time for hiking is during the fall (April to May), when you can expect warm, dry days and cool nights. At this time of year, the scenery is also particularly green and beautiful in the wake of the summer rains. Temperatures drop dramatically during the winter, with many of the higher trails coated in ice and snow. In summer, heavy rains are common in the north of the country (although the range's many waterfalls are at their most spectacular).
Best Time to Head to the Coast
South Africa's twin coastlines extend for more than 1,600 miles/ 2,500 kilometers and offer an unlimited array of activities. The best time to visit depends largely on what you want to do. If sunbathing is your top priority, then summer (November to January) is undoubtedly the hottest time of year. Be warned though - if you're headed north to KwaZulu-Natal or Zululand, summer also means frequent thunderstorms and high humidity. If you're interested in discovering South Africa's best surf spots, winter brings big swells and consequently, the best waves.
Whale-watching is also best in winter and spring. From June to October, humpbacks and southern right whales can be seen passing close to shore on their annual migration to the breeding grounds off Mozambique. If you're coming to South Africa to scuba dive, there is no "off" season - just different seasons. Shark-diving mecca Aliwal Shoal offers baited shark dives all year round, but if you want to swim alongside a tiger shark, you'll need to time your trip to coincide with the influx of warm water from December to April.
However, June to August is Sardine Run season, offering the opportunity to witness one of the underwater world's greatest natural events.
Top Tip: Rock and surf fishermen can also experience world-class fishing on the Transkei coast during the annual Sardine Run.
Best Time For Wildflower Blooms
Every year, the arrival of spring sparks the start of an incredible natural phenomenon in the Northern Cape. Almost overnight, the province's arid desert landscapes are transformed into a rich tapestry of color by the simultaneous blooming of thousands of wildflowers. Creating a sea of orange, pink, purple, yellow and white, the superbloom includes over 3,500 different species, of which almost a third are endemic. Timings are difficult to get right because the bloom is dictated by the rains. However, it usually starts in the far north in late July or early August, moving slowly south until it fades in September.
Top Tip: Check the Northern Cape tourism site for up-to-date reports about the wildflowers in season.