When is the best time of year to visit South Africa?

South Africa is an excellent year-round destination. With so much to see and do, the best time to plan a trip really depends on the activities you’d like to do. The best time to visit the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and coastal cities like Durban in KwaZulu-Natal is in the summer (November to March) when the weather is hot and sunny. It's also when South Africa's stunning coast, wineries and festivals are in full swing. Just bear in mind that this is the peak tourist season so prices are higher and crowds are bigger – especially in December and January when the South African school holidays and festive season kick-off.

The best time to go on safari is in the winter (May to September) when the weather is dry and animals are easier to spot. If you're into hiking, autumn and spring are the best seasons for it thanks to little rain, warm days and cool nights. Spring is particularly scenic when colourful wildflowers carpet the landscapes in the Northern and Western Cape provinces.

The best time for a safari

An elephant and her calf in Addo Game Park, South Africa

Game reserves like Kruger, Mapungubwe and Lion Sands are generally at their best from May to September when the temperatures are mild and there's minimal rain. It’s easier to see wildlife as vegetation is thinner and animals tend to hang out around rivers and waterholes instead of dispersing across the parks. It can be chilly in the early mornings and evenings, so bring enough layers to stay warm on game drives.

You can still go on safari in the wet season (summer), but you might find it more difficult to spot game through the tall grasses and lush vegetation. Daily rainstorms can also decrease visibility and disrupt travel plans. That said, the plus side of a summer safari is that it's birthing season, which means you might be lucky to see adorable pups, cubs and calves.

The best time for whale watching

People whale watching on the cliff paths on the coast of Hermanus, South Africa

Every year from July to November, hundreds of southern right whales migrate from chilly Antarctica to mate, give birth and nurse their young in South Africa's warmer waters. While you're better off booking a boat tour if you'd like to get up close and personal, you can usually spot them off the coast of Hermanus where they swim very close to the shore. This popular seaside town also hosts the annual Hermanus Whale Festival in late September to celebrate and raise awareness of these majestic sea creatures. If you'd like to attend, make sure you plan ahead as accommodation gets booked up quickly.

The best time for beaches

With just under three thousand kilometres of coastline, South Africa isn’t short of stunning beaches. You can hit the beach as early as November when the spring transitions to summer, but December to February is the best time to enjoy the beaches in their full, sun-drenched glory as the days are long and bright, and the weather is hot and dry. March is a good time to have a quieter beach holiday as the crowds thin out and the weather is still warm.

Bask in the sun and bathe in a natural rock swimming pool at Cape Town's famous Camps Bay; catch a wave at popular surfing spots like Jeffrey’s Bay and Cape Town's Long Beach, or strap on your snorkel to explore the impressive reef at Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu-Natal. Coastal towns like Hermanus, Mossel Bay and Langebaan are popular with local holidaymakers, so hotels can get booked up months in advance.

The best time for festivals

Wildlife might be one of South Africa’s biggest draws, but it has some pretty incredible festivals, too. South African culture is dynamic and diverse and the summer festival calendar is packed with a wide range of events. Head to the International Jazz Festival to enjoy smooth tunes in the sunshine, hit up the South African Cheese Festival in Stellenbosch to feast on delicious local produce and wine, or indulge in fresh oysters and live music at the Knysna Oyster Festival.

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