Sand and surf at Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town
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When's the best time to visit South Africa?

Sam Botes

Contributing writer

With a varied climate across its vast landscapes and an annual calendar dotted with world-class events and festivals, South Africa is a year-round destination. That said, depending on whether you're into safaris, beach holidays, outdoor adventures, or cultural festivals, the timing of your visit can significantly enhance your experience.

For example, winter is a great time for safari viewing, while summer is ideal for beach holidays. Remember that the seasons in South Africa are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere, with summer falling between December and February and winter between June and August.

South Africa by season

South Africa's peak tourism season falls in the summer between December and February. Summer is an incredible time for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts however, if you’re looking to travel in peak season, book in advance, especially for Christmas and New Year.

Local school holidays fall into this period, and many South Africans take a break at this time of year. Booking up to a year in advance would be the safest time allowing you to choose where you would like to stay rather than picking from what’s still available closer to the time.

If you want to go on a safari, it is advisable to book around 6 - 12 months in advance. This is because most lodges are small and intimate with anything from 4 - 12 rooms, and therefore have limited space. Many travellers return annually and are booking for next year’s vacation as they are checking out.

Winter is the best time for safaris. With the cooler weather, there is less water so the wildlife congregates around the limited water supply, there is less vegetation so the animals are easier to spot, and there is also a lower risk of malaria as mosquitoes aren’t as prevalent when it’s cold outside. 

Summer (Dec-Feb) in South Africa is best for:

  • Beaches

  • Walking tours

  • Adrenalin activities eg ziplining, skydiving, kitesurfing

  • Watersports

  • Star gazing

  • Turtle experiences

Autumn (Mar-May) in South Africa is best for:

  • Hiking

  • Changing foliage

  • Wine tasting

  • Cycling

Winter (Jun-Aug) in South Africa is best for:

  • Game viewing and safaris

  • Surfing at Jeffreys Bay

  • Whale watching

Spring (Sep-Nov) in South Africa is best for:

  • Seeing wildflowers

  • Hiking

  • Turtle experiences

  • Whale watching

Weather and climate in South Africa

South Africa's weather and climate differ between each province, and it’s not uncommon to experience all four seasons in a day. Visitors can expect hot summers and mild winters in most areas, and the country is generally safe from natural disasters, making it an ideal destination to visit.

Much of the country receives rainfall around the year, however, Cape Town is known for its wet winters and Johannesburg typically receives rain in summer (expect afternoon thunderstorms). While the winters may not be as cold as other parts of the world, South Africa does not have indoor heating and thermostats as in the UK, Europe and USA.

Snow only falls at high altitudes with dustings in the Western Cape and the majority falling on to the Drakensberg Mountains in Kwazulu-Natal. South Africa isn’t known to be a snow destination but if you enjoy crisp mountain walks, or hot chocolate around the fireplace, there are a few cozy cabins you can check into.

Festivals in South Africa

South Africa is a country known for its rich cultural diversity and lively spirit, which is reflected in its variety of events and festivals throughout the year. Here are six of the most well-known and celebrated festivals in South Africa:

Cape Town International Jazz Festival (March/April)

Known as 'Africa's Grandest Gathering,' the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has firmly established itself as a standout event on the global jazz scene. Each year, the festival's lineup features a blend of renowned international musicians and local artists pushing the boundaries of jazz. Apart from live performances, the festival includes photography and art exhibitions, jazz-themed workshops, and community outreach projects aimed at nurturing budding talent and jazz appreciation. 

National Arts Festival (June /July)

The National Arts Festival in Makhanda is a major highlight of South Africa's cultural calendar. For 11 days, the small university town is transformed into a vibrant and diverse cultural hub. The festival brings together artists, performers, and audiences from around the world to celebrate creativity across disciplines including theatre, dance, music, visual art, film, and more. The event is also known for the 'Fringe,' where emerging artists have a platform to shine.

AfrikaBurn (April/May)

South Africa’s version of Burning Man, held in the desolate Tankwa Karoo desert, is much more than a festival. It's a community of participants who come together to create art, burn structures, dress up in creative costumes, build themed camps, gift experiences to one another and perform or simply enjoy the spectacle. The event is guided by principles that include radical self-expression, communal effort, and decommodification, leading to the creation of a temporary city of art.

Oppikoppi Music Festival (August)

The Oppikoppi Music Festival, set in the beautiful landscapes of the Limpopo Province, has evolved over the years into a big draw for music fans across genres. Over several days, attendees camp out under the African sky and are treated to performances from some of the best local and international acts. It's a unique blend of music and nature, with an ambience that celebrates freedom, diversity, and music in all its forms. Oppikoppi is often fondly referred to as 'the greatest music festival in South Africa.'

 Durban International Film Festival (late July)

The Durban International Film Festival is a prominent platform for cinema from Africa and beyond. Showcasing world-class films, the festival promotes a culture of film appreciation and cinema-going in the region. It also supports the local film industry by hosting workshops, panel discussions, and networking events. The festival gives special focus to African cinema, aiming to amplify African voices and stories, making it a significant event in the global film industry calendar.

The Cape Town Carnival (mid to late March)

Every year, the Cape Town Carnival injects a festive spirit into the city's streets with dazzling floats, energetic dance troupes, and infectious rhythms. The carnival reflects the city's multicultural heritage, featuring various communities' unique traditions and folklore. Themes change yearly, but the event consistently delivers a spectacular showcase of music, choreography, and craftsmanship. The Carnival is more than a parade - it's a day-long event that unites the city and its people in a joyful, colourful celebration.

Read more about festivals and events in South Africa

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Sam Botes

Author - Sam Botes

Sam is a freelance writer, social media manager and mother of three, who loves to travel. Safaris are her ultimate adventure and next on the list is Antarctica.

Last Updated 12 September 2023

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