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Best Time to Visit South Africa

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Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa.

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Craig Howes, courtesy of South Africa Tourism

South Africa is incredibly diverse, and the best time to visit will vary based on the goals of your trip.

No matter when you travel to South Africa, you will have a memorable and completely different experience. Situated among the majestic wildlife and fascinating landscapes, witness leopards near the water holes or discover hippos bubbling in the river or escape to the coast or savor the best of the South African Winelands.

The following information is your guide to planning your ideal South African safari vacation.

Year-Round Safari Highlights at a Glance

Large male lion in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Nationall Park

Large male lion in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Nationall Park

January: Birthing season, warm weather, and fewer crowds on safari

February: Height of summer, baby animals in abundance, and prime bird watching

March: Rain subsiding, lush landscapes still around, and days are mild

April: Days are still mild and the grass is getting shorter, less crowded safaris an option

May: Cooler nights on safari, shorter grass, parks and reserves are still not crowded

June: Just outside of the peak safari season, availability is open, nights are cooler

July: Peak safari season with cooler days, dry vegetation and good game viewing

August: The coolest month and prime game viewing with much activity at waterholes

September: Days get warmer, leaves return to the trees, flowers bloom and safaris still good

October: Warmer weather, rains start in some areas. Safaris still good

November: Green season begins, the rains fall, grass is getting longer, bird watching is good

December: Afternoon showers, summer in full swing, and the green safari season continues

Best Time for Game Drives

African buffalos seen on game drive in Kruger National Park

Game drive in Kruger National Park

Best Months: May | June | July | August | September

The dry, winter months between May and September are typically the best time for a game drive in South Africa. The landscape is pretty bare, and the vegetation is sparse, which forces the wildlife into specific areas of a reserve or park. This makes it much easier and more predictable as to where the wildlife will be during your game drive, and often you can have sightings of large herds or pride. There are also fewer mosquitos present during this time, and the weather is much cooler and drier with many sunny days.

Best Time for Birding Enthusiasts

Lilac breasted roller Kruger National Park

Lilac breasted roller in flight

Best Months: November | December | January | February | March

South Africa is an incredible birding destination with the best months being from November to March. With over 75 endemic and near-endemic species, as well as more than 100 migratory species, South Africa takes bird watching to new heights. From Cape Sugarbirds to vultures, African black oystercatchers to Drakensberg Rockjumpers, to the spectacular Narina Trogon. A safari during the rainy season highlights South Africa as a major destination for birds and bird enthusiasts alike.

Best Time for a Family Safari

Mother and daughter watching elephants while at the pool of a luxury lodge

Mother and daughter poolside at luxury lodge in South Africa

Best Months:  July | August | September

A family safari in South Africa is best from July to September. The sparse foliage and dry landscape make it much easier to see the wildlife for a better experience for families with children of any age. With the promise of seeing elephants, giraffes, rhinos, or lions, your family will want to witness the wildlife to the fullest while also learning about nature and traditional African culture. A safari in South Africa can be both entertaining and educational, with the dry, cooler season offering more comfortable weather in addition to the awe-inspiring wilderness.

Best Time for a Romantic Safari

Couple having a romantic picnic in South Africa

Couple on a picnic in South Africa. Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism

Best Months:  June | July | August | September | October

South Africa is a perfect destination for a romantic safari, especially in the dry winter months between July and October. The stunning landscape offers you touches of romance and inspiring adventure, from nature walks to game drives intermixed with luxurious lodges. The drier, cooler days of winter make it more comfortable for your excursions into the wilderness while also providing you with more predictable viewing patterns of the alluring wildlife. Spend the cooler nights around a crackling fire or enjoy dinner in the privacy of your room. For warmer days, dip in your private plunge pool.

Green Season Viewing

South Africa’s Cape Floral Region

South Africa’s Cape Floral Region

Best Months: December | January | February | March

The summer rains in South Africa create the “green season,” which offers a different perspective on the safari circuit and the African bush sharing many gifts to its visitors. During the green months, the land displays lush landscapes, wildflowers, new life in flora and fauna, and you can generally expect fewer crowds with the possibility of advantageous pricing. This time of year also presents the best light for photographers. While finding quantities of game may be a little more challenging, expert guides know the areas, and a quality safari is still very possible.

Birthing Season

Lioness with cubs walking in the savanna

Lioness with cubs walking in the savanna

Best Months: December | January | February | March

December to March is typically the rainy green season in South Africa, and these months give you the best chance for finding new animal life in the bush. The rainy season is lusher, which means the wildlife gives birth creating an abundance of baby animals across the country. The beautiful landscape will be teaming with baby wildlife, in addition to the number of migratory and endemic birds, make the green season a spectacular time of year for your safari experience.

Best Time for Wine Tasting

Cape winelands in South Africa

Cape winelands in South Africa

Wine-lovers worldwide will agree that the Cape Winelands regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are just two of the incredible and picturesque settings among many. With breathtaking scenery and delectable vintages to tantalize any palate, wine can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Sit back and sip on a chenin or chardonnay perhaps during November through February, while escaping the cold winter nights of July and August by huddling around a crackling fire, enjoying a classic pinotage or red of your choice. For bike enthusiasts, cycle through the vineyards as spring hits from September, with the fall months of April and May being just as pleasant.

Best Time for Water Activities

Whale breaching the surface in Walker Bay

Whale breaching the surface in Walker Bay

South Africa offers the ultimate playground for water lovers. Locals spend weekends in spring and summer at nearby dams, waterskiing or boating in general, while diving enthusiasts have the incredible Indian Ocean coastline to explore. Those slightly adventurous can shark cage dive with the best visibility between March and September.  Peak whale-watching season runs from July to November, and if spending time on the beaches at Camps Bay or Plett is what you would prefer, the ideal time for this is mainly between November and March.

Best Time to Visit Cape Town

Camps Bay in Cape Town South Africa.  Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism

Camps Bay in Cape Town South Africa. Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism

Often added to a South African safari as a pre or post-stay, the popular city of Cape Town has an array of treasures and adventures for all. Visiting the V&A Waterfront, dining at a restaurant along Camps Bay or taking the cable car up Table Mountain, the activities are endless. The summer months are very popular and quite full, with the spring and fall offering more space to yourself and great weather. Winter is the rainy season, and the cable car is traditionally closed for maintenance from the end of July to the end of August each year.

Best Time to Visit by Season

Small herd of giraffes in Sabi Sands

Small herd of giraffes in Sabi Sands

South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means the seasons are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere. That means summer is from December to February, and winter is between June and August. The spring blossoms from September to November, and fall takes place between March and May. South Africa has more diverse seasons than other safari destinations, but typically, the four seasons can be divided into the Dry and the Green seasons.

Winter:  June | July | August

Overall, the winter is considered the best time to visit South Africa for a safari, with July and August offering the best months to spot wildlife. The dry weather results in less vegetation making it easier to spot animals around well-known waterholes. The cooler, drier weather also means fewer mosquitos and practically no rain. You won’t see as many baby animals, but you still have great opportunities for photos and the essential safari experience.

Spring: September | October | November

September and October especially are great months to catch the tail end of the prime months for a South Africa safari. The weather starts warming up, and the wildflowers across the country blossom. The wildlife comes out in full force, making it a great time to see baby animals grazing in the bush. The rains haven’t yet hit the landscape, so you can still find wildlife around the known waterholes in a given national park instead of scattered around more inaccessible areas.

Summer: December | January | February

The Southern Hemisphere summer months of January and February are some of the least crowded for a South Africa safari. The epic landscape shines green in most parts of the country and results in the best natural light for viewing and photographing wildlife. The summer is the rainy season across the country, with some corners of South Africa receiving less rain or more predictable weather patterns. The wildlife is generally dispersed across the parks and reserves with ample water sources and thick vegetation. The verdant bush, clear skies, and abundant bird species reveal a South Africa safari’s uniqueness.

Fall: March | April | May

Consider embarking on your South African safari in April or May. The rainy season is done, the grass is somewhat shorter, and the temperature is cooling down. Migratory and endemic birds are generally present across the country, and any showers that do occur usually are short afternoon bursts. If you are looking to take a safari in March, note that the tall grass and lush scenery make it more difficult to spot wildlife, especially when you consider the higher number of waterholes because of the rains.

Other Activities to Consider

Sunset tour of the vineyards in the Wester Cape Winelands

Sunset tour of the vineyards in the Wester Cape Winelands

The focus of your visit to South Africa may be on your safari however if you have a few days to spare or the desire to discover more of incredible South Africa, there are some things to note regarding “what to visit when”. For those wanting to escape to the vineyards, this is possible at any time of the year with wine tasting on the deck in summer and enjoying a classic red by the fireplace in winter.

We Can Help You Decide

Meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa

Meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa

South Africa is celebrated for its wildlife in any season enhanced by the stunning scenery and active ecosystems. With plenty of natural wonders accessible in countless must-see destinations, knowing the safari experiences you want will give you better insight into the best time to see lions or elephants, meerkats or leopards. Zicasso’s South Africa Travel Guide has much more information to create your ultimate safari. If you are thinking of a trip, you can speak with a South Africa travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.

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