South Africa offers an adventure-packed holiday to its visitors and there is something for everyone all year round; exploring wildlife hotspots, soaking up spectacular scenery, relaxing on beautiful sandy beaches, discovering fascinating culture and history, enjoying delicious food and fine wines.
South Africa is a huge country so there are regional variations in weather conditions, but generally the summer months (November to March) are hot and rainy, autumn is pleasant (April and May), winter is cold and dry (June to August) and spring brings beautiful warm days (September and October). The busiest months are December and January when it’s the long school holidays in South Africa and beach resorts and national parks can be more crowded than usual. These are also the hottest months, with rain to cool it down.
Don’t be put off by the words ‘winter’ in South Africa, the weather during these months, June to August, is still ideal in many of the regions. For example, Durban is warm all year round thanks to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, while in Johannesburg the clear sunny days, with a cooling chill in the air, are ideal for exploring, and for the optimal wildlife viewing experience, South African winters from June to August are perfect to head into the bush to see wildlife.
There are also plenty of other great reasons to travel during the winter months so let’s take a look at why it’s a good option to plan a South African trip during the dry winter months.
1. Abundant Wildlife Viewing Opportunities
Since most of the country experiences dry winters, it becomes easier to spot wildlife in national parks and game reserves in South Africa due to the lack of rain which dries up the bush so it’s easier to spot the wildlife through the sparse vegetation. In addition, the cooler weather makes game drives more comfortable.
The wildlife in these protected areas travels to the remaining available water sources, such as waterholes and rivers, as other sources dry up. As such, wildlife gathers around specific drinking spots that make it easier to know where to head to see them quenching their thirst.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, for example, even though the dry months usually offer the best wildlife viewing opportunities, Ithala Game Reserve experiences strong winds in winter, which makes the wildlife take cover and harder to spot.
Recommended Wildlife Safaris:
- 9-Day Beach and Bush in South Africa
- Kruger, Lesotho & Swaziland Group Tour
- 7 Day Sun City & Madikwe Family Adventure
2. More Affordable Safari
During the low season in winter, safari accommodations and safari agencies may offer visitors discounted rates, depending on where you want to travel. Wildlife reserves and national parks are still very popular during the winter months so rates may not change, but it’s worth researching what’s on offer.
In addition, the flight rates may also be less expensive since fewer people travel to South Africa in winter. Visitors can use ticket-booking platforms such as Skyscanner.com to find cheaper fares and discounted flight rates for a South African safari.
Recommended Budget Safaris:
3. Less Crowded Experiences
Less visitors travel to South Africa during the winter months so it’s the perfect time for more crowd-free experiences: serene beaches, quiet museums, tranquil lodges, peaceful hiking trails and intimate wining and dining.
4. Winterland Scenery
Snow is not very common in South Africa but when it does come, it’s a stunning sight. Head to Matroosberg in the Western Cape to see the Ceres Mountains covered in snow or the snow-capped Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal.
5. Marine Life Viewing Opportunities
Adventure seekers can head over to the Gansbaai, located in South Africa’s Western Cape, where they can go shark cage diving to see the great white sharks of South Africa. (Speaking of shark cages, Guadalupe in Mexico is also an excellent place to see these underwater predators from the safety of shark cages).
The winter months, especially from June to August, is also an excellent time for spotting whales as they migrate along the southern coastline, where they breed and give birth to calves. The small town of Hermanus in the Western Cape is well known as one of the best spots to see southern right whales (early June to late November). Other types of marine life that can be seen are humpbacks and Bryde’s whales, Cape fur seals, African penguins and dolphins.
When you visit the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal coastlines from May to July, be prepared to witness the sardine run, also known as the ‘Greatest Shoal on Earth’. It is an event when millions of sardines swim upward in the warm Indian Ocean along the east coast. Watch as other marine life, including birds and dolphins, gather in a feeding frenzy, a view that can be seen from several perspectives, from the sky, underwater or from the land.
6. Low Risk Of Malaria
In some parts of South Africa there is a risk of malaria, but the dry season and cooler weather of the winter months means the risk of malaria is significantly decreased. This does not preclude the need for prevention – check with your doctor what you need and pack mosquito repellents if needed. In addition, there are also some great malaria-free wildlife destinations in South Africa.
7. Fine Wine & Food
Depending on your safari package, it’s likely that you will experience some of South Africa’s delicious gourmet food and fine wines at some point during your safari. In the winter months, enjoy wholesome South African dishes, try some winter-warming classics such as bobotie and lamb potjie, and enjoy some of the renowned South African wines. Winter is also a time to cosy up around a roaring fire, sharing stories and experiences with friends and family.
- Best of Southern Africa
- Southern Africa Highlights Safari
- Cape Town & Malaria Free Eastern Cape Safari
Other Reasons to visit South Africa in Winter
- Visit Postberg Wildflower Reserve, known for its natural exhibit of blooming wildflowers, between August and September, while in Namaqualand on the West Coast the wild flowers are in full bloom from July to October.
- The dry winter weather also offers optimal weather conditions for hiking the popular trails through South Africa, including the Shipwreck Trail in the Western Cape and the Chokka Trail in the Eastern Cape.
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