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South Africa

Climate & when to go

South Africa can be visited comfortably any time. However, depending on what you plan to do, it’s worth paying attention to the seasons, which are the reverse of those in the northern hemisphere. Winter (June to September) is cooler, drier and ideal for hiking and outdoor pursuits. Because vegetation is less dense and thirsty animals congregate around rivers and other permanent water sources, winter is also the best time for wildlife-watching. In the eastern highveld, nights are often crisp and clear, with occasional frosts, so come prepared with a jacket.

More of a consideration than weather are school holidays. From mid-December to January, waves of vacation-hungry South Africans stream out of the cities, with visitors from Europe and North America adding to the crush. The absolute peak is from Christmas to mid-January, followed by Easter. At this time, accommodation in tourist areas and national parks is heavily booked, and prices can more than double. If you visit Cape Town, the Garden Route or other popular areas during this time, it’s essential to book accommodation in advance. On the plus side, the high summer months offer some great festivals, including Cape Town’s Kaapse Klopse.

Spring (mid-September to November) and autumn (April and May) are ideal almost everywhere. Spring is also the best time to see vast expanses of the Northern Cape carpeted with wildflowers.

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…

  • Binoculars for wildlife-watching and a zoom lens for taking great wildlife shots
  • An appetite for biltong, boerewors (Boer sausages) and mealie pap
  • Making room in your schedule to visit at least one township
  • Your yellow-fever vaccination card if you’ve been travelling elsewhere in Southern Africa
  • Reading up on malaria in the Health chapter if you’ll be travelling in malarial areas
  • A torch (flashlight) and warm, waterproof clothing for those cold, black, starry nights in the highlands, especially in Lesotho
  • A sleeping bag if you’re planning on camping
  • Bringing along a book for long bus rides