South Africa is, of course, located in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is worth doing a little research to understand the differences between seasons, especially if you are traveling from the Northern Hemisphere.
There is nothing worse than having the trip of a lifetime planned and then being greeted by some unpleasant surprises, whether it is rain, extreme heat, a time when everything is closed, or a time when places are jam-packed. So, depending on your preferences and how you like to travel, this guide will prove invaluable to planning and preparing your trip to the end of Africa.
Of course, we all know that one of the best ways to integrate into the local culture, or multiculturalism in the case of South Africa, and if this is high on your priority list, then we will give you a rundown of the best local festivities and celebrations not to be missed too. Whether or not you fancy attending and taking part, it is worth knowing when these celebrations happen, so you know that there may be crowds, traffic jams, road closures, and closed businesses, which can be a nuisance if we aren’t prepared for it. So, with that being said, here is all you need to know about the seasons and local holidays in South Africa.
The seasons of South Africa
In terms of climate, South Africa (formerly known as the Republic of South Africa, RSA) has a hot and arid climate, apart from the high-altitude regions, and lies in the Southern Hemispheres subtropical zone. The coldest months there are June – August, the European and North American summer, while in the South African summer, you can expect sporadic rains.
You can keep warm by sticking to the coast alongside the Indian Ocean during the winter. However, if you find yourself at higher altitudes, you can expect freezing temperatures, so it is important to plan when and where you are going.
So, let’s get into a bit more detail.
Spring: September - November
Like Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (although reversed), you can expect to enjoy warmer temperatures in the early days of September. The temperature will start to increase even further in October and November, too, as the summer is approaching. You will notice flowers are in bloom, so this is a fantastic time to visit for nature lovers. Not only this, but animal lovers will be in heaven, seeing newborns all over the landscape, from birds to lambs and, of course, wildlife common in the game reserves.
Summer: December - February
The temperatures start to get hot during December and into February, ranging from around 26-28°C (79-82°F). This is a great time to be on the coast close to the water, which has perfect temperatures for swimming. Still, as mentioned before, some parts of the west can experience rainfall, especially in the afternoon, so be aware of this and be prepared. The summer holidays are when Christmas and New Year fall, so they are prime times to visit South Africa. You should expect irregular opening hours for businesses and crowds of people at main hot spots and beaches.
March is the last actual warm month, while April sees the temperatures start to decrease as winter is just a few months away, but in March, you can expect to be still able to swim comfortably. However, the water temperature will drop during April and, of course, May. May is the harvest season for corn, sugarcane, and cotton, and thus brings showers and heavy clouds, so always have an umbrella on hand in case of a downpour.
Winter: June – August
The weather during winter is very unpredictable and will vary depending on where you plan to be during these months. You can expect to have cold temperatures at higher altitudes and milder temperatures at the coast, but it is always best to pack layers, waterproof clothing, and non-slip footwear if you plan to visit during this time. Depending on where you are in the country, you can expect anywhere between 2-23°C (36-73°F) between day and night.
The best time to travel
If you are after the heat, the best time to visit is in the summer months. However, the best time to visit is between May and September, when wildlife viewing is at its best. This is the winter, but where the parks are located, it is the dry season, and this is ideal for spotting wildlife who come to gather at watering holes.
These months are ideal to go on safari in South Africa at any of the game reserves on the east, while the western game reserves are best visited in the summer months. However, this falls during the festive period. In addition, Cape Town and the Western Cape experience their rainy seasons from June to August (winter), while in the rest of the country, the rain does not arrive until November through to March.
For whale watching, the best time is September & October, when you might be lucky enough to spot them close to the shore without having a boat tour. It is worth noting that whales and dolphins can indeed be spotted all year round on the southern and eastern coasts, but your best bet is to be there during these months to get a great sighting. Be sure to make your way to Hermanus, renowned for being one of the world’s top destinations for whale watching. In addition, dolphins can be spotted near Port Elizabeth during January & June.
November until March is the summertime in South Africa when the temperatures at=re at the highest, the festive season begins, and there are many festivals and celebrations to attend. This is the peak season, so accommodation and tours will need to be booked in advance.
June- August is the winter and the low season, which is an excellent time for budget travelers. And although the temperatures won’t be skyrocketing, you can still experience plenty of sunshine and ideal conditions for a safari, but expect chilly mornings and evenings if you plan to visit at this time.
April-May/September-October is the shoulder season which is a fantastic time to travel to South Africa on a budget, with fewer crowds and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.
Having first taken place on October 10th, 1990, initially as a protest march with 800 marchers, this event has become one of the most loved and attended in the country. Like many Gay Pride festivals around the world, you can expect lots of fun, music, vibrancy, color, and celebration in February/March time.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival:
For music lovers, this will be an event not to be missed, especially considering it is the largest music event in sub–Saharan Africa. Known as ‘Africa’s Grandest Gathering,’ this world-renowned festival, which happens in March, is famous for hosting international and local artists, who are there to provide some top-quality entertainment.
Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees:
One of South Africa’s largest festivals, which is held at Oudtshoorn on the Western Cape, also happens in March and is a fantastic event to attend if you are a lover of performing arts, visual arts, and rich cultural history, all of which you will find here. This festival keeps people coming back year in, year out to experience a lifetime, and you should try it too.
This festival, a smaller version of the US Burning Man festival, is one that you shouldn’t miss out on if you are there between April/and May. Located in Tankwa Karoo, this ever-popular festival provides the experience of a lifetime, where you will be part of a temporary city revolving around freedom of expression, the arts, costume, music, performance, and theme camps.