The best time to visit South Africa with Wilderness Safaris

When is the best time to visit South Africa?

South Africa classically has quite well-defined seasons. On the east coast, the pristine dive sites of Maputaland are excellent for year-round diving and relaxing on the beach, while summer is the best time for viewing nesting marine turtles. Wildlife viewing in the national parks and private reserves is good all year round, but each season has its own nuance and special charm – there simply is not one ‘perfect time’ to visit. The botanical wonders of the south-western Cape come into their own in the winter rainy season.

It is important to remember that while game viewing can never be guaranteed, there are some trends that can be seen when we combine our knowledge of seasons, habitats and water availability with animal distribution, their numbers, and thus where they can be found. The table below gives some insight into these trends. For more details, it is best to speak to your Journey Specialist or a seasoned Africa expert.

  • Transition Season Highlights

  • Green Season Highlights

  • Dry Season Highlights

  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
Green Season - December To March

South Africa’s summer is hotter with higher rainfall and humidity (except for Cape Town which gets its rain in winter owing the more Mediterranean climate). Excellent photographic opportunities with excellent light, colour and subject matter.   

Rocktail, Maputaland
Despite any rain, diving continues as the water temperature, warm weather and visibility are all excellent. The arrival of gamefish and whale sharks coincides with summer with whale shark sightings normally occurring late December and early January and February. A highlight during summer is the spotted ragged-tooth shark. In December, humpback and southern right whales may be spotted on their journey south to the Antarctic. This is also the peak time (which also extends backwards into November and October) for loggerhead and leatherback turtles to be seen on the beach at night laying their eggs – or a few weeks later, hatchlings emerging and running for the sea. Many birds breed at this time too, such as Livingstone’s turaco, rosy-throated longclaw and the busy blue-mantled crested flycatcher.

Western Cape
The climate is comfortable and sunny days are long. Temperatures do not get too excessive (occasional hot days however), due to a slight breeze in the air. In November and December, the sometimes-strong “South-Easter” wind typically blows. February and March are often the warmest months owing to frequent languid conditions with little wind.

Kruger National Park
This is a time of abundance as wildlife capitalises on the lush vegetation and ready availability of water. Many general game species have their young at this time, with large nursery herds of impala being seen. The abundance of antelope young makes it a good time for predators such as leopard and spotted hyaena. Sightings of elephant, herds of buffalo and other large game species such as hippo and giraffe remain good. This is a fantastic period for birds: colourful rollers, migratory bee-eaters, vocal kingfishers and a myriad raptors are present.

Transition Season - April To May; November

In April and May, the climate is moderate; these and November portray the fascinating dynamics that take place during a change in season.

Rocktail, Maputaland
April and May tend to be the months with the best diving conditions, as days are warm and seas are generally calm. Divers can see manta ray, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, hawksbill and green turtles and several different species of reef fish. While the official start of the turtle egg-laying season is in October, November sees more loggerhead and leatherback turtles moving into the area to nest.

Western Cape
Landscape is still dry. The first rains in April mark the onset of autumn (as befits the more Mediterranean climate). Temperatures through April, May get lower and the nights cooler. November is warm with no rain.

Dry Season - June To October

Winter in South Africa, this is the cool and drier time of the year – except for rains on the west coast. Temperatures begin rising in the spring – September / October.

Rocktail Beach Camp, Maputaland
A highlight of the winter months is the arrival of the humpback and southern right whales on their annual migration up north to Madagascar. Fantastic sightings have taken place between June and late August. August to October is quite a windy period for diving, but there are excellent sightings nevertheless of spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, eagle rays and the usual abundant resident marine life, both large and small.

Western Cape
June to August is when frontal systems move across the Atlantic Ocean bringing rains and north-westerly winds. The seas can be rough but this all adds its own appeal to visiting the Western Cape at this time. The Western Cape is very pretty in spring (September) when carpets of wildflowers are typically in bloom; landscapes lush and green. Southern right whales also visit Cape waters at this time of year.