When is the Best Time to Travel to South Africa
Famous for its sunshine, South Africa can be visited at any time of year for an enjoyable vacation. The best time to travel depends on the purpose of your visit and which areas you’d like to see. From wildlife safaris and whale watching off the coast, to exploring through Cape Town and the Garden Route, the toughest part of your planning your vacation will be narrowing down exactly what you want to do!
South Africa by the Seasons
South Africa sees two main seasons each year: the dry season and the wet season. The weather is sunny and relatively dry all year long, so really you can visit South Africa any time you’d like. Your Adventure Consultant can help you choose the time of year that works best for you according to your interests and availability.
Dry Season (May – September)
Winter is a wonderful time to plan your South African Adventure. The interior plateau of the country (higher in altitude) will be dry and sunny, sometimes with heavy frosts while the coasts and low-lying areas experience beautiful winter weather with virtually no rain or wind. Mornings and evenings can be quite cool – anywhere from freezing to 50’s (°F) in the lower temperature range, so bring your warm clothes on any open air vehicle safari! The high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg get snow. The dry season is low on tourists but high on game sightings in the parks as most of the wildlife congregate around permanent, predictable water holes that don’t dry up due to lack of rain. Most of the veld is no longer lush which makes it much easier to spot animals from afar. If you keep your eye on the water, you’ll likely spot the Southern Right Whales that hang off the coasts from mid-June – October. Near the end of winter when the rains return to the land, wildflower season picks up and places like Namaqualand and the Garden Route show their true colors.
Wet Season (October – April)
Summertime in South Africa is hot and sunny with chances of thundershowers in the afternoons. Most of South Africa receives its annual rainfall during these months, except for the Western Cape which receives most of its rainfall in the winter. The interior plateau will be cooler at a higher altitude, usually not seeing temperatures over 80°F. Along the coasts, temperatures can easily jump into the 80’s making beach lounging along the coasts a favorite for locals and tourists alike. Safaris in the parks are also popular, especially during school holidays in December, but the game viewing can be a bit slower than in winter. With more rain, the bush will be thicker making it harder to see wildlife, and they will also be more spread out with new seasonal water hole supplies. If you’re into birding, summertime is perfect for viewing both the native and migratory birds that call South Africa home during the wet season.
Wondering How to Prepare and What to Pack on Your South Africa Adventure?
Since South Africa generally shows off its sunny climate, it shouldn’t be too difficult to prepare and pack for your upcoming adventure. Here are a few tips on packing to keep in mind when preparing for your upcoming vacation.
1. It’s Going to be Sunny.
For the most part, South Africa is a very sunny country, and while you’ll enjoy the nice weather on your getaway, a sunburn can quickly ruin a nice holiday. Pack your sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, a good sun or safari-style hat, sunglasses with UV protection or polarized lenses, and long clothing to protect your arms and legs from the beating sun. You’ll want to bring your beachwear and sandals if you’re headed to the coast. Also, many hotels and lodges feature swimming or infinity pools (we highly recommend an afternoon spent poolside reading a book, drink in hand!)
2. Bring a Bandanna.
Some sort of bandanna, scarf or lightweight gaiter is a perfect item to keep in your backpack while on safari. If the weather is cool, you can keep your face or ears warm by covering up. If it’s hot, dip your bandanna in the nearest water source and tie it lightly around your shoulders and neck to cool off. You also won’t regret having your bandanna along on a dusty safari ride, as it can get pretty old breathing in dust for several hours at a time!
3. Bring Your Lightweight Clothing.
Since it’ll likely be warm on your South Africa vacation (regardless of the time of year you go), you’ll want to pack your lightweight safari clothing. We recommend long sleeves and long pants (to keep the sun’s rays and mosquitos at bay) in neutral colors like brown, khaki and beige. However, if you head to South Africa in the winter months, it will be wise to pack some warmer clothes because mornings, evenings and nights can be very cool (even freezing at higher elevations!)
4. Photo Equipment is a Must.
Bringing along your nice camera is an absolute must on any visit to South Africa. After all, how are you going to share all of the wonderful memories and game sightings you experienced during your amazing vacation? A zoom lens for capturing wildlife from afar is a good idea to bring along. You’ll also want extra batteries and an adapter to charge them. Bring more SD cards than you think you’ll need (because you’ll take more pictures than you can imagine!) and polarizing filters to battle the bright sun. Many guests also bring a tripod along if they plan to take photos near dawn or dusk (because of the long exposure time needed for these photos to turn out).
Travel Tips for Visiting South Africa
South Africa is a very exciting destination for many people to check off their lifelong bucket list. We know you’re going to have an amazing time in your upcoming travels, but we have a few tips below to make your vacation or safari that much better.
1. Think Minimalist.
When heading to South Africa on a safari, you really don’t need to bring a lot of “stuff” along in your suitcase. Dinners at the lodges in the evening are fairly casual and it’s easy to mix and match a nice outfit or two to save space. You don’t need to bring a new outfit for each day of your safari (except for maybe your unders!) – oftentimes, you can wear the same thing at least twice and no one’s going to look down on you…this is after all a safari, not a fashion contest! Some lodges have staff that can do your laundry for you (for a small fee) and for extended safaris, this wonderful service allows you to take less clothing along in your suitcase. Plus, there are lots of neat African crafts, pottery and baskets you’re going to want to bring home – plan ahead of time to leave a little extra room in your suitcase for your trinkets!
2. So You’ve Heard the “M” Word.
First, we have to throw out a disclaimer – malaria doesn’t exist everywhere in Africa. While there are several malaria-risk areas in South Africa, we highly recommend you check with your travel doctor for the latest up-to-date information on where malaria exists and what the best precautions are to take for your upcoming trip (it’s constantly changing). There are several malaria medications available but many factors you must consider before deciding which malarial drug (if any) is right for you. Consider where you’re going on your itinerary, the length of your trip, cost of the drugs, previous adverse reactions to anti-malarials, drug allergies and your medical history. A travel doctor can help you figure out what will work best for you, and we recommend checking in 4-6 weeks prior to your trip to get the latest information on vaccines and medications you will need for your upcoming South Africa adventure.
3. Safety Precautions.
While South Africa may have a reputation for crime, this country like many other places in today’s world, is relatively safe and all you need to do is take the usual sensible precautions and follow some basic safety rules. Leave expensive or valuable items at home, and if you do need to bring something important with you (like your passport), keep it locked away in your hotel room safe when it isn’t needed. Keep items like cell phones and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. Avoid carrying cameras, purses or bags over your shoulder or on your back (unless you have eyes in the back of your head, you may not be able to see what’s happening back there). Be wary when riding in public transportation and don’t walk alone in dodgy areas. All in all, just play it safe as you would when visiting any other country (or busy city in the US or Europe). No need to be paranoid, just be smart.