Where to place South Africa on your travel calendar
Reversed seasons mean that when large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere are in the throes of winter, it's summertime in South Africa. Seeking a reprieve from the cold, many international travelers chose to explore South Africa between the hot months of December and March, which results in large crowds and exorbitant accommodation rates in popular destinations like the Western Cape. The other seasons, each with its own appeal, generally offer better deals, sparser crowds and more pleasant weather for viewing big game animals, hiking and other activities.
The Western Cape
Home to beaches, vineyards and the vibrant city of Cape Town, the Western Cape is South Africa's top tourist destination, especially in the summer, when the average temperature is 80 degrees F. However, the fall – March through May – is characterized by milder temperatures and significantly fewer tourists. Consider also winter and early spring, roughly mid-July through November, which bring nursing Southern right whales to the coast of the Western Cape, making it one of the world's best places to observe these majestic creatures from land. Cape Town has an enticing average temperature of around 69 degrees F in the wintertime, but be sure to pack warm clothes for layering, as rain is common, and buildings are rarely well insulated.
Game-viewing conditions in South Africa's national parks and game reserves are optimal in the wintertime, between May and August, when thinner vegetation makes it easier to spot elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards and other animals. Moreover, while mosquito-transmitted malaria is a always a concern in Kruger National Park, one of the top safari destinations not only in South Africa but in the entire continent, the risk is lowest during the winter.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa's easternmost province ‒ with its beaches, game reserves, hiking trails and the harbor city of Durban ‒ is a popular vacation destination among South Africans. The region boasts some 300 days of sunshine annually and a temperate climate. It is best visited in the winter, when the muggy summer air has dissipated, and the average temperature is 79 degrees F. Along KwaZulu-Nata's western border lie the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg mountains, a veritable Eden for hikers. The ideal times to explore this vast wilderness are spring and autumn; summer brings an onslaught of thunderstorms, and winters are frigid; a threat of snow always exists.
When planning a South African adventure, take into account local school holidays, when tourist destinations are more likely to be packed. The Western Cape tends to get crowded during the country's 10-day Easter break, for example. And while South Africa's winter is a great time to visit Kruger National Park, skip it in late June and early July when schools are on holiday and locals take the opportunity to do some wildlife viewing of their own. Note that schools are also on break for about four weeks between December and January.