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Best time to visit South Africa for a Safari

Updated: Nov 3

The best time to go on safari in South Africa is, quite simply, a seasonal decision. Each season in the African bush offers a unique spin to the safari experience; and each region brings its own seasonal nuances. South Africa is a country that is considered an all-year-round destination and depending on what time of the year you visit, will also influence your safari checklist (if you would like further information on this, please check out our article,What to pack for your safari in South Africa’).


Your expectations of a South African safari may differ from the next person, so to help you navigate these expectations and to choose your best time to go on a safari, we have listed a few points below.


What is the best month to go on a safari in South Africa?


The average temperature in South Africa by season

SEASON

MONTHS

MIN TEMP

MEDIUM TEMP

MAX TEMP

​Summer

December, January, February

16.73 ° C

23.52 ° C

30.35 ° C

Autumn

March, April, May

11.42 ° C

18.52 ° C

25.66 ° C

Winter

June, July, August

3.65 ° C

11.69 ° C

19.78 ° C

Spring

September, October, November

11.75 ° C

19.36 ° C

27.01 ° C

The average temperature in South Africa by month

MONTH

MIN TEMP

MEDIUM TEMP

MAX TEMP

January

16.79 ° C

23.77 ° C

30.79 ° C

February

16.73 ° C

23.52 ° C

30.35 ° C

March

14.87 ° C

21.82 ° C

28.83 ° C

April

11.42 ° C

18.52 ° C

25.66 ° C

May

7.41 ° C

15.1 ° C

22.83 ° C

June

4.17 ° C

11.99 ° C

19.85 ° C

August

5.43 ° C

13.59 ° C

21.81 ° C

September

8.56 ° C

16.69 ° C

24.86 ° C

October

11.75 ° C

19.36 ° C

27.01 ° C

November

13.69 ° C

21.05 ° C

28.46 ° C

December

15.6 ° C

22.74 ° C

29.93 ° C


When is the rainy season in South Africa?


Apart from the Western Cape, which is known for its rainy winters, the rest of South Africa (Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Northwest, Gauteng, Mpumalanga & Limpopo provinces) receives most of its rainfall during the summer months.


Hot summer days are often followed by storms in the afternoon, and these provide relief from the relentless heat of summer! To read more about safaris in South Africa, please visit our article ‘Best Safari in South Africa'.


Travel tip: Winter is considered the best time to go on safari in South Africa as the bush is sparse due to the dry winter months, making animals a lot easier to find! Waterholes, where wildlife comes to drink, are also far and few between because of the lack of rain, which results in many sightings at these locations.


What are the low and high season costs of a safari in South Africa?


Ironically, the optimal time to go on a safari in South Africa is in the low season, which falls within the winter months. Peak season in South Africa takes place over the summer months (particularly December and January) as this is the main school holiday and work end period for South Africans. There are also many international visitors during this time as most are escaping their icy winters, resulting in a very busy tourist season.

You will find it difficult to get into your desired safari lodge if you have not booked in advance and due to the demand, rates are higher in the peak season; although this is not always by a huge margin, it does make a substantial difference if you are planning a ten-day safari adventure.


For many people, the cost of a safari will determine the best time to visit South Africa, and visiting in the low, or what is termed the ‘shoulder’ season, in South Africa may give more room to stretch the budget. Please click on the link, ‘Cost breakdown of budget, middle-range and luxury safaris in South Africa’ for more information on this topic.


When is the best time to see the Big 5 in South Africa?


The Big Five animals are the Buffalo; Elephant; Leopard; Lion; and Rhino. These animals are considered some of the most dangerous African wildlife species, which is why it has become a highlight to view them in the wild. Reserves and lodges will let guests know if they have the Big Five animals, so visitors know that there is the possibility of spotting them during their stay.


As mentioned previously, the winter months offer some of the best game viewing opportunities as the bush is very bare from minimal rain; this includes seeing the Big Five as well as other animal species such as Cheetah or Giraffe. If you are not a fan of the cold, then holding off until September or October will also offer excellent safari conditions as the bush is still dry and those early mornings and late afternoon game drives are not as chilly. If you are hoping to see wildlife with their young, then visiting between November and March is the best time to visit South Africa as this is the birthing season for many animals.


To learn more about Africa’s Big Five wildlife then check out our Big Five Article.


Travel tip: Both the winter and spring months coincide with the migration of the southern right whales to South Africa, so including two or three days for whale watching in the coastal town of Hermanus is highly recommended. November to March is also the turtle tracking season, where the extraordinary Loggerhead and Leatherback Turtles can be discovered along the coastline of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. There are many fabulous Big Five Game Reserves in this region so combining a safari with a turtle tracking experience is as easy as one, two, three!


What is the best time of the year to visit the Kruger National Park?


The Kruger National Park, situated in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, is one of South Africa’s most well-known Big Five Safari destinations with an abundance of wildlife that roams the land. The park is larger in size than some countries, where elephant herds are in the hundreds and large prides of lion are a common sight.


The Kruger is a public park that caters for self-drives and day visitors as well as providing self-catering rest camps for those who wish to stay overnight. It is also where you will find private lodges and some of Africa’s top luxury lodges, which are located in private concessions within the park. Here, safaris are conducted in open vehicle 4x4s by expert guides and trackers. Unlike the crowds you may find in the public areas of the park at certain times of the year, the concessions are limited to a certain number of guests at a time – thus ensuring ‘front row’ Big Five sightings all year round.


The best time to visit the Kruger would be between May and October, as once again this is the dry season in the bush, so wildlife is easier to spot, and animals are gathered around waterholes. We recommend visiting outside of the peak season (December/January) due to the summer heat (temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius), and because of the large numbers of people visiting the public areas of park, which creates long queues at wildlife sightings. Private lodges bypass this obstacle, but for these safari packages bookings would need to be made well in advance to secure your spot.


We have several Kruger National Park packages so please get in touch with us if you would like to go on a safari.


When is the best time to visit the Kalahari Desert?


The Northern Cape, South Africa’s largest province and a semi desert region, is home to the Kalahari Desert where temperatures can soar close to 40 ° C in the summer, along with afternoon thunderstorms that bring minimal rainfall.


Within the southern Kalahari, also referred to as the Green Kalahari lies Tswalu, a safari destination with conservation at its’ core. This reserve is worth visiting all year round, but particularly in the winter months if you wish to see some of Africa’s most elusive species such as aardvark, aardwolf and pangolin.


The four seasons of the Kalahari bring many delights and hot summer days are accompanied by new life and greenery bursting through after the first touch of water to the land. Autumn brings cooler days with the results of the summer rains still evident across the green savannah. As with most parts of South Africa, winter is the driest season and temperatures are more manageable, however you can expect very cold winter nights in the desert! Spring is always a joyous season after a dry winter as the days get longer and nature awaits those much-needed summer rains.


Travel tip: Namaqualand, a region of the Northern Cape, puts on an incredible flower display in Spring (August and September) with thousands of wildflowers covering the dry landscape.


When is best to visit the Addo Elephant National Park?


Situated in the Eastern Cape province is the malaria-free, Addo Elephant National Park. Many travelers will include Addo on their Garden Route itinerary with a desire to view the famous Addo elephants that were once on the brink of extinction. There is a variety of accommodations in and around the park and temperatures are cooler in the summer than that of Kruger National Park.


The average temperature in Addo Elephant Park

MONTHS

AVG. MAX TEMP

AVG. MIN TEMP

May to October

Average Maximum of 21-25 ° C

Average Minimum of 5-10 ° C

November to April

Average Maximum of 26-30° C

Average Minimum of 11-17 ° C

We recommend planning your trip to coincide with the whale season (June to November) in South Africa, as this would make a spectacular Garden Route Safari. This period falls in the winter and spring months in South Africa, which always bring ideal safari conditions.


When is the best time to visit Phinda Private Game Reserve?


In the southeast of South Africa is the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where many Big Five game reserves can be found. Among them is the renowned Phinda Private Game Reserve. With six luxury lodges to choose from, up-close sightings of cheetah and the rare black rhino, as well as unique conservation activities that guests can get involved in, it is no surprise that Phinda is a favourite among locals and internationals alike.


Phinda shares the same safari cycle as most of South Africa, with dry winter months, hot summer days and cooler temperatures in Autumn and Spring. Peak season rates apply over the December and January period with bookings required months in advance to secure that perfect Christmas safari.


Travel tip: The winters are a lot milder in this province than other parts of South Africa and combining your safari with a few days of relaxation at a beach resort on the Indian Ocean is recommended.


References:

  • South Africa, Climate Knowledge Portal, Retrieved from climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org

  • Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, Retrieved from Tswalu.com

  • Addo Elephant Park, Retrieved from Addo.org.za

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