South Africa is in the southern hemisphere – meaning the seasons are the other way around than in Europe or North America. There is something delightful about each season, so which season you choose is largely up to your own preferences. Remember, South Africa is a huge country, so there is a lot of variety in climate. Generally speaking, the further away you come from the coast or the higher the area is, the more pronounced the differences in temperature between seasons. You’ll find the same is true for day and night temperatures, which can differ up to 20 degrees in desert/mountain areas.
Spring begins in September with an average temperature between 20 and 26 degrees (all temperatures in Celsius). Summer starts in December and can be hot: inland 36 – 40 degrees, at the coast a pleasant 25 – 30 degrees. Autumn is from March onwards and has a comfortable 20 – 26 degrees, though the nights are already turning cold. In June the winter starts with an average 19 degrees. The nights are generally cold and in the mountains snow is not uncommon.
What does this mean for traveling?
Traveling is possible throughout the year. There is a lot of sunshine, though rain can and will fall the whole year round. Only the northern part has a more pronounced rainy season, in February and early March. In fact most of the nine provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape, which experiences late winter rainfall. These rains (September/October) result in a spectacular explosion of flowers in the Karoo and the Kalahari desert, which can literally turn blue and yellow overnight.
Late winter and early spring are generally good for spotting wildlife: the grass is still low after winter and water is spare, so most animals can be found around the few places where water is still abundant. After the first spring rains the bush starts to grow and turn green, making it slightly harder to spot animals. On the other hand birthing season starts so you will see a lot more animals.
Spring and summer are also best for seeing flowers: the Garden Route can be spectacular in spring. And in October the Jacaranda’s turn Pretoria’s streets famously purple.
Autumn is cooler, so the animals are more active during the daytime, making it one of the best times to go on safari. The same is true for Winter, which has cold nights but is also the time the whaling season starts (July to October)