The Best Time to Go on a South African Safari

by Paul Joseph  |  Published January 6, 2023

South Africa is one of the world’s finest safari destinations – but to make the most of your adventure it’s essential to find out the best time to go.

(Photo: Sumarie Slabber via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Offering some of the very best game viewing opportunities anywhere in the world, South Africa draws huge numbers of visitors every year who come to experience the magic of a safari. And one of the key variables to consider when planning your trip is the weather, which will often determine your chances of spotting animals. If you’re thinking of coming to South Africa for a safari excursion, we’ve created a short guide on the best time to visit.

(Photo: brando via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

When to go

Geographically vast and diverse, South Africa’s climate varies from region to region. Typically, the summer season lasts from about December through to March, before winter sets in from around June to August. The area in and around Cape Town and the Western Cape experience winter rainfall and a largely dry, hot summer, whereas most of the rest of the country sees summer thundershowers and a dry winter.

Generally speaking, the most popular time to go to South Africa for a safari is from May to October. These months of the year are exceptional for game viewing trips – particularly in the national parks of Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and KwaZulu-Natal, since the animals here are concentrated around water sources, making them easier to spot amid the dry season’s thinned-out vegetation.

(Photo: Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

However, depending on when and where in South Africa you travel to, there are plenty of other great times to come. One of the best out-of-season periods is the start of the year, with January hot and dry on the Cape, and The Garden Route particularly stunning. At this time, dry weather draws animals to come and drink at water holes, while baby penguins are born on Boulders Beach on the Cape. Another month we’d recommend is April, when the temperatures cool and rutting season begins, seeing larger animals out in force.

That being said, it’s entirely possible to embark on a South African safari at most times of year, and as long as you’re prepared for the risk of inclement weather and a lower chance of catching sight of those iconic wild creatures, then there’s nothing to stop you booking out of peak season. Indeed, if you’re on a budget, then you’ll usually find it’s cheaper to come during less popular periods.

Where to book

There are a huge number of safari companies that that let you book tours online and which are often inclusive of everything apart from your international flights. Two of the most popular tour agency platforms are Bookallsafaris and Bookmundi, and we’ve picked out two of their South African safari tours catering for different durations, national parks and budgets.

First up, the 3 Days Big Five Tented Safari in Kruger National Park is a classic safari experience and ideal for those with limited time and budget but still want some home comforts. Starting and ending in Johannesburg, highlights include three game drives in the acclaimed national park and the chance to see the Big Five animals in their natural habitat. Accommodation is in a semi-luxury tented lodge complete with en-suite bathroom. Daily breakfasts and dinners, plus teas and coffees, are included.

For a more extended trip, the South Africa Self-Drive Adventure invites you to explore this captivating country at your leisure over 11 memorable days. After collecting the keys of your 4×4 vehicle upon arrival in Cape Town, you’ll embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Part of the trip includes driving on South Africa’s stunning Garden Route from Hermanus to Plettenberg Bay on the way to your final destination: Kwandwe Game Reserve, home to a wide variety of wildlife. This tour includes your hire car with sat-nav, one domestic flight ticket, shared safari activities, game reserve fees, all accommodation and meals.