Advice for travellers
South Africa's weather and climate
SummerOver much of South Africa, summer, which lasts from mid-October to mid- February, is characterised by hot, sunny weather – often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African smell in the air. Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, is the exception, getting its rain in winter.
AutumnAutumn – or fall – in South Africa is from mid-February to April. It offers the best weather in some respects. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm but not too hot, getting colder as the season progresses. In Cape Town, autumn is fantastic, with hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights which many people spend outdoors.
WinterWinter in South Africa – from May to July – is characterised in the higher-lying areas of the interior plateau by dry, sunny, crisp days and cold nights, sometimes with heavy frosts. It's a good idea to bring warm clothes. Western Cape gets most of its rain in winter, with quite a few days of cloudy, rainy weather that can be quite stormy with high winds. On 1 June 2013, for example, a cold front accompanied by an intense upper-air trough led to heavy rains and flooding in places over Cape Town, mainly in the informal settlements. Heavy snow falls occurred over the high-lying areas in the south-western parts of Western Cape and Northern Cape, while it was extremely cold over the interior of the two provinces. However, wonderful days are spread throughout winter that rival the best of a British summer. The hot, humid KwaZulu-Natal coast, as well as the Lowveld (lower-lying areas) of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain. The high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal usually get snow in winter.
SpringNowhere in South Africa is spring, which lasts from August to mid-October, more spectacular than in Northern Cape and Western Cape. Here the grey winter is forgotten as thousands of small, otherwise insignificant plants cover the semi-arid plains in an iridescent carpet of flowers. The journey to see the flowers of the Namaqualand is an annual pilgrimage for many South Africans.
Best time of the year to travel?That depends on what you want to do. The Namaqualand flowers are obviously best in August and September. Winter is a good time for game watching, as the veld is not as lush as it is in summer and the lack of rain means animals are more likely to congregate around water holes and rivers. Southern right whales hang around off our coasts from about mid-June to the end of October, making for spectacular whale watching. Diving is best in most of the country outside summer (ie, from April through September), and so is surfing – but that certainly doesn't limit either activity to those times. River rafting is better in Western Cape at the end of winter, and in KwaZulu-Natal in the height of summer (late November to mid-February). In Mpumalanga and Limpopo, it's less time dependent. The "shoulder" seasons – spring and autumn – are best for hiking, as summer can be hot over most of the country. In the Drakensberg, summer thunderstorms are dangerous, while there is a good chance of snow in winter. In Western Cape, the winters are wet, so it's not necessarily the best time for hikes. If you're a birder, the palaeoarctic migrants arrive around November and the intra- African migrants usually by mid-October. Of course, if you want to lounge around on the beaches, mid-summer is the best time – though everyone else will be there too. And – big bonus – the beaches of northern KwaZulu-Natal are warm and sunny even in midwinter.
- Gallery: South Africa's plant life
- Sout h Africa's wildlife wonders
- Whale watching in South Africa
- Adventure experiences
- South Africa: coastal playground
- South Africa's year-round beaches
- Scuba diving in South Africa
in South Africa