Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It or Not?

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Kate at Table Mountain

“You’re going to South Africa in the winter? Why?!”

This was the reaction of most of my South African friends upon learning of my July travel plans.

Truth, I very rarely travel during the low season anywhere; for me, it’s not worth the risk of bad weather. But this time it wasn’t just about me — it was about my friend Beth. She’s a teacher and can’t take time off unless it’s during the summer. Beth’s schedule is the reality for countless other teachers and professionals: it’s summer or nothing.

As someone who typically avoids low season, I was nervous about our winter trip — but it turned out better than I could have imagined! We had perfect weather in Johannesburg and Kruger, two clear days and two rainy days in Cape Town, and a mix of sun and showers in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Winter doesn’t have to be a bad time in South Africa. Not whatsoever. So I decided to dive into South African weather and create a guide that will help you plan your winter trip.

I’ll be profiling six of the most popular South African destinations here: Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Durban, Cape Town, the Garden Route, and Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

(For the record, I have visited all these destinations 1-3 times, but I didn’t visit Durban or the Garden Route on my recent winter trip; all of the information here is drawn from my experience combined with interviews with locals I know and online research. Weather averages come from Holiday-Weather.com.)

south-africa-map

Map: geology.com

South Africa’s Winter in a Nutshell

This is a map of South Africa’s nine provinces, six of which I’ve visited.

Most visitors to South Africa concentrate on the Western Cape (the green region in the lower left corner): this is home to Cape Town, the surrounding winelands (including Stellenbosch) and most of the Garden Route. This is also where South Africa’s winter is at its most miserable.

The other regions I cover are further north and east: Johannesburg is in Gauteng Province in the northeast; the Greater Kruger Region is in the east of Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces in the far northeast. Kruger National Park itself is huge — it’s the size of Israel or New Jersey. Durban is on the Indian Ocean coast in Kwazulu-Natal.

Cape Point

When you visit South Africa in the winter, you don’t have to worry about snowbanks and blizzards. Johannesburg has a similar climate to Atlanta; Durban is like Miami; Cape Town is like San Francisco. Winters aren’t harsh here; it only gets very snowy deep in the mountains.

Like many destinations, prices in South Africa fall in the low season. South Africa offers incredible value for money to begin with, but prices are at their lowest in the winter months.

Another factor to keep in mind is that school holidays in South Africa take place during a month from June to July, which can make some places busier.

Finally, winter means that the days are shorter and the sun sets earlier. South Africa is a country where you need to be a bit more on your guard about safety, and in many places it’s not safe to be out on your own at night or even in late afternoon. Keep that in mind.

Johannesburg

Johannesburg in Winter: Great!

No matter what time of year you’re visiting Johannesburg, you’re probably not planning on spending a ton of time outside. Many of Johannesburg’s attractions, like the Apartheid Museum and Liliesleaf, are indoors or partially indoors; even the Sterkfontein Caves, being caves, are an indoor “outdoor activity” by definition.

Even so, winter days in Johannesburg are wonderfully pleasant for being outside: it’s cool and clear with minimal rainfall. The land surrounding Johannesburg turns dry and brown. The city’s famed purple jacaranda trees have little to show (but to be fair, they only really bloom from October to November). People eat outside year-round in Johannesburg — head to Parkhurst for outdoor cafes.

Average Johannesburg temperature, June-August: high 61-68 F/16-20 C, low 39-45 F/4-7 C.

Average Johannesburg rainfall, June-August: 1-2 cm per month, 1-2 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Johannesburg: 54 on Bath. One of my favorite boutique hotels in the world and the only place I like to stay in Joburg. You can find other hotels in Johannesburg here.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park in Winter: Fantastic!

Winter is actually the best time for visiting Kruger National Park and its surrounding area! There’s very little rainfall and because the trees are sparse, you have a much better chance of seeing wildlife.

Know that the mornings and evenings can get very cold, especially when in an open vehicle on game drives, so bring your winter weather gear and huddle under blankets. It can get very warm during the day, especially if you do an all-day game drive, so layers are the name of the game!

Leopard Kruger National Park

We wouldn’t have seen this leopard if it hadn’t been winter. Had it been summer, he would have been completely obscured by foliage. Leopards are the hardest Big Five animal to spot in Kruger and our guides were giddy at this sighting!

Average Nelspruit temperature, June-August: high 70-73 F/21-23 C, low 45-46 F/10-11 C.

Average Nelspruit rainfall, June-August: 1 cm per month, 2-3 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in the Greater Kruger region: My overall favorite is Vuyani Safari Lodge, which is value for money and fully all-inclusive. Africa on Foot is a wonderful, simpler midrange option, focusing on walking safaris, while the tented camp at &Beyond Ngala Lodge & Tented Camp is divine if you have a TON of money to spend. You can find other hotels here.

Durban Beach

Durban in Winter: Very Good.

Durban is often compared to Miami: it’s a big, beach-loving city with fantastic weather year-round — and spicy food to match!

Winter is a beautiful time to visit Durban — temperatures are more mild and rainfall is at its lowest in June and July. That said, depending on how hot you like it, it may not fit your definition of lie-out-by-the-pool-all-day weather. It’s the kind of destinations Brits would visit in winter for a pleasant level of heat that wouldn’t result in any sunburns.

Average Durban temperature, June-August: high 73 F/23 C, low 54-57 F/12-14C.

Average Durban rainfall, June-August: 2-7 cm per month, 5-9 rainy days per month (August is rainier than June and July).

Where to Stay in Durban: I had a great stay at the Southern Sun Elageni & Maharani, which has nice views and is walking distance from the beach. You can find hotels in Durban here.

Cape Town

Cape Town in Winter: A Big Risk.

If you choose to travel Cape Town in during the winter, you’re making a very big gamble. Why? Cape Town is one of the most beautifully set cities in the world and it is best seen in good weather. Four of my favorite Cape Town activities — going to the top of Table Mountain, taking a helicopter ride, hanging out in Camps Bay, and exploring the Cape Peninsula — are weather-dependent.

While there are some museums, including the fascinating District 6 Museum, Cape Town is nothing like London or New York — outdoor attractions are primary and indoor attractions, while they exist, are limited.

Cape Town Helicopter

That said, you may end up lucky: Beth and I had two perfect, clear days, which we spent doing the aforementioned activities. Several dark, cloudy, rainy days followed. Our friends from safari who came to the city a few days after us sadly didn’t get to experience sunshine in Cape Town.

One other thing to consider: our Robbin Island visit was cancelled due to bad weather, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Average Cape Town temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 45-46 F/7-8 C.

Average Cape Town rainfall, June-August: 7-10 cm per month, 14 rainy days per month.

Where to Stay in Cape Town: Doubletree Cape Town in Woodside is a fabulous mid-range hotel with very affordable rates, not in an ideal location but a short Uber ride from the action. For budget, I recommend Atlantic Point Backpackers; for luxury, I recommend Queen Victoria Hotel. My favorite quirky accommodation — if you’re visiting outside winter, head to the Airstream trailer park on top of the Grand Daddy Hotel! You can find other hotels in Cape Town here.

Sunset in Sedgefield

Garden Route in Winter: Avoid if Possible.

The highlight of traveling the Garden Route is seeing so many beautiful and diverse landscapes and enjoying the outdoors. Because the winter months can be quite rainy, I recommend that you visit the Garden Route during a different time of year.

Yes, you still might be able to enjoy your trip, but you know what my favorite memories of the Garden Route are? Paddleboarding on the lagoon in Sedgefield. Horseback riding in Swellendam. Hanging out in hot springs near Oudtshoorn. Segwaying through the Tsitsikamma Forest. Going on a water safari in Plettenberg Bay. Or even just watching the sunset.

Kate on a Bike Boat

All of these activities would be uncomfortable or impossible during the rain. Please keep that in mind before you plan a winter trip here. I visited in May, which was the fall (or shoulder season) and I thought it was a nice, cheaper time to explore this region.

Average Knysna temperature, June-August: high 70 F/21 C, low 50-52 F/10-11 C.

Average Knysna rainfall, June-August: 1-3 cm per month, 18-21 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay on the Garden Route: There are tons of high-quality hostels with terrific, affordable private rooms along the Garden Route: I love Afrovibe Adventure Lodge in Sedgefield (more of a party place), Swellendam Backpackers Adventure Lodge in Swellendam, and Nothando Backpackers Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. On the luxury end, Phantom Forest Eco Reserve in Knysna is a fantastic romantic hideaway (I felt like I was on honeymoon with myself). You can find other hotels in Sedgefield here, in Swellendam here, and in Plettenberg Bay here.

Franschoek

Stellenbosch and the Winelands in Winter: Mostly Very Good.

The Stellenbosch region is an indescribably beautiful landscape, with endless vineyards and bright blue mountains encircled by cottony clouds; during winter, there are solid white skies with few mountains to be seen. I would feel bad if people came for a visit and didn’t get to experience the view of the mountains.

Wine Tasting Stellenbosch

But views aren’t all — I was surprised how much I enjoyed Stellenbosch on rainy winter days. Most wineries have fireplaces and are superbly cozy places to curl up with a tasting glass! The wineries are also at their least crowded this time of year, which means you never have to wait anywhere.

Average Stellenbosch temperature, June-August: high 64 F/18 C, low 46 F/8 C.

Average Stellenbosch rainfall, June-August: 2-3 cm per month, 7-9 rainy days per month (June is rainier than July and August).

Where to Stay in Stellenbosch: If you’re going the Airbnb route, I stayed here — cute two-bedroom apartment in a great, walkable location, but be cautious that the only heat is space heaters. Not quite ideal for winter; I’d probably stay in a hotel next time. Find Stellenbosch hotels here.

Stellenbosch

The Takeaway

If there’s any one thesis to take away from my analysis, it’s this: traveling in South Africa in the winter is risky on the Western Cape, but can actually be wonderful in other parts of the country.

If you want to plan a trip to South Africa during the winter months, I recommend planning at least part of your trip in Johannesburg, Kruger, and/or Durban. If not, just know that you’re risking an entirely rainy trip.

As always, keep in mind that anything can happen. You can come during a freak period of sunshine in the Western Cape; you could also get stuck in downpours in Joburg. Nothing is ever a guarantee.

That said, don’t let traveling in the winter bother you. I had a great time on my winter trip to South Africa and I know you will, too!


RELATED: Is South Africa Safe?


Should you visit South Africa in winter?

Have you been to South Africa in the winter — or would you go? Have any other South African destinations to add to this list? Share away!

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46 thoughts on “Visiting South Africa in the Winter: Worth It or Not?”

  1. I visited in winter for the World Cup in 2010 (visiting Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Rustenburg, and Colesburg) and it was great! The weather was never too hot (never above 70 degrees or so) or too cold (the lowest, in Colesburg, was about 40 degrees at night). It didn’t even phase me that the it was technically winter.

    Agreed though about walking outside when it gets dark, I did not feel comfortable doing so in Joburg, but we did in Cape Town and Durban.

  2. Have you done a lot of water wildlife activities – whale-watching, penguin colonies, etc? When are those the best/are they doable in the winter?

    1. I am a Capetonian and I recommend whale watching in late winter. August and September are the months that the Southern Right Whales come into False Bay to birth their calves. Penguins can be seen all year round at Boulders Beach which is a sanctuary. They do close the beach sometimes for various reasons so check ahead.

  3. Thank you for this post Kate!! I’ve always wondered about this exact question since I prefer traveling during the low season to avoid the masses of tourists, but I also want good weather of course.

  4. Really useful post! My sister has always wanted to spend a year in South Africa, so if she ever goes, I’ll probably be visiting! Nice to know it is a worthwhile trip even in low season! Your photos are beautiful!

  5. 2-3 rainy days in winter? Sounds like a haven to me!

    Wouldn’t have known it was winter bar a few snaps when you were rugged up on snapchat 🙂

  6. Now that sounds like my kind of winter weather! Thanks for sharing this, I have had south africa on my list of places to visit for a while now and it sounds like winter is a great time to visit =o)

  7. I was just in South Africa (and other countries in Southern Africa) in May and June and thought it was a great time to visit overall. I got one sunny day in Cape Town, and great weather in both Stellenbosch and Kruger. I also loved that it never got too hot during the day.

    And as for visiting other nearby countries like Namibia and Botswana? Winter is actually one of the BEST times to go, thanks to lower temperatures, less bugs, and better wildlife sightings!

  8. Nice advice – thanks. I generally try to travel places during shoulder season (though right now I’m getting ready for an August road trip along the California coast – I could end up melting…). So it’s great to hear that off season worked well for you. Maybe I should think about checking out off season in more places…?

    Beautiful photos, too! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. I enjoyed reading this post. I’m going to Mozambique in September-October, but the last week of our trip will be in South Africa, near Johannesburg so this was handy research!

  10. Definitely go in Winter. I’ve just come back from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. The weather was wonderful. Kruger was fabulous. Saw the Big 5 day 1 before lunch. Highly recommend Maqueda Lodge for an all inclusive stay. Stellenbosch was warm and sunny – perfect winery weather. Had a bit of rain one morning in Cape Town. Cleared quickly and we had a fantastic , windy, view from the top of Table Mountain. Took a Peninsula tour to Cape of Good Hope and cage diving with sharks in Gansbaai. We found the weather not too different from Australia ( we are also in Winter) the drought that South Africa is experiencing probably helps the tourists – unfortunately not the locals. And importantly, as a mum travelling with my adult daughter felt perfectly safe in all the places we visited.

  11. I just got back from a 10 day trip to South Africa, late June and early July. We spent several days in Kruger and the surrounding game reserves that are continuous with Kruger (the surrounding reserves have dropped their fences to create one giant 4+ million acre area), and stayed at two different lodges, with lots of drives by experienced naturalists and trackers. We then went to Zambia and stayed in LIvingston, and did many things in that area. We also went on a trek in Chobe National Park in Botswana. I thought June was a great time to go. Very cool, cold even, but sunny and no mosquitos -at least in SA.

  12. I’ve learnt not to listen to people too much when they say not to go somewhere at a certain time of year. It’s better to go and create your own opinion. People told me not to go to Koh Lanta in low season (where I am right now) and I’m so glad I didn’t listen!

  13. I visited South Africa in august last year and everything you said is true – i spent a week in Johannesburg and didn’t see a cloud in the sky all week, although it was a bit cold at night.
    As for Cape Town, it rained 7 out of the 14 days i spent there – but i managed to have an amazing time, and i loved the fact that since it was low season, I never had to wait, whether at a restaurant or for touristic activities! South Africa is such a beautiful country 🙂

  14. I have visited before in April/May which was a great time to visit with mostly sunny weather for the six weeks I travelled around the country. One good thing if you do visit Cape Town in winter and it is sunny – none of the horrible wind that blows all summer long

  15. Hey Kate, nice post! I lived in Cape Town for many years so I have experienced quite a few winters there and honestly sometimes they are nicer than the European summers. I was just there a week before you went and the weather was a mix of stunning blue skies and some quick and heavy rainfalls. It’s important to remember to take some warmer close as the insulation of a lot of houses isn’t that great so it seems colder than it is.
    While a lot of these attractions are weather dependent you will have the same issues in summer as it all depends on the wind. Robben Island, Table Mountain Cable Car, Helicopter or chilling at Camps Bay beach is not possible on many days in the summer when the Southeasterly blows.

    I would like to add that in winter the diving and surfing is much better and also the restaurants – Capetonians really hibernate so you will get great deals and a table at most of the best restaurants in town!

  16. Never been to South Africa yet, so I just admire at your photos. especially the photo of the National Park.

    True that outdoor activities really depends on the weather, especially when I wanted to do the live on board trip, where I stayed on the boat for a couple of days. The captain said that in certain months, they could not go, as it could be raining and the current is strong 🙂

  17. I want to go to South Africa so much. I never thought too much on the weather as I’ve never heard anything about bad weather there, but I can imagine how disappointing it would be to be stuck indoors in a city like Cape Town!

  18. I have never been to South Africa, but this post makes me want to go so badly! Now I know that if I want to do a wildlife tour, I should go in winter, so thanks! Also that airstream trailer park sounds like exactly my cup of tea!

  19. ‘Great post as usual Kate!

    I’ve only been to South Africa once, and it was to Cape Town 12 years ago! Yikes!

    I went to visit a German girlfriend who had a house on the cliff, which was lovely. I’m a corporate teacher too so I went in the Easter holidays. It was April and the weather was cool, and a bit of rain here and there, but I’m British so it’s perfectly alright! We didn’t get a view of Table Mountain though as it was too foggy!

    Ah well!

  20. Wow! It’s amazing. Trust me, I didn’t know more about South Africa before reading your post. But now I’m feeling excited to visit South Africa. In next winter, I will go to Johannesburg at any cost. I am gonna mad if I don’t go there. Your article and all these photos are really attractive. Can you please tell me about the cost to a tour of Johannesburg only?

  21. Great and really thorough. I traveled across South Africa for a month in July. I found the day temperatures fine, but I really struggled in the evenings. Most of the cheaper accommodations don’t have heating so I found a bit uncomfortable sleeping! I imagine this isn’t an issue if you spend a bit more (or take a hot water bottle)!

    1. I had a hot water bottle at Africa on Foot in Kruger. It was AMAZING. Such a nice surprise! (And Beth claims I kept waking her up because I was snuggling it so hard and it kept glugging!)

  22. Living in Cape Town, I usually end up with a ton of jackets in my car, as I never leave the house without one, but often take them off as it’s never THAT cold (hence the collection). The murky weather has its appeal, but I can understand visitors not appreciating it, though there are patches that are summer-like though seldom on the weekend!! And weather forecasts almost always lie.

    All in all, the best time to visit is late March-early May – not too hot, summer winds have stopped and winter rains haven’t started.

    Good write-up. Thanks

  23. Hey, there, great advice and tips! I will be in South Africa for 2 weeks in December and I am looking forward to it! By the way, I am glad to find your unique blog.

  24. South Africa’s weather is pretty much similar with Australia’s weather or southern cali! The winter is the best time to traveling around and always avoid summer coz it will be as hot as hell for real..

    Loved Capetown and dislike Jburg! Overall SA is worth to visit.

  25. Hey Kate!

    Thank you for this detailed read, really ! we are traveling just at the beginning of winter and we’re a little nervous about it but now feeling much better !

    We are heading to Kruger National park and Cape Town any tips on traveling by train ?? we are thinking of travelling from the airport up to the park and then back down to Cape tTown once we are done. any tips will help us!

    Thank you

  26. Hi! Lovely post. I’m a teacher and this is my reality as well. It’s the only moment I can go because my 2 weeks over Christmas can’t justify a trip to SA. I’m from Montreal Quebec, I know you know how cold and snowy it is over here. Do you think it’ll feel a bit like summer to me?
    I’m still going but just want to be reassured.
    Merci
    P-Y

    1. It depends where exactly you’re going — as you can see in this post, the destinations in South Africa have very different climates! Check the temperatures. I think you’ll find that much of South Africa will feel like spring or fall to you.

  27. Melissa Lalonde

    Great read! I’m heading to SA June 7-28th, and will be going from Johannesburg to Kruger, down through Swaziland to Durban. Then going to Cape Town and surrounding area and spending 8 days there. Fingers crossed I’ll have some freak sunshine and warm temperatures while in Cape tow! I’m coming from Northern Ontario though so I’m used to cooler temperatures!

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