What’s the best time to visit South Africa for a safari? This is a frequent question we’re asked. As with so many questions, it’s not so easy to give a quick, glib answer. The answer sometimes differs from the one we give for the rest of Southern Africa…
This is because I don’t know how broadly or narrowly the questioner is defining the word ”safari”… Does they mean when is the best time to come here for a holiday or vacation? Or are they meaning when is the the best time to view wildlife on a safari?
The answer to the latter question is relatively simple. As with the rest of Southern Africa, the best time for a South Africa wildlife safari for game-vieiwng is during our dry winter and spring months (May to early October).
Why is this?
- Animals need water and food. In the dry winter/spring months of May to early October, the animals are forced to come to waterholes and rivers to drink. Because of their need to drink frequently, they tend to stick around to feed in these areas as well.
- In terms of your safari, this means that the animals are regularly seen at predictable places. Often at predictable times. And so your chances of finding them increase, almost exponentially, as the dry season progresses.
- Plus – as the dry season continues – the bush dies down, and so it’s easier to spot the wildlife. The lower grasses also make bush walks safer as it increases your guide’s vision of what’s around him or her.
- Finally the daytime temperatures are very pleasant and so you can comfortably stay in the sun for longer. Bush walks are a pleasure rather than a (slight) ordeal.
- Conversely once the summer rains begin, the animals tend to move away from the waterholes as they have usually eaten all the grasses in that area. So they head to the open plains to max out on the fresh new grass.
However unlike in other Southern African countries, such as Zambia, Botswana or Namibia, the difference between the dry and wet season is not so marked in South Africa. Our game reserves are fenced and so the animals cannot physically leave the parks. (They are just more difficult to spot in the thick bush.)
Also South Africa has different climatic zones. So if you want to enjoy a safari in the Cape or Eastern Cape, with its winter rainfall, the above conditions don’t apply.
What if your safari is only part of your holiday or vacation?
Many people want to have a safari in South Africa. But they also want to see Cape Town, tour some of our beautiful country and perhaps park out at one of our glorious beaches. Given the Mediterranean climate in the Cape (cool winters with possibility of rain), you may not want to come in July or August.
What to do?
First decide what are your KEY desires. Having the best possible wildlife experience (May through to early October). Or soaking up the sun in the Cape (mid November to early March). Or being active (perhaps choose the shoulder seasons when its neither too hot or cold)…
If you want the best safari experience, come from June to September then focus the rest of your trip in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal with its warmer winter weather. I make an exception for
If you want to be active, come in the shoulder months of April to May or October to November. This should still yield good game-viewing.
If you want summer weather in the Cape, then come from December to early March. For your safari, choose a top notch private game reserve which will maximize your game-viewing experience. Despite not being the best safari time. Or consider a safari in the Western Cape (Sanbona Game Reserve would be our recommendation) or an Eastern Cape Game safari.