‘Safari’ is the Swahili word for ‘travel’. It has become synonymous with going on a game drive, or a guided walk, in the African bush. And Winter in South Africa is definitely the best time to go on safari.
Winter and Spring in Africa is between May and September. In fact, while any month between May and September is great for a safari, May and September are the best, with September being optimal for wildlife viewing.
Winter in Africa is the dry season. There’s no rain, or if there is, it will be minimal. Nearly every day is sunny. So much so that you may only need a coat or a jersey at night, in the early mornings or the late afternoons. However, the cold can be harsh at night in mid-winter. Come prepared. The cooler temperatures make bush walks far more enjoyable than when done in summer when the heat rises dramatically.
Because it’s the dry season, there are few mosquitos – in fact, it’s safe to say that the arrival of the first mosquito in October or November is a sign that the rains have arrived, and you are now in Summer.
A lack of rain also means the vegetation has died down so spotting wildlife is easier. It also makes bush walks safer as your guide’s ability to see further is increased. Because they need both food and water, the animals will congregate at rivers and waterholes, sometimes in quite large numbers. As they are unlikely to wander far from the water they will feed nearby. As the dry season continues and the numbers of animals at the waterholes increase, a dwindling pool can become a carnivore buffet. In summer, when the rains come and the vegetation grows back swiftly, the herds move back to the relative safety of the open plains. The carnivores follow in their wake.
Here’s a quick rundown on the best and worst months to go on safari in South Africa.
Best Time: Winter. May to September – the dry season, the best for visiting any of the national parks in South Africa. Temperatures in early and late winter make the bush a more pleasurable experience.
Low Season: Winter. April to September. This coincides with the best wildlife viewing months.
Coldest Weather: Mid-Winter. June to August. It can be very cold in the morning and sometimes bitterly cold at night
High Season: Spring. Apart from the one-week school break in September/October when the main camps in Kruger will be full of people, October to March won’t feel overly crowded.
Best Weather: Autumn and Spring. April/May (Autumn) and September/October (Spring). The pleasant temperatures make game drives, bush walks and spending time in a hide an absolute pleasure. Afternoon storms rarely interfere with your safari. And if you experience a highveld storm it will be a truly memorable experience!
Hottest Weather: November to April. Temperatures can rise to as high as 500C. Not only does this make being on safari or on a bushwalk a real chore, and it’s also almost impossible to spot game in the thick undergrowth as the animals are hiding in the shade. They can see you even if you can’t see them.