South Africa is a land of heart-pounding extremes. From the gleaming cosmopolitan city of Cape Town to the wild Kruger National Park, the manicured valleys of the Winelands, and the remote, wild Elephant Coast – the region is beguiling in its variety.
This exact reason is why locals love traveling through South Africa as much as international tourists do. Something new, exciting and unexplored always awaits. In fact, you could spend a whole year overlanding in South Africa and still not have experienced all that this beautiful country has to offer. Sadly, not everyone has that much time to enjoy life on the road so it helps to know when and where to go.
Luckily you have us. Our overland guides have explored the region far and wide and have put together a month by month travel calendar to help you plan a South African overland tour that suits your style.
Best places to travel in January – February
While each month of the year has its own pros and cons, January is the perfect summer month for traveling in South Africa and the Western Cape is where you want to be. Expect warm, breezy, and cloudless days primed for beach time bliss along the coastline, wine tasting in verdant vineyards, and plenty of scenic road trips along the Garden Route.
Although locals and tourists alike descend on the popular tourist circuit, the festive atmosphere is contagious and well worth the must-have in-advance bookings. During this time of year, the city and Winelands come alive with epic festivals, pop-up restaurants, and plenty of beach-time bliss. On the other hand, February is South Africa’s hottest month and the best place to cool off is in the Natal Midlands.
Must-see attraction: Cape Town Minstrel Carnival
This month-long carnival is all satin, sequins, and floats. Taking place on January 2nd each year, the Cape Town Minstrel is South Africa’s very own Mardi Gras, boasting as many as 13,000 minstrels parading the streets in bright colors.
The festival has roots in the 19th century, back in the time of slavery in Cape Town, when the original citizens of District Six were allowed their one day off on January 1st. Much has changed since then, and, rather than being a reflection on the days of slavery, this toe-tapping event is Cape Town’s way of celebrating freedom and ushering in the new year.
Must do activity: Visit the Noordhoek Night Market
Taking place in the laid-back coastal suburb of Noordhoek, this sumptuous market is one of the best ways to spend a summer evening. The festivities are held in the restaurant and picnic area of Cape Point Vineyards and are frequented by famed local foodies such as Masterchef SA judge Peter Goffe-Wood, and resident chef, Jonathan Gargan. This weekly community market is where south peninsula locals flock every Thursday evening for an array of inspired street food-style dishes, chilled vibes, and stunning views.
Our Tour suggestions starting or ending in Cape Town:
Best places to travel in March – April
During this time of year, the summer heat gives way to autumn’s cooler climate. And, while most tourists start leaving, those in the know get to enjoy all of the scenery minus the crowds. March and April are a fantastic year for traveling in South Africa because you can really visit anywhere, but our topic pick is the Karoo.
Inhabited by humans and their ancestors for over half a million years, this ancient region is primed for exploration and is rich in archaeological sites, fossils, San paintings, wildlife, and some 9000 plant species.
But, if the call of yesteryear doesn’t appeal to you, the crisp air of the Drakensberg Mountains definitely will. Forming the boundary between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, this rugged area is a vast 2430-sq-km sweep of basalt summits and iconic landscapes.
Best places to travel: Drakensberg Mountains, Natal Midlands, Clarens, the Wild Coast, the Garden Route, and Karoo
Must-see attraction: AfrikaBurn
This epic festival is an icon on foreign and local bucket lists alike. Each April, the seemingly deserted region of Tankwa Karoo comes alive with art installations of mythical proportions. Taking place each April, Africa’s entry in the global calendar of festivals, inspired by the USA’s Burning Man, is a sub-cultural blowout and a must-add onto your South Africa travel itinerary.
Promoting “Radical Self-Reliance”, this eclectic festival also features themed camps, live music and crazily designed “mutant vehicles” that resemble anything but cars.
Must do activity: Cape Town Cycle Tour
If crazy mutant vehicles aren’t your preferred way to travel, then switch to two wheels and take a 109 km spin around the Cape Peninsula. The Cape Town Cycle tour is the world’s largest timed cycling event, attracting more than 30,000 biking enthusiasts.
Whether you’re a serious spinner or in it for the challenge, this epic challenge sees you tackling two of Cape Town’s most iconic sites – Table Mountain and Chapman’s Peak Drive. For bike lovers who prefer to cheer on the sidelines, the Cape Town Cycle Tour Lifecycle Week is a nine-day celebration of all things cycling, where a world-famous city embraces human power and celebrates the healthy lifestyle and freedom of movement.
Best places to travel May – June
If you want to spot the big five, this is when you should be traveling in South Africa. As the heat of summer starts to loosen its grip on the region, winter settles its cool hand over South Africa and the bushveld comes alive.
The months of May and June are the perfect time of year to go on a safari in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park. As the heat dissipates, the animals start to move around more during the day and the vegetation, although still green, becomes sparse, giving way to some of the best game viewing around.
Best places to travel: The Kruger National Park, southern Drakensberg, and northern Lesotho
Must-see attraction: Wildlife Watching
For a bushveld getaway in a Malaria-free zone, visit Kololo Game Reserve in the magnificent Waterberg. Or if the call of South Africa’s most iconic game reserve is too good to resist then be sure to check out our complete guide to the Kruger National Park.
Must do activity: Seek out the snow
Midwinter in the Cape sees cooler temperatures and roaring fires in the Winelands, and although it’s never really cold during the days, the tops of the mountains do occasionally see a dusting of snow. While it can’t always be guaranteed, there are certain parts where the likelihood of thick snowfalls is pretty high – particularly during mid-winter.
From Ceres to Matroosberg and the world-famous Sutherland, there’s plenty of places to indulge in a quirky winter wonderland. But if you want to take it up a notch then try ice climbing in the southern Drakensberg and northern Lesotho. These two regions have many long ice-routes and snow gullies, ranging in grade from beginner routes to the extreme.
Our Tour suggestions for Kruger National Park:
Best places to travel July – August
South Africa is home to some of the world’s biggest animals but not all of them roam the bushveld. July marks the beginning of another kind of safari – whale watching. All along the coast of South Africa, southern right whales migrate from their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica to warmer climates, reaching our waters in June. The country’s oceans teem with the giant animals mating, calving, rearing their young. Whale-watchers can expect spectacular displays of raw power and elegant water acrobatics.
On dry land, the winter rains bring about another kind of wonder; flower season. Traditionally speaking, the first day of September marks the beginning of spring; but South Africa’s spring flowers don’t care about sticking to a schedule. They start blooming from the beginning of August into October – depending on the weather – and blanket the Western Cape’s nature reserves in a kaleidoscope of blooms.
Best places to travel: West Coast, Namaqualand, Northern Cape Coast
Must-see attraction: Celebrate Mandela’s birthday
July is not only a big month in terms of wildlife and scenery. Those looking to connect with South Africa’s culture and history can take some time out and celebrate the late, great Nelson Mandela. Each year, on the 18th July, South Africa comes together to pay homage to this world-renowned icon by volunteering 67 minutes. Every minute of public service is an effort to honor a year of Mandela’s service.
Must do activity: Whale Watching
The coastal waters teem with gentle giants, from southern right whales and humpback whales, Bryde’s whales and even the odd orca, although rare. Whether from land or boats you can expect to have the most spectacular sightings of whales every year from June – November during their annual migration. If you’re keen to cross this epic experience off your bucket list then check out our complete guide to whale watching in South Africa.
Best places to travel September – October
Not too hot, not too cold. September through October are South Africa’s goldilocks months and are perfect for traveling in all regions of the country. Whether you’re after game viewing, whale watching, hiking, or beach time bliss – this is the ideal time to combine regions throughout the country. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cooler at night, and generally dry, while the Kruger Park and surrounds are hot by day, warm at night, and occasionally wet.
Best places to travel: Overberg (Hermanus, Witsand), The Whale Coast, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng
Must-see attraction: Explore the city of gold.
The city of Johannesburg has often been relegated to a quick stopover while on route to the more sought after Kruger National Park. But, linger a bit longer and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s plenty to see and do in this bustling financial hub, starting with Jozi’s two-month festival season. This epic celebration of the arts includes the multidisciplinary Arts Alive, the Soweto Festival Expo, featuring music, poetry, food stalls, and a lifestyle expo, and Joy of Jazz.
Must do activity: Cape Town International Kite Festival
This is Africa’s biggest kite festival and attracts over 20,000 visitors, including some of the biggest names in kiting in South Africa and the world who fly in to show off their magnificent kite creations. With kite-making, kite-flying, food stalls, kiddies’ rides, a full program of entertainment and an eclectic craft market, this is family entertainment at its best.
Our Tour suggestions starting or ending in Johannesburg:
Best places to travel in November – December
As it starts to heat up across the country, the rains kick off in the Kruger and KwaZulu Natal closing off the safari season, the Cape sees the last month of the whale season, and the bustling festive season starts gaining momentum.
It’s summer in South Africa and there’s hardly a better way to celebrate than by heading to one of the many glorious beach towns along the South African coastline. November is still a working and school month in South Africa, which means that the main areas will be less crowded. But, by December you can expect to be brushing shoulders with plenty of locals coming out of hibernation.
This is a great time to soak up the spirit of the country but be warned; The festive season is extremely busy in South Africa. Restaurants, accommodation, and excursions need to be booked well in advance.
Best place to travel: Coastal South Africa
Must-see attraction: Track turtles on the north coast of KwaZulu Natal
After spotting the big five in the Kruger and whale watching in Hermanus, tracking turtles in KZN just seems like the most fitting way to end your South African wildlife getaway. While male leatherback and loggerhead turtles remain resolutely at sea, females come ashore during November to lay their eggs in the soft sands of Maputaland. It’s magical to watch these large-shelled vertebrates heave up on to the pristine sands but if you wish to take the experience a step further, consider snorkeling or diving.
Must do activity: Go to a summer festival
Summer music festivals take place in stunning settings nationwide. In the Western Cape alone, the choice includes the unmissable Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in Cape Town’s botanical gardens (November to April). These lush gardens provide the backdrop for open-air gigs by local and international artists by the likes of Bonobo, Goldfish, and, South Africa’s iconic band, Freshly Ground.