South Africa is without a doubt one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. If you’re planning a trip, the smart thing to do is to book your visit well in advance. Because one person’s “well in advance” may be another’s “last minute”, we’ve decided to bring you our insider’s list of seasonal booking tips for your South African holiday. Locals and visitors alike will find this helpful, so keep it handy and share it with friends.
Let’s start off with the basics: Peak times throughout the year
First thing’s first – here are the busy periods when people are most likely to go on holiday:
Summer season – between November and March
Main school holidays – December/January and June/July
Easter long weekend
Other special holidays such as Valentine’s Day
Planning your trip by season
Summer is easily the busiest time of year, bringing locals to seaside towns as well as international travelers to our shores. We advise you to book your summer escape as early as possible – by this, we mean arranging next year’s December holiday as you’re checking out of this year’s accommodation. Nope, we’re not exaggerating. The reality is that the best places get snapped up earlier and earlier each year, leaving many disappointed travelers unable to enjoy the coastal festive season they hoped for. So to avoid disappointment and the unnecessary stress of last-minute scrambling, get yourself booked in somewhere sooner rather than later.
When to book?: Up to a year in advance (latest by the end of February – so 10 months beforehand).
Winter is a lot quieter in terms of visitors, but this is what makes SA the perfect spot for your winter getaway. Not only that, but rates are often 50% less than in peak season. We’re talking…
KwaZulu-Natal: with its tropical and warm climate all year round, it provides the ideal escape from the cold.
Karoo: days are sunny and mild, and whilst the nights can get very chilly, the faux summer days definitely make up for it.
When to book?: Roughly six months in advance, but there’s a lot more flexibility than in summer and you can often find plenty of last-minute winter specials.
Easter and Valentine’s Day getaways can be booked anywhere from six months to a year in advance. If you’re wanting to have your pick of places to stay and not be left breaking the bank with the Penthouse Suite, then book well in advance to get what you want and possibly save on costs too.
Planning your trip by type of holiday
When it comes to more specialized trips, it’s helpful to know the most ideal time of year to go and, of course, how far in advance to book.
With changing weather patterns and various regions offering different kinds of game viewing both in and out of season, strictly speaking, there is no set time to go on safari. Having said that though, most places will have a certain period when viewing is at its very best.
When to go?: Generally speaking May – October, with July being the best month.
The dry season is prime animal viewing time because of the lack of grass and thick bush helps to increase visibility. Wildlife and birds tend to congregate around limited water sources further making it easy to spot them.
Tip: The wetter months are better for birding. This is when nesting/breeding takes place and migrant species are present, so bird-lovers take note.
When to book?: Natasha at Portfolio Journeys recommends booking at least 18 months in advance if you’re planning to go on safari in the peak season (ie SA’s winter). This will ensure you secure your booking with a wide selection of places to choose from. Safari lodges and camps very often have limited space as they don’t have loads of rooms like big hotels. If you’re set on going on safari at the most popular time, consider booking far in advance (this is a definite for international visitors who are going on safari as part of a big holiday package).
Victoria Falls & Botswana
Few things come close to the feeling you get when you see the roaring Victoria Falls, in person, for the first time, and you feel that spray on your face. Just like there’s nothing like that rush you get from spying your first lion in the Chobe National Park, one of the continent’s legendary Big 5 destinations. In an ideal world, you’d visit Victoria Falls shortly after the summer rains (February to May) when the Falls are at their peak, but if your plan is to combine a visit to the Falls with one to Botswana ( a very popular option), then the best time to do this trip would be during the dry season (June – August). At this time you can expect excellent game viewing, warm days and little to no rainfall.
When to go?: The most popular month is July.
Avoid going: At the very end of the dry period (October to November). The weather is hot and humid at this time, and water levels will be at their all-time lowest.
When to book?: 12-18 months in advance (yip).
Diving in crystal clear blue waters, baking in the hot sun and eating the freshest seafood you can possibly imagine… this, in a nutshell, is a holiday to magical Mozambique. With its tropical climate, it draws people all year round.
When to go?: The dry season between June and September. Locals tend to go at the end of the year (December/January) but temperatures can get really high then, so go earlier if you’re not a complete sun-worshipper.
Good to know:
February and August are the windiest months so whilst diving is possible year-round, it’s best to avoid these months as the wind can affect visibility.
Whales can be seen off the coast between June and October.
September is the best month for game fishing.
Flower season in South Africa runs between August and November, with the months of August and September yielding the best results. The burst of colour and array of flower species that present themselves throughout the Cape is something that photos simply don’t do justice. Be sure to arrange your accommodation early though because places fill up fast, particularly in Namaqualand – without a doubt the best place to see those gorgeous blooms.
When to go?: With August and September being prime flower viewing time, areas tend to become very busy, particularly with many tour groups. That’s why Natasha recommends you visit the flowers in October or November for a more relaxed experience that still provides the perfect photo opp.
We hope this helps you when it comes to planning your next holiday – now go forth and book!