South Africa

Coastal treasures, city culture, winelands and safari

Overview

“I go back to South Africa to both lose myself and gain awareness of myself. Every time I go back, it doesn’t take long to get caught into a very different thing….you find these cultural collisions that result in art and music, and it’s pretty amazing.” Such are the musings of Johannesburg-born musician, Dave Matthews, and he’s not alone in finding inspiration in this complex land. 1994 saw an end to the brutal years of apartheid, and although there is still a way to go, the rainbow nation is making strides towards creating a more equal, safe and diverse society, attracting growing numbers of curious travellers, especially from Europe and the US, escaping the northern hemisphere winter.

This increase in demand inevitably leads to crowded sites and inflated prices, so travelling in low season is an enviable way forward, right? Ah, perhaps, it’s not quite that simple. South Africa’s unique position on the continent’s tip results in complicated climatic conditions. The Western Cape experiences a Mediterranean climate with peak period sun-filled summers November to March, and low season cool wetter winters. In contrast, the interior plateau has dry winters ideal for the safari loving crowds, and wet summers traditionally considered low season for game viewing. The good news is there are great opportunities year-round, from iconic bucket list items to hidden surprises.

At LST we suggest you decide the main focus for your South African adventure and build an appropriately timed itinerary. If you really want to mix it up, spring and autumn will catch a good balance of shoulder seasons for both Cape and safari. Please forgive such a generalisation for a country so vast and varied. Nuances do exist with the sub-tropical north-east remaining warm year-round, Durban’s beaches experiencing daytime temperatures of at least 20°C throughout, while spring and autumn are peak times for exploring the 200km mountain range of Drakensberg.

 

Safari

Boasting great game viewing including a chance to see the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo, South Africa has been home to the quintessential safari experience, since 1929 when Kruger National Park opened. Other popular reserves include Addo Elephant Park on the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal’s Hluhluwe Umfolozi, and Pilanesberg in the north-west. From luxury lodges to rustic camps, self-drive or guided options, the parks are very well organised but don’t exactly come cheap. The dry winters June to September attract the highest prices with accommodation booked up well in advance as lush greenery recedes and animals arrive at watering holes. Consider instead the wetter November to May low season. Apart from Christmas, you’ll see fewer tourists, particularly at the more remote sites of Kgalagadi, Madikwe, and Mapungubwe, and better rates too. At this time you’ll enjoy the odd dramatic tropical storm, a beautiful landscape, tons of migratory birds and witness the incredible birthing of young animals. Guides at the parks are very experienced offering tips and hints about low season game viewing.

 

Cape Town & the Western Cape

Against the imposing backdrop of Table Mountain, lies a vibrant city so rammed full of activities, it can alone fill a dozen holiday must-do lists. Discover Cape Town’s busy Victoria & Albert Waterfront, stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Two Oceans Aquarium, historic Bo-Kaap area, and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. Explore the rugged Cape Peninsula where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans collide and meet the squabbling penguins of Boulder’s Beach. Crowds are drawn by summer’s warm long days and big festivals but the shoulder and low seasons offer more reasonable prices for some amazing experiences. March and April, the summer crowds depart, and except the marathon and Easter weekends, this a great time for good weather and fewer folk. Even in May, beach days are still possible and the sea warm.  Wetter weather arrives June to August, but temperatures remain in the mid-teens. At this time you’ll avoid queuing and crowds, and although some eateries take a maintenance break, others will entice you with tasty discounted winter specials. There are plenty of sunny dry spells between the showers when you can hike the Instagramable Lion’s Head or ocean trails along the 12 Apostles coastline or Muizenberg to Kalk Bay.


Major Airport

Johnnesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport - JNB, Cape Town International Airport - CPT

Low Season Months

Jan
21°C
130mm
9hrs
Feb
20°C
110mm
10hrs
Mar
19°C
100mm
9hrs
Apr
16°C
40mm
9hrs
May
14°C
10mm
9hrs
Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
19°C
120mm
11hrs
Dec
20°C
110mm
11hrs

Featured Hotels

Coming online very soon

Top Experiences

Whale Watching

A low season treat as July and August is peak for the southern right whales to be calving in the shallow waters off the south coast, having migrated all the way from the Antarctica. Hermanus on Walker Bay is the renowned hub to watch from the shore or seek out your favourite quieter spot.

Namaqualand Flower Route

The end of the low season August and September sees an explosion of colour cover the 800km stretch north of Cape Town to Port Nolloth. Even the most reluctant botanist will be impressed by the wildflower blooms which transform the otherwise barren landscape at this magical springtime.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

A UNESCO protected 220km long tropical wetland on the Indian Ocean with dunes, coral reefs, and swamp forest, open year round. Elephants, giraffes and leopards roam the grasslands, but the highlight is a boat ride on vast Lake St Lucia, home to hippos, crocodiles, pelicans and flamingos.

Insider Tips

  • The famed Garden Route covers 200km of southern coastline from Mossel Bay to Storms River and includes a dozen natural treasures including marine reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, lagoons, caves and villages. Don’t be put off in low season, the winter scenery is lush and green and bursting with life.
  • Each September thousands of young Zulu women take part in the Umkhosi Womhlanga Reed Dance, in a spectacular celebration of Zulu culture, at the Royal Palace in Nongoma, KwaZulu Natal. Only virgins can take part, presenting their long reeds to the Zulu king in this colourful festival.
  • A favourite low season event is the Bastille Festival in Franschhoek in the Western Cape, over the weekend closest to 14th July. Celebrating their French Huguenot heritage, locals don blue and red regalia, enjoy live music, food, wine and crafts, and a particularly competitive boules contest.

Good To Know

  • The ‘First Thursdays’ initiative takes place in Cape Town and Johannesburg on the earliest Thursday of each month inviting free or discounted late night entries to arts & culture projects large and small. Visit the stunning Zeitz MOCAA and world class Norval Foundation as well as local artists’ studios.
  • Whet your appetite for safari by accessing SanParks live webcams which provide a real time stream of the best watering holes and viewing platforms across the top parks and game reserves. Keep track of all the action, conservation projects, and latest news from the comfort of your living room.
  • Do your research and don’t look at sites in isolation. For example, if visiting Kruger, allow time to drive the stunning Panorama Route between the national park and Johannesburg, taking in the huge Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck potholes, waterfalls and historic towns.

Food & Drink

Cape Winelands, Western Cape

££££

Travel the Stellenbosch Wine Route with its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Many winery estates remain open year round for tours, tasting and meals. Snuggle in front of a roaring log fire with a glass of some of the world’s finest pinotage and delicious paired menu.

Willoughby & Co, Cape Town

££££

Long summer queues are normal at this V&A Waterfront favourite. You’ve more chance of a seat come low season. Although it’s a casual spot, the food is amazing with the Japanese themed menu showcasing exciting new creations. The cuisine is mainly fish based, and the sushi exceptional.

Braai, South African Barbecue

££

It’s a very serious business with a proper braai taking many hours and many cans of beer to accomplish correctly. Snack on dried meaty droë wors and biltong awaiting wood grilled boerewors sausages, sosatie kebabs, warthog chops, and ostrich steaks, all served with peri peri sauce.

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