As a country in the Southern Hemisphere its seasons are the reverse of the north - with winter in June-August and summer December-February. The peak season is December-March when the Western Cape is at its hottest, driest and sunniest. School holidays (December 1 - mid January) are particularly busy - prices rise dramatically and early bookings are essential. Although wetter and cooler, winter in Cape Town is better than ours and most hotels offer substantial discounts.
The best time to visit largely depends on what you plan to do:
Cape Town, Winelands, Garden Route: November-April
Surfing (Jeffrey's Bay): April-June
Hiking, golf: April-November, when it's cooler
Game viewing: May-August, when it's dry in the east
East coast (Durban and KwaZulu Natal): June-August
Flower displays: August-September
Northern deserts: August-September
January 1 New Year's Day
March 21 Human Rights Day
April 27 Freedom Day
May 1 Worker's Day
June 16 Youth Day
August 9 Women's Day
September 24 Heritage Day
December 16 Day of Reconcilation
December 25 Christmas Day
December 26 Day of Goodwill
January 1 New Year's Day
April 19 Birthday of King Mswati
April 25 National Flag Day
May 1 Labour Day
May 9 Ascension Day
July 22 Birthday of the Late King Sobhuza
August/September Umhlanga, Reed Dance Day
September 6 Somhlolo, Independence Day
December 25Christmas Day
December 26 Boxing Day
December/January Incwala Ceremony
For exact dates check with South African Tourism.
January Cape Minstrel's Carnival - a colourful New Year's Day Parade in Cape Town
June/July National Arts Festival - 2 week extravaganza of music, theatre, etc in Grahamstown
August/September Umhlanga Dance in Swaziland - annual dance of Swazi maidens
October/November Stellenbosch Wine Festival
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
Approximate flying times
London-Cape Town: 11 hours
London-Johannesburg: 10 hours
London-Durban: 14 hours
New York-Johannesburg: 17 hours
FROM THE UK
Daily direct flights are available from London Heathrow to Johannesburg and Cape Town with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and South African Airways. There are also flights from London and UK regional airports with KLM; and Air France via Paris CDG and Johannesburg, which take longer.
Fares over Christmas/New Year are substantially higher than normal, and usually remain high through January.
FROM THE USA
South African Airways is the main carrier with non-stop flights to South Africa. Delta also have flights to Johannesburg from Atlanta. Alternatively, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from New York to Johannesburg and Cape Town via London. Flights via Amsterdam are also available with KLM.
South African Airways and Qantas fly to Johannesburg.
Johannesburg International Airport is 21km (13 miles) northeast of the city and takes about 20 minutes by car. Cape Town International Airport is 19km (11 miles) east of the city, about 20 minutes. Durban's King Shaka International Airport is 40km (24 miles) south of the city, about 30 minutes. All have bureau de changes.
The best way to see any region within South Africa is by hiring a car - it's relatively cheap, the roads are in good condition, with little traffic outside the cities and in general we've found signposting excellent. Although there is an extensive bus network, the buses are not the most comfortable and trains are slow.
If you are combining several regions e.g Cape Province and Kruger or Natal, it's best to take internal flights.
If you are staying within one city e.g. Cape Town, taxis are pretty reliable.
See our car rental recommendations.
South Africans drive on the left. The speed limit out of urban areas is 75mph. While the roads are good, beware of careless South African drivers - they pose a serious hazard. You will need an international driver's license.
Daily flights link Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, Kimberley and Bloemfontein with other connecting flights to provincial towns. Principal operators include South African Airways subsidiaries Airlink - including Johannesburg and Durban to Nelpruit, near Kruger Park; South African Express.
Other domestic airlines include: Comair, a British Airways franchisee; Kulula, a low-cost, high-humour division of Comair ("anyone caught smoking in the toilets during flight will be asked to leave the plane...").
If you are heading to remote lodges (especially in Kruger / Madikwe) and short on time, you might consider a private air charter - there are lots of small companies around the country (ask your lodge what they recommend). On the Garden Route, you can skip several hours' driving by flying straight to the airfield at Plettenberg Bay.
Greyhound and Translux run long distance buses. The Baz Bus is a good alternative aimed at backpackers offering hop-on hop-off fares on the main routes.
There a handful of luxury trains, the most famous are the Blue Train and Rovos Rail, both are super expensive. The Blue Train runs from Cape Town to Pretoria (27 hours) and visa versa, with stop offs in Kimberley and Matjiesfontein. Rovos Rail runs from Cape Town to Pretoria, as well as longer trips to Dar Es Salaam and even Cairo.
Taxis are available in larger towns and cities, either available at taxi ranks or requested by phone. Do not hail one in the street. Also avoid the minibus taxis - although no longer dangerous (the government has clamped down on mafia-like 'taxi wars'), they are still uncomfortable!
No visas are required for nationals of the UK/EU, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for visits of up to 90 days. Only a passport (valid for at least 6 months) and return ticket are required. For more information about visa requirements visit South Africa.info.
Spring 2014 saw the introduction of a regulation specifying that parents travelling with children may be asked to show the child’s full birth certificate in order to gain entry to South Africa. UK residents should refer to the Foreign Office for up to date details and advice.
See Travel Health Advice for travellers going abroad from the UK.
Visiting South Africa should pose little threat to your health. Hygiene is generally good, tap water is safe and the hospitals are efficient.
No vaccinations are necessary, but it's wise to ensure that your tetanus and polio are up to date. You may wish to consider jabs against Hepatitis A.
The main things to watch out for are:
Malaria - if you are visiting KwaZulu Natal, the Kruger National Park or surrounding reserves you should take anti-malarial tablets.
AIDS/HIV is rampant.
Bilharzia - found mainly in the east. You should always check with knowledgeable local people before swimming in dams or rivers.