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
BY CAR: The best way to see any region within South Africa is by hiring a car. See our car rental recommendations.
AIR: If you are combining several regions e.g Cape Province and Kruger or Natal, it's best to take internal flights. Try Airlink, South African Express (via South African Airlines), Kulula, or a private charter plane (ask your lodge).
BUS: 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.
TRAIN: 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.
TAXI: If you are staying within one city e.g. Cape Town, taxis are pretty reliable.
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.