Africa, being a vast continent of 54 different countries, cannot easily be generalised, and neither can African safaris. There are a host of exciting destinations to visit across the continent, each offering vastly different experiences, and the seasonality of each varies by region and country.
South Africa, located at the very tip of Africa, is undoubtedly a world-class safari destination. The third most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil and Indonesia, it boasts an astonishing diversity of landscapes, terrains, wildlife and experiences.
And one of the best times to visit is in the heart of the South African winter, from May to September.
1. You will evade the crowds.
First and foremost, unlike countries such as Zambia and Botswana, winter is low season in South Africa. This means that safari camps and lodges are less busy than in the popular summer and spring months, and the rates are often much less expensive, so you can grab yourself a real bargain. Special offers for longer stays also abound – Samara Private Game Reserve offers a Stay 4 Pay 3 special during the winter months.
At some lodges, this may also mean that you have a greater chance of ending up with your own private vehicle – a little extra treat that can make your winter safari in South Africa even more special.
2. You will avoid the heat of summer
This is perhaps an obvious perk, but it bears repeating. Summers in South Africa can be hot. Not only can this be bothersome and make you feel lethargic, but it affects the wildlife too. Many animals will be active only for a very short period at dawn and dusk, thus reducing the hours of potential game-viewing. South African winters on the other hand, depending on where in the country you choose to visit, are generally mild and dry, with cooler mornings and evenings allowing the game to stay active for longer.
A typical winter’s day in the Eastern Cape, for instance, will start off frosty but thaw into pleasant T-shirt weather during the course of the day. At Samara, this means that winter game drives can sometimes turn into day-long excursions – with a delicious picnic of course – to explore the vast wilderness in utmost peace.
Bear this in mind though – in the same way that summers in South Africa can reach a debilitating 40 degrees Celsius, winters in South Africa can also get seriously cold. And believe it or not, it does sometimes snow! The main thing to remember for a winter safari in South Africa is to pack cleverly and appropriately – lots of layers will serve you well in a climate that can be characterised as changeable at best. In fact, this goes for a safari at any time of year (read Samara’s What to Bring on Safari guide here).
3. You will have a better chance of seeing elusive wildlife
It is well-known in the safari world that the drier winter months lead wildlife to congregate around focal food and water sources, making game-viewing easier and more dramatic. The bush also tends to be less dense than in summer, and animals’ behaviour is somewhat more predictable.
In certain parts of South Africa, the lower temperatures have another interesting effect. At Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, winter sees the elusive and nocturnal aardvark change its behaviour to emerge during the day. No one is quite certain why, but it is probably linked to a change in activity patterns for the aardvark’s primary food source – ants and termites. This funny-looking creature tops many a safari bucket list, so by spending a winter safari in South Africa you could be setting yourself up for the sighting of a lifetime.
4. It’s the perfect time to combine a safari with other experiences in this beautiful country
Winter in South Africa is a time of cultural festivals, world-famous land-based whale-watching (Hermanus in June to September is ideal) and curling up by the fire with a delicious glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (a flagship grape in South Africa).
Festivals around that time of year include the Franschhoek Literary Festival (18-20 May 2018), the Knysna Oyster Festival (29th June – 8th July 2018) and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival (28th June – 8th July 2018), amongst many others. Make like a local and head off the beaten track to discover South Africa’s hidden gems.
Combine your winter safari with any one of the above, not to forget the (mostly!) balmy weather, out of season rates and smaller crowds, and you have yourself a perfect itinerary for a winning holiday, one that will make you want to return to South Africa time and time again.