Okay, so Cape Town in winter isn’t the best time to sunbathe at Clifton or grab sundowners at Camps Bay, but despite the tendency for chilly temps and spells of cold rain, the forecast isn’t all negative. It doesn’t rain all the time; even during the wettest months of June and July, rain often comes at night, and days can be brisk but sunny. It won’t really feel that cold if you’re used to winter in, say, Chicago or New York – and it doesn’t snow in the city.
Called the “secret season,” winter is actually a great time to visit the Mother City if you’re looking for bargains at some top hotels, which also host special events during the winter months to entice guests. At the One&Only Cape Town, for instance, not only are there deals on rooms and at the spa, there are also special menus at the house restaurants and a popular winter guest speaker series, which begins in May and runs through October. From Boer War raconteurs to adventure and wildlife enthusiasts, the speaker series introduces guests to incredible true-life stories of survival in the elements. This season, talks from international shark and wildlife behaviorist Chris Fallows and trans-Atlantic rower and South Pole adventurer Peter van Kets are on the books (check the hotel website for the full list; there is one speaker per month).
Even if you aren’t staying at the One&Only, wander in to the Vista Lounge & Bar for the special winter afternoon tea with Table Mountain views. Aside from the usual array of sweet and savory delicacies, winter guests can also order off the decadent Lindt Chocolate Fondue menu.
The One&Only isn’t the only hotel offering deals. You can expect to find specials at nearly all the city’s mid-range and luxury properties – and many will offer enticing spa and restaurant packages as well. Restaurants also jump on the winter indulgence bandwagon offering comforting eating experiences that include special menus or cozy fireplace dining. You can also check out the city’s bustling indoor markets, like the City Bowl Market or the Bay Harbour Market, on chilly winter days, or head out to the winelands, where the vineyards put on special food and wine pairings during the winter season.
In fact, winter is one of the best times to visit the wine region, as the rains mean the entire peninsula turns greener than any other time of year and the contrasting colors make an already spectacular landscape look even more fantastical. Visit in August and September, to witness the Cape Winelands and Cape Peninsula at their most naturally magical. This is when millions of wildflowers in the grasslands surrounding the city bloom. Or head north of the city (towards Northern Cape province) for the best viewing of the breathtaking pink, orange, white and yellow flower quilts. Winter is also a great time to explore the outdoor attractions around Cape Town – you won’t roast while hiking around the Table Mountain Nature Reserve or checking out the acclaimed Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (which will also be extra spectacular come August).
Weirdly, winter is also a good time to get in the water, as the sea temperatures are actually warmer in winter than in summer – no one ever really goes for a leisurely “swim” in the waters off Cape Town anyway. But for adventure sports, winter is the time to visit. The waves are bigger and more consistent for surfing along the coast, and a clear winter day with just enough, but not too much, wind is ideal for learning to kite surf.
If you’ve always wanted to check shark cage diving off your bucket list, then winter is the time to try. Between May and September there is a better shot of seeing sharks from the cage than any other time of year, as the Great Whites are actively feeding in winter and the ocean visibility is at its best. If you’re more into whales than sharks, winter is also the best time to see the world’s biggest mammal. July to September is the peak calving season for whales, which means you can often spot them just driving along the False Bay Coast line or visiting Hermanus (about a 1.5 hour drive from Cape Town) and going out on a cruise or in a kayak. If you’re around in September, the annual Hermanus Whale Festival is well worth attending – the legendary whale crier of Hermanus “calls” the whales with a trumpet while visitors watch on, and there are also concerts and vendors selling all sorts of goods.
Speaking of events, winter is also the main festival and concert season in Cape Town with many stellar performances on tap for the upcoming months. Since there are fewer tourists this time of year, the concerts you’ll catch or the quirky festivals – like Christmas in July – will be aimed more at the local market, and create an authentic introduction to the Mother City. One band to watch for is the chart-topping The Rudimentals, a 12-piece ska/reggae/dancehall group. They have a number of shows coming up and are of the coolest music stories in the city, with the talented band members holding day jobs that range from medical doctor to print and television models to chemical engineers, and hailing from countries across the globe. Check the Cape Town Tourism website for a full list of events this winter.