Winter is one of the best times to visit Southern Africa due to cheaper prices, fewer crowds, and sunnier weather. And given the massive size of this side of the continent, there are plenty of great places to go on vacation. From safaris in Kruger Park to scenic beaches in Kwazulu-Natal, here are our top picks for the best places to visit in Southern Africa during winter.
KZN’s North Coast
The beaches of the northern part of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal coast stay nice and toasty during the winter and make the perfect getaway from colder confines. At least this is the case on shore, if not in the actual ocean (even the relatively warm waters of the Indian Ocean get a bit nippy). But it’s still a destination par excellence, as most of the rest of South Africa is suffering cold fronts and chilly temperatures throughout winter. Some of the best places to go include Umhlanga Rocks, which has stunning scenery and several luxury resorts where guests can bask all week in the sun. Nature enthusiasts will want to head just a bit farther north to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park or Sodwana Bay, where they’ll find untouched wetlands, plenty of scenic trails, and excellent scuba diving. Those looking for animals will also want to visit, as herds of elephants roam on the aptly named Elephant Coast. Kosi Bay is a great destination to check out, and is full of scenic lodges nestled under the forest canopy.
This coastal country is one of the top places where South Africans flee during the winter, and is increasingly popular with tourists from around the world. Whether it’s the Quirimbas Archipelago, Bazaruto, Beira, or anywhere else on the 2,500-mile coastline, this country is hard to top for beating the winter blues — and since it’s still somewhat “undiscovered” you won’t have to fight crowds. The beaches are stunning, the water is warm, and there are plenty of activities to partake in: swimming with horses, sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Of course, you could just spend the entire time lounging with a tropical drink in hand, too. Those looking for a more cultural vacation will enjoy stopping in vibrant Maputo before heading out to the beaches in order to explore the shops and eclectic seafood restaurants.
While it doesn’t have a coastline, travelers looking for a winter safari can’t do any better than South Africa’s Kruger Park. The park has simply too many accolades to list, but a few include the ‘Big Five,’ 500 species of birds, dozens of rest camps and safari lodges, and 2,000,000 hectares to roam. Accommodation runs the gamut from grand luxury lodges and rustic rest camps. Those looking to save some money can opt for a self-drive safari and stay in one of the budget hotels outside the park, or a basic campsite within it. The cool-ish winter weather is also ideal for daytime game drives, as you won’t get beat down by the blazing summer sun. It’s not necessarily the best time to see animals, but given the vastness of the park and cheaper rates at the lodges this time of year, it’s still well worth going.
If you head to the top of the South African outback and venture past the sands of the Kalahari desert, you’ll reach the vast wildlife reserve known as Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The landscape is one of the most surreal in the world, and the remote destination enhances the “in the middle of nowhere” effect. Weather during the winter is nice and sunny, with warm days and chilly nights. The park is most famous for the lanky black-maned Kalahari lions, but guests will also find plenty of gemsbok, giraffes, birdlife and the occasional meerkat. While there are a few luxury lodges in the area, most people stay at one of the park’s three official rest camps. Adventurous travelers who are willing to make the trek will find a long road ahead of them, as it’s at least a five-hour drive from Upington down a long dusty clay road. However, those who do make the journey will be rewarded with one of the best experiences in southern Africa.
Given that most of the country is covered with vast, beautiful deserts, Namibia is also one of the perfect spots to head in Southern Africa during the winter. Here you can enjoy sunny days, and miss out on the rain and cold of places like Cape Town and Joburg. Some of the top spots tourists love to visit are the incredible dunes of Sossusvlei, the eerie Skeleton Coast, or the charming towns of Windhoek, Luderitz and Swakopmund. Adventure travelers also love Namibia as it offers numerous adrenaline adventures such as sky diving, off-road driving, and dune-surfing. Those seeking pampering and leisure will find plenty of spas and lodges dotting the desert landscape, making it the perfect place to seriously get away from it all. Winter is also a great time to view game in parks like Etosha and Namib-Naukluft because when the land dries out, animals congregate at watering holes and thus are easier to spot.
Like many other parts of Africa, Malawi is wet in summer but dry in winter, making this season the best time to visit. The beaches of Lake Malawi beckon, and the Lake of Stars Festival takes place in late September. Winter is also best for game viewing, as game animals gather around the watering holes of Liwonde National Park, Majete Wildlife Reserve, and other parks. Hiking and trekking are also best done in the dry season, when you’re not at risk of a massive downpour or washed-out trails. Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve and Nyika National Park are two favorite spots for trekking. The only drawbacks are that nighttime temperatures can get quite cold, especially at the higher altitudes of this land-locked country, and birds are much more plentiful in the wet summer season.