Experience the Magic of South Africa’s Secret Season: Kirsty Gordon on Why You Should Visit South Africa in May

Published: 27 June 2024

I’m one of the lucky few people in this entire world who get to call South Africa, “home.” It’s a privilege that isn’t wasted on me. In fact, my love for this great land was one of the main reasons why I returned from the UK in 2008 and started Anywhere in Africa Safaris. Thank goodness for things like Facebook and Instagram (I’m not on TikTok…yet), because I can now share the beauty of this place with you all.

But when I get asked, “when is the best time to visit?” The Secret Season of May pops into mind. It’s when winter hasn’t yet made her presence known and the days are warm, but not sweltering. It’s also when every city and landscape bids farewell to the hordes of tourists, and you’ll find yourself sitting amongst people speaking English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, Zulu or one of the other 11 official languages of this region.

Image showing Stellenbosch winelands in South Africa during Secret Season

It’s when you’ll feel like a local, but treated like royalty, with South Africans genuinely interested in where you’ve come from, where you’re going in the country, coupled with a lot of restaurant, landmark or wine farm recommendations of places you should (have to) explore before you head home. So if you want to travel next year between late-April to early June, this is what you can expect.

Sublime South African Sunshine

Image showing Garden Route trail in South Africa's Secret Season

May marks the beginning of autumn in South Africa, bringing with it mild and pleasant weather. The scorching heat of summer fades away, and the “winter chill” (locals would call it chilly but to the rest of the world it’s definitely mild) is still weeks away. Daytime temperatures hover around a comfortable 20-25°C (68-77°F), making it ideal for outdoor activities. Whether you're hiking in the Drakensberg mountains, exploring the vineyards of Stellenbosch, or embarking on a safari in Kruger National Park, the weather in May is perfect for enjoying the great outdoors.

Fewer Crowds, More Intimate Experiences

Image showing couple on hiking up Table Mountain in South Africa's Cape Town

As mentioned earlier, be prepared to stand out as a tourist and surround yourself with the warmth of locals. With fewer visitors, you can enjoy a more intimate and relaxed experience at popular attractions. Imagine having the stunning beaches and golf courses of the Garden Route almost to yourself, or exploring Cape Town’s iconic landmarks without the hustle and bustle. 

Image showing Chapman's Peak Drive

This tranquility extends to game reserves and national parks, where you’ll have more personal space and better opportunities for wildlife sightings. There are usually great specials running during this time too, so if you’re looking for a more affordable safari, or perhaps you have your heart set on a popular lodge, May is when you can usually find dates that work when booking less than a year in advance.

Spectacular Wildlife Viewing

Image showing herd of elephants in Kruger National Park

May is an excellent time for wildlife enthusiasts. As the dry season begins, animals start to congregate around the dwindling water sources, making it easier to spot them. The thinning vegetation also improves visibility. In Kruger National Park and other game reserves, you can witness the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino) in their natural habitat. Birdwatchers will also delight in the abundance of bird species, many of which are at their most active during this time.

Breathtaking Scenery

Image showing Storm's River along Garden Route in South Africa's Secret Season

South Africa’s landscapes undergo a stunning transformation in May. The lush greenery of the summer months gives way to a tapestry of autumnal hues. The Western Cape, in particular, becomes a photographer’s dream, with its vineyards and mountains bathed in shades of gold and red. The scenic routes, such as the Garden Route and the Panorama Route, are especially picturesque, offering Instagram-worthy views at every turn.

Unique Cultural Experiences

Image showing Cultural Experience in South Africa

Visiting South Africa in May also allows you to immerse yourself in local culture. With less tourists, you’ll get a more authentic experience where you can engage more with communities, learn about their traditions, and participate in cultural events that you might miss during the busier months. May is also the perfect time to explore South Africa’s culinary scene, with restaurants and markets offering seasonal delights - often at a reduced rate!

Great Value For Money

Image showing penguin in Simonstown in South Africa

Lastly, one of the best-kept secrets of traveling to South Africa in May is the value for money. With the off-peak season in full swing, you’ll find more affordable rates for accommodation, flights, and tours. Many lodges and hotels offer special discounts and packages, making it an ideal time for budget-conscious travelers or those looking to enjoy luxury experiences at a fraction of the cost.

I always advise to book at least a year in advance but if you’re reading this now and looking to explore South Africa in under a year’s time, I’d strongly suggest we look at dates around the end of April to very early June. Contact myself, Kirsty Gordon, and let’s arrange your vacation of a lifetime to South Africa.

As a travel designer my job is to create an itinerary bursting with adventure (and relaxation), as well as catering to your budget and must-see list. Get in touch with myself, Kirsty Gordon, to plan your next bush and beach escape, or simply just an island getaway - it’s all up to you!

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