A Guide to South Africa’s Winter Destinations
For a country in the sunny Southern Hemisphere, South Africa sure has an abundance of idyllic winter destinations to suit every traveller. We’ve rounded up some of South Africans’ favourite destinations during the winter season. It’s time to start planning your ideal winter holiday!
Escape the cold – beach and spa stays
When it comes to hot springs and spa stays, Bela-Bela, Sun City and the various ATKV Spa Resorts across the country are the most popular. The majority of these resorts are family friendly and offer loads of opportunities for travellers of all ages. If you’re not travelling with kids, rather book your holiday before or after the school holidays as it may become a bit crowded during peak times.
The coast of KwaZulu-Natal, and especially the South Coast, are favourites throughout the year as sun worshippers flock to its long, sandy Blue Flag beaches to bask in the subtropical sunshine. Besides the idyllic weather, the area also boasts a myriad of attractions and events to keep the whole family entertained ─ uShaka Marine World, Oribi Gorge and Splash Waterworld to mention a few! Visitors can expect a huge variety of adventure activities suitable for everyone from mild to wild, agricultural tours (banana farms, coffee farms, crocodile farms, butterfly farms), ocean safaris and much, much more!
Hit the road ─ scenic stays along our best routes
What’s better than scenic drives along winding roads and fantastic scenery to top it all off? Everyone loves a good road trip, especially if the weather is not the best.
It seems the most popular winter road trip destination is magical Clarens or the picturesque Panorama Route with its quaint towns and jaw-dropping viewpoints. Go take an iconic snapshot of the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, The Pinnacle, Bourkes’ Luck Potholes and the many waterfalls along the way.
Some of our favourite recommendations for the ultimate winter road trip include the Midlands Meander with its rolling hills reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, welcoming towns, arts and crafts route, and a variety of foodie stops ─ perfect for a well-rounded family holiday!
Get the adrenaline pumping — adventure stays in the mountains
Who said you need a fireplace to warm you up during a winter getaway? It’s a well-known fact that winter is the best time to go hiking in South Africa thanks to the relatively mild winters in comparison with sizzling summers. That’s why some of our country’s most cherished mountain ranges are so popular during this time of year.
Although we have a pretty impressive repertoire of mountain ranges, the Drakensberg, Magaliesberg and Cederberg Mountains keep adventurers, and particularly hikers, coming back for more. These ranges all offer hikers the opportunity to explore authentic rockart, climb our highest peaks and fly from cliff to cliff on a canopy tour. After a day of adventure you can warm up next to the fireplace in your cosy mountainside cottage. What are you waiting for? Go tick Mafadi Peak and the Wolfberg Arch off your bucket list!
After a busy day of hiking, there is nothing like returning to a cozy cottage in the mountains to recuperate. At SANParks Highlands Mountain Retreat you can warm up in front of the fireplace in each cabin and Mount Ceder has a restaurant on-site for those who want to sit back and relax.
Go searching for snow — stow away in stone cottages
Let’s be honest, some of us really just want a taste of that true European winter, without actually having to sit on a plane for 10 or more hours. Even though many of the top snow-capped destinations may require a 4×4, there is a handful of equally magical places to explore with a 2×4 and still see enough snow for a proper snowball fight!
Thanks to its towering peaks, the Drakensberg is both a fantastic hiking and snow destination and travellers tend to flock from all over once the first snow has fallen.
Clarens is by far one of the most popular winter, and specifically snow, destinations in South Africa. Thanks to its relatively central location and scenic surroundings, including Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the Maloti Mountains, the jewel of the Free State is a hot (pun intended) commodity when it comes to winter getaways. According to Snow Report, this region is always popular among snow seekers, even though snow isn’t always guaranteed. If you’re looking for a stone cottage, a cosy fireplace and a view of snow-capped mountains, you’ll find that and more in colourful Clarens.
Get your game on ─ game reserve getaways
Game-viewing is known for being the perfect winter activity in South Africa, since it’s the dry season in the north where the most pristine game reserves are and animals tend to congregate around waterholes and rivers more often. Local and international visitors alike love to go on safaris this time of year and because of that the Kruger National Park and surrounding parks are abuzz with families, couples and tour groups.
One park, in particular, that stands out is Marloth Park on the southern border of the Kruger in Mpumalanga ─ and why wouldn’t it? With no fences separating you from the resident game in this town, you can sit on your patio or balcony with your favourite drink in your hand while game like giraffe, buck and zebra casually stroll past you. The park is speckled with self-catering holiday houses that serve as the ideal base for day visitors to the Kruger and surrounding reserves.
Other well-known reserves in the Greater Kruger National Park include the Balule, Klaserie, Timbavati, Thorny Bush and Sabi Sand Game Reserves and they’re all also worth the visit ─ whether you’re looking for a simple self-catering stay or a luxurious safari lodge holiday!
Tips for a winter getaway
- If you can help it, try planning your trip outside the school holidays to avoid crowds.
- Keep an eye out for winter specials and lowered prices as winter might be a quieter time for some establishments.
- Try to find accommodation with a fireplace so you can cuddle up in front of it on chilly winter nights.
- Don’t only pack all your winter clothing: Winter weather in South Africa can vary from below 0 ºC to the mid 20’s, so you’ll have to either watch your weather app like a hawk or pack everything from a t-shirt to a thick parka, depending on where exactly you’re heading.
- If you’re planning a winter getaway to the Western Cape, pack a raincoat.
- If you’re heading north to the more temperate provinces, pack a hat and your sunscreen as day temperatures can easily reach up to 25 ºC even in the middle of winter.
- Waterproof shoes are a must if you’re going hunting for snow ─ no one likes a soggy shoe after a snowball fight!
- If you do end up travelling during the school holidays, book any activities or visits to popular attractions beforehand to avoid queues.
There’s no argument that winter is one of the best seasons to visit and explore South Africa. With so many idyllic winter destinations to choose from, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find your ideal winter getaway this season. Imagine your ideal type of holiday and use our guide to plan a dream winter break.
Feature image: Thornhill Guest House
Written by Ankia Wolf for TravelGround in 2018, reviewed by Ingrid Heÿdenrÿch for TravelGround in 2021.