When Is the Best Time
The best time for traveling to the east of South Africa is the dry and mild winter from May to September. During December to February, thunderstorms and heavy precipitation can occur.
The best time for hippo and wildlife spotting is in southern winter from May to September. In winter the day temperature is pleasant and not too hot. The reason hippos feed at daytime as well and not only at night as they are doing during summer. Also, the game is more active because of the pleasant temps at this time of the year.
Guided tours are offered for Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles during summer in the night from November to March and hatchlings emerge after roughly 70 days between January to March. More information and booking
Crowds and Weather by Season
Southern Winter (May to September) - Dry Season
Is the best time for wildlife spotting, and it's likewise the low season with fewer tourists, except for school holidays. Dry season: Days are sunny, above 20°C with low humidity and nights are cold around 15°C. Fewer mosquitos occur. It's a pleasant time to travel through the east of South Africa. Our favorite month is September: still dry, even more game to spot and temps rise.
Southern Summer (November to March) - Rainy Season
It's the peak season; December and January are typically the worst months of the year. Accommodations should be booked in advance and prices are on a top level. November and March are less crowded. The rain starts end of October. The scenery gets lush and green, but during summer it’s also hot and humid temps are on average around 30°C and heavy rainfall can occur. Cape Vidal is incredibly popular the reason that vehicle access is limited to 120 vehicles per day. Either you enter the gate early in the day, or you already made a booking for an overnight stay. Evenings are tranquil, and beaches are peaceful when the daytrippers left the park.
- April-September: mostly 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.
- October-March: mostly 5 or 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. depending on the park
- Check the opening hours for each "park" first
Where and Tips
Isimangaliso was formerly known as St. Lucia Wetland Park. It became a World Heritage Site at the end of 1999 to protect the unique flora and fauna, the wetlands and the high coastal dunes estimated to be 25.000 years old. The more than 3,000 km2 huge wetland park is subdivided into different beautiful areas like Kosi Bay, Coastal Forest, Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay, Cape Vidal, uMkhuze, False Bay, Lake St. Lucia, Maphelane, the East and West Shore.
Isimangaliso is excellent for game viewing and birding. Nelson Mandela said, “The wetland park must be the only place on the globe where the world’s oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest land mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).” The coelacanth was believed to be extinct until it was found in 2000.
Top Tips and Our Favorite Parks
The parks close before sunset. Therefore, try to stay in one of the parks. Advanced booking is recommended. A range of accommodations is offered from camping to self-catering cottages and luxury hotels. Most of them have limited space; early reservations are advisable. This makes Africa so unique, spending the nights in the wilderness.
uMkhuze; Known for its ancient Sycamore Fig Forest, they only of its kind in entire SA. It's an outstanding area for birding. Guided walks are a memorable experience. Most of the guides have immense knowledge while others are lazy which we experienced. You walk in areas where it is not allowed to get out of the car due to the big five. Stay at least one night close to the park. We loved our two nights at the Ghost Mountain Inn. Book a guided walk and enjoy the pure nature, forest, the hippos and a breathtaking morning. If you plan to stay longer; don't miss the Ithala Game Reserve,
Cape Vidal; The drive to Cape Vidal is spectacular with game even rhinos along the road. The beaches are breathtaking wild inviting you to relax. There is a relatively safe swimming area protected by a reef. Cabins are basic but beautifully located with sleeping pied hornbills just next to you. The cabins are a bit pricey but it was worth staying here for a night. You can book the cabins via KZN Parks only.
- Sodwana Bay; It's an excellent location for scuba diving and deep sea fishing. There are the southernmost coral reefs of SA. The wetland park is a malaria area, and special precautions are necessary. Lower risk in winter and beginning of spring. Bookmark the link to get the best accommodation prices for Sodwana Bay.
St. Lucia: Famous to spot hippos and crocodiles from the road while walking through the village. At nights you have to be careful because the roads and gardens as well become hippo terrain wandering along grazing. There are plenty of B&B, hotels, and guesthouses in St.Lucia. We loved to stay at the St. Lucia Wetlands Guest House. A delicious breakfast is included. And it's just an hour drive from St. Lucia to the Umfolozi Game Reserve famous for black and white rhinos.