December to mid-January is South Africa’s busiest period, with local holiday-makers packing the beaches, and the campsites and game parks full. In many ways, it’s a bad time to visit – prices are higher, traffic is worse, and the best accommodation is harder to find.
That said, it’s a shame not to experience South Africa at its most summery and relaxed. The crowds flock to the coast for good reason. The weather in the Cape and Garden Route, is hot and clear, the evenings are long, and there’s a general holiday mood wherever you go. Durban and surrounds can be very humid and hot, but that hardly matters if you spend the whole day in the sea or swimming pool.
The busy national parks are perhaps best avoided, especially as high season rates return for a month from mid-December. The whole of the interior, from Kruger National Park to the West Coast is particularly hot and anyone not at the coast usually heads for whatever river, pool or dam they can find.
The week between Christmas and New Years’ Eve is taken as holiday by most South Africans. Christmas itself can be very quiet on the streets, with locals spending time at home with family. The 26th is traditionally a beach day on the coast and by the end of the week the party is back in full swing. Johannesburg is probably at its quietest during this period, with many residents away on holiday and those that remaining enjoying the lighter traffic and afternoon thunderstorms.