Month by month guide of when to go
St Helena's climate does allow for year-round travel and it doesn’t have any distinct “no-go” rainy seasons that many destinations on the African mainland have. It is found in the tropics but being a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean means that winds are always a factor and tend to keep temperatures far milder than mainland destinations of a similar longitude. Temperatures tend to hover around the late teens and early twenties degrees Celsius on average, occasionally reaching the thirties in the peak of summer in January and February.
Rainfall happens year-round but March and April, as well as August, tend to be the peak months for rainfall. It is also worth noting that rainfall can be highly localised despite it being a tiny island – you can experience perfect dry weather in Jamestown and be in the middle of a downpour by the time you reach Great Longwood. It tends to be “warm rain” so not necessarily unpleasant, but it makes every day out on the island an adventure and you need to be sure to pack accordingly.
As you can deduce from the above, there is certainly no bad time to travel to St Helena, with the recommend time to visit dependant on what you are looking to get out of your trip, as certain activities are better at certain times of year. As St Helena is accessed via South Africa it is also worth considering adding some time there owing to the length of the journey, so worth factoring in what you would like to do there if you are planning on extending the trip.
The turn of the year sees whale sharks arrive in the waters around St Helena. Marine megafauna is one of the distinctive features of St Helena and visitors have the chance to swim with them at this time. Boat trips depart the harbour in Jamestown regularly and offer visitors the chance to either remain on the boat and observe from the deck or take the plunge with snorkelling gear to enjoy close encounters – a truly memorable and unique experience. It is a great time to combine with a visit to South Africa, especially as the “peak season” flights between Cape Town and St Helena are operating.
As the sea temperatures continue to rise the whale sharks remain in the waters surrounding St Helena, with groups reaching up to 40 creatures at a time on occasion – a truly spectacular sight whether you are swimming or viewing from a boat. This is also a great time of year for walking, with longer, drier days allowing you to tackle some of the more challenging walks that the island is renowned for. Alternatively, you can tackle the famed set of stairs leading up from Jamestown known as Jacob’s Ladder before rewarding yourself with a cold drink in one of the laid-back harbourside bars once you reach the bottom.
As summer draws to an end the island hosts the St Helena Festival of Walking, an annual spectacle which draws in visitors and locals alike. As the name would suggest the festival is designed to promote the amazing walking, specifically the famous Postbox walks that St Helena offers. These will take you to some of the most spectacular viewpoints on the island, through dramatic landscapes and also have a nod to the fascinating history of the island. Even if you miss the festival it is an ideal time for walking and you will encounter plenty of friendly “Saints” on the walking trails who will happily point you in the right direction if you need some help!
Whilst it doesn’t have a great reputation for sportfishing, St Helena is a superb spot for keen anglers wanting to try their hand at catching some of the most prized ocean-dwellers. Dorado, tuna and wahoo are all found in the waters surrounding the island and visitors can head out and try their luck. Successful anglers can also see their catch cooked over an open fire at the end of the day – a perfect finale to a day on the open ocean.
Each May Saints commemorate the life of the Emperor Napoleon who was exiled on the island and died in May 1821. 2021 marks the 200th Anniversary of his death, with special ceremonies planned, but each year events take place and it is a popular time for historians to make a pilgrimage to the island. Take a trip up to his former house at Great Longwood, explore Deadwood Plain where he used to ride and even visit the nearby paddock of Jonathan the tortoise. May also sees the celebration of Saints Day, where residents celebrate the discovery of the island in 1502.
One of the quirkier events that St Helena hosts is the annual Gravity Rush which takes place in June. The event is a soapbox derby, with residents building their own pushcarts in order to race down the steep streets of Jamestown in the fastest possible time. Whilst the event certainly won’t start a bidding war for television rights any time soon, it is an eagerly anticipated event and an important part of the St Helena social calendar.
There are certainly more famous annual running events than the St Helena Marathon, but it remains a hugely popular event with the islanders and one of the more challenging 26 and a bit miles one can take on. For those looking to enjoy a shorter, but arguably more challenging race, there is also a blitz up the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder – certainly not one for the faint-hearted!
The cooler winter months see humpback whales arrive in the deep waters that surround the island. All told, the island is a superb destination for whale watching, but August is especially alluring as the humpbacks are calving at this time. Take a boat trip out in to the bay for some superb sightings of these beautiful creatures as they start to nurture their young in the mystical ways of the ocean.
As the seasons start to transition, birding is arguably at its best in September, with superb sightings of the endemic St Helena wirebird enjoyed at this time. It is an equally enjoyable time to spot the sooty tern scouring the ocean waves for their next meal. Boat trips are a great way to see seabirds nesting on high cliffs in their hundreds and make for amazing photography.
October sees the start of the diving season around St Helena as the sea temperatures rise and conditions remain largely calm at this time of year. The algae on the rocks leads to a beautiful red colour seen when diving and large schools of fish, especially St Helena butterfly fish are regularly spotted. A number of wrecks can also be explored in the company of the excellent dive schools that are based in Jamestown.
The onset of summer heralds the start of the peak of St Helena’s diving season, as water temperatures rise. Amongst the species seen at this time are endemic butterfly fish, green fish and the ubiquitous ocean surgeonfish. Devil rays are also frequently spotted during the summer months and are a particular draw for divers looking to visit the island. Hawksbill and green turtles can also be spotted throughout the year.
As with much of the world, Christmas is a time for celebration on St Helena, with families coming together and Saints returning from overseas to be with their families. As well as the usual festivities associated with the time of year the run up to Christmas also hosts the Festival of Light, a street parade with eating, drinking, singing and dancing.
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