South Africa is one of my top 3 favorite countries in the world. I truly believe that this country can be anyone’s favorite despite different preferences, as it can attract adventure seekers, luxury lovers as well as backpackers. When I moved to Cape Town in July 2012 I had no idea what I wanted to see around the whole country.
After an extended research I created a perfect itinerary that worked for me, so now I can share it with you adding a few extra tips on how to avoid some mistakes I’ve made.
Johannesburg & Pretoria
Fly into Johannesburg as flights will probably be the cheapest to Tambo International Airport. As you might have heard Joburg isn’t the safest place. I’d recommend renting a car at the airport and visiting Pretoria instead.
Although, it might not be the most glamorous capital city in the world. You can learn a lot about the history of South Africa before heading east for a safari.
Kruger National Park
A trip to South Africa wouldn’t have been completed without a proper safari and what’s a better place to do it than Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Kruger is larger than the whole country of the Netherlands, so you need to really plan your trip over there in advance.
As I mentioned in another article you should take a look at what animals interest you, calculate how much time do you want to spend in the park and remember not to make my mistake – book your accommodation in advance. I suggest entering the park through Nelspruit and continuing your way up north inside the park, but the route is totally up to you.
southern part of South Africa
You might want to stop somewhere on your way back from Kruger instead of driving straight to Pretoria, unless you have more than one driver. I stopped in Bela-Bela, a town with geothermic hot springs, which disappointed me a lot so I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. Its warm baths, described online as luxurious and amazing might have been the best in the 50s, but the place really needs some remodeling.
Durban or Port Elizabeth
Back in Pretoria I’d recommend dropping the car off and hopping on a bus. South African buses are totally safe and comfy, so you don’t have to worry about anything. I’d actually say that the bus was way more comfortable than an American Greyhound. You can extend your trip by going to Durban or heading straight to Port Elizabeth to start your Garden Route exploration straight away.
What’s in Durban? Apart from a great vibe and awesome waves to surf on Durban offers a unique opportunity to swim with great white sharks without a cage. You’ll be surrounded by thousands of fish while watching sharks floating around you. Don’t worry, you’ll be safe unless you use a selfie stick!
If you choose to head to Port Elizabeth your first stop could be Addo Elephant Park. As the name indicates it’s a wildlife park with elephants, definitely worth a visit if you didn’t see enough of them at Kruger National Park.
Jeffreys Bay is often a forgotten destination on the Garden Route. I got there by a cab from Port Elizabeth, which was surprisingly cheap. The small town of Jeffreys Bay is a nice base for a 2 days to enjoy some sandboarding nearby or ride a horse on the beach. It can be very romantic, trust me!
A lot of people skip Nature’s Valley when visiting the Garden Route. I’d say it’s a must-do stop and I actually spending at least one night in one of tiny bungalows in the forest. If you’re taking a local bus from Jeffrey’s the bus will stop there, so you can easily find your way around the forest.
Nature Valley is also the spot to face adrenalin and hop off Bloukrans Bridge. It’s terrifying and I probably wouldn’t bungy jump ever again, but to me it was one of these once in a lifetime moments.
You also shouldn’t forget to pay the Monkey Sanctuary a visit. I loved walking around the forest full of monkeys, lemurs and other birds and watch them being fed. You can’t pet the monkeys as it’s a nature reserve and they want the monkeys not to be disturbed, which makes me respect this place even more.
Plettenberg Bay is probably my favorite place on the Garden Route, despite reading that Knysna is the best place to be. Knysna might have a great animal sanctuary, but Plett is extremely picturesque and offers many great restaurants and little cafes.
I spoke about Oudtshoorn before, as it’s my favorite little town in South Africa. The world’s capital of ostrich has a lot to offer starting from ostrich farms, caves and you can even swim with crocodiles there! I had a great time there, so don’t skip Oudtshoorn!
Ladismith & Route 62
Ladismith is a hidden gem, as I haven’t heard about it anywhere and stumbled upon it by accident. Now I can share my secret with you. Together with my friend we wanted to drive down the Route 62 throughout the mountains all the way to Stellenbosch.
The road was almost completely empty as the majority of people choose to drive along the coast, so it makes the experience even more enjoyable. There were private game reserves on the way, lots of wineries and stunning mountains and as much as we enjoyed the view we also had to find a place to sleep.
Since we really wanted to stay at one of the wineries we randomly drove to Oaksrest Vineyard which turned out to be the best decision we took that day. For just 30 euros (I know, crazy!) we got to stay at a 5-bedroom house that had literally everything you can think of. Pool table, table tennis, board games, barbeque, literally everything you might need to have fun.
The guesthouse is ran by an incredible family who gave us some wine, prepared a bbq for us and made our stay incredible. Do stay there if you’re in the area, as this place just couldn’t have been better!
Guesthouse/villa: Oakrest Vineyards
Hermanus can be easily reached on the way to Cape Town. The town got famous by whales as it’s a great spot for watching them. Funnily enough when I was there I thought I saw no whales and took some photos of the shore just to discover that there was a whale behind me this whole time!
Right before you head to Cape Town stop at Stellenbosch for some wine tasting. This friendly student town is surrounded by many wineries. I personally recommend my favorite wine available in just a few spots – Blanc de Noir. It’s a white wine that looks like rose as it’s colored with red grapes’ skins. Yummy!
When someone asks me what my favorite city is, I don’t hesitate much before saying it’s Cape Town. I’m glad I had a pleasure of living there for a while. Cape Town is simply amazing and offers so many things starting from parties, through farmers markets and finishing on nature. Don’t skip it on your South Africa itinerary.
Not to mention the food scene in Cape Town is unbelievable. You can spend every weekend scrolling around a different pop-up cafe or get an amazing champagne brunch at Old Biscuit Mill or any other market. Yum!
Accommodation Cape Town:
Hotel: Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (the most iconic place in town, also known as the best place for an afternoon tea)
Guesthouse: One Belvedere Guesthouse (I had a pleasure to live there long-term – by far one of the best places ever)
Hostel: HomeBase Hotel (right of the main party street, so excellent central location)
Ideally you should probably plan on staying there for at least a week if you want to see some nearby attractions as well. I recommend taking a day trip to Simon’s Town to see a beach full of penguins! If you love wildlife as much as I do you’ll be the happiest person on earth with these little cuties running around you.
Arrange your travel insurance
Don’t forget to arrange a health insure before heading to South Africa. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!