An intriguing history, abundant wildlife, scenic beauty, mouth-watering food and, ok I admit, some of the best wines in the world! No wonder South Africa attracts visitors from all over the world!
In January 2018 I hopped on a plane to Cape Town, ready to discover everything the country has to offer. I wanted to do the place justice and truly discover its diversity. From bustling cities to remote Xhosa villages, from game reserves to the Drakensberg mountains, this is the story of my one month road trip in South Africa: the perfect South Africa itinerary from Cape Town to Johannesburg!
Before heading off, it might be handy to check out these useful tips for a first time visitor to South Africa!
1/ Explore the diversity of Cape Town
Cape Town feels like the most western city of South Africa, it makes for an easy introduction after a long haul flight. Stay at least 5 days, the city has so many different neighbourhoods to explore!
– Visit the city centre and learn about the impact of Apartheid at the District Six museum
– Wander around the colourful Malay district of Bo-Kaap
– Hike up Table Mountain or Lion’s Head
– Soak up the atmosphere at the V&A Waterfront
– And laze on the beautiful Clifton beaches.
Don’t forget to take a half day trip to Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for over 18 years.
2/ Drive the Western Cape
Hire a car and take a daytrip around the Cape Peninsula.
– Start off at colourful Muizenberg beach
– Wander around the picturesque harbour of Kalk Bay
– Prepare for cuteness overload at Boulders Beach when you visit the
– Walk the stunningly beautiful Cape of Good Hope trail, but beware of the
baboons: don’t carry any food, they will attack you!
– Driving back up towards Cape Town, along the west coast, take the
Chapman’s Peak Drive, allegedly one of the most beautiful drives in the
area. Unfortunately it was closed off when I was there …
– End your drive with a sunset visit along Camps Bay.
3/ Indulge in wine
After you’ve thoroughly explored Cape Town, head east to South Africa’s wine region. I stayed in Stellenbosch for a few nights, a university town and considered the region’s “wine capital”. Stay a few days and indulge in several of the area’s wine estates and vineyards. My favourite one was the Waterford Estate, where you can do a chocolate and wine pairing! Highly recommendable!
Don’t just stick to your car though, there’s nothing better than cycling around the vineyards, sampling South African wines along the way!
4/ Drive the Garden Route
I have to be honest, this was probably my least favourite part of the trip. It’s hyped up in every tourist brochure, but I failed to see the absolute charm of it. Granted, there are some lovely beaches like Wilderness and the viewpoint from Knysna is definitely worth seeing, but apart from that, it seems to be mainly a drive along the busy N2.
I did prefer the second part of the stretch from Plettenberg Bay to Storms River: the Robberg Peninsula has some fantastic walks, as well as Tsitsikamma National Park. Make sure to take some time to linger at Plettenberg beach!
5/ Spot elephants in Addo Elephant Park
I stayed on a houseboat on the Sunday river in Colchester, a 10 minute drive to the southern entrance of Addo Elephant Park. You need ideally 2 days to visit Addo. If you think that the park is only about elephants, you’re in for a surprise! You will see a lot of them of course, but I also encountered buffalos, zebras, warthogs and kudos!
6/ Go off-the-beaten-track at the Wild Coast
The Wild Coast is one of the least visited parts of South Africa, it’s also one of the poorest and most authentic areas. I wouldn’t recommend staying in Coffee Bay. It has become a bit of a backpacker’s haven and the locals here seem to be mainly interested in selling you marijuana.
Stay at the Bulungula Lodge instead, at the community run hostel where you will have genuine contact with the local people, who are friendly and helpful without wanting anything in return. Share a beer with the Xhosa people at the local shebeen, they will be just as curious about you as you are about them!
I walked from Coffee Bay to Bulungula in 2 days along the coast and hills. You are in the midst of Xhosa culture here and it’ll feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town!
7/ Hike the Drakensberg Mountains
Gorgeous mountain scenery awaits you in this area. This is walking territory so leave your car aside for a few days! The Drakensberg Mountains are a really vast territory, so the best option is to base yourself in a certain region and do day walks from there. I stayed in the Monks Cowl area in Central Drakensberg and hiked to various waterfalls and Blindman’s Corner (that didn’t steal its name, I couldn’t see anything because of the fog!)
8/ Spot hippo’s in St Lucia
If you’re after some beach time again, pay a visit to St Lucia, a small village between the Indian Ocean and the St Lucia Estuary. From here you can visit the Isimangaliso Wetland Park with the stunning Cape Vidal beach. THE thing to do however is to take a boat ride on the estuary to admire the hippo population. You’ll see warning signs all over the village: the hippos come on land during the night looking for food, so be careful!
9/ Wildlife galore at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve
The most popular game reserve after Kruger and rightly so! The park is enormous and you can easily spend 3 days here, looking for elephants, lions, rhinos, hyenas, giraffes, … I stayed in the Imfolozi part and that’s where I spotted most of the animals. Nothing beats waking up at night because a warthog and hyena are rummaging through the bin next to your safari tent!
I mostly self-drove, but also did an early morning walk with a ranger, it makes you feel very vulnerable walking through these vast lands, not knowing what you will encounter next!
10/ Do not miss out on Johannesburg
Everybody told me that Jo’Burg is not worth visiting, but since I was flying out of there, I though I might as well have a look. I ended up staying a few days and absolutely loved it! There are plenty of things to do in Johannesburg:
- Visit the Apartheid museum
- Explore Soweto. I took a 4 hour cycle ride with Lebo’s Backpackers to get a first glimpse. Don’t miss out on the Hector Pieterson museum!
- See Joburg from above at the top of the Carlton Centre
- Check out the vibrant nightlife in Maboneng, the hipster district of Johannesburg
One month in South Africa was an eye-opener. Modern cities like Cape Town seem like worlds away from the traditional Xhosa villages. The gap between rich and poor is very present and despite Mandela’s dream, there is still a lot of work to do to make the country a true “Rainbow nation”.
But what a fascinating country this is! I barely scratched the surface, but I’m hopeful I will get back to South Africa one day to discover more of the undeniable beauty it has to offer!
Have you been on a road trip in South Africa? What do you think I shouldn’t miss on my next itinerary to South Africa?