This is a three-week itinerary covering what – in our view – are the top highlights of any visit to South Africa. While only covering a small portion of this massive country, South Africa offers amazing variety. With drives along breathtaking coastal roads, hiking in the lush Garden Route area, and the unique landscape of semi-arid Little Karoo, this is an itinerary that will give you a taste of everything that makes South Africa a great place to visit. Where the adrenaline-rush of Kruger National Park sits beautifully alongside excellent South African food, wine and hospitality. For recommendations on how to reduce this trip, see Itinerary Amendments at the bottom of the article.

Trip Overview

4 Days
4 Days
3 Days
2 Days
5 Days
2 Days
Stunning Cape Town and Cape Peninsula
Exploring South Africa’s famous Garden Route
Semi-arid Little Karoo and Winelands
Magnificent canyons of the Blyde River
Adventure packed Kruger National Park
History & culture in Johannesburg

Getting up close and personal with amazing wildlife
Dramatic coastal scenery, mixed with semi-arid deserts
Sampling South Africa’s world-class food and wines
Beautiful walks overlooking spectacular scenery
Understanding the political and cultural context of South Africa
Great value for money

Why we loved this trip

Trip Overview

4 Days
4 Days
3 Days
2 Days
5 Days
2 Days
Stunning Cape Town and Cape Peninsula
Exploring South Africa’s famous Garden Route
Semi-arid Little Karoo and Winelands
Magnificent canyons of the Blyde River
Adventure packed Kruger National Park
History & culture in Johannesburg

Why we loved this trip

Getting up close and personal with amazing wildlife
Dramatic coastal mountain scenery, mixed with semi-arid deserts
Sampling South Africa’s world class food and wines
Beautiful walks overlooking spectacular scenery
Understanding the political and cultural context of South Africa
Great value for money

Day 1 | Robben Island & Lion's Head

Start your South African experience by understanding a bit more about Apartheid on the Robben Island Museum tour. Robben Island was used by the South African government as a prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals from 1961 until 1991. Today the island is home to a number of former inmates who work as tour guides, providing very personal – and at times – harrowing accounts of their experience in the prison. Ferries to Robben Island depart from Victoria and Albert Waterfront, and booking in advance is recommended. The whole trip takes around 4 – 5 hours return.

After Robben Island, have a quick lunch at the V&A Waterfront Food Market to buffer the energy levels for the walk up Lion’s Head – the smaller of Cape Town’s two impressive mountains. To do the walk, park 500m up Signal Hill Road, just after turning off the M62 at Kloof Neck. Follow the well-trod path which winds its way around the hill, giving you spectacular views of Cape Town and Table Mountain in regular bursts. There is a bit of scrambling towards the top, but if the sight of ropes and ladders leaves your palms sweaty, walk a bit further and you’ll see another path avoiding these tricky bits. The views from the top are stunning; the afternoon sun lights up Cape Town and Table Mountain in all their golden glory. The walk takes around 1 hour, 15 minutes up and 1 hour down.

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Cape Town
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Hearing personal experiences from former inmates at Robben Island

Day 2 | Cape Town's Apartheid History & Beaches

Start today with a visit to District 6 Museum which tells the story of the forcible ejection of local multi-racial communities from the Sixth District in inner Cape Town. It has both permanent and temporary exhibitions and excellent guides offering personal insights into the museum.

After the museum, grab a coffee at the excellent Uncle Bear Coffee Compay before exploring the tourist market at Greenmarket Square, Company Gardens, the shops and restaurants of Loop and Long street, and Bo Kaap. Bo Kapp has a rich multi-cultural heritage, thanks mostly to the descendants of slaves who were brought over in the 16th and 17th century, and today is an interesting place to stroll around.

In the afternoon head out to Bloubergstrand Beach, a beautiful stretch of beach 15 kilometres north of central Cape Town which is a popular spot for kite surfers and beach-goers alike. For a night out mixing with friendly locals, you can’t go past De Waterkant area.

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Cape Town
20 minutes to Bloubergstrand and 20 minutes back
Informative and personal stories from the District 6 Museum

Day 3 | Table Mountain & Kirstenbosch Gardens

This morning, take the cableway up to Table Mountain for stunning views over Cape Town. Booking ahead is essential as it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. With or without pre-booked tickets it’s likely you will need to queue, so get there as early as possible. But fear not, your precious time is not wasted as the views across Cape Town, Lion’s Head and the endless expanse of ocean is well worth the wait.

After Table Mountain, head over to Kirstenbosch Gardens, a sprawling 528-hectare botanical garden growing only indigenous South African plants. Take a picnic and enjoy a relaxing afternoon in these beautiful gardens with a stunning view back up to Table Mountain. The treetop canopy walk is very popular and during summer months, live concerts are held in the gardens.

Spend what’s left of the afternoon watching the sun go down on Camps Bay Beach  and pick a restaurant along the front for a final dinner in Cape Town before leaving tomorrow.

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Cape Town
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Spectacular views from Table Mountain

Day 4 | Stunning Cape Point Drive

The beauty of Cape Town is not just the city itself but also the stunning environment it’s set in. So today, have the camera ready as you start a driving tour of the spectacular Cape Peninsula, presenting the Cape Town area in all its majestic glory. First off, take the M6 down to Harbour Road in Hout Bay (20 minutes from Cape Town), home to a traditional fishing harbour and market, which offers some excellent seafood and a cool seaside vibe. After a walk around Hout Bay, head off to Cape Point via Chapman’s Peak. This is a toll road, but you will not resent that small payment one bit; the drive is nothing short of spectacular. Dramatic cliffs buckle like velvet as they slide into the wide expanse of ocean, delivering coastal views you’d be hard-pressed to beat anywhere.

Once the M6 hits the M65, turn right and go via Kommetjie, taking the circular route around the peninsula. About 1h 20m after leaving Hout Bay you will arrive at Table Mountain National Park. Pay the entry fee, pick up a map and follow the signs to The Cape of Good Hope. Take a walk up the hill nearby and keep your eyes peeled for whales. After you’ve soaked up the views, drive up to Cape Point, walk up to the new lighthouse and out to the point that looks down over the old lighthouse.

Back in the car, head up the east side of the peninsula (using the M4) to Boulder’s Beach (35min) and have a quick visit with the penguins. Continue up M4 and drive to St James (25 min), when you find the brightly coloured beach huts. Pull over and walk back along the beach to the huts for some photo opportunities of the colourful facades framing the tidal rock pool.

After Boulder’s Beach, head back south along the M4 to Kalk Bay (5min). Have dinner at Livebait, a great, reasonably priced seafood restaurant so close to the front the waves are lapping at the deck, with seals sunbaking in front of you. Spend the night at Kalk Bay and enjoy the low-key hippy vibe with plenty of places to drink overlooking the sea.

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Kalk Bay
2 hours, 40minutes:  Cape Town – Hout Bay – Cape Point Drive – Kalk Bay
Excellent Seafood in Kalk Bay

Day 5 | Exploring the coast from Kalk Bay to Hermanus

After an early morning potter around Kalk Bay, jump in the car and drive to Hermanus, but defy the SatNav and take the ocean road past Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay, rather than the quicker inland route. This is a beautiful 2-hour drive with whale spotting opportunities for your keen-eyed passengers.

Hermanus is about walking along the cliff tops, spotting whales and strolling around the Old Harbour. It’s a nice place, but one night is probably enough. The walk along the front goes for about 10km from New Harbour to Grotto beach so just pick the section you want to do and spend the late afternoon enjoying the views across the bay.

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Hermanus
2 hours: Kalk Bay to Hermanus
Beautiful South African ocean drive

Day 6 | Touring the Garden Route from Hermanus to Plettenberg

This morning, take a kayaking tour with Walker Bay Adventures – the only company permitted to provide kayaking tours in the area – and try your luck with a bit of whale spotting. If the whales don’t perform for you, there is still plenty of other stuff to be seen, not to mention some great views across Hermanus. We took the 2-hour tour which was R400 at the time of our visit – booking in advance is recommended.

After the tour, get in the car and start making your way to Plettenberg Bay. Stop for a coffee at Blue Shed Coffee Roastery in Mossel Bay; a very cool café serving great coffee in an old shed with a rustic industrial feel. It does take a bit of effort to get to because you need to drive through town, so non-coffee addicts could probably keep going on to Plettenberg.

From Mossel Bay, Plettenberg is another 1 hour 50 minutes. Stay at Milkwood Manor on Lookout beach and ask them about the fascinating story of the flood and the effect it had on the beach. It will explain why there is a sign measuring the depth of the pool right on the beach, with no pool to be seen anywhere.

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Plettenberg
4 hours, 50 minutes: Hermanus to Plettenberg
Whale spotting on the sea kayaking tour in Hermanus

Day 7 | The Dramatic Robberg Peninsular

Make an early start this morning and drive to Robberg Nature Reserve to do the Robberg Peninsular Walk, a spectacular cliff top walk that rates very well on our list of top walks around the world. From the nature reserve follow the signs for the walk, which will take you on a magnificent circuit of the peninsula on a golden rocky path that hugs the cliff tops.  The views across the ocean are phenomenal and the scenery changes as regularly as the wildlife.  If you’re lucky (as we were) you might even spot a whale or two off in the distance. Towards the end of the walk, you will arrive at a beautiful untouched beach with large rolling sand dunes and pristine water – the perfect way to cool off after your long walk.

After the walk, drive back into Plettenberg and have lunch at Lookout Beach at the restaurant with the deck overlooking the sea. The views from the deck are lovely, just remember you’re here for the view, not the food. Spend the rest of the afternoon lazing on the beach in front of the hotel (if you are staying at Milkwood Manor). For dinner, head into Plettenberg. You’ll find a number of very good reasonable priced restaurants; we had a good pizza at The Table.

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Plettenberg
30 minutes: Plettenberg to Robberg Peninsula return
Postcard worthy beach on the Robberg Peninsula Walk

Day 8 | Monkeyland & Tsitsikamma National Park

Do some sightseeing in the area today starting with Monkeyland (25 min) a free-roaming, multi-species primate sanctuary that rescues previously caged primates who would not make it in the wild. It’s an impressive operation and great fun walking around spotting the monkeys. After Monkeyland, drive on to Tsitsikamma National Park (40 min) and take a kayak tour up the mouth of Storms River.

After the kayaking, tempt yourself with a teaser of the Otter Trail – a 5-day hike tackling the 43kms from Storm’s River Mouth to Groot River – by doing the much easier (and shorter) Waterfall Trail.  The walk takes you along rugged coastline to a spectacular waterfall where, if brave enough, you can take a very refreshing swim. It’s around 3 hours return and while the path is clearly marked, there is some scrambling over rocks for part of the way.

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Plettenberg
2 hours: Plettenberg – Monkeyland – Tsitsikamma – Plettenberg
Icy swim under a waterfall on the Waterfall Trail

Day 9 | Curious change of scenery in Prince Albert

This morning, say goodbye to Plettenberg and make your way out of the lush coastal Garden Route and into Karoo, a semi-arid, 150,000 sq mile chunk of South Africa.

To fuel up for the journey ahead, make for Knysna (30min) and go to the East Head Café, an afro-retro chic hang-out with beautiful interiors and even better views over the ocean. Enjoy a hearty well-prepared breakfast, then start making your way to Oudtshoom (1 hour, 50 minutes).  Here you will quickly exchange the cool, forested mountains for dry open plains, tumbleweed and flouring succulents defying all odds. At Oudtshoorn stop off for lunch at Jemima’s, then have a quick coffee at Bean’s About Coffee (a 7-minute walk apart, but well worth it if you’re needing a good coffee).

Drive on to Prince Albert (1 hour, 30 minutes) via the Swartberg Pass (R328), a windy gravel road that zigzags its way through red rock canyons, forming the only obvious perimeter to the Karoo. Once over the pass, the steep road flattens out in front of you and glistens under a sky that seems to get bigger and bigger.  Keep an eye out for the children ready to greet you on the side of the road, your first sign that the Karoo is full of life.

Prince Albert is a vibrant desert community full of art, innovative restaurants and a uniquely rich community. We stayed at the Dennehof Karoo Guesthouse and had dinner at the Gallery Café, both of which we highly recommend.

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Prince Albert
3 hours, 50 minutes: Plettenberg to Prince Albert
Dramatic canyon scenery over the Swartberg Pass

Day 10 | Sensational South African Wines in Robertson

Robertson was originally the wagon building centre of the world. After this industry collapsed due to railways taking over the transportation of goods, Robertson literally blossomed as a fruit farming area of South Africa.  Today Robertson is best known for its award-winning wine industry.

Situated in the Langeberg mountains, Robertson is a 3-hour drive from Prince Albert. We timed our trip to coincide with Wine on the River – a fantastic wine festival, with good food, great live music and of course, plenty of wine tasting.  If you are not here when the wine festival is on, there are plenty of wineries to check out anyway – over 50 registered wine sellers to be exact.

After the wine festival, we had a delicious tasting menu at Fraai Uitzicht with a wine pairing we probably we didn’t need at that point.

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Robertson
3 hours: Prince Albert to Robertson
Wine of the River Festival at Robertson

Day 11 | South Africa's Premier Wine District, Franschhoek

There’s no time for a hangover today as you’re off to Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch for lunch (1 hour, 30 minutes). This winery with very impressive grounds and equally impressive views over the neighbouring wineries should be on your list if you’re looking for a special lunch to celebrate something. The food is a tasty blend of local produce with an Asian influence.

After lunch, take a leisurely drive into Franschhoek (25 minutes) stopping off at the many wineries as you go. We liked Tokara, modern and fabulous with excellent olive oil tastings; Boschendal, a great spot for a relaxing picnic if you want something more casual for lunch; and La Motte and Dieu Donne in the Franschhoek valley.

Stumble into Franschhoek, with your designated driver propping you up and check into your hotel for the night. We stayed at Le Quatier Francais and had their tasting menu for dinner. The hotel was fantastic, but unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend the tasting menu. Opt for something more casual in town instead.

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Franschhoek
2 hours: Robertson to Franschhoek
Delicious lunch in an amazing setting at Delaire Graff Estate

Day 12 | Franschhoek to Graskop

When you do a trip like this, where you want to pack as much into your time as possible, this is one of those days that’s hard to avoid. Travelling day. Drive into Cape Town airport (1 hour) and fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Pick up your hire car at the airport and drive to Graskop (4 hours).

With waiting times at the airport, queueing up for your hire car, then driving for 4 hours, there’s not much else you will achieve today. Unfortunately, the drive to Graskop is not that interesting, so best to just get it out of the way.

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Graskop
5 hours: Franschhoek – Cape Town Airport, then Johannesburg Airport – Graskop
Arriving in a vastly different part of South Africa

Day 13 | Exploring the Magnificent Blyde River Canyon

Wake up fresh and spritely from your long day of travelling yesterday to explore the Blyde River Canyon, a 25km long, 750m deep canyon which makes it into the record books and the third largest canyon on earth. If you’re out in the morning, you’ll probably be treated to beautiful views as the mist and clouds cling to the canyon creating very atmospheric photographs. Make your way from Graskop along the R532 stopping at God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and Three Rondavels, all of which provide beautiful scenery along the canyon.

Just a few minutes north of Three Rondavels, locate Forever Resort, pull into their reception and pay the small fee to do some of the local walks around the canyon. Look out for a beautiful secluded waterfall with refreshing swimming spots on any of the walks that go down to the bottom of the canyon.

Head back into Graskop for the night.

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Graskop
2 hours: Graskop to Blyde River Canyon return
Beautiful waterfall swimming in the Kadishi River

Day 14 | Starting your Safari Experience at Oliphants Rest Camp

If you’ve never been on safari before, it’s hard to explain the sense of excitement you feel when you drive into the park and spot your first animal. If you have, I imagine nostalgia would hit you like a smack of adrenalin.  The sheer density of animals in Kruger and the large network of self-drive roads make it a self-drive safari experience you will find unforgettable.


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From Graskop, enter Kruger through Orpen Gate (1 hour, 15 minutes), take a late morning drive around the park, then stop for lunch at Satara Rest Camp. Here you will be able to stock up on any essentials you may need.  Stay the night at Oliphant’s Rest Camp, about a 3-hour slow drive from Orpen Gate. Get your rest, because safari means early mornings. The gates open at 4:30 and you should be parked in front of them ready to go because the animals are most active in the early morning.

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Oliphant’s Rest Camp
4 hours, 15 minutes: Graskop to Oliphant’s and around Kruger
Unforgettable plains of Kruger

Day 15 | Self-drive Adventures in the Amazing Kruger National Park

Wake yourself up at 4 am so you can be at the gate ready to go at 4:30 am.  (Check the times when you arrive as they do change throughout the year). Plan out a rough route throughout the park to make your way back to Satara where you’ll be staying this evening.  Spread over 5 million acres but with fantastic infrastructure, it’s easy to make your way around.  Check the notice boards in the rest camps and/or stop where you see other cars parked as they’ve probably found something interesting.  It can get a bit crowded due to the high number of visitors and the equally high number of animal sightings, so be patient and considerate of other visitors.

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Satara Rest Camp
All day
Self-drive around Kruger spotting Africa’s Big 5

Day 16 | Swapping Self-Drive for Bush Luxury in Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve

Make another early start and search for wildlife before stopping for breakfast at Tshokwane, where you’ll master the art of clutching your freshly prepared breakfast burger in one hand while keeping the other free to grab your possessions before the local monkeys run away with them. Feeling satiated make your way out of Kruger through Orpen Gate and go to Sabi Sands Game Reserve,  a private park with some of the most luxurious safari lodges and spectacular displays of wildlife.  Each of the lodges are unfenced, meaning the animals are free to roam around the entire park.  With dedicated rangers who know how to respect the animals showing you around, you’ll find the viewings are even better than in Kruger itself. The ideal place to spot the Big Five in Africa.


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Sabi is around 1 hour, 45 minutes from Orpen gate,  We stayed at Nkorho Bush Lodge and would highly recommend it. They are a very friendly knowledgeable bunch who go out of their way to make sure you have a fantastic stay, regularly asking us what we wanted to see, and delivering it with amazing accuracy.

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Nkorho Bush Lodge
2-3 hours, depending on how long you want to drive around before leaving Kruger
Getting up close and personal with mating leopards

Day 17 & 18 | Unwinding and Exploring in Sabi Sands

One of the great things about being on safari in a private game reserve is that you don’t need to do anything, including wake yourself up, as the ranger is knocking on your door, coffee in hand and 5 am sharp. After the morning safari, come back to breakfast prepared for you, after which you’re free to do as you please – laze by the pool, read a book in the sun, or go back to bed. When it’s time for the afternoon drive they come and collect you again, then dinner is waiting for you when return. Spend the evening chatting to the rangers about what you saw on the safari’s as you relax by the campfire. This is your routine for the next two days; if you need more inspiration, read more about our Sabi experience.

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Nkorho Bush Lodge
None, they drive you
Seeing a pride of young lions on their hunt

Day 19 | Road Trip from Sabi Sands to Johannesburg

Today, start making your way to Johannesburg from Nkorho stopping off at Dullstroom. At an altitude of 2100m above sea level, it has the honour of being the highest village in South Africa, but more importantly, it’s conveniently located around halfway to Johannesburg so it’s a good place to stop for lunch. It’s a very cute town and has lots of good food options, we ate at the humbly named Art of Food and it was, deliciously arty.

Johannesburg is another 2-hour, 30-minute drive from Dullstroom. Despite its size, Johannesburg is a relatively easy city to drive through. We stayed in Melville the cool, bohemian side of town. With a large student population, it’s home to a number of funky bars and cafe and a large selection of great restaurants nearby. Spend the night familiarising yourself with your new neighbourhood.

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Johannesburg
6 hours, 30 minutes: Kruger to Johannesburg
Driving through beautiful changing scenery

Day 20 | Understanding the History of South African in Johannesburg

This morning, take a cycling tour through Soweto with Soweto Backpackers and understand more about the history of the township and the famous uprising. The knowledgeable guides explain many of the milestones this important area played in the struggle against apartheid.  You’ll also have the opportunity to meet some locals who are always very welcoming to visitors.

After the tour, take a walk around the Hector Pieterson museum, which commemorates the role the countries children took in the struggle against apartheid. In particular, the tragic protests of 1976 which saw many people shot by police while protesting against the substandard education in black schools.

In the afternoon, visit the Apartheid Museum near the centre of Johannesburg, an excellent museum telling the story of the rise and fall of apartheid across 22 exhibition areas.  Using a variety of audio-visual mediums, it’s both chilling and inspiring to hear first-hand accounts of the struggle towards democracy.  Allow plenty of time to see everything.

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Johannesburg
1hour, 10 minutes
Understanding Soweto’s history on a local cycling tour

Day 21 | Collecting the Sights of Johannesburg

For your last day in South Africa, spend some time going around Constitution Hill, the former prison and military fort which has housed many of South Africa’s notable political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. It’s an impressive and sometimes haunting exhibition which is now also the houses the country’s Constitutional Court.

After the exhibition, take a stroll around Neighbourgoods Market checking out the speciality goods and food on offer. There’s plenty of choice for a final goodbye lunch before you finish your South African adventure.

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Itinerary Amendments

  • If you only have two weeks, remove 1 night from Cape Town, 1 night from Kruger and then skip the Garden Route and Little Karoo (Plettenberg, Prince Albert and Robertson) by driving straight from Hermanus to Franschhoek.
  • If you have a month, fly from Cape Town to Durban, then drive up to the Drakensberg mountains and through the battlefields of Kwazulu-Natal before going on to Kruger.
Guide Books & Reading

We used the Lonely Planet guidebook for Cape Town & The Garden Route for this trip which contains helpful information about opening times, attractions and is generally very good for restaurant recommendations. A guidebook for Kruger isn’t necessary, but the Wallpaper City Guide could be handy for locating those cool spots in Johannesburg.

For a very interesting read to help understand more about the history of the country and the impacts of Apartheid, try Nelson Mandela’s, Long Walk to Freedom.

      

Booking Tips & Checklist

  • Book both hire cars: one to pick up and drop off from Cape Town; the other to pick up and drop off from Johannesburg Airport. Picking up and dropping off from different locations incur additional fees.
  • Book Safari lodges well in advance as they book out early.  Both Oliphant’s and Satara are government-run camps that can be booked through SAN Parks.
  • Book in advance: Robben Island, Table Mountain Cableway, Hermanus Kayaking Tour, any wine festivals or wineries (lunch) and the Soweto Cycling Tour.
  • Antimalarials are required for visiting Kruger and they need to be started between 2 days and 3 weeks before entering the park, so check with your doctor in advance.
  • A car is required for this itinerary as the public transport in South Africa would not allow you to fit this much in, in this timeframe.
  • Driving times listed in the itinerary exclude time for food and photo breaks, so these need to be factored in.
  • The best time to visit Kruger is in October when it’s the dry season making animal spotting a bit easier.
Hotels to Book

Our accommodation picks in South Africa varied from very nice to very basic.  Click on the hotel link for booking details.

3 nights Cape Town | The Crystal Apartments
1 night Kalk Bay | Chartfield Guesthouse
1 night Hermanus | The Marine
3 nights Plettenberg | Milkwood Manor
1 night Prince Albert | Dennehof Karoo Guesthouse
1 night Robertson | Fraai Uitzicht 1798
1 night Franschhoek | Le Quatier Francais Hotel
2 nights Graskop | Flycatcher Castle
1 night Kruger | Oliphant’s Rest Camp
1 night Kruger | Satara Rest Camp
3 nights Sabi Sands | Nkorho Bush Lodge
2 nights Johannesberg | Motel Mi Pi Chi
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