South Africa is a beautiful and diverse country with different areas offering a different experience. It’s also a big place, so here is our advice on constructing a South Africa itinerary that’s just right for you.

The one thing that designing a South Africa itinerary teaches you is that this is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country.

Coastlines are blessed with sweeping arcs of golden sand and dramatic cliffs dropping into crashing surf. The interior is a mix of swaying grassland, semi-arid deserts and picturesque mountains framed in a jungle-like setting.

On top of captivating scenery, it has one of the greatest profusions of wildlife on the planet. Turtles, dolphins and whales cavort in seas while scores of large mammals – including the Big 5 – roam the open plains of well-managed safari parks.

A mix of European, African & Indian influences has matured from an intriguing history, which although harrowing at times, has created the modern-day South Africa: a collection of independent people, intensely proud of their heritage. The result is a diverse culture most clearly experienced in the food scene: spicy Malay curries; European fine dining and hearty braais.

A country this diverse, deserves time to explore properly. But South Africa is a big country. Cape Town in the west to the Mozambique border in the east is a 20-hour drive. And any holiday is time limited, so it’s important to pick the areas you want to see the most.

We have been to South Africa many times and explored vast swathes of this intoxicating country. So here is our advice on how to construct a South Africa itinerary that’s perfect for you.

WHERE TO GO ON YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

There are five main areas to visit in South Africa.

Each area has remarkably different scenery, different and diverse activities to take part in, and different cultures to appreciate and enjoy. To get a feel for each area, read our best places to visit in South Africa article. This will give you an overview of the top highlights in each region and a flavour of what they have to offer.

The five main areas to visit in South Africa, in no particular order are:

1 / CAPE TOWN

2 / WESTERN CAPE

3 / KWAZULU-NATAL & DRAKENSBERG

4 / JOHANNESBURG

5 / MPUMALANGA & KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY REGION 1

Cape Town – For great beaches & top notch food


Cape Town is the city jewel in South Africa. Squeezed between the mountains and the ocean, it’s hard to imagine a more lavish setting for a city. With the towering face of Table Mountain on one side and golden beaches on the other, Cape Town is a tantalising temptress of travel experiences combining African and European cultures within a stunning natural setting. 

A relatively safe although heavily westernised city, Cape Town is a great introduction to South Africa. Beaches backed by parades of bars offer both relaxation and cocktail-fuelled nightlife. The coastal cliffs have stellar views and excellent hiking opportunities. Township tours and thoughtful museums provide insight into the legacy of apartheid.

Cape Town is one of the few places you don’t need to hire a car in South Africa (although it could be helpful). You could see the highlights in 3 days; however, we definitely recommend looking at our 5-day Cape Town itinerary

HIGHLIGHTS

Table Mountain & Lions Head viewpoints

Sweeping Cape Town beaches and sunset cocktails

Robben Island & Township tours uncovering the legacy of apartheid

Driving the Cape Peninsula to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope

HOW LONG & WHEN TO GO

3 to 5 days. Cape Town can be visited all year, however, try to avoid the colder wet season in July and August. Mid-November to mid-December & mid-January to mid-March is best.

SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY REGION 2

Western Cape – For diverse scenery in stunning road trip country


The Western Cape stretches east along the dramatic coastline (Garden Route) from Cape Town and up into an intriguing semi-arid interior (The Karoo). One minute you are in lush forest overlooking crashing waves and the next in a desert of barren rock and succulents. In between, the climate is just right housing some of the finest wineries anywhere in the world.

The Western Cape may not have the best game viewing (Kruger), the best hiking (Drakensberg) or touch very deeply on a more traditional South African culture, but it is an excellent microcosm of the diverse scenery and activities South Africa has to offer. What’s more, it’s right on Cape Town’s doorstep. There is no need for an internal flight or a very long car drive.

Owing to its heavy European influence, the Western Cape has had time to build up good infrastructure, excellent guest houses and hotels, and a wide array of fine restaurants. The very pleasant climate makes it a great South Africa itinerary option any time of year.

HIGHLIGHTS

Exploring rugged scenery, sweeping beaches and warm waters along the Garden Route

Whale-watching from kayaks, boats or the coastal path in Hermanus

Sampling creative food and quality wine in the winelands

Going all bohemian in the semi-arid Karoo

HOW LONG & WHEN TO GO

4 to 10 days depending on how much you explore. The Western Cape is a great year-round destination, however mid-November to mid-December and mid-January to mid-March is best.

SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY REGION 3

KwaZulu-Natal and Drakensberg – For adventurous souls


Centred around Durban, KwaZulu-Natal is one of the less-visited areas in South Africa, but also one of the most intriguing. This is much less European and more indigenous.

The Zulus occupy the sweeping grasslands of the central planes, the Basotho graze livestock in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, and Tsonga mix modern life with traditional fishing along the Mozambique border. At times, this gorgeous region may push you a bit more out of your comfort zone, but it’s a thoroughly rewarding travel experience.

The scenic jewel in KwaZulu-Natal is the Drakensberg Mountains which rise 3,000 metres from the plains below, creating some of the best hiking in South Africa. Other highlights include St Lucia Wetlands – a vast coastal ecosystem; and Kosi Bay, a remote and untouched coastal forest. Hluhluwe Game Reserve is a hilly, forested safari park which is renowned for its thriving rhino population.

Malaria is present in the far northwest of KwaZulu-Natal, however, antimalarials are generally not recommended over other precautions including wearing long shirts and trousers at dawn and dusk and using insect repellent. As always, check with a health professional if you intend to visit this area.

Internal flights arrive at Durban from Cape Town and Johannesburg, or it’s a 4-6 hour drive from Johannesburg, however, we don’t recommend spending much time in Durban.

HIGHLIGHTS

Nail-biting drive up the Sani Pass to the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho

Hiking the Drakensberg Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park

Searching for whales, turtles and hippos in St Lucia Wetlands

Spotting the Big 5 in mountainous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve

HOW LONG & WHEN TO GO

1 to 2 weeks depending on whether you visit half or all of the area. This is a large sub-tropical region, best visited during the shoulder seasons of September to November and March to May.

SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY REGION 4

Johannesburg – For understanding the story of apartheid


Johannesburg tourism has improved a lot over the last two decades with inner-city development and an investment in excellent museums. If you are interested in social and political history then it is an important destination on your South Africa Itinerary.

Opened in 2001, the Apartheid Museum houses a harrowing but moving story of apartheid in South Africa. The Soweto township is an informative way to explore the living history of the country from the place where the 1976 uprising began.

Constitution Hill, a former prison complex that is now a museum, charts the progress of law and order in the country. It fittingly ends at a brilliantly designed building which is home to the South African Supreme Court.

New and quirky neighbourhoods are developing rapidly. Areas once considered no-go zones for tourists in central Johannesburg are getting smaller and smaller (although they still exist).

HIGHLIGHTS

Premier apartheid museum in South Africa

Bicycle tour around the past and present of Soweto

Explore the progress of law and order in the museum on Constitution Hill

HOW LONG & WHEN TO GO

One to 2 days is enough to see the main tourist attractions in Johannesburg – a year-round destination.

SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY REGION 5

Mpumalanga & Kruger National Park – For unmissable wildlife experiences


Mpumalanga is one of the smallest provinces in South Africa that packs the biggest punch. Located to the east of Johannesburg with a strong Zulu and eSawitini heritage, it’s blessed with rocky valleys, deep canyons (Blyde River Canyon) and a sub-tropical climate. Despite the impressive scenery, it’s rightly most famous for Kruger National Park.

One of the greatest game reserves on the planet, Kruger National Park covers almost 20,000 square kilometres, has more species of large mammals than anywhere else and offers a decent chance of seeing the Big 5 (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo). You can choose between a luxury safari in a private reserve with guided drives; or a self-drive adventure in the government-run national park.

If the main goal of your South Africa itinerary is to spot game and in particular the big cats then you should come here. Although there are plenty of smaller game reserves in the Western Cape & KwaZulu-Natal, they don’t compare to Kruger for the sheer quality of animal sightings.

Kruger is a 5-to-6-hour drive from Johannesburg International Airport and is in a malaria zone. For most people, it’s advisable to take an antimalarial but check with your doctor.

HIGHLIGHTS

Spotting the Big 5 in one of the premier game reserves in the world

Staring over Blyde River Canyon, third largest canyon on earth

HOW LONG & WHEN TO GO

Four to 6 days. November to April is the best time of year to visit Kruger when wildlife spotting will be optimal.

WHEN TO GO ON YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

There are a few factors to consider when timing your South Africa itinerary including weather, animal viewing conditions and the activities you want to undertake. We’ve briefly explained this in each section above. However, to make the most of your trip, read our article on the best time to visit South Africa which provides a detailed breakdown on each area with the optimal time to go. 

COMBINING REGIONS ON YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

Cape Town and the Western Cape are next to each other, and easy to visit on the one trip if you have a car.

However, from the Western Cape, it’s about a 10 hour drive to Johannesburg and, a 12-hour drive to KwaZulu-Natal (Durban). So combining Cape Town and the Western Cape with any of the other regions is a long day in the car or a 1-hour internal flight.

Getting between Kwa-Zulu Natal, Johannesburg and Kruger is easier, although still involves driving over decent distances. From Johannesburg it’s a 5-hour drive to Kruger; a 6-hour drive to Durban (KwaZulu-Natal); a 4-hour drive to the Drakensberg (also KwaZulu-Natal).

So while the distances are long, it’s possible to visit many of the best destinations in the eastern half of South Africa without requiring an internal flight. For additional incentive, the frequently-changing scenery from the car window can be breath-taking.

HOW LONG TO SPEND ON YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

For most travellers, South Africa is a long and expensive flight and given the diversity of the country, it makes sense to go for as long as possible.

In 5 days you can visit Cape Town and around; in seven days you can do Cape Town plus the Western Cape; in 10 you could also include Kruger National Park. A full 2 weeks, however, gives you many more options.

We’ve curated some South Africa itinerary suggestions based on how much time you can afford.

7-DAY SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY SUGGESTION

1 – CAPE TOWN AND THE WINELANDS & HERMANUS / Follow our 5-day Cape Town itinerary and then into the Western Cape. With 7 days you could choose between the Winelands or Hermanus. If you wanted to do both, you’ll need to take a few days out of Cape Town.

10-DAY SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY SUGGESTIONS

2 – CAPE TOWN AND THE WESTERN CAPE / This is enough time to get under the skin of Cape Town and the Western Cape.  Spend 3 to 4 days picking your favourite parts of Cape Town, then head east to the winelands, and into the Karoo before touring the Garden Route on the way back to Cape Town.

3 – CLASSIC CAPE TOWN AND KRUGER / Spend 5 days exploring Cape Town and the winelands before hopping on an early morning flight to Johannesburg and making the long drive out to Kruger National Park. Spend 3 days on a self-drive Kruger safari or take the luxury option on a private game reserve – several of which are just outside the main park. Head back via the Blyde River Canyon and the bohemian Dullstroom. All the details can be picked out of our 3-week South Africa road trip.

2-WEEK SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY SUGGESTIONS

4 – CAPE TOWN, DRAKENSBERG & KRUGER – OUR PICK / Our personal favourite. Spend 4 days exploring Cape Town and the winelands, then fly to Durban. Pick up a car and head up the Sani Pass to Lesotho and then on to the Drakensburg Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park. Next, drive across to Kruger for 3 days of game drives, before heading back to the scenic Blyde River Canyon or Johannesburg to catch up on history. You can find all the details of this trip on our 2-week South Africa itinerary (coming soon).

6 – CAPE TOWN AND THE WESTERN CAPE / If you want to see Cape Town and spot animals but don’t fancy an internal flight then extend the 10-day Cape Town and Western Cape itinerary above to include the Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth. Follow the first 12 days of this itinerary, adding two or three days in the middle to go to the Park.

7 – KWA-ZULU NATAL EXPLORER / Our off-the-beaten-track suggestion. Fly to Durban and hire a car (maybe a 4×4) to drive up to the St Lucia wetlands for 3 days. Then head northeast to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi for 3 days of game viewing before exploring the Boer and Zulu battlefields. Hike around the Drakensburg Mountains, then drive the Sani Pass to Lesotho before heading back to Durban to fly out.

3-WEEK SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY SUGGESTIONS

8 – CAPE TOWN TO KRUGER / With three weeks you have plenty of time to put together a variety of the itineraries above. Our fully costed and detailed 3-week itinerary includes some of the main highlights of visiting the country including Cape Town, Western Cape, Johannesburg and Kruger.

ARRIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA

Cape Town and Durban Airports both receive international flights, but the vast majority arrive at Johannesburg Oliver Tambo Airport. If you land here you will probably need to take a further internal flight.

Allow plenty of time for the transfer. Currently your bags cannot be checked through, so you will need to pick them up at Johannesburg Airport then check-in for your onward domestic flight. Immigration is not fast (or never has been for us) so anything less than 2 hours will be tight, especially if you arrive on a busy flight.

Most visitors can get a visa on arrival but check the current list here and make sure you travel with up to date medical insurance.

BOOKING YOUR SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY


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HIRING A CAR IN SOUTH AFRICA

For most of these South Africa itineraries, you will need to hire a car (or organise a driver or tour). Almost all roads can be driven in a normal 2WD car, but you may want a higher clearance vehicle for better game viewing in Kruger National Park. A 4×4 is a good idea if you head to Kwa-Zulu Natal where many of the best adventures are on poorer quality roads.

Our preferred hire car company is Auto Europe – all the details are on our book page.


MORE SOUTH AFRICA READING

If you’re planning a trip around South Africa, here are our guides to help you get the best out of this stunning country.

HIGHLIGHTS / Our favourite destinations to visit in South Africa.

TIME TO VISIT / Check out the best time to visit the different parts of South Africa.

CAPE TOWN / The best things to do in this remarkable city.

SAFARI ANIMALS / Checkout all the animals you might see on a Kruger safari.

HIKING / There’s great hiking in South Africa. None better than the Royal Natal National Park.

WETLANDS / See whales, nesting turtles and hippos in St.Lucia Wetlands.

ADVENTURE / If you’re looking for adventure in South Africa then head to the Drakensberg.


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