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Megan the Traveling Writer, Cape Town, South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA ROAD TRIP

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Discover South Africa: Ultimate Road Trip Itinerary

Thinking of taking a road trip in South Africa starting in Cape Town? Here's everything you need to know from the best places to visit to what route to take. If you have the time, a little courage, and a taste for adventure, then this is for you.

South Africa road trip, a cross country itinerary

Many first-time visitors miss out on all this stunning country has to offer because they don’t explore outside the big cities . . . or even Cape Town. If this is you, you’re missing out!

 

To see more, my husband, Arlton, and I decided to take a MASSIVE road trip across the whole of beautiful South Africa. The trip took us 5,300km from Cape Town and back again, and it was SO WORTH IT!

Arlton and I read tons of guides, researched, and talked to other South Africans before hitting our list of the country’s best beaches, highest peaks, awe-inspiring waterfalls, and vibey cities on this massive cross country road trip. We drove across the country in one go, but our road trip guide can also be broken up into smaller segments.

CAPE TOWN

goodbye
Bo-Kaap

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Lion's Head

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Into the Desert on Route 62 at Oudtshoorn

Estimated travel time from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn: 4 hours 45 minutes

First take the scenic route along the coast from Cape Town to Cape Agulhas, the true Southernmost tip of Africa. On your way, have lunch in Hermanus and look out for whales. Climb to the top of the Agulhas National Park lighthouse and take a picture of where the two oceans meet. Find the sea cave in Arniston and explore the sleepy beach town.

It’s time to visit the desert through the Klein Karoo on Route 62. Take a quick pitstop at the iconic Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a quirky local bar with bras hanging from the ceiling. Stop off at the Cango Ostrich Farm, visit the stalactites and stalagmites at the Cango Caves, feed the elephants or have breakfast at the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, conquer your fears on the hair-raising Swartberg Pass and cliff jump at the Meringspoort Waterfall.

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Safety:

It’s possible to do this trip in a compact car like our tiny Honda Brio, but you’ll have much more fun in a 4x4!

 

Before you hit the road, remember to always fill your gas tank before it reaches half a tank. It can often take half a tank to reach a gas station in the more remote areas. Ask the petrol attendants to check your water, oil, and tire pressure at every other stop.

KNYSNA &

Garden Route
Knysna Elephant Park

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Knysna and Elephants on the Garden Route

Estimated Travel Time to Knysna: 1 hour 45 minutes

One of my favorite places to visit along the Garden Route in Knysna is the Knysna Elephant Park! They’re preserving the African elephant population in Tsitsikamma. Estimates say there are only 3-5 wild elephants left in the region, maybe even 1. You can meet the herd for R360 (SA Resident rate) or R430 for internationals. Pensioners and students get 10% off with valid cards.
 

Your other must-dos in Knysna are visiting the Knysna Heads, taking a picture at the Map of Africa, and taking it easy in this artsy seaside town with its misty beaches and lush hiking trails. I loved the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail in nearby Wilderness. (Wilderness the name of the town. How cool is that? 😍)

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Stay:

TSITSIKAMMA

suspension bridge
Tsitsikamma Suspension Bridge

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Tsitsikamma Suspension Bridge

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Hiking the suspension bridge at Tsitsikamma National Park

Estimated Travel Time to the Eastern Cape: 55 minutes

*All travel times in the Eastern Cape are estimated, as the roads are often made of dirt, full of potholes, hair-raising bends, and cattle, sheep, or goats.

On our way, we stopped at Robberg Nature Preserve to stretch our legs and watched dolphins on our seaside walk over cliffs and stunning beaches.

As you cross the Bloukrans Bridge, a mist descends upon you and you know you’ve made it to the Eastern Cape. If you think you can take it, sign up to bungee jump off the bridge. Arlton did it before, but it’s definitely not for me (I’m afraid of heights!). This is the third-highest bungee jump in the world.
 

Don’t leave here without visiting Tsitsikamma National Park, and its famous suspension bridges. Three bridges hang precariously across narrow cliffside edges, where the sea rushes in and laps the rocky shores. If you have time, stop to swim on the little beaches along the trail.

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Stay:

ADDO

elephant park
Addo Elephant Park

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Addo Elephant Park

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Journeying with elephants at Addo Elephant Park

Estimated Travel Time to Addo: 2 hours 40 minutes

Addo Elephant Park is the third largest national park in South Africa, and it’s yours to roam from the comfort of your car. Keep an eye out for elephants, zebra, ostriches, kudu, and more animals than you can probably name. One of our favorite stops in the park was stopping at a "hide", where you can view some of the park’s watering holes from the safety of a fenced area. Peering through the narrow slits in the walls, perfectly placed alongside benches, is where we saw our first Addo elephants.

We stayed for the night at The Kraal Addo, which was basic but affordable lodging close to the main camp of Addo Elephant Park. We drove up along the west side of the park to The Kraal Addo, so we could make our way down through the park the next day all the way to the South gate.

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Stay:

COFFEE BAY

"hole in the wall"
Hole in the Wall Coffee Bay Eastern Cape

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Eastern Cape

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Beaches, Coffee, and Surfing in Coffee Bay

Estimated Travel Time to Coffee Bay: 6 hours 50 minutes

The Eastern Cape, previously known as the Transkei, is not on the itinerary for many travelers, but this part of the country, called the Wild Coast is one of my absolute favorite places. Its stunning natural beauty is largely untouched. You’ll be blown away by the warm hospitality of the people here, as well as the rugged cliffs, green mountains, hills dotted with rondavels, and secluded beaches they call home.

When we finally reached Coffee Bay late at night, thanks to dirt roads, cows, sheep, goats, and a plethora of potholes in my little Honda Brio (we later bought a 4x4), we had no idea the beauty we would wake up to the next morning.

 

Visiting Coffee Bay is a must, and so is staying at Coffee Shack Backpackers, where you can sleep in a charming rondavel, shaded from the morning sun by quirky Nelson Mandela curtains. If I could choose one place to come back to and stay for longer, this would be it! This backpackers has delicious food, coffee, and a welcoming, relaxed vibe that’s as inviting as their group activities. Think hikes to the Mapuzi Cliffs with jumps into the warm sea and explorations of secret caves. From what I’ve heard, their surf lessons are a must.
 

What you really need to do while you’re here is take the drive to the famous Hole in the Wall just under an hour from Coffee Bay. You’ll walk a short 10 minutes to a secluded beach, where your only company may be long-horned cattle, and watch as the waves rush through an arch into the sea.

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Stay:

MAGWA FALLS

back to nature
Magwa Falls

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Magwa Falls Eastern Cape

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Back to nature at Magwa Falls

Estimated Travel Time to Magwa Falls: 4 hours 50 minutes

From Coffee Bay, your next stop should be at what I’ve declared the most beautiful waterfall in South Africa, Magwa Falls. It took us about 2 hours to reach the area of Magwa Falls from the nearest town, Lusikisiki. We drove over potholes and down dirt roads past cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. But it was so worth it!
 

If you’re planning to visit and you have a small car like we did, we suggest staying overnight at Louis at Magwa Falls. You can learn about organic gardening, wake up to incredible panoramic views of lush green mountains stretching into the sea, and visit Magwa Falls in Louis’ open-air 4x4!

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Stay:

DURBAN

beaches & curries
PheZulu Durban

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Beaches and curries in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

Estimated Travel Time to Durban: 5 hours 20 minutes

Durban is known for its warm water, curries, and the influence of its large Indian population. If you’re in Durban, you’re hitting the beach, eating curries, and trying the Durban specialty—bunny chow (no bunnies are harmed in the making of bunny chow; it’s curry inside a loaf of bread kind of like a Durban Indian bread bowl), and “special sandwiches” at Kara Nichha’s. (Just try not to go to Kara Nichha’s more than once. I dare you).

Your other Durban must-dos are visiting the uShaka Marine World, walking the Golden Mile, visiting PheZulu cultural village, and spending time with the zebras at the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve.

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Stay:

DRAKENSBERG

Tugela Falls
Tugela Falls

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Drakensberg hike to Tugela Falls

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Hiking Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg, the world's tallest waterfall

Estimated Travel Time to Drakensberg: 4 hours 20 minutes

On your way to the Drakensberg, stop at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site to learn more important South African history of apartheid.

Then it’s time to traverse the iconic Drakensberg Mountains. These mountains were made for adventure, and if you’re doing this trip, that’s definitely you. The Maloti-Drakensberg National Park spans across South Africa into Lesotho and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our favorite part of visiting this region (and also the most challenging) was hiking Tugela Falls.

Tugela Falls, meaning “sudden,” plummets from almost 3,000 meters high above in the Drakensberg (Dragons’) Mountains. Surpassing Angel Falls' 979 meters, Tugela Falls at 983 meters was declared by some as the tallest waterfall in the world in November 2021.

Unless you have a 4x4, take a shuttle from the Witsiehoek Mountain Lodge to the trail start. Plan your trip to stay overnight on the plateau at the top of the falls and hike back the next day.

Make sure you check the weather beforehand! This is not an easy hike, and it took us 7 hours roundtrip over 8 miles and a 760m elevation gain through the mist, over cliffside narrow paths, and, over rock gulleys. We hiked in rainy conditions over a slippery trail. At the toughest point in our hike, descending before sunset, it started hailing; ice pelted us, and icy water rushed over the trail. If the weather had been nicer, we would have opted to hike via the chain ladders and saved a considerable amount of time on our hike (between 1-2 hours).

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Stay:

JOHANNESBURG

city of gold

Soweto and Johannesburg, the City of Gold

Estimated Travel Time to Johanesubrg: 3 hours 45 minutes

It’s time to make your way to the biggest city in South Africa, “Egoli,” the City of Gold. Johannesburg is full of entrepreneurial energy, a hustling spirit, and an energy like New York City’s concrete jungle. Whenever we visit Johannesburg, we stay for a few days as there are so many restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, and art galleries to take in.

By far, our favorite place to visit in Johannesburg is Vilakazi Street in Soweto; it's the only street in the world to have produced two Nobel Prize winners. It’s easy to visit this icon of history and culture yourself. Park at Vilakazi Street. Visit Nelson Mandela’s house. Try traditional South African food at Sakhumzi. See the outside of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house. Follow the Hector Pieterson Trail and turn right on Moema St. towards the Hector Pieterson Memorial and spend time visiting the museum. Support local artists right across the street from the memorial. Finish your time in Soweto with a visit to the Soweto Towers, which you can reach by car. It only costs R80 to visit the viewing deck at the top, but if you’re brave, try bungee jumping off this incredible site 100m up for R630. You can also SCAD freefall inside the towers, play paintball, and rock climb.

Your other Johanesburg must-dos are visiting the Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Court, walking around the Maboneng Precinct, riding the red bus with City Sightseeing, and stepping back in time at the Cradle of Humankind.

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Stay:

KRUGER

safari
Kruger National Park Lion

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Kruger National Park

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Safari in Kruger National Park

Estimated Travel Time to Kruger: 5 hours 30 minutes

There is truly nothing like seeing these wild animals thriving in their natural habitat. For this trip, you'll be driving yourself from Kruger Nationa