Ultimate South African Road Trip You Can Copy
Updated: Sep 2
Photo by Estee de Villiers
Thinking of taking a road trip IN South Africa FROM CAPE TOWN? Here's everything you need to know, from the best places to visit to what route to take.
For Christmas, 2021, my partner (Arlton) and I decided to take a MASSIVE road trip across the whole of beautiful South Africa, his home country and my chosen country. The trip took us 5,300km from Cape Town and back again, and it was SO WORTH IT!
We shared vlogs of our entire trip on my Instagram as an “SA Road Trip” highlight.
After two years of living in Cape Town, I’ve found that 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!
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!
If you have the time, a little courage, and a taste for adventure, then this is for you!
Our road trip guide can also be broken up into smaller segments, if you want to drive through just the Eastern Cape for example.
While trying to be as representative as possible, we couldn’t include everything, so do some exploring on Google Maps yourself. Some of our best experiences and memories started this way.
Before you hit the road, remember to always fill your gas tank before it reaches half a tank, as 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. (In South Africa, it’s customary to tip them R5 or R10 for this).
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!
Psst…Want more South Africa travel tips? Check out these other posts:
Guide to Visiting South Africa for the First Time
7 to 14 Days Itinerary for Cape Town
Read on for our South Africa road trip itinerary.
Table of Contents
Photo by Juanita Swart
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 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.
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 360 rand (SA Resident rate) or 430 rand for internationals. Pensioners and students get 10% with valid cards. A 5 - 6 hour drive will take you here from Cape Town. Visit when it’s less busy (like I did in September 2020) and have more time getting to know these elephants one-on-one, pose for photos, and feed them fruit (R45 for a bucket). December 2021 was a busy month to see them, but it was worth it!
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.
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, 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 hanging precariously across narrow cliffside edges, where the sea rushes in and laps the rocky shores. I’m afraid of heights, but these bridges felt comfortable enough to walk on. If you have time, stop to swim in the little beaches along the trail.
JOURNEYING WITH ELEPHANTS AT ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK
Estimated Travel Time to Addo: 2 hours 40 minutes
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.
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.
*Word to the wise. Make sure only to get out of your car in designated areas, or you will have to pay a hefty fine.
BEACHES, COWS, 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 or even South Africans, 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 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.
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, goat, and horses. But it was so worth it!
If you’re planning to visit and you have a small car like us, 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!
Photo by Kaan Numanoğlu
BEACHES AND CURRIES IN DURBAN
Estimated Travel Time to Durban: 5 hours 20 minutes
Durban is known for its warm water, curries, and influence by its large Indian population. If you’re in Durban, you’re hitting the beach, eating curries, 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 must-dos are visiting the uShaka Marine World, walking the Golden Mile, pendulum swinging off the Moses Mabhida Stadium rooftop, and spending time with the zebras at the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve.
Photo by Ilyas Kalimullin
HIKINg tugela falls in the drakensberg, the WORLD'S TALLEST WATERFALL
Estimated Travel Time to the 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.
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 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, as the road is unpaved and insurmountable by even our daring Honda Brio. If you have the time, plan your trip to stay overnight on the plateau at the top of the falls.
This is not an easy hike, and it took Arlton and I, both still recovering our fitness levels after COVID-19, 7 hours roundtrip over 8 miles and a 760m elevation gain through mist, over cliffside narrow paths and, over rock gulleys.
Make sure you check the weather beforehand! 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).
Photo by Tebogo Losaba
time for soweto and Johannesburg, the city of gold
Estimated Travel Time to Johannesburg: 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. Before our first visit, we had hesitations, but we quickly learned 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 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.
SAFARI IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Estimated Travel Time FROM JOHANNESBURG to Kruger national park: 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 National Park and back again, as well as driving yourself within the park. Not only is going on a self-drive safari cheaper, but it's a thrill to choose your own adventure.
If you want to see big cats in Kruger, then I couldn't recommend staying at Orpen gate in Kruger enough. Bookings are made through the SAN Parks website. If you stay there, don’t miss out on a Night Drive with a Kruger National Park guide. For about R300 pp, they took us to find a lion pride after dark while they had wildebeest for dinner. We also saw another leopard, a genet, and a serval all on just two game drives from Orpen.
the big hole, kimberley
Estimated Time FROM JOHANNESBURG to Kimberley: 4 hours 45 minutes
When I first heard “You have to visit the Big Hole in Kimberley,” I was more than a little confused. But now that I’ve been there, I'd say "You have to visit the Big Hole!" This old mining site is where 14.5 million carats of diamonds were discovered! The depth of the hole is 215m, and when you take the R100 guided tour, you can stand in awe at the edge, see real diamonds up close, walk their replica heritage town much like the Wild West was for cowboys, and tour underground at the start of the mine. Don’t leave without taking a ride on the vintage orange tram for just R20.
AUGRABIES FALLS ON THE ORANGE RIVER
Estimated Travel Time to AUGRABIES: 5 hours 15 minutes
The Northern Cape isn’t often visited because it is so remote. You can practically sit at the border with Namibia, as the Orange River winds its way through this dry landscape, full with the stir of Quiver Trees and the sight of springbok, eland, and ostriches.
Just a footnote on some guides is the Augrabies Falls. But this incredible waterfall will have you saying, “Niagara who?” This stunner spans almost 20 falls on a deep gorge beneath a wide blue sky.
High in South Africa near the border with Namibia along the Orange River, 19 separate waterfalls plunge from a height of 56m into a steep ravine 18km long. The deep canyon looks a little bit like where Scar betrayed Mufasa in The Lion King. The Khoi people called the Augrabies Falls 'Aukoerebis', the place of the Great Noise, and it’s easy to see why.
If you’re visiting Augrabies Falls, prepare to get wet. Standing on some of the viewing decks isn’t much different than standing in a shower. This was Arlton’s favorite stop on our road trip! Before our trip, neither of us had heard of this incredible place that’s truly awe inspiring.
Photo by Anise Potgieter
Estimated Time bACK to Cape Town: 8 hours 10 minutes
Augrabies Falls was the last stop on our road trip before we stayed the night in Springbok, but with more time, visit the black-maned lions at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, witness the natural flower display of Namaqualand between August and October, visit the Cederberg Wine Cellars, hike in the remote red rock of the Cederberg beneath wide blue skies and discover some of the oldest San paintings in the country, and take your time as you pass through the long sandy coasts of Langebaan and Paternoster reminiscent of Greece.