A South African road trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! It’s one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world and, without a doubt, one of the best travel experiences we’ve ever had. Golden beaches, amazing wildlife, stunning sceneries, wonderful cities, a rich history, and great food and wine…In other words, a destination that truly offers something for every traveler. Are you planning a trip to South Africa, and you could use some inspiration? This ultimate 3-week itinerary covers all the main highlights you need to see, making it perfect for a first-time visit. We also included a map with our route and the accommodations we’ve stayed. Are you ready? Let’s go…
South Africa in 3 weeks: our route
South Africa is a big country with so many beautiful places to see, making it quite hard to plan the perfect itinerary. Our 3-week South Africa itinerary begins in Johannesburg where we picked up our rental car with Sunny Cars. We drove all the way to Durban, flew to Port Elizabeth to pick up another rental car, and continued along the famed Garden Route to Cape Town. The route below is perfect for 3 weeks and you will enough time to explore all the different stops.
Day 1 – Day 3: Guernsey Private Nature Reserve – Limpopo
With a location nearby the Panorama Route and close to Kruger to track the Big 5, Guernsey Private Nature Reserve in Limpopo is the perfect stop-over to spend a few days before exploring the rest of South Africa. The province Limpopo, the Northernmost Province of South Africa, or like they say ‘The Great North’, is home to the many nature reserves who are amongst some of the best in the world and spectacular mountain sceneries that attracts many nature and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide. The best way to get to Guernsey Private Nature Reserve is by car, which we rented with Sunny Cars and picked up upon arrival at the airport of Johannesburg. There are so many things and activities you can do here, but be sure you don’t miss the Panorama Route. With the iconic Three Rondavels, beautiful viewpoints and stunning waterfalls this is a must see! If you like pancakes, be sure to stop along the way at Harrie’s Pancakes, a famous pancake restaurant in the little town of Graskop.
Accommodation: Ngama Tented Safari Lodge
Day 3 – Day 4: Sabi Sands Game Reserve – Kruger National Park
Sabi Sands is the most famous private game reserve of all. With a location bordering Kruger National Park, it’s the best place for the ultimate luxury safari and home to the Big 5. Unlike Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands Game Reserve is not open to the public. You will stay here in a luxury lodge in the very heart of the bush sharing the incredible wilderness with only a few other guests. The lodges in Sabi Sands are including all meals and activities such as game drives and bush walks. Gin and tonic sundowners, tracking wildlife and breathtaking views over the African bush… Unforgettable experience!
Accommodation: Umkumbe Safari Lodge
Day 4 – Day 6: Kruger National Park
The world-famous Kruger National Park is the oldest Park in Africa, covering an area of just under 20 000 square kilometers. 2-3 days is enough time to explore Kruger National Park with a guide or even on your own. It has 9 entrance gates and we entered at the ‘Paul Kruger’ gate and left it via the ‘Malelane’ gate, which made it a perfect day-visit. You pay an entrance fee of R280/person for a full day at one of the gates before you enter. There are a few picnic spots inside the park, so you can easily bring your own lunch to enjoy a mid-break. Good to know: there is a speed limit of 50 km/h on tar roads and 40 km/h on gravel roads. And yes they do speed controls inside the park. We stayed at Marloth Park, a wildlife sanctuary situated on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park.
Accommodation: La Kruger Lifestyle Lodge
Day 6 – Day 7: eSwatini (Swaziland)
eSwatini (former Swaziland) is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and one of the smallest countries in whole Africa. When you come from Kruger National Park, you easily cross the border with your passport and R50 road tax for your car. The country is full of amazing landscapes, making it a haven for landscape photographers. There are plenty of activities to do, from white water rafting, horse riding, mountain biking and hiking in the many nature reserves to visiting eSwatini cultural villages. eSwatini is the perfect addition to your road trip in South Africa and if you can, we highly recommend adding at least one more night here.
Accommodation: Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 7 – Day 9: Zululand Rhino Reserve
This was one of the stops we looked forward so much! The Zululand Rhino Reserve is a 20 000 ha belt of private conservation land that has been established as a reserve to protect the endangered Black Rhino and home to the famous Big Five. There are a couple of private game lodges within the reserve, where you book the whole unique safari experience with. We stayed two nights at Rhino River Lodge, which is located in the Southern section of the Zululand Rhino Reserve. It’s a relaxed family-style safari lodge where you book a unique personalized bush experience with basically everything inclusive. Magical experience!
Accommodation: Rhino River Lodge
Day 9 – Day 10: Exploring St. Lucia + Durban
St Lucia is a cute little seaside town and situated in the heart of Hippo Land. With the largest hippo population in South Africa, this is the place to explore the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and see the amazing hippos and crocodiles in their natural habitat. We booked a 2 hour ‘Hippo & Croc Cruise’ with Heritage Tours & Safaris and got so close with the hippos. Unforgettable! After the cruise, we continued our way to Durban to catch an early morning flight to Port Elizabeth.
Accommodation: Coastlands Umhlanga Hotel
Day 10: Flight from Durban to Port Elizabeth
The driving distance between Durban and Port Elizabeth is around 910 km. You can either choose to drive all the way or using those “extra” days at the West Coast. We chose the second option and dropped our car at the airport of Durban (DUR) to catch an early morning flight to Port Elizabeth (PLZ) which took us approximately 1,5 hour to arrive. At the airport of Port Elizabeth, we picked up another rental car and continued our way to the next stop. Easy like that!
Day 10 – Day 12: Driving the Garden Route + Plettenberg Bay
The Garden Route is one of the most scenic drives in South Africa and stretches from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. It is full of beautiful hiking trails, secret beaches and incredible views along the way. We picked Plettenberg Bay or ‘Plett’ as the locals say, as our first stop. Plett is also known as ‘the beautiful bay of The Garden Route’ and is a true little paradise. A cozy small town with stunning beaches where you can easily spend a few days. Watching the sunrise at Keurbooms Beach, hiking the Robberg Nature Reserve, exploring Tsitsikamma National Park and bungee jumping from the highest commercial bridge in the world are only a few of the activities you can do here.
Tip: Go for lunch or a cold drink to the Lookout Deck, an amazing spot at Plett with stunning ocean views. And for the ultimate dining experience, you need to check out the restaurant of Emily Moon River Lodge. Such a lovely setting overlooking the Bitou River. Our all-time favorite!
Accommodation: The Grand Cafe & Rooms
Day 12: Driving to Swellendam along Route 62
There are basically two ways to get from Plettenberg Bay to Swellendam. If you like to take the scenic one as we did, turn on drive towards Oudtshoorn. From here you enter the famous Route 62, also known as the ‘longest wine route in the world’. This scenic drive takes you into the heart of the Little Karoo through green vineyards, mountain passes, and small cute villages. In Oudtshoorn, you can have a meet & greet with the ostriches. Really cool! Then toward Barrydale, you need to stop at Ronnies Sex Shop and write something on their wall. Hilarious… (and nope, this is not a real sex shop) Last but not least, grab a legendary milkshake at Diesel & Creme in Barrydale village itself. The ‘Belgian Chocolate’ and the ‘Cookie Shake’ are so yummy!
Day 12 – Day 14: Swellendam
Swellendam, a town full of beautiful architecture is the perfect starting point to explore the many wineries in the area. We loved doing the Robertson wine route. Great wine tastings while having stunning views with picturesque mountains as your backdrop. Yep, that’s here! We’ve visited the family-owned winery of Van Loveren, where you can do different wine pairings for R50 per tasting. Another lovely experience is the “Breede River Cruise” at Viljoensdrift. You fill a picnic basket with tasty food from their Deli, then you jump on the one-hour cruise enjoying the amazing sceneries to do afterward a wine tasting on their deck. Lovely!
Tip: If you search a good spot for dinner in Swellendam, go to ‘De Vagabond’. Our favorite one!
Accommodation: A Hilltop Country Retreat
Day 14 – Day 15: Hermanus
Before heading to Hermanus, you need to stop at Cape Agulhas. Looking out over the ocean and standing at the place where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, crazy feeling! Hermanus, a laid-back seaside town, is a popular stop for whale-watching. The Cliff Path in Hermanus is a walking trail that runs almost the whole length of the town. During whale season, this is the place to spot the whales. The best time to see those giants is between July and November. Beside whale-watching, Hermanus is also a good place to stay when you want to go for cage-diving with the great white sharks. We’ve written down more about this once-in-a-lifetime experience in this article.
Tip: our favorite food spots in Hermanus were Pear Tree, the Fisherman’s Cottage and La Pentola.
Accommodation: Whale Away Guest House
Day 15 – Day 17: Stellenbosch & Paarl
More wine tastings and great food the following days. Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa is a great spot to stay surrounded by amazing vineyards. It’s such a beautiful town full of antique stores and excellent restaurants. In Paarl, a spectacular wine valley, you need to lunch at Blacksmith’s Kitchen. Try their wood-fired pizzas and enjoy the best views over the Berg River Valley. Picture perfect!
Accommodation: Marianne Wine Estate
Day 17 – Day 20: Cape Town
Cape Town, the mother city, is a real paradise for everyone! One of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever visited and a place where you can do and see hundreds of things. Hiking the Table Mountain and Lion’s Head where you have 360-degree views of the city or spending a relaxing day at one of the incredible beaches. Meeting the penguins at Boulder Beach, high-quality dining or driving the scenic Chapman’s Peak are just a few of the many things to do that makes Cape Town so unique!
Discover more about Cape Town and the best things to do in our article “10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN“.
Accommodation: Cape Finest Guesthouse