South Africa is still one of my favorite countries in the world. Sure, I lived there for a few years, but I also traveled extensively through the country and got to see so much of it. I always get questions on how I should spend a week, two days, two weeks, or even three weeks in the Rainbow Nation. There is no definitive answer because there is SO MUCH to see in this country and everyone has different interests. Nevertheless, two weeks is enough to scrape the surface of what the country has to offer and this would be my perfect itinerary.
Where I went in South Africa
In total, this itinerary is for anyone that has 14-16 days to spend in South Africa. At the end of this post, I have also included how I would craft a trip with around 7 days (1 week), 10 days (1.5 weeks) and 21+ days (3 weeks+)!
- Kruger National Park
- Garden Route
- Port Elizabeth
- Plettenberg Bay
- Cape Town
- Wine Country (Stellenbosch/Franschhoek)
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! Also note that South Africa is far from just about everywhere so budget the necessary time get there and home. To see this itinerary in real use by someone other than myself, I used it to craft up a South Africa and Mauritius honeymoon game plan for my friends! Read their personal recount of their amazing South Africa and Mauritius trip.
- Cape Town Round 1
- Cape Town Round 2
- The Ultimate Cape Town Travel Guide
- Bloukrans Bungy Jumping
- Kruger National Park
- Garden Route Part 1 – Planning and Addo Elephant Park
- Garden Route Part 2 – Plettenberg and Knysna
- Garden Route Part 3 – Oudtshoorn to Hermanus
- Guide to South African Wine Country
- Perfect 1 day Itinerary for the Wine Country
- The Perfect South Africa and Mauritius Honeymoon
The itinerary starts in Cape Town, and ends in Johannesburg. I’d recommend to book flights arriving into Cape Town, and flying out of Johannesburg. This itinerary, of course, can be done the opposite way around as well. If you don’t want to do fly home from a different airport, there are plenty of cheap airlines that fly regularly between the two cities like Mango Airlines, Kulula, and FlySAFair, you’ll just need to budget the time accordingly.
Is South Africa Safe?
Many of you might also be wondering if South Africa is a safe place to travel at the moment. I’ve answered all of those questions in depth, as well as whether you need vaccinations for malaria. Be sure to read that before heading down to the Rainbow Nation!
Day 1-4: Discover Cape Town
The Cape is South Africa’s gift to the world – Nelson Mandela
The trip starts in Cape Town, or what I like to call the world’s most naturally beautiful city. The Mother City, as it is affectionately referred to in South Africa, is South Africa’s most scenic and most popular city. It’s not difficult to see why. Cape Town is sandwiched between a dramatic mountain range famous for Table Mountain, and the southern Atlantic ocean with a plethora of white sandy beaches. There are also world class restaurants in this city serving cuisine from all over the world, bars, concerts, museums, and so much more. Take the ferry to Robben Island and tour the former prison that Nelson Mandela called home for 27 years.
There is some incredible hiking to be done in Cape Town. Table Mountain and Lions Head are an absolute must. There is a cable car that goes to the top of Table Mountain, but Lions Head can only be hiked. My favorite place in the whole country might be at the top of Lions Head during sunset. The views of the ocean, the city, and Table Mountain next to it is perhaps one of the reasons Cape Town is the one place I’d move to in a heartbeat (if I could).
Just outside of town is perhaps one of the most scenic drives in the country, Chapman’s Peak. The drive is along the edge of a windy mountain, with the most beautiful ocean views on one side. Penguins can also be seen at Boulders Beach along the way. This all culminates into southern tip of the continent at Cape Point, also known as the Cape of Good Hope. This is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans converge, and it makes for some absolutely breathtaking views.
Day 4-6: Wine Taste Stellenbosch or Franschhoek
East of Cape Town is South Africa’s famous wine region. It’s not as famous as places like Italy, France, or Napa Valley, which is a absolute travesty and a complete blessing. It’s a blessing because the crowds aren’t as chaotic, and prices are extremely reasonable for wine tasting. The views and landscape in Cape Town’s wine region is absolutely unparalleled.
For a detailed and perfect one day itinerary, click here.
Stellenbosch makes Napa Valley look like someone’s back yard. That isn’t to say California’s wine region isn’t a nice place, it’s just my way of saying that South Africa’s wine region is that much more beautiful. Let’s also not forget that a typical wine tasting in South Africa costs R30-40, whereas a similar styled wine tasting in a place like Napa Valley is $25+ (10x the price!).
There are numerous wine regions in South Africa, like Constantia, Stellensbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Durbanville etc. but the easiest and my favorite area is Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Make sure to drive to different wine farms to sample the various styles of wine making in South Africa. The wine farms also have some of the best restaurants in the country so make sure to plan ahead of time where you’d like to have lunch.
Some of my favorites are Delaire Graff, Morgenster, Vergelegen, Dieu Donne, Waterkloof, Jordan.
Day 6-12: Road trip on the Garden Route – Part 1
This might be my favorite drive in the world. The Garden Route of South Africa is famous for its incredible scenery, charming coastal towns, and wildlife. There’s so much to do and see along the Garden Route, I actually wrote about it in three separate posts. The Garden Route is the stretch of coastline in the Western Cape stretching from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. It is the ultimate road trip in my opinion and would be my first choice of road trips to repeat.
Obviously one could spend far longer than 6 days driving along the Garden Route but for a two week itinerary of all of South Africa, this will be enough to see the main highlights.
Hermanus – 1 night
Starting from wine country, I went great white shark diving early in the morning. These cage dives usually start at 8-9am and last until noon. From Gansbaai, we spent the rest of the walking around Hermanus, a quaint ocean side town famous for its whales. When in season, between May and Nov, right whales regularly frequent the shores of this town. It’s also home to spectacular beaches and some of the best kite surfing in the world.
Oudtshoorn – 1 night
From Hermanus, we left early in the morning to the town of Oudtshoorn, stopping in Swellendam for lunch. Outdshoorn is a town in the Karoo region of South Africa. The Karoo is a huge swath of semi-desert like land in South Africa’s heartlan. It is a place of immense spaces, wide-angle horizons, craggy mountain ranges, conical hills, an ancient inland seabed, and a sky so big that at night it feels like you can touch the stars.
It’s totally different than the scenery along the coast and gives you a small flavor of the different terrains of South Africa. Oudtshoorn is known for the Cango Caves and its plethora of ostrich farms. Wild and farmed ostrich roam here so make sure to try some in this town. One night is enough here.
Knysna and Plettenberg Bay – 3 nights
The next day begins with a drive back towards the coast. Stop in the town of Wilderness for stunning panoramic ocean views, and lunch before driving towards Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. Because of the limited time, there’s really only enough time to stay in one place. I’ve stayed in both towns and they are both amazing places. If I had to do it again, I would stay in Plettenberg Bay and take a visit to Knysna.
Plettenberg Bay is more chilled, and has plenty of nice beaches. Knysna is slightly more busy (but nothing on the Garden Route is really that busy), and has amazing lookout points of the surrounding area. Both towns have world class restaurants so you really can’t go wrong in each place.
Port Elizabeth – 1 night
Leave Knysna/Plettenberg early the next day and stop at the infamous Bloukrans bridge for some bungy jumping. This isn’t just any old bungy jump, it’s the highest bungy bridge in the world at 220m (710ft) high. You can read all about my experience here. If bungy jumping is just not for you, there’s a bar at the edge of the cliff where you have perfect views to watch people jump to their deaths.
From Bloukrans, make a stop in the Tsitsikama National Park and take a walk from the famous suspension bridge that allows you stunning views of the area.
From here, drive to Port Elizabeth
Day 13-15: Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg to Kruger NP
Port Elizabeth marks the end of the Garden Route. Drop off the rental car here and take an early morning flight (as early as possible) to Johannesburg. We took the 6:30am flight on British Airways, and arrived in Johannesburg just after 8am. Upon landing, have your safari company PICK YOU UP from the airport. There’s no reason to go into Johannesburg as it is a 5 hour drive to the Kruger National Park. We made it in time for an afternoon game drive.
3 days and 2 nights in Kruger National Park
The Kruger is South Africa’s largest and most popular game reserve. It’s home to all the wild animals you’ve ever had on your bucket list, and is a great place to see the big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant, and leopard). We spent a total of three days and two nights in the Kruger National Park. This gave us 1 afternoon game drive on the first day, 1 whole day of game drives for the second day, and 1 morning game drive on the third day. I felt like this was enough as you’re doing nothing except sitting in the back of a truck.
The Kruger is also one of the few game parks in Africa that allows you to self drive. Although we chose to go with a Safari company that arranged everything, it’s super easy to rent a car from the airport and drive out yourself and do your own game drives. This is definitely the option I would choose if I were to do it again.
Last day in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is an underrated city that the media paints in an unflattering light. However, I called this place home for almost two years! It is a great place to live and to work, but it is not the best place to spend your time as a tourist. There aren’t many must see sights here. A day trip to Soweto and the Apartheid museum, followed by a visit to the Carnivore restaurant to sample all different types of game meats is probably enough for most people.
Day by Day breakdown
Day 1: Land in Cape Town, pick up rental car and explore Cape Town
Day 2: Explore Cape Town, hike Lions Head
Day 3: Cable Car up Table Mountain, drive to Cape Point in afternoon
Day 4: Explore Stellenbosch
Day 5: Stellenbosch/Franschhoek
Day 6: Cage diving with great whites, explore Hermanus
Day 7: Drive to Oudtshoorn, visit ostrich farm at night
Day 8: Morning visit to Cango Caves, drive to Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 9: Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 10: Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 11: Bloukrans, Tsitsikama, Port Elizabeth
Day 12: Fly to Johannesburg in morning, Kruger NP
Day 13: Kruger NP
Day 14: Kruger NP in morning, end in Johannesburg
Day 15: Early morning flight home
One week itinerary for South Africa
How about if you only had ONE week in South Africa? This is tough. The country deserves a lot more than 1 week but nevertheless, this is how I would structure a 1 week trip. Let’s assume you have all 7 days in South Africa without worrying about flights. If this is your first trip to Africa and you want to go on the iconic safari, I would focus my visit on Cape Town and the Kruger.
Day 1-4: Cape Town
Spend your first 4 days in Cape Town and the surrounding regions. Instead of spending two nights in the wine country, make it a day trip by starting early in the morning as soon as the wine farms open (usually around 9am). Spend another day visiting Cape Point and seeing Cape Town’s sights. Time permitting, take a day trip to the Great White cage diving in Gansbaai.
Day 5-7: Johannesburg and Kruger
Take an early morning flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Have your safari operator pick you up from the airport and do the 3 day/2 night Kruger National Park tour mentioned above. The safari tour will end on the last day after a morning game drive. Immediately drive back to OR Tambo International airport after the game drive and fly home that night. Make sure to schedule your flight later in the evening as it will take ~5 hours to drive from the Kruger to Johannesburg.
10 day itinerary for South Africa
10 days gives a little more time to see South Africa. To be honest, I wouldn’t go all the way to South Africa without at least 10 days. Nevertheless, I know some people just can’t swing the time so anything is better than nothing. This is how I would structure 10 days.
Day 1-4: Cape Town
Similar to the 1 week itinerary, I would spend my first 4 days in Cape Town. Make day trips to Cape Point and Boulders beach for penguins and breathtaking views. Then another day would be dedicated to shark diving in Gansbaai, followed by two days of hiking, eating, and drinking enjoying all that Cape Town has to offer.
Day 5-7: Wine Country
The next few days can be spent either in the wine country or on a condensed version of the garden route. Personally, I don’t think 3 days does enough justice for the Garden Route, so I’ll opt for enjoying world class wine at dirt cheap prices and views that no other wine region in the world can match. My favorite place to stay in Stellenbosch is Clouds Estate, but make sure to book well in advance if you feel like staying here. There are much cheaper options available as well of course.
Make sure to visit as many wine farms as you can handle because there is so much diversity in the wine, food, and scenery in this part of the country. Read my perfect wine tasting itinerary.
Day 8-10: Johannesburg and Kruger
Same itinerary as the Kruger safari from the one week itinerary.
Three week South Africa itinerary
If you’re lucky enough to have three weeks, there is so much more to explore in South Africa. As per the two week itinerary, I would add the following:
- Stay an extra night in Cape Town
- Spend extra day in Hermanus
- Instead of flying to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth, continue driving on the N2 along South Africa’s wild cost towards Durban
- (Optional but recommended): Stay at a private game reserve in the Kwazulu-Natal province around Durban instead of going to the Kruger
South Africa’s Wild Coast
The area between Port Elizabeth and Durban is called the Wild Coast. This area receives less tourists than the Garden Route, and is far less developed than the Garden Route towns. This area, also known as the Transkei, is home to the Xhosa people (which you’ll never pronounce right). It functioned as its own independent state during Apartheid and you can see that the infrastructure here is vastly undeveloped compared to their Afrikaner neighbors in the Western Cape. It’s totally a safe place to travel. Nevertheless, the contrast between natural and urban scenery can be noticed here.
For any scuba divers, make sure to stop and have a few dives at Aliwal Shoal. This dive site, while not much to look at in terms of corals, is home to numerous species of sharks. You can easily be diving with dozens of different sharks swimming around you.
In addition, even further up from Durban is the beautiful St. Lucia Wetland park which is home to beautiful beaches, dunes, swamplands, and diving. Sodwana Bay, located in this natures reserve, is one of the best places to dive in South Africa and also one of the cheapest destinations in the world to become certified.
Adding on a tropical beach to South Africa
South Africa enjoys a huge coastline with some fantastic beach. However, if you have the time, and are looking for a more tropical setting with idyllic white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and seas of palm trees, South Africa’s neighboring countries offer much more in this regard.
Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Zanzibar are popular additional destinations for those visiting South Africa. I’ve traveled extensively through most of these countries and they are absolutely stunning places. There are regular flights from Johannesburg to many of these destinations as well. Some inspiration and further reading for those interested:
- Ile Sainte Marie, Madagascar
- Nosy Be Archipelago, Madagascar
- Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique
- Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
- Zanzibar, Tanzania
All of the above offer something unique. If time (and money) was of no worry, I would visit the Quirimbas Archipelago. I think the northern part of Mozambique is something truly special and the beaches there are the nicest I’ve ever seen. Madagascar is a close second, but there is so much to do on this beautiful island, I would save it entirely for another trip.