Road Trip Through South Africa- the Ultimate Guide

Road Trip Through South Africa- the Ultimate Guide

Most people travelling to South Africa go on a safari adventure and fly back home. But South Africa is so much more than that. It’s a country rich in diversity and natural wonders. This combination makes it a great destination for an extraordinary road trip adventure. From the bustling streets of Cape Town, wine land of Franschhoek, nature reserves along the coast, all the way to the wild heartbeats of the Kruger National Park. Each stop on this journey reveals something unique and remarkable, making it a dream experience for travellers. This comprehensive guide is designed to help you navigate the ultimate road trip through South Africa, ensuring an unforgettable experience.

1. Cape Town: A City of Natural Beauty

Start your road trip through South Africa in Cape Town. Dominated by the majestic Table Mountain, the city is a blend of cultural diversity, historical depth, and natural beauty. Check in at 21 Nettleton, a luxurious hotel in one of the best locations. On your first day hike the Lion’s Head– one of the most popular and rewarding outdoor activities, offering panoramic views of the city. If you don’t want to hike, you can take the cable car up to the Table Mountain.

Don’t miss the vibrant streets of the Bo-Kaap, famous for its colorful houses and Malay culture and the waterfront area buzzing with shops and restaurants. Take the Chapman’s Peak Drive all the way around the Cape of Good Hope. It’s one of the most spectacular roads in South Africa. Stop at the Llandudno Beach, then the Boulders Beach to visit the local colony of penguins, and pass by the Twelve Apostles mountain range.

2. Franschhoek: Wine and History

Leaving the coast, the road takes you to the heart of the Cape Winelands, Franschhoek. Founded by French Huguenots in the 17th century, this town retains a European ambiance, nestled among vineyard-covered hills. Here, wine tasting becomes an exploration of both flavor and history. Culinary experiences in Franschhoek are unparalleled, with several restaurants ranking among the country’s best. The town is also the starting point of the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a novel way to explore surrounding vineyards without the worry of driving. Stay at Ludus Magnus, a 5 star luxury boutique accommodation set on a spectacular estate.

3. Garden Route: Natural Wonders

Your road trip through South Africa continues as we guide you along the Garden Route- a stretch of coast famed for its lush forests, beautiful beaches, and charming towns. Stay at the lovely Porcupine Pie Boutique Lodge and visit Knysna, set around a tranquil lagoon, offering a blend of adventure and relaxation. Take a boat tour to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, or explore the indigenous forests on a canopy tour. Plettenberg Bay is a haven for beach lovers and dolphin and whale watchers. While the Robberg Nature Reserve, with its dramatic landscapes and rich marine life, is a perfect place for hikes around the peninsula.

4. Tsitsikamma National Park: Adventure Awaits

Tsitsikamma National Park is a highlight for nature and adventure enthusiasts. This coastal reserve boasts some of the oldest indigenous forests in South Africa, dramatic coastline views, and the Storms River Mouth suspension bridge. It’s a hub for adrenaline-pumping activities, including the world’s highest bungee jump at Bloukrans Bridge, kayaking, and blackwater tubing. Spend a day here before continuing the road trip through South Africa. You will be leaving the coastline behind as you head towards Addo National Park. Prepare to be awed by the diversity of wildlife.

5. Addo National Park: A Wildlife Haven

Spend the night at the River Front Estate. Get up with sunrise and head to the Entrance Addo National Park. The park is renowned for its elephants, which can be seen up close in their natural environment. It’s not just about the elephants though- Addo is home to the ‘Big 5’. You don’t need to reserve safari tours, or guides. Self-drive safari is an amazing option for a unique experience. The entrance costs apx 20 EUR per person and you can drive your own car across the park looking for animals.

After an exciting day at Addo National Park drive 2h to Craddock to stay at Annies House. Its the best place for the night in this area.

6. Cradock to Nelspruit Drive

The 12h drive from Cradock to Nelspruit serves as a beautiful transition to the wildlife-focused portion of your trip. We’re not gonna lie- it’s a long drive, and the views along the road are not that interesting. However the road is in good conditions and almost empty. Pack some snacks, have your favourite music on and just enjoy this unique way of discovering SA.

In Nelspruit stay at La Roca Guest House– a lovely, affordable boutique hotel.

7. Kruger National Park: A Wildlife Experience

No trip to South Africa would be complete without a visit to Kruger National Park. This iconic reserve offers some of the best wildlife viewing on the continent. Enter the park via the Malelane Gate. Pick up a map and a book with all animal species you can see in the park and start your adventure with a self-drive safari. Get ready to encounter the Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros), alongside a myriad of other species. Drive slowly and attentively- and NEVER get out of your vehicle.

Make sure to leave the park before 6PM, otherwise you can get yourself locked in for the night. Head to Sabie River Bush Lodge, where you can spend the night while still listening to the sounds of the bush.

8. Manyeleti Game Reserve: Off the Beaten Path

For a more secluded safari experience, head to Manyeleti Game Reserve, bordering Kruger National Park. This reserve is known for its low human footprint, allowing for more intimate wildlife encounters. Manyeleti is a haven for photographers and nature lovers, offering exceptional game viewing opportunities, including nighttime safaris where the elusive nocturnal creatures come to life. The absence of internal fences between Manyeleti and Kruger allows for the free movement of animals, increasing the chance of spotting the Big 5 in their natural habitat.

Stay at Tintswalo Safari where you can have the ultimate safari experience. On top of an amazing 5* accommodation straight out of ‘Out of Africa’ and all inclusive stay, twice a day you will depart for a game drive with the best drivers and trackers. It will deepen your awareness of the safari and knowledge animals around you.

9. The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve

Continuing the road trip through South Africa into the wilderness, we guide you to The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. This reserve focuses on conservation and education, providing guests with a deeper understanding of the complex ecosystems within the African bush. With fewer tourists and open borders with the Kruger National Park, Klaserie offers unparalleled opportunities to witness wildlife, including the majestic big cats, in a serene setting. Night drives and walking safaris are particularly rewarding here, offering unique perspectives on the African wild.

 Read : Experience Pristine Luxury at Klaserie Drift Safari Camps – Greater Kruger Area

10. The Panorama Route

As your road trip through South Africa comes slowly to an end, leave the wild heart of South Africa behind as we guide you along the scenic Panorama Route. This route offers a spectacular display of natural wonders, including the Blyde River Canyon, one of the world’s largest canyons. Viewpoints like God’s Window, the Pinnacle Rock, and the Three Rondavels offer mesmerizing views of the canyon and the lush Lowveld beyond. The route also features waterfalls, such as Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls, adding to the scenic beauty. The Panorama Route is a reminder of the natural beauty that abounds in South Africa, providing a reflective journey after the exhilarating safari experiences.

11. Johannesburg: The Journey’s End

Your road trip through South Africa concludes in Johannesburg, a city pulsating with energy, history, and culture. Before flying out, immerse yourself in the city’s rich apartheid history at the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s former home in Soweto. Johannesburg’s vibrant marketplaces, art galleries, and restaurants offer a taste of modern South African life and the perfect conclusion to your adventure.

12. Best Time to Go

South Africa is a vast country and the climate changes a lot from the ocean winds in Cape Town to the Kruger’s savannah. Ultimately you can visit SA any time during the year. However we believe that the best time for a road trip through South Africa is during its dry winter months, from May to September. Although it’s the winter time in Cape Town with temperatures barely reaching 20°, the rest of the country is at it’s peak. Also this season offers the best wildlife viewing opportunities, as animals gather around waterholes, and the vegetation is sparser, making them easier to spot.

13. Renting a Car and Driving in SA

Renting a car in South Africa offers the freedom to explore at your own pace. South Africa has a well-maintained network of roads and driving there is pleasant. You drive on the left side, just like in the UK or Australia. To rent a car you will need a valid driver’s license from your home country, along with an International Driving Permit and a credit card (debit cards are NOT accepted). Be mindful of speed limits and always secure your vehicle, as you would in any country.

Car rental in SA is cheap comparing to other places. For 3 weeks rental we payed 1000 EUR with full insurance, but you can find even better deals. However we recommend that you rent a car through a reliable company, to ensure the vehicle is new and you won’t have any car troubles while on a road trip through South Africa with a help of our guide. We rented with Sixt and our small Volkswagen Golf made over 4000km across the country and multiple national parks and we haven’t encountered any problems during our trip.

You don’t need a 4×4 to drive across South Africa, or to do the self-drive safaris in the National Parks. However it will be easier to spot the animals from a higher car. So if you do have the budget for it, renting a 4×4 might be useful.

 Read : Travel Essentials – Everything for Planning the Perfect Trip

14. What to Pack

Packing for a road trip through South Africa varies with the season. If you plan to travel in August, like we did and follow our guide, you should prepare for two parts.

For Cape Town and the Garden Route pack long pants, a couple of light sweaters and a warmer jacket. Take hiking boots, leggings and sweatshirt for hikes. Don’t forget a rain jacket- just in case. And of course comfortable footwear for the long drives.

For the second part of the trip in Kruger, pack light, summer clothing for the day and warm layers for cool mornings and evenings. It gets REALLY cold in the open jeep on the safari. Even if there will be warm blankets and bottles with hot water to keep you warm, a jacket is a must. Get your inspiration for the safari outfits from our Pinterest folder.

Make sure to pack the sun protection and mosquito repellent. SA is a malaria risk zone. However travelling in August, during the dry season, there is little risk of mosquito bites. We also recommend that you visit a tropical medicine doctor before your trip to SA. They will be able to evaluate whether you should take preventative malaria medication and give you prescriptions for other common heath issues you might have there.

Take a good camera with a zoom lens, and binoculars for wildlife spotting. Don’t forget a plug adapter for South Africa’s unique three-prong outlets.

 Read : Essential Packing Tips For All Travellers

15. Cost of the Road Trip Through South Africa

The cost of your road trip will vary widely based on accommodation choices, dining, and activities. Especially in Kruger National Park, there is a huge difference between the luxury lodges and budget accommodations. Car rental prices start at apx 35 Eur/day. Gas costs 1.18 Eur/L. A dinner in Cape Town for 2 people in a nice restaurant is apx 40 Eur. Street food dish apx 5 Eur. Budget accommodations start as low as 30 Eur/night for 2 pp. In Kruger NP those prices can go up to 2000 Eur for the luxurious lodges.

A total cost for the 3 weeks ultimate road trip in South Africa with a help of our guide will cost apx 4000-5000 Eur per person. This cost can be cut in half if you choose to stay in less luxurious lodges in the parks.

 Tip : If you are traveling on a tight budget, choose accommodations outside of the national parks, not within it’s gates. There are amazing lodges in the area for 50-80 Eur/night.

16. Safety Concerns in SA

While South Africa offers an incredible array of experiences, it’s important to stay mindful of safety. We believe the extreme safety warnings for SA are mostly exaggerated and the typical tourist will not encounter any problems during their trip. However exercise common sense, especially in cities and when exploring remote areas. Keep valuables out of sight and don’t wander off in the unknown areas. Stick to the touristic sights and do not walk by yourself at night. Don’t carry a lot of cash with you and avoid withdrawing money from ATMs- in most places you can pay with credit cards.

Pick a rental car that doesn’t draw attention. While driving, stick to well-traveled routes and avoid driving at night. And most important: do not stop at the side of the road, especially outside of the big cities. This is a warning we got upon renting our car in Cape Town. They told us to drive carefully, especially in the zone around Johannesburg and never stop there for any reason- even if witnessing an accident.

While driving in the national parks like in Kruger, do not open the windows fully and never go out of your vehicle (unless in the designated areas). Do not drive up too closely to the animals.

A road trip through South Africa is an epic adventure that offers everything from exhilarating wildlife encounters and breathtaking landscapes to rich cultural experiences. With careful planning, an adventurous spirit, and respect for the local environment and communities, it promises to be a journey of a lifetime.

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