One of South Africa‘s most treasured gems is the beautiful Garden Route, a stretch of lush landscapes reaching along the south shore from Mossel Bay on the Western Cape to Storms River on the Eastern Cape. A scenic road dotted with beautiful beaches, quaint farms, and wild terrains, the Garden Route is sure to delight you – add a stay in cosmopolitan Cape Town, a day or two in the Cape Winelands, and a safari experience and you will make enough memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Start your South African adventure in beautiful Cape Town, the country’s most scenic and cosmopolitan city. With the stunning Table Mountain as a backdrop, Cape Town is easily one of the world’s most impressive urban centres and the city offers enough activities to keep you busy for days. Hike up Lion’s Head Mountain or take the cableway to the top of Table Mountain for striking views over the city and its suburbs. If you are looking for history, take a trip to notorious Robben Island, the island prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years as a political prisoner. For something a bit lighter, stroll the piers and enjoy lunch with a view from one of the many restaurants of the vibrant V&A Waterfront. Don’t forget to check out the white sands of Camps Bay Beach, and visit the native penguins at Boulder Beach.
Your next stop on your way to the Garden Route should be at the Cape Winelands, a wine-lover’s paradise. The Winelands are home to pretty towns with distinct atmospheres: Franschhoek, one of the oldest towns in the country; Stellenbosch, a lively university town; and Paarl, the biggest town in the area – so choose the one that suits you best, or hop from one to the next in search for your favourite. Wherever you end up, try out South African versions of international favourites and make sure to taste the country’s characteristic Pinotage. For something unique, visit the beautiful Fairview Winery in Paarl, where you will enjoy a pairing of their wine along with tasty cheeses made on-site. If you’re not a fan of wine, I still recommend a visit to the Cape Winelands, as the scenery alone is worth the trip!
Mossel Bay, George and Wilderness
The quaint harbourside town of Mossel Bay is the official starting point of the Garden Route and has good restaurants and glorious beaches. Further east, the city of George is the largest in the Garden Route, with surprisingly cosmopolitan restaurants and top tourism facilities. George is the perfect spot for golf-lovers with multiple world-class golf courses in and around the city and, if you like wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for the whales that can be seen off shore. From here, consider a trip over to the lush and wild landscapes of Wilderness, where you can walk along an abandoned railway track to discover stunning hidden beaches and the rugged coastal scenery – a unique experience for those looking to get off the beaten track.
Knysna & Plettenberg Bay
Roughly halfway along the Garden Route, Knysna is one of the more popular places to spend a few days in South Africa. The town’s quays resemble a smaller version of the V&A in Cape Town, with waterfront boutique souvenir shops and trendy restaurants, while Knysna Lagoon offers a range of watersports for those looking for something more active. If you enjoy beer, the local Mitchell’s Brewery offers beer-tasting visits and meals with a view. Further east, coastal Plettenberg Bay is the perfect spot for those looking for some sun and sand in a more relaxed environment. While in the area, make sure to visit Monkeyland, a large natural refuge for rescued monkeys, lemurs, and apes, as well as Birds of Eden, a sanctuary dedicated to South Africa’s indigenous birds.
The Garden Route officially comes to an end in the town of Storms River, inside Tsitsikamma National Park. The area is best known as South Africa’s adventure capital with adrenaline-inducing activities such as zip-lining, kayaking or tubing down the river and, if you’re brave enough, the world’s highest bungee jump! For something a little lighter, you can go for a hike along one of the many trails in search of waterfalls, rivers, and lush forests.
Beyond the Garden Route, the breathtaking scenery of the Eastern Cape continues along the coast towards Port Elizabeth. Along the way, you should stop at laid-back Jeffreys Bay, a surfing town with big waves and a bigger atmosphere. Jeffreys Bay has been named one of the top five surfing spots in the world and is frequented by amateur and professional surfers. You can take a class to learn the art of riding waves from one of the surfing schools, or if you prefer staying on dry land, you will enjoy the large stretches of beautiful beach, perfect for sunbathing or walking along collecting seashells. When it’s time to refuel, try out one of the many outstanding seafood restaurants located in the centre of the town.
Follow the road to Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the Eastern Cape. Port Elizabeth is the most convenient place to fly out after your Garden Route journey and is also the perfect stopping point on your way to Addo Elephant National Park. While you may be able to move on without a stopover, you might want to spend a day in Port Elizabeth as it does have a lot to offer. The golden sand beaches of Port Elizabeth have waters warm enough to swim in and the seemingly endless oceanside parks make for a beautiful stroll under the sun. In the evening check out the Boardwalk complex to visit busy restaurants and bars, try your luck at the casino, and check out the entertaining nightly fountain show.
Addo Elephant National Park
While the Garden Route will take your breath away, the biggest highlight of your trip will likely be coming face to face with the friendly giants of Addo Elephant National Park. South Africa’s third-largest national park is much more green and lush than others further north, and although the Big Five inhabit the area, the spotlight here is on the hundreds of resident elephants that give the park its name. Take a safari in search of your favourite African wildlife and be prepared to live one of the most inspirational experiences you’ll ever have in your life.