South Africa is the most developed country of the continent, it has a very interesting and conflicting history and it is granted some of the most beautiful landscapes you can think of. If you are planning a trip to South Africa, chances are you have some questions in mind. In this other post we answer all your questions about How to plan a trip to South Africa, and tell you why you should rent a car.
Once you’re already convinced, here is the best itinerary for a road trip in South Africa
The best itinerary for a road trip in South Africa
Itinerary of 3-4 weeks
Fly into Johannesbourg airport and pick up the car there. You can stay one or two nights in this city, but we avoided it as it isn’t safe and we were told that there’s not that many touristic attractions.
If you have extra time, you can drive to Sun city, a big palace hotel with a casino and water park. Also if you have some money to burn, you can spend the night there for a thousand euros!
The Panorama Route – a must
Your first destination will be the a scenic drive along the mountains with many beautiful touristic points. This is called the Panorama route, we wrote a post with all the details about it! The route goes along the road R532 and ends in Graskop. If you are driving from Johannesburg we recommend staying at the Gathlane lodge. It’s a good middle point close to the Panorama route, and it has a lot of activities and wild animals around inside the lodge. Very fun! If you need a break from driving, Dullstroom is a nice small town to stop on the way.
You will drive along this road from the three rondavels all the way to God’s window and end in the town Graskop, where there’s a lot of restaurants and nice shops.
Self-drive safari in the Kruger park – a must
Before heading to the Kruger park, you can spend a night or two in Nelspruit. This is a town on the way to the South of the Kruger. From there, you can visit the little town of Kaapschehoop in the mountains, and do a little hike to Battery creeek falls. Beautiful! In Nelspruit we stayed in this lovely guesthouse with a pool and barbecue area, run by a Portuguese couple.
If you have extra time, you can visit Barberton. This is a traditional minin town. You can do a heritage walk there, visit houses of mining families and a mining museum.
The next day, you will drive towards the Kruger. You can stay inside the park, there are many camps and lodges. Those are a bit pricey and always fully booked. We can also recommend staying in Marloth park, where there are also wild animals – non predators -. It’s much cheaper and just 15 minutes away from the Crocodile’s Bridge gate of the Kruger park. You can spend one to three days exploring the Kruger. We spend just one day, it was enough for us but we were very lucky to see all the animals.
Your next destination will be very wild and unforgettable! A self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park. Our local friends told us that most animals are in the South of the park, between Crocodile bridge and Lower sabie. That’s where we went and we were extremely lucky to see “the big 6” and some good action between buffalos and lions. In this post we wrote about our experience during the cheapest safari ever in the Kruger. We absolutely recommend this experience. Driving yourself around the animals gave us a feeling difficult to explain.
Driving through Swaziland – optional
Swaziland is a very small country inside South Africa. There’s not much to do, but the landscape is very beautiful. And it’s always fun to say you’ve been in another country and get an extra stamp for your passport! Be aware, rental car companies charge extra if you want to enter Swaziland or Lesotho with the car. In our experience, they asked us for a paper when entering the country. We gave the envelope with all pur papers and he did not even open or look at it. You should know that some roads were not well mantained, but it was fine.
We stayed in Ermelo after driving through Swaziland.
The dolphin coast – optional
Durban is a touristic beach area. We were told about Salt rock, the dolphin coast and Ballito as the highlights of this area. However, we didn’t go to any of this, as we were visiting friends in the inland non touristic areas of South Africa.
Itinerary of 2 weeks
If you only have two weeks but don’t want to miss out on anything, you can do the Panorama route as explained above, and then fly from Johannesborug to Port Elizabeth and rent a car there again.
The garden Route – a must
From Durban, the next area where you want to be is in East London or Port Elizabeth. This means you have to cross the area of the city Mthatha, which isn’t very safe. Driving the road N2 can be challenging, there is a lot of dodgy neighbourhoods by the road, and people and many animals crossing them. We decided to drive all the way through, a long 700km drive without stopping until we arrived in East London. You should avoid going to Coffee bay, even if it is a touristic area. There is a lot of criminality there.
Once you are in East London, you can relax and go to the beach. The next day, head to Port Elizabeth. A nice town were you can start spotting whales, and enjoying the Garden Route.
The Garden Route goes along the coast, with beautiful mountain and ocean views. It can take 5 to 10 days to drive it, depending on how fast you go and how much you want to see. There are many nice and safe towns along the way, you can stop for a night or two in any of these, or just drive through: Storms Rivier, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Sedgefield, Wilderness, George, Mossel Bay, Witsand, L’Agulhas, Hermanus, Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay. In this post we tell you more about all these places, where we stayed and what to see.
Along this route there are many places to eat, shop, relax, and have fun. But also watch whales, dolphins, seals, and if you’re lucky the great white shark. Don’t miss the Tsitsikamma park in Stormsrivier, with beautiful hikes!
Cape Town sorroundings – optional
Before arriving in the mother city, there’s a lot to explore around. In the Cape Peninsula you can visit Simon’s Town and go to Bolder’s beach to see penguins. You can drive to the Cape of good hope, what was believed to be the southermost point of Africa, where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. However, it’s now known that this is actually the Cape d’Agulhas, part of the Garden route as well.
Other places to visit around Cape town are Houts Bay, and Paarl, a small town with nice farms to enjoy some wine and cheese tasting. The vineyards Fairview and Spice route have a wide variety of tastings, from wine to chocolate and everything in between!
A good middle point to stay, more affordable then average, is Kommetjie. Close to the beach and with beautiful views, you are only a few kilometers away from all this attractions.
When arriving in Cape Town, you can give back your rental car and enjoy the city walking, using public transport or uber.
If you still have some questions, we leave below all the information to plan a road trip in South Africa.
How to plan a road trip in South Africa
How long should I go to South Africa?
You need to think of how many days you can / want to spend in the country. At the moment of writting this, we’re in South Africa for more than a month and still have two more weeks. There’s so much to keep you entertained for a long time! However, if you have a holiday of 2 or 3 weeks it will be enough to cover the best part of it. If you only have a week or so we would recommend doing only the last part of the itinerary that we explain below
Renting a car in South Africa
There are many rental companies and you can always pick up the car at the airport. Prices are around 20-25€ per day, but we went for the most budget option of 8€ per day without insourance with First car rental. We advise you search online in advance to find the best offers. We’re happy with first car, and we’ve been able to extend the rental period twice without extra cost. You can give the car back in a different location for an extra cost of 60€, very convenient.
Driving in South Africa
In South Africa they drive on the right side of the car, like in UK and many other countries – more than we ever thought -. Roads are mostly fine, some areas need some maintainance but all touristic routes are very well kept. Traffic lights work slightly different, as you have to look at the one accros the road where you are going. Speed limits are as usual and the traffic is usually smooth.
Tolls in South Africa
There are tolls in some main roads, however the prices are most of the times a couple of euros. Some rental cars have a “tag”, which is a small device that you see on the front window of the car. When the car has a tag, you don’t need to pay the toll at the moment, and the gate opens automatically. You will pay the whole amount of the tolls to the rental car company.