The Garden Route is one of the most visited areas of South Africa. This scenic route goes along the cost and by the mountains creating a unique landscape. There’s many nice and safe towns along the way where you can spend a night or two, or just visit during the day. It can take around 5-10 days depending on how much time you have and how much you want to do around each place.
Starting with some whale spotting
Most people start from Port Elizabeth all the way to Cape Town (or the other way around). If you are travelling from Johannesbourgh, we recommend you have a look at this post about how to plan a road trip in South Africa and the safest way to get to the Garden Route.
Rent a car at Port Elizabeth airport, or in Cape Town airport if you start the other way around. We used First car rental and it allowed us to return the car in a different city for an extra fee of just 60€.
A bit of hiking
There’s a few nice things to do in Port Elizabeth. You can hike in schoenmakerskop and enjoy a beautiful sunset close by on the dunes of Sardinia bay. Make sure to always carry your binoculars, because from here you can spot whales playing around between June and November. You can spot dolphins as well from the pier of Port Elizabeth’s main beach! It’s a nice town to spend one or two nights.
The next day you will drive towards Storms Rivier. In this village is the entrance to the Tsitsikama National Park. If you like hiking, this is a great place to spend the day. Don’t miss the hike to the waterfall along the otter trail, very beautiful. The entrance to this park is around 15€. We don’t recommend the kayak+lilo activity in Tsitsikama, it is very overpriced. You can spend one night in Storms Rivier
Enjoying the landscapes and getting closer to the Great white shark
Your next destination can be Plettenberg Bay or Knysna. Both are nice towns just around an hour away. We stayed in Plettenberg bay and saw dolphins on the beach, but this can happen everywhere if you’re lucky.
Before arriving to Knysna there is a small place called Knoetzie. This beach is very remote, only a few houses and small hotels around, in the shape of castles.
After one or two days you can continue to Wilderness or George. We actually stayed in a bit smaller town, Sedgefield, with three lakes. It’s not as touristic as the others but we chose it because there’s nice resorts around the lakes to do a lot of water and outdoors activities.
Head towards Mossel Bay, a good place to see the Great White Sharks. You can do a hike by the cliffs, starting from Pinnacle point. There are caves that have revealed human ocupation more than 170.000 years ago. You can go to The Shark Lab, a small aquarium in Mossel Bay, and swim with little sharks for just 10€. Two days in Mossel Bay will be enough.
Kite surfers paradise and the most Southern point of Africa
Continue your way towards Witsand. Here there’s a very unique and special landscape, where the river meets the ocean creating a lake and a sand peninsula. An absolute paradise for kite surfers.
Two hours further is Cape d’Agulhas. You can drive along the N2 road, but you can also go through the country side and visit De Hoop National Park on the way. We would only recommend to do this during whale season, as that’s the highlight of this park. In Cape d’Agulhas you will find the most Southern point of Africa and the place where Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.
Chasing whales and penguins
Continue chasing the whales to the town Hermanus. Their bay is one of the places where it’s easier to spot them. A bit further is Betty’s bay, where we spent the night. Incredible views of the mountains and the ocean, and a nice coast to walk along and over the dunes. Last but not least, you can see African pinguins in Stony Point National Park. As usual, you have to pay to enter the park. However, we can tell you that pinguins are always around and completely visible before the entrance to the park. No need to spend money!
Drive towards Cape town along False Bay. A nice place to stop is Gordon’s bay. From there you can spot Cape of Good Hope at the other side of the bay, and see the silluettes of all the mountains.
Before heading to Cape town, we recommend staying one or two days in the Cape Peninsula. An affordable area to stay is Kommetjie. Around here you can visit the Cape of Good Hope (entrance to the National Park is around 20€ per person). Go to Simon’s town to visit the african pinguins at Boulders beach. Again, there is an entrance fee of around 15€.
Tip: when you arrive at the ticket office of Boulder’s beach for the penguins, don’t enter there. Go to the path on the right, and it will lead you around the beach. You can for sure see them from far, and if you are lucky, you will see them very close as well.
Eagles and tastings
If you are into wine, you can visit plenty of wineries for wine tasting. A good day trip, even if you don’t like wine, is Paarl. There is two farms next to each other, Fairview and Spice route, where you can do all kinds of tasting, from wine, gin and beer to cheese, chocolate and ice cream. Although it is a bit too comercial, it is a really nice experience.
On your way to Paarl, you can stop at Eagle encounters at Spier. It is a non profit organisation, there are three shows a day and you can see and pet eagle owls any time. If you dare, you can get a snake around your neck! All this for around 4€, good value for money.
Finally, the mother land.
Now it’s time to head to the mother city, Cape Town. If you’ve alraedy visited the sorroundings of Cape town, we recommend getting rid of the car as soon as you arrive in the city. Traffic is very dense and parking can be difficult at times. Get yourself a mycitybus card for 2€ and top it up at any station, so you can explore the city by public transport. It’s very easy to use and very affordable.
Make sure you read the post about what to do in Cape Town and don’t miss out on anything.
Enjoy your stay in Cape Town!
Places where we stayed during our garden route trip.
We can honestly recommend all of them! The average price per night for two people was around 25-30€ on high season.
Port Elizabeth: 36 Mount Road Guest House and Self Catering
Storms Rivier: LaLuna
Plettenberg bay: Karatara backpackers
Sedgefield: Pine Lake Marina
Mossel Bay: Danatu Gasthoff
Witsand: Witsand Poshpackers
L’Agulhas: L Agulhas, Main @ 51
Betty’s Bay: Cornerstone
Kommetjie: Happy Home – Imhoffs Gift