Our South Africa itinerary started with the scenic Panorama Route came to an end .From Johannesburg we took the plane to Port Elizabeth to enjoy the Garden Route Road Trip, the most famous road trip in South Africa. Here we see a very different side of the country. The rugged coastline with its countless bays, beaches, cliffs, and caves connects one resort to another. The 227 km long coastline brings you to Cape Town. This Garden Route Itinerary South Africa brings you along all the highlights.
Garden Route Itinerary South Africa
What is the Garden Route?
The Garden Route is the route along the south-eastern coast of South Africa. The Garden Route road trip starts at Cape Town and ends at Tsitsikamma Storms river or at Port Elisabeth if you need to catch a plane. It's one of the most popular road trips in South Africa as if offers a divers vegetation, a nice climate and many cosy towns to stay.
Garden Route 12 day itinerary
I visited the Garden Route several times and I think the ultimate Garden Route Road Trip goes like this:
Port Elizabeth - Knysna - Oudtshoorn - Hermanus - Stellenbosch - Cape Town
Ofcourse you can drive the tour the other way around, starting at Cape Town.
How long does it take to drive the Garden Route?
The entire Garden Route is about 1000 kilometers. If you start your Garden Route Itinerary in Cape Town, you might consider ending the tour in Knysna. In that case it's only 700 km. Personally I think the part between Knysna and Port Elizabeth has not that much to offer. If you end your tour in Knysna you can fly to Cape Town or Johannesburg from George.
The length of your Garden Route road trip depends on the time you have. You can make it a quick visit with a 7 day itinerary, but here I suggest a Garden Route itinerary in 12 days so you have time to enjoy all the highlights.
The Garden Route Map
This Garden Route map shows you the entire route between cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
1. Port Elizabeth
- Number of nights: 1
You probably flew from Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban to Port Elizabeth. If you arrive in the morning, I would suggest to pick up your rental car and drive to the next stop on your Garden Route itinerary as Port Elizabeth is, in my opinion, not worth a visit. If you arrive in the evening, I suggest to stay overnight and start your Garden Route road trip the next day.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Port Elizabeth?
Radisson Blu Port Elizabeth
If you decide to stay only one night, this is the right choice. It's a clean, comfortable hotel with views over the Indian Ocean.
They have a great spa and they serve nice dishes in their restaurant. End the day at the bar in the Irish pub.
The Boardwalk Hotel
If you prefer a bigger hotel, this is the right choice.
They offer indoor and outdoor pools, They have their own restaurants but there are many alternatives in walking distance.
Airport shuttle services and rental car services are available.
Hackelwood Hill Country House
This luxury boutiqe hotel is housed in a Victorian Manor. The rooms are spacious and individually decorated.
There's a lush garden with a small swimming pool.
It's only a 10 minute drive to the beach. There are also 3 golfcourses in the neighbourhood.
Things to do in Port Elizabeth
Visit The Boardwalk
Stroll along the boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes in this leisure resort; It's situated in Summerstrand on an artificial lake.
Address: Beach Road Summerstrand 6019 in Port Elizabeth
Go to the beach
Port Elizabeth is proud of their beaches. They are the cleanest and safest beaches in South Africa. If you visit South Africa with kids, you have to go to Wells Estates beach. They will love the water slides over there.
Other great options are Kings Beach and Hobie Beach. If you love surfing, go to Pollock Beach.
Visit the Donkin Reserve
This park opened in 1820 by Rufane Donkin, the founder of the city. In the park you will find a memorial to his wife. There 's also a lighthouse from 1861 and you can walk the Donkin Heritage Trail that takes you along all the historical sites.
Cape Recife Nature Reserve
Close to Port Elizabeth you will find Cape Recife Nature Reserve. The reserve offers great hiking possibilities. You have great vistas over the dunes, rough coastline, a lighthouse from 1851 and the Indian Ocean. You can visit the SANCCOB a center for the rehabilitation of marine animals.
You can buy an entrance permit at Pine Lodge Resort at the entrance of the nature reserve.
Addo Elephant Park
If you want to go on a safari during your Garden Route road trip, you might consider visiting Addo Elephant from here. This Game reserve is only an hour drive from Port Elizabeth. It's South Africa's 3rd biggest national park. I would suggest to add an extra day to your 12 day Garden Route Itinerary to enjoy this experience to the fullest.
The park was started to protect the last 11 bush elephants from extinction. That worked out well, because nowadays there are over 600 elephants to be found. There's also a huge herd of buffalo's, some lyons and leopards. Although the latest are hardly ever seen. So you can see 4 of the big 5 in Addo Elephant Park.
Other safari alternatives are Kragga Kamma Park, less than 30 minutes from Port Elizabeth. Kwantu Private Game Reserve and Shamwari Game Reserve are both about an hour away.
- Distance from Port Elizabeth to Knysna: 260 km
- Time: 3 hours
- Number of nights: 2
On your way to Knysna you pass Tsitsikamma National Park and Plettenberg. As the are both close to Knysna, I suggest staying in Knysna, Plettenberg or Storms River (at the entrance of Tsitsikamma National Park) for a few days to explore the region. We prefered a stay in Knysna as it has lots of restaurants and amazing views of the laguna.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Knysna?
This luxury boutique hotel was is listed in the Top 25 Luxury Small Hotels and in the Top 25 Hotels for Romance in South Africa by Trip Advisor.
Kanonkop House offers breathtaking views of the Knysna Lagoon.
The luxury rooms are very spacious, there's a big garden and a nice swimming pool.
Kanonkop House also offers a waterside House on Thesen Island. It has 4 ensuite bedrooms so it's a perfect location if you travel with family or friends.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Plettenberg?
Emily Moon River Lodge
This exclusive, luxury boutique hotel is set on the banks of Bitou river. It's decorated in African style and offers amazing vistas of the river, wetlands and mountains.
It's a family owned hotel with a cosy atmosphere.
The restaurant serves dishes with homegrown vegetables and local products.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Storms River?
Tsitsikamma Village Inn
This former hunting lodge was built in 1841 and became a hotel in 1943. It consists of one main building and several colonial houses.
It feels like you are staying in the middle of knowhere.
The hotel has a 690's themed diner and a microbrewery.
Things to do in and around Knysna
Take a boat trip up the lagoon
One of the top things to do during your Garden Route itinerary is a boattrip on the lagoon. You can also charter a private boat or go on an Oyster Tour. Knysna is said to be the most beautiful town along the Garden Route in South Africa and it's even more beautiful from the water.
The Knysna Lagoon is known for its oysters; Try them at 34 South, Home of the Knysna Oyster. The restaurant is situated on the Knysna Quays. It's a safe place to walk around during the evening.
Viewpoint at East Knysna Heads
If you will drive from Knysna to Tsitsikamma you will a sign to te East Knysna Heads Viewpoint (or Eastern Cliff). From here you have an amazing view over the entrance of the lagoon. At both sides of the entrance you will see the famous Knysna Heads, two sandstone cliffs that guard the lagoon.
Visit Featherbed Private Nature Reserve
This private nature reserve is situated on the Western Head. Take a ferry on the Knynsa lagoon to get to the head. From there a 4x4 will take you to the reserve. A nature guide will tell you all about the history, and unique fauna and flora.
Go on a Scootours to discover Knysna Forest
Book a trip with Knysna Charters to make a thrilling downhil ride on a Monster Mountain Scooter. A minibus takes you uphill and you descent through the Garden Route National Park. Enjoy the amazing scenery on the way down. The Monster Mountain Scooter is non motorized, so if you are quiet, you might spot some wild life.
Discover Tsitsikamma National Park
There are lots of fun things to do in Tsitsikamma National Park. It's stretched along the rough South African coastline.
- Close to Knysna you wil find Tsitsikamma National Park. You can go on a multiple day hike or you can take the short walk to the suspension bridge over Storms River Mouth. Enjoy the scenery and the rough ocean.
- You can also go on a kayaking tour and kajak through the Storms River Gorge.
- Go bungee jumping at Blaukrans Bungee Bridge. This is the world's highest commercial bungee jump.
- Book a canopy tour and go zip-lining from one platform to another.
- Close to Storms River you will find "The Big Tree Tsitsikamma". This tree is more than 800 years old. There is a wooden path through the woods so you can make a nice walk here. It seems that you have to pay nowadays to make the walk. It's only 36 rand (+/- 2 euro).
After the park you pass Plettenberg Bay, the Miami of South Africa. Beautiful villas, fancy hotels, terraces. Nice for a quick stop or a fancy lunch.
In the village of George you can make a trip on an old steam train with the delightful name of "Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe”. The route runs along the coast and gives you a completely different view of the surroundings. The train crossing the bridge ensures beautiful pictures.
Update August 2019: it seems the train it's not possible to take the train currently. The new owner is working hard to get the train back on track. Check the Outenique Choo Tjoe site before your trip.
George has a small airport so if you Garden Route Itinerary ends in Knysna, you can fly to your next South African destination from here.
In Mossel Bay you can post a card at the Post Office Tree. In the days of colonial rulers and when European navigators sailed the world's oceans, they often stopped here. In Mossel Bay a Portuguese admiral built a chapel. Sailors were able to fill their vessels with fresh water from the local source. They put their mail in the hollow trunk of the Milkwood Tree. A passing ship took the letters back home.
We stayed here at The Eight Bells Mountain inn. A really charming hotel. On our next visit to South Africa we will visit it again.
- Distance from Knysna to Oudtshoorn: 120km
- Time: 1.5 hours
- Number of nights: 2
To visit Oudtshoorn you have to drive a little inland. Oudtshoorn is the capital of the Little Karoo and the ostrich capital of the world. From 1900 till 1915, the feather boa was very popular among the rich and famous. Ostrich farmers built huge houses that were often called feather palaces. In the region you can find a few examples.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Oudtshoorn?
The Rosenhof Country House
This is without a doubt my favourite place to stay in South Africa. We discovered it over 20 years ago during our honeymoon and it never disappoints.
Small country houses are build around a beautiful garden. The rooms are beautifully decorated and the service is amazing.
Don't forget to try their restaurants.
My parents and kids also fell in love with the place. Our youngest son (9 at the time) was sitting on the porch with my husband and said 'dad, I am so happy to be your child, otherwise I wouldn't have been here'.
Things to do in Oudtshoorn
Certainly visit one of the many ostrich farms during your Garden Route itinerary in South Africa. Safari Ostrich Farm is the largest, but the Cango Ostrich Farm on the road to the Cango Caves is also very nice. Daredevils (less than 80 kg) can even take a ride on an ostrich. If you're looking for a nice souvenir, I think a painted ostrich egg is a must. You have all the kitsch versions, but some eggs are true works of art.
The Cango Caves are located at the foot of the Swartberg Pass. It’s a magical underground world. They are by far the most beautiful caves I've ever seen so I think it's a must on your Garden Route itineray.
Cango Wildlife Ranch
Cango Wildlife Ranch is a cheetah and crocodile park that is part of the Cheetah Conservation Foundation, which was established in 1993 to protect the cheetah.
For those interested here a short lesson in biology:
- A cheetah is not the same as a leopard.
- The cheetah is smaller and more athletic while a leopard is much stronger.
- They also have different marks.
- Panther is yet another name for leopard and a black panther is not a cougar.
- A mountain lion has no spots and actually belongs more to the lions.
- A jaguar looks like a leopard but is much larger and has larger spots.
The early birds can go on a safari to see wild meerkats. The tours start before sunrise at De Zeekoe Guest Lodge. You have to be very quiet (therefor kids under the age of 10 are not allowed) but you will be rewarded when the meerkats wake up! By far the cutest animals on earth.
The Swartberg Pass is a 27 km long route through the mountains. Several hairpin bends take you to 'Die Top' at 1583 meter high. Enjoy breathtaking views, changing landscapes and waterfalls.
Prince Albert, at the end of the tour, is a cosy little town. Eat in one of the local restaurants before you return to Oudtshoorn.
Definitely a must during your Garden Route Road Trip.
You can combine this scenic tour with a visit to the Cango Caves.
- Distance from Oudtshoorn to Hermanus: 360km
- Time: 4 hours
- Number of nights: 1
- If you make a detour to visit Cape Agulhaas: 440 km (5.5 hours)
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Hermanus?
This luxury boutique hotel is situated between 2 of the best swimming beaches in Hermanus.
Book a room with ocean view and you might spot whales from your room.
All rooms are gorgeous. There is a small pool and it takes a few steps to reach the beach.
The Gregoire Boutique Villa
This luxury boutique hotel offers spacious, individually decorated suites.
There's a pool in the garden en the ocean and the famous Cliff Path are only a few steps away.
It's only a short ride to Hemel en Aarde Valley to visit some great wine estates.
Things to do in Hermanus
If you travel between July and November, then Hermanus is an absolute must on your Garden Route itinerary. According to WWF, Hermanus is one of the 12 best places in the world to see whales. Even from the coast you have a nearly 100% chance of seeing whales. Book a trip with a boat, or even more adventurous, a kayak to see these giants up close. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip. I didn't manage to take a nice picture, so the picture below isn't mine. But the view of a giant whale jumping out of the ocean is forever on my mind.
If you are not traveling during the whale season, I would skip Hermanus and use this day to spend more time in one of the other stops on this Garden Route 12 day itinerary.
Shark Cage Diving
Gansbaai, is the great white shark capital of the world. A boat takes you in about 15 minutes to Dyer island. You enter a cage and are dropped in the ocean. It's said that you have a 95% chance of a close encounter with a great white shark.
If you don't feel like getting in the cage, you can watch from the deck of the boat. Great white sharks are surface feeders so you don't miss a thing.
Shark cage diving is controversial. Proponents say the profits are used to protect great white sharks. According to opponents, it belongs in the row of rides on an elephant and swimming with dolphins. I leave it up to you to decide.
If you decided to take the detour via Cape Agulhaas, you might consider staying 2 nights.
The next ride on our South Africa itinerary takes us to Cape Agulhaas , the southernmost tip of Africa. The Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet over here. The environment is quite rough and bare. The lighthouse serves as a museum.
Try to be there around 3PM as that's the only time to visit the lighthouse.
After visiting the lighthouse, follow the woulden path towards the southernmost tip of Africa.
It's not in the list of most beautiful places in South Africa, but still it belongs on every Garden Route itinerary.
- Distance from Hermanus to Stellenbosch: 100 km
- Time: 1.5 hours
- Number of nights: 3
This Cape Winelands are amazing. For wine lovers, this region is the highlight of this Garden Route Itinerary. Villages such as Swellendam and Franschhoek seem like open-air museums, and you see one winery after another. The best places to stay are Stellenbosch or Franschhoek.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Stellenbosch?
If you like to stay on a winerie, this is a great choice. Babylonstoren is one of the oldest wine farms and it's a great place to visit.
You can stay in the hotel, farm house or in one of the cottagees.
They have several restaurants, a bakery and a butcher, a tasting room,...
It's rather pricy and always fully booked so you have to book months before.
Wedgeview Country House & Spa
This is one of my favourites. This small luxury boutique hotel offers spacious room just outside the center of Stellenbosch.
If you are traveling to South Africa with kids, this is a great choice as they have a magnificent 2-bedroom suite.
They have a big garden and a nice pool.
Breakfast is included and you will love the French toast and Full English Breakfast.
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Franschhoek?
Le Quartier Francais
This luxury boutique hotel is situated in the center of Franschhoek.
It offers an outdoor pool and a restaurant.
The spacious rooms are elegantly decorated.
The hotel offers a shuttle service to the airport upon request.
This luxury estaste is situated just outside of Franschhoek. between the mountains and a river.
It's one of the best hotels in the area and offers a pool, fitness and spa.
The rooms are situated in the 19th-century Manor House
Things to do in the Cape Wine Region
If you are a wine lover this is the thing you should not miss on the Garden route.
ofcourse the number one activitiy is wine tasting; There are so many wine estates that yiu could spend weeks over here. Most wineries can be visited without appointment. If you want to visit your favourite South African winerie, check their website to see if you need to make an appointment.
Our favourite South Africa wine is De Toren but here' s a list of the best wineries in Stellenbosch.
Franschhoek Wine Tram
A great way to visit some wineries is taking the Franschhoek Wine Tram. There are a few different routes through the vineyards so check out which wineries you like to visit.
Driving a segway is a fun way to discover the Stellenbosch wineries. Spier Wine Estate offers this superb activity. You need to make reservations in advance. Kids need to be 10 years old
If there's one thing you have to do during your Garden Route road trip it's taking part in a boerebraai. A boerebraai is a South African BBQ. Book a table at Wine Estate Middlevlei in Stellenbosch and enjoy their mouthwatering boerebraai. You will love the relaxed atmosphere.
City walk in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch can be visited on foot. Walk through the cozy center of town and make a stop at the famous 'Oom Samie se Winkel', the Burger house, Slave Houses and many more.
Book a table at La Petite Colombe
La Petite Colombe is the little sister of La Colombe, one of the best restaurants in South Africa. It's situated in the centre of Fransschoek in hotel Le Quartier Français. In April 2020 it will move to Leeu Estate.
If you are a food lover or if you have something special to celebrate you should not miss La Petite Colombe on your Garden Route itinerary.
We took the 9-course menu and loved it!
5. Cape Town
- Distance from Stellenbosch to Cape Town: 50 km
- Time: 1 hours
- Number of nights: 3
Where to stay on the Garden Route in Cape Town?
Camps Bay Retreat
Without a doubt may favourite hotel in this area.
This luxury boutique hotel is situated in Camps bay, at one of the best beaches in South Africa.
It offers spacious rooms, a magnificant garden and excellent service.
It's only a 10 minute drive to the center of Cape Town.
The Silo Hotel
The Silo Hotel is situated at the the V&A Waterfront. It's one of Cape Towns iconic hotels.
It's housed in an industrial building and offers 28 stylish rooms and an amazing view over Cape Town.
They also have a few private residences along the Atlantic Seaboard.
Things to do in Cape Town
This could be an endless list so I am just going to give you some of my favourite things to do in Cape Town. If it's your first time in Cape Town, I advice you to stay a bit longer and make it a 14 day itinerary. Thanks to these Cape Town Tours, you won't miss a thing.
Take the ferry at the V&A Waterfront and visit the island where Nelson Mandela was captured. Make sure to book your tickets upfront.
The view from the top of the Table Mountain would be fabulous from the top, but during our stay (and every next stay) it was far too foggy. During every visit to Cape Town the Table Mountain was covered with clouds so during our last visit we decided to take a helicopterflight. That was a good idea as it was the highlight of our 12 day Garden Route itinerary. It's amazing to see everything from above.
After this Garden Route Itinerary we took a short flight to Zimbabwe to visit one of the most favorite attractions of our bucket list.
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