An Awesome South Africa Road Trip Guide and Itinerary

A road trip through South Africa is the ideal way to explore the country. South Africa has a good infrastructure of roads and plenty of sights during a long road trip. It was our first introduction to Sub-saharan Africa and our first destination for safari.

We arrived in South Africa bright-eyed and excited to embark on an epic South African road trip. The Cape of Africa contains vast and diverse landscapes, unlike any other place on Earth. In Kruger National Park, we spotted lions and elephants, the Drakensberg Mountains found us peering over 3,000-foot cliffs, and Hermanus brought us face-to-face with great white sharks.

There is so much to see in South Africa that you’ll unlikely see it all even in three months. In this South Africa road trip guide, we’ll hit the main points of interest. We suggest you pick and choose what is most interesting to you regarding your time!

The Ultimate South Africa Road Trip Guide

The Ultimate South Africa Itinerary


Johanessburg City Center

Most trips to South Africa will start and end in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. Ours began in Johannesburg on a bright and sunny winter day, and we were eager and ready to explore. It was our first time in Africa, and we were excited to go on a road trip around South Africa. The two main cities also have a large supply of rental cars so we were able to get an affordable rate for our rental car.

Once you have your car, it is quite easy to get around the city. There are so many things to do in Johannesburg. A guided tour around Soweto is a popular option. Another good option is to head to the Market on Main. The Market on Main was the top thing our Airbnb hosts recommended we do on Sunday mornings between 10 and 3 in downtown Joburg. We enjoyed eating local food, soaking up the sun on the patio, and checking out local artisans.

Insider Tip: Johannesburg is not that safe, especially at night. We recommend you avoid nighttime driving as car-jackings are frequent in certain areas. It’s much easier for locals who know where they’re heading.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park A Land Rover On A Self Drive Safari

With any road trip in South Africa, a self-drive safari in Kruger National Park is a must. Kruger National Park is about a four-hour drive from Johannesburg. It’s the largest park in South Africa and is home to the Big Five animals. Not only is it perfect for safari, but we found it to be the easiest park in Africa to self-drive. Roads are paved and well-signed, and a safari here is affordable—heck, there is even a Mugg & Bean (local coffee chain) inside the park!

It’s a tremendous budget option for backpackers or those on a tight budget, as you can do it on your own without a guide. The park is huge, so we recommend at least two or three days to get the most out of it. There are a few types of accommodation in the park: high-end lodges, parks-managed affordable and adequate accommodation, and campsites. Outside, a wealth of more affordable safari lodges, campsites, guesthouses, and hotels are available.

Booking in advance is highly recommended for all types of accommodation, especially in the high season. On our first day in Kruger National Park (and our third day in Africa), we saw all of the Big Five animals; it was amazing! Other popular things around Kruger National Park exist. One of our favorite options is visiting the HESC Cheetah Project and Moholoholo Rehab Center.


Climbing the highest peak in Swaziland

If you want to cross another country off your bucket list, we suggest you head to the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland. The Kingdom of Swaziland is a landlocked country in Southern Africa between Mozambique and South Africa. If you are looking for a reason to include Swaziland on your South African road trip, consider this: Swaziland is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. Yes, a real king rules Swaziland.

You can easily go to Swaziland for a day or two and enjoy a hike up Sibebe Rock, attend a concert and a sundowner at House on Fire, or go on an unguided walking safari in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We spent a week there because we had friends in the country, but I think you could make the most of it in a few days.

Natasha In Swaziland Park

Something to note about Swaziland is that their currency, the Swazi Lilangeni, is pegged 1:1 with the rand, and prices are about the same as in South Africa. Americans can access Swaziland visa-free, and we found the border to be one of the easiest to travel to in Africa. Always check with your embassy to see visa regulations.

Top tipIt’s important to check with your rental car company about the drive across borders. Some may charge a fee, while others include it in their rental contract.


Durban Lighthouse And Gorgeous Coastline

Durban is the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province. If you like big cities with a side dose of Afro-Indian culture, you may enjoy a stop here. More Indians reside in Durban than in any other country in the world (besides India). That means that they have the best Indian food and curries in the country—hands down.

Durban also has “The Golden Mile,” the nickname for the beaches near downtown that stretch along the Indian Ocean, and is great for surfing and windy beaches. I wouldn’t say Durban is a must-add to your South African road trip, but it’s a fun and thriving city that makes for a good place to stock up on supplies, hit up some restaurants, and have a coffee on the beach.

Clarens and the Drakensberg Mountains

Drakensberg Mountains
This region needs to be on everyone’s South Africa road trip itinerary

Clarens has been voted the best small town in South Africa, and once you get there you’ll see why. The lovely town sits at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains. It’s affordable, charming, and has everything you could hope to find in a small town including a brewery and coffee shop. The town’s nickname is “The Jewel Of The Free State,” and it’s in close proximity to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

It’s one of the most beautiful parks in South Africa. The park only has some large antelope so it’s safe to go practice outdoor sports without being prey. Popular activities in the park include horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.

Cafe In Clarens, South Africa Drakensberg Mountains

Our highlight of the region is a hike up to Sentinel Peak, situated at the top of Drakensberg Amphitheater. The hike is a full-day adventure and not for the faint of heart. It is hard and dangerous, especially in bad weather conditions. You have to climb two chain ladders freely on a cliff face over 100 meters to get to the top, but the view is one of the best in Africa, and the hike is a day-long adrenaline rush.

Top tipStart your hike early and be prepared with enough food and water to get through the day. Check in with the guys at the entrance and sign out when you are done with your hike.


Lesotho Sheep Herder Drakensberg

Hidden within the Drakensberg mountains lies The “Kingdom in the Sky.” Also known as Lesotho, it is a small country literally within South Africa and one of the best places to visit in Africa. Interestingly enough, it’s considered the highest country in the world as it is entirely 1000m above sea level. Lesotho is a hidden gem within South Africa that not enough people take the time to explore. Its people, mountain landscape, and culture are unique and can be found nowhere else in the world.

We enjoyed several days exploring the country and wished we had allocated more time. Some fun things to do are skiing at one of Africa’s only ski resorts (you read that right), visiting Maletsunyane Falls, taking hundreds of hikes, and pony trekking through the mountains. However, Lesotho’s greatest draw is the ability to explore places few have been before.

Good to know: The Lesotho Loti is another currency pegged 1:1 with the South African Rand, and prices are comparable to South Africa. Again, the border crossing here is extremely simple and many travelers do not require a visa. Check with your car rental company to make sure you can cross borders.

Wild Coast

The Wild Coast Of South Africa

Many consider the Wild Coast a gorgeous region of South Africa. It extends from the Eastern part of KwaZulu-Natal to East London. The coastline has dramatic cliff faces, lush landscapes, and stunning beaches.

After Lesotho, we went to the coast to relax on the beautiful beaches. During apartheid, most of the region was politically and economically independent, which now makes it one of the poorest areas of South Africa. It starkly contrasts the rich cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

Compared to the rest of South Africa, tourism is low, and the infrastructure is poor. To explore the area, we suggest planning and booking ahead specifically for guesthouses, as rooms can fill up fast. Coffee Bay, Cinsta, Morgans Bay, and Mthatha are notable places to stop.

Jeffreys Bay

Jeffreys Bay South Africa Surf

Have you seen the iconic movie Endless Summer? The one where two surfers chase an endless summer in a few African nations like South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria. Well, one of the locations they surfed at is Jeffreys Bay. This bay is known as the “Surf Mecca of the World,” so Jeffreys Bays is your spot if you are a surfer or interested in trying surfing. The area is famed for its pristine Blue Flag Beaches, ideal for a leisurely afternoon sunbathing sesh.

The Garden Route

Garden Route South Africa Natasha On Observation Deck

The Garden Route is a 300-kilometer stretch that begins at Storms River in the Eastern Cape and stretches along the coast to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. You technically could drive South Africa’s Garden Route in one day, but we would not recommend that! You should savor it and take your time. It’s one of the best drives in the world so rushing would be a shame.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park is a coastal park with green forests and rocky, death-defying shores. If you want to be outside and in nature, stop here for a day hike or to ride a mountain bike.

Nature’s Valley

South Africa Bungee Must Do

Nature’s Valley is a small town along the Garden Route, most famous for the Bloukrans Bridge bungee jump. Since 1997, Face Adrenalin has been throwing people off this 215-meter-high bridge. This makes it the highest bungee jump bridge in the world, and there is no way we would miss out on that. If a bungee jump is on your bucket list, this is one of the best places in the world.

If you’re not into heights, there are other things to do in this small town that make it worthy of a stop. Consider hiking the Kalander Kloof Hiking Trail, going to Nature Valley Beach, or having a coffee at the Nature Way Farmstall.


Natasha Walks Along The Beach On The Garden Route

After a few weeks on our South Africa road trip, we needed some TLC. We decided to stop in Knysna for a few days to regroup. Knysna is a charming little seaside town that’s great for relaxing. However, I have to admit the real reason we stopped here was for the oysters.

Dubbed the culinary capital of oysters and other delectable seafood, Knysna is world famous for its seafood. Better yet, oysters, typically a luxury item, are affordable here at 15-30 South African Rand per shell. If you’re there in July, make sure to visit the Knysna Oyster Festival.

There are also hiking trails in the mystical Knysna Forest. If you would rather take a nice, easy walk, I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee and heading straight to “The Heads” for sunset.

Mossel Bay

Natasha In Gondwana Tent

Mossel Bay is a harbor town along the Garden Route.  It has sandy beaches to enjoy in the summertime and an array of adventure activities. Mossel Bay is a good stop along the Garden Route if you are looking for any handicrafts, a good bite to eat, and just to get out and enjoy the fresh air.

We stopped here along our South African road trip to go to Gondwana Game Reserve for a five-night safari in their eco camp. This was one of the most affordable safaris we had in all of Africa and I highly recommend it if you are in the Western Cape.


South Africa Road Trip Itinerary

Hermanus is the whale-watching destination in South Africa, and being less than two hours away from Cape Town, it is accessible. It’s also where you can go cage diving with Great White sharks if that is something you want to fit into your South African road trip itinerary.

We made our way here when we were based in Cape Town; however, I wish we had just hit it on our way down the coast to save time and gas. Nevertheless, it’s still a worthwhile stop if you want to get out in the water or hike among the unique fynbos in the Western Cape.



Just a 45-minute drive away from Cape Town lies one of the best wine regions in the world. Traveling to South Africa and not including Stellenbosch in your road trip would be a mistake! Stellenbosch is a hip city in the Western Cape. There’s a nice downtown area with plenty of nice bars, restaurants, and cafes to relax at. However, that’s not the city’s claim to fame.

Did you know that South Africa produces over 959 million liters of wine each year, making the country the seventh-largest wine producer in the world? Over 200 of those wine producers are in Stellenbosch. So if you enjoy good wine at an insanely cheap cost (like $6 a good bottle cost) then make a pit stop in Stellenboach and go on wine tours.

Their signature blend is Pinotage, a red wine grape variety. Stellenbosch is also surrounded by mountains, so once you drink all that wine, you can head out to hike and work it off! I would suggest two to three days for Stellenbosch.

Cape Town

Cape Town

When we mentioned to a fellow South African that Cape Town would be our last stop on our South Africa road trip he said, “Well, sounds like you’re saving the best for last.”! While everyone’s opinions may differ on Cape Town it actually turned out to be our favorite stop in South Africa, and one of the coolest cities in the entire world.

Table Mountain is a part of the city and is visible from almost everywhere. Across from Table Mountain is Lion’s Head, and both are popular for a hike and an evening sundowner. There are dozens of things to do in Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula.

A highlight of any trip has to be Cape Point, where you can marvel at the mountainous and scenic surroundings. You can check out the penguins at Boulders Beach, go snorkeling with seals, or stroll around colorful Bo-Kaap. Cape Town is the perfect mix of adventure and leisure, with hip coffee shops and restaurants.

South Africa Road Trip Map

South Africa Road Trip Map

What Car to Rent for Your South Africa Road Trip?

Charlie the Land Cruiser
Rental Car

We found Hertz and Avis the most affordable car rental options, but we had the best experience with First a Sixt affiliate. We also tried Rent-A-Cheapie in Cape Town and had a mixed experience. Read more about renting a car abroad and compare car rental prices here. 


Camping in Africa is a fantastic way to explore if you want a new experience. Happy Campers has now launched a branch in Cape Town. Check them out! We partnered with Happy Campers in Iceland and had a fantastic experience.

4×4 Truck

An extremely popular way to explore Southern Africa is by renting a 4×4 truck. Not everyone has the time, patience, or wants to purchase a truck like we did, so you have companies like Bushlore that rent out fully kitted 4x4s. If you plan to drive into the real African bush like Botswana or Mozambique, this is the way to go, but be prepared to spend money as the rentals are expensive. We didn’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle anywhere in South Africa.

Car Rental Logistics

renting a car in cape town

Our credit card covers South Africa. Gas prices in South Africa and Namibia include third-party insurance on all cars. If driving into Mozambique or Botswana, you are required to purchase third-party insurance ($20-$35)

Fuel Prices

At the time of writing, $24 ZAR a liter ($1.28 a liter or $4.86 a gallon).


To exit the country with a rental car, you must have a preauthorized letter from the rental car company. This ensures you have legally rented the vehicle and may exit the country. (Many companies charge a flat fee for a letter we paid $50 to go into Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland)


We always pick up a local SIM card when we arrive in a new country. Having a working phone in case of emergencies is always a good idea. We picked up a SIM card with Vodacom and could top up our phone from their website with a credit card. That way, we always had data to run GPS on our smartphones. Google Maps is a good GPS option in South Africa, and you can download the map to your phone for future use.

Plan Your Trip to Africa

  • Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans. 
  • Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
  • Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
  • Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
  • Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
  • Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
  • Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
  • Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
  • Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
  • Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling to Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.
About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

3 thoughts on “An Awesome South Africa Road Trip Guide and Itinerary”

  1. Hi!

    Thanks so much for the information! I am planning a trip to south africa with a couple friends. I would have more than a month available, and they would have 3 weeks. Do you think it would be enough to drive johanesburg-kruger-blyde- drakensberg- wild coast- garden route – cape town?

    The content in your page is marvellous and really helpful, thanks again!


  2. I think that is a solid amount of time in South Africa – you should be able to hit all the highlights 🙂

  3. Great advice. I’d also recommend spending some time along the Panorama route while in Mpumanalanga province. You can visit the blyde river canyon, mac mac falls, Sudwala cavea….very beautiful area🙂

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