Introduction to South Africa and our Garden Route Itinerary
South Africa is without a doubt, one of the most exciting and diverse countries we have visited.
We spent 3 months here in total and there was still so much more to see and do.
From hiking the breath-taking Table Mountain, to diving with sharks, horseback riding through the countryside, indulging on many wine tasting tours and relaxing on white sand beaches, the list for what makes South Africa and specifically the Garden Route so spectacular goes on and on!
Given that you might not have 3 months to spend here, we have put together multiple Garden Route itineraries. Whether you need a Garden Route itinerary for 7, 10, 14 or 21 days, we have it all here.
Take a look, choose your favourite activities/places and build your own ideal Garden Route itinerary.
- 1 Introduction to South Africa and our Garden Route Itinerary
- 2 Garden Route Highlights – what is the Garden Route?
- 3 Garden Route Itineraries: 7, 10, 14 and 21 days
- 4 Garden Route Itinerary: 7 - 21 Days from Cape Town
- 5 Cape Town
- 6 Stellenbosch
- 7 Hermanus
- 8 Oudtshoorn
- 9 Knysna
- 10 Plettenberg Bay
- 11 Garden Route Safari Options
- 12 Extra stops for your Garden Route Itinerary
- 13 How to travel the Garden Route
- 14 Practical tips for the Garden Route
Garden Route Highlights – what is the Garden Route?
The Garden Route is one of the most popular and well-trodden routes to travel through South Africa and for good reason!
The Garden Route officially starts at Mossel Bay and finishes 300km later at Stormsriver.
However, we are going to start our Garden Route itinerary from Cape Town and head east because most people will be flying into Cape Town!
For us, our top 5 Cape Town and the Garden Route highlights include:
- Hermanus for whale watching, you need to see this once in your lifetime!
- Gansbaai for white shark cage diving which is again, a once in a lifetime experience.
- Table Mountain for some of the best views we have ever experienced!
- Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay. This sounded like it would be a zoo but we were completely wrong! We got to stroll around a huge open forest right alongside the 10 different types of Monkeys that lived there!
- Oudtshoorn for the entire destination, we explored caves, went on a meerkat safari and watched hippos with our lunch all within 48hours!
Read on for our suggested Cape Town and the Garden Route itineraries, a summary of what to do in each destination as well as some practical travelling tips during your stay.
We hope you love it as much as we do!
Garden Route Itineraries: 7, 10, 14 and 21 days
We spent 3 months researching to put together Garden Route itineraries for 7, 10, 14 and 21 days.
All start from Cape Town as this is the most common place to start.
You should definitely mix and match to put together your own tailor made Garden Route itinerary!
Following each Garden Route Itinerary below we have included detailed information for every town/city along the way broken down into:
- What to do
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
Garden Route Itinerary: 7 - 21 Days from Cape Town
What to do in Cape Town
Cape Town is one of our favourite cities in the world. It is a city immersed in nature offering spectacular hikes, lazy beach days, wildlife experiences with the local penguins and a coastline that will leave you in awe.
We have also written an entire guide to Cape Town with a number of itineraries.
Our top three things to do (there are so so many more listed in this post) include:
Hiking Table Mountain
This has to be the number one thing to do.
You can either hike the mountain in 2 hours or take the easy option and get the cable car.
Either way the reward at the top is completely worth it.
The views over both the city and out to sea are perhaps some of the best we have ever seen. Go at sunset and you will truly be blown away watching the sunlight dance through the clouds as they slowly roll over the mountain top.
If you want to know how to hike Table Mountain the easy way, take a look at this post:
Go on a helicopter ride
Cape Town is one of the cheapest places in the world where you can experience a helicopter ride.
This was definitely the best way to see the city, the surrounding mountain range and coastline in all its glory.
We used NAC Helicopter Tours and their service was excellent.
Go on a full day tour
If you are short on time, taking a full day tour is the easiest and most efficient way to see the best of Cape Town.
We used Springbok Atlas Tours and in one day saw everything from the penguin colonies, to seal island, Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch Gardens and Chapmans Peak. This was an excellent day out!
Where to stay in Cape Town
Where to eat in Cape Town
We really enjoyed spending time at the beautiful V&A Waterfront to eat. Yes, it is touristy, but we had some great meals at a restaurant called Karibu.
For a full list of places we ate, take a look here.
What to do in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch is not technically part of the Garden Route, but since we are starting in Cape Town we would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t recommend a night in Stellenbosch along the way.
Stellenbosch is well known for its wineries. There are more wineries here than you could feasibly visit even if you had a whole month! It is also a university town so has many trendy places to eat and hang out.
Go Wine Tasting
The wineries and surrounding areas are stunning. Imagine sitting with a glass of wine admiring lush green rolling hills in every direction.
We particularly liked wine tasting at Spier Wine Farm. This is beautiful estate with a modern and trendy wine tasting room overlooking a lake.
You can either book a wine tasting tour and go to 3 or 4 wineries in one day for around $60 or you can jump in an Uber and head straight to the winery yourself.
We took the latter option because once at the winery it costs no more than $10 to taste 5 different wines and the tasting measures can be quite generous!
We spent hours at Eagle Encounters! This place works with rescued or injured birds and other animals to either re-release them, or if that is not an option, to care for them.
There are much more than just birds. We held a python, saw the meerkats, played with baby bat eared foxes, played with the black pot-bellied pigs and even saw the tiny dwyker deer.
The people running the centre are doing an incredible job and the entrance is only $5.50 – well worth it.
You can find Eagle Encounters at the Spier Wine Farm so we would suggest combining the two activities into one afternoon.
For more information on Eagle Encounters check out this full guide to the wildlife sanctuaries we have visited in South Africa.
Where to stay in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch has many options for all budgets. We have been twice and stayed at:
- Batavia Boutique: this was for our first stay and is a small, cute boutique hotel with really interesting décor and a breakfast that we still remember 5 years later – highly recommend.
- Apartment Parfait at Jan Cats: on our second visit we were travelling with a friend on a smaller budget and stayed here. The apartment was clean, modern and perfectly located in the centre of town. Its one of the top picks on booking.com.
Where to eat in Stellenbosch
We have been to Stellenbosch twice and both times ended up eating at exactly the same two restaurants. We recommend:
- Oppie Dorp: if you want a treat and a reason to dress up head to Oppie Dorp. Like everywhere in South Africa the prices for the quality of food are very reasonable (ostrich steak for c$10 for example) and the service was top notch.
- Basic Bistro: For something a bit more casual but with a very tasty menu and rave reviews on Tripadvisor this is the place to head to.
What to do in Hermanus
Hermanus is the place to go for whale watching and an absolute must for any Garden Route itinerary!
Beyond whales, Hermanus is a small pretty town offering coastal walks, cute cafes and restaurants. However, if it is not whale season, we would choose to spend our time elsewhere.
Whale season runs June to October and during this season you are almost guaranteed to see whales.
These include the southern right whale, humpback whale and if you are very lucky you might see an orca!
We went during September and saw at least 10 whales breaching! It was an incredible sight and a big tick off our bucket list.
There are many companies to choose from and all run the same trips. You can drive to the harbour where all the offices are based.
N.B: It is worth noting that while Hermanus is well known as the ‘whale-watching capital of South Africa’, during whale season there are many other places along the coastline where you can see whales, with many operators offering this excursion.
Knysna (see further below) is another very popular place to take a whale watching tour, which is a best-selling tour of Ocean Odyssey, a sister company of Springtide Sailing featured below. So if you can’t make it to Hermanus, don’t worry – you may still have the chance of whale-spotting in one of your other destinations!
Shark Cage Diving
For shark cage diving you need to head to Gansbaai which is a 40-minute drive from Hermanus (Hermanus being the closest tourist town).
Some people travel from Cape Town to do this trip but that means getting up at about 5am. If Hermanus is in your Garden Route itinerary then save your shark cage diving for when you are here.
This is a once in a lifetime experience that will leave you in awe.
What is most surprising is that you will build yourself up with nerves, only to find it’s not scary at all. The sharks are not interested in the cage or the people in it so when they do come by, you will want to get in to make sure you see them!
We used the White Shark Cage Diving Company and their service was excellent. The best time to go is always first thing in the morning and they provide a good breakfast and lunch once you return.
We also really appreciated that they kept us up to date with the weather conditions leading up to the dive and made sure that we went on the best day.
The cost is R2,050 which is c$140 per person.
Where to stay in Hermanus
Hermanus has a lot of cute small B&B as well as luxurious hotels. Take a look at the following:
- Villa Venusta – This is where we stayed during our first visit. This is a modern, large B&B just a 5 minute drive from the centre of town. We loved the rooms, remember that the bed was very comfy and were provided with lots of nice bath oils which made it quite romantic….You can book and check rates here.
- The Marine Hermanus – part of the Liz Mcgrath collection this is the place to stay if you are looking for luxury. The rooms look spectacular and it is right on the coast offering amazing views! Book you stay here.
Where to eat in Hermanus
Most of the restaurants here are along the coast on Marine Drive or within walking distance. We particularly liked:
- Coco’s Island Grill and Cocktail Bar – we came here for breakfast and had some good smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and toast. It serves food all day and is somewhere for cocktails on an evening.
- La Pentola – we have been here on both visits. They have a really diverse, interesting menu full of flavour and excellent service. Highly recommend.
- Aromatish Café and Bakery – stop here for some sweet treats!
Oudtshoorn is a long drive but 100% worth visiting. In fact, the drive itself is worth it alone as the scenery is just stunning.
Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world. It’s a small town surrounded by natural beauty and exciting activities. It is one of the places that South Africans choose to spend their holidays which says a lot!
We have made sure to visit Oudtshoorn on both our visits and absolutely love it, here’s why:
What to do in Oudtshoorn
Cango Caves are probably one of the most popular things to do in Oudtshoorn.
The caves themselves are over 750 million years old. They are home to 100s of incredible formations from stalactites and stalagmites, to columns, flows and everything in between.
There are a few different options for tours depending on your level of fitness. The tours range from easy ones where you only need to walk, to more adventurous ones that mean climbing through tunnels!
Whichever tour you pick, it’s a lot of fun and incredibly interesting.
Find out more on their website.
Ostrich Farm Experience
Being the ostrich capital of the world, you can’t come to Oudtshoorn and not learn about their ostrich farming industry.
There are many tours on offer and many farms to visit. The tours are educational and the ostriches are very funny animals to observe.
Ours was organised through our accommodation, see below.
Drive Swartzberg Pass
We can’t put into words how amazing the surrounding landscape is. The best example you will get is if you take your hire car and drive the Swartzberg Pass.
The drive will take you through the Swartzberg mountains for 23.8km and takes around 1 hour without stops.
On the other side make sure to stop in the quaint town of Prince Albert for lunch.
Where to stay in Oudtshoorn
We have stayed in the same place for both visits to Oudtshoorn – Berluda Farmhouse and Cottages.
The cottages and farmhouses are spacious, beautiful and homely. All the staff are incredibly friendly and the breakfast is huge, you can even try ostrich scrambled egg!
The cottages are good for families or for a romantic getaway. We felt very at ease, relaxed and like we had found our own little escpae away from the rest of the world.
This is also a good option because they do their own ostrich farm tour and they also run a meerkat experience (it’s amazing! Read about it here.)
Berluda is just a 5-minute drive out of the main town and you can book a room here.
For more about Oudtshoorn check out ‘Our Top 5 Things to do in Oudtshoorn: Do not miss!’.
Where to eat in Oudtshoorn
Make sure to check out:
- Buffelsdrift Lodge – Buffelsdrift Lodge is a game reserve and the on-site restaurant is open to the public from 11am – 10pm for lunch and dinner. The restaurant overlooks a waterhole and the rest of the reserve. Expect to see hippos, elephants, antelope and more as you enjoy some excellent food!
- Black Swan Restaurant and Wine Bar – This restaurant is in the heart of the main town and was recommended by our hosts. We have been here once and had good food and service in a cosy setting.
- Nostalgie – open all day, we did not manage to make it here but it was recommended for lunch. Looking at the TripAdvisor reviews it is one of the highest-ranking places in the area so we would definitely check it out.
What to do in Knysna
Knysna is a picturesque coastal town and a key destination on the Garden Route of South Africa. Think dramatic coastlines, mountains, forests, cliffs and sunsets to die for!
We were kept extremely busy in Knysna and while you may only do a couple of nights as part of your garden route itinerary, we filled an entire week!
For absolutely everything you need to know about Knysna check out ‘’Our Top Things to do in Knysna: What to do, where to go and everything you need to know!’’.
Here are our top suggestions:
Springtide Sailing Sunset Cruise
One of the key features in Knysna is the beautiful coastline and the Knysna heads.
We went on a sunset cruise with Springtide Sailing Sunset Cruise which included a delicious picnic and plenty of prosecco. The views as the sun set were spectacular!
This was probably our favourite activity in Knysna and a nice thing to save for your final night.
Check our their website for more.
Knysna Hike and Bike – Walking Food Tour
We suggest two nights in Knysna so you won’t get a chance to try many places to eat unless you do a tour like this one!
We started at midday and visited seven restaurants in total over the course of a few hours. Each provides a tapas style portion of their main dishes along with wine or beer (so much wine!)
Definitely do this on your first day. It was a lot of fun and then you can choose your favourites to return to the following day.
All the tour details can be found here.
Knysna is surrounded by lush ancient forests. If you love nature and hiking this will be at the top of your list of things to do in Knysna!
You can book a forest walk with Helen by sending an email to [email protected]
Where to stay in Knysna
There are many accommodation options in Knysna, you can either stay in town or drive a few minutes up the hill to enjoy views of the bay below.
Rexford Manor – This is where we stayed and did not want to leave. Rexford Manor has just 5 incredibly stylish and beautifully decorated rooms, an amazing pool area and a one of the best breakfasts we had in South Africa. We can’t recommend it enough. Book your stay here.
Pezula Hotel – We had a hotel inspection here and it looked great. The rooms (especially the suites) were huge and luxurious – we could have lived in some of them! It is set up high on the cliffs overlooking the bay and we highly recommend checking out their on-site spa. Take a look here.
Villa Castollini – Villa Castollini is a luxury guesthouse with 10 rooms just outside the main town set atop the western head overlooking the lagoon and ocean.
Where to eat in Knysna
The majority of restaurants are either around the harbour or on Thesen Island. You can walk between both in 10 minutes.
Our favourites were:
Sirocco – There are not many ‘fancy’ places in Knysna for food but this is one worth dressing up for. We loved the ostrich steak here and they had excellent service. They also do gin tasting which we highly recommend.
East Head Café – this was the best lunch we had. Simple but amazing fish and chips with jaw dropping views of the east head. Make sure you go here.
Ile de Pain – This is a cool and popular place for artisanal breads, cakes, pastries, treats, sandwiches and soups.
Again, for absolutely everything you need to know about Knysna check out ‘’Our Top Things to do in Knysna: What to do, where to go and everything you need to know!’’.
What to do in Plettenberg Bay
Hog Hollow Horse Trails and Carriage Ride
If you take one thing away from this article, go and stay at Hog Hollow as well as taking part in a horse trail.
The horse trails depend on your level, from beginner to advanced. They take your through the beautiful local landscape and come with the option of stopping for a delicious picnic and wine on one of the nearby farms.
If you aren’t ready to jump on a horse, you can take a horse carriage ride with stops for wine tasting! We tried and thoroughly enjoyed both!
Take a look at the different trips you can do on their website.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Get yourself acquainted with nature and explore the Robberg Nature Reserve.
This is a short drive to get to (8km) and has remnants of structures from the stone ages as well as being an area of natural beauty.
If you are lucky you might spot South Africa’s smallest antelope, the blue duiker on land and whales or dolphins out to sea!
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary is exactly that, a sanctuary.
All the animals here are here for a reason. That could mean they have been rescued from a circus, animal trafficking or have been injured and can not be released. This is definitely the kind of place we support.
The animals they have here are just incredible. We were blown away by all the big cats but particularly the Bengal tigers and white tigers! Come here and you will have a great (and ethical) experience!
For more check out their website.
Monkeyland follows the same ethos as Jukani and we loved it!
There are no cages, the monkeys are completely free to roam and even leave if they wanted to. The don’t leave because they are fed, looked after and also there are a lot of baboons further afield so it is safer for them here.
There is about 10 different breeds of monkey and some will walk straight past you!
For more check out their website.
Birds of Eden
Complete the trio and also head to Birds of Eden.
Jukani, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden are all next door to each other and you can either buy individual tickets or visit all 3 in one day under a combined discounted ticket (which is what we did).
The huge enclosure is a free flight sanctuary (no cages) and home to 3500 or more birds, comprising of 220 species!
Again, these birds are not just here for your viewing pleasure. The birds were either previously caged pets, hand reared or/and imprinted individuals that would not survive in the wild but can fly freely and safely here.
For more information on these 3 wildlife sanctuaries, aswell as some others that are located within reach of the Garden Route, check out our guide to ‘Choosing a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa’.
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay
Hog Hollow – this was one of the best places that we stayed in every aspect. The rooms were unique, luxurious and stylish, its location was amidst the forest, the pool overlooked the hills and they have an outdoor cosy fire place and terrace.
Moving on to the food, this was some of the best we had during out entire 3 months in South Africa and from restaurant to reception, perhaps the best level of service we have ever had!
This is just outside of Plettenberg Bay but we recommend dedicating 2 nights of your garden route itinerary to staying here. You can book here.
Robberg Beach Lodge – we stayed here during our first visit to South Africa. It is right on the coast and as soon as we checked in we saw whales breaching offshore! We loved the rooms, they were a very clean white modern style and there was also a roof terrace for spotting whales. Book here.
Where to eat in Plettenberg Bay
The majority of places to eat can be found in the centre on Main Street, check out:
The Corner Bistro – this place offers a range of cuisines and is especially known for its central location, good atmosphere and pizza!
Nguni – for something more akin to fine dining head to Nguni for traditional African options from bobotie to Karoo lamb and ostrich all in a stunning setting.
Clare’s Cakes & Deli – for a sweet treat and an especially good carrot cake, head here. They also offer lunch options as they are a deli.
Garden Route Safari Options
During our time in South Africa we went on 3 safaris in total.
For the first we flew to Johannesburg and headed to Kruger National Park which was incredible! However, when it comes to the garden route (and saving yourself a flight) we went to the following two safaris:
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve blew us away. This is a 5-star safari experience with a heavy focus on conservation, authenticity and environmental impact.
The 58-hectare reserve is completely open meaning that your guides have to actively track the wildlife. As a result, it becomes so much more exciting and authentic when you do spot one of their animals.
When it comes to the accommodation, we stayed at the Dwyka tented lodges. These were luxury lodges, with private outdoor jacuzzis where you could drink champagne under the stars.
Dwyka is perfect for honeymoon couples, for families check out Gondwana lodges and also Tilney lodges for everyone.
Need more convincing? Take a look at this post for our full experience including itineraries, food and how to get there.
You can book Sanbona here.
Aquila Safari is a different experience all together.
This is a resort style safari which almost guarantees you will see the animals as they have a set route with some fences where each animal ‘lives’.
This is a cheaper option being a 4 star and offers half day safaris, 1 night, 2 night and so on. They also have an on-site spa and offer quad or horse safaris too. Ben loved the horse riding safari and I enjoyed the quad biking!
You can book Aquila here.
Extra stops for your Garden Route Itinerary
If you can, try and check out these places en route between destinations:
Diesel and Cream -Barrydale
Our drive from Oudtshoorn to Hermanus took us through Barrydale.
Diesel and Crème was pure indulgence as its finest. The serve the most decadent, filling and delicious milkshakes you can imagine.
The setting is very cool and looks like a disused gas station – you will want to walk around the entire place just to check out the décor!
Prince Albert Town
If you are in Oudtshoorn you can drive here via the Swartzberg pass or via the main road. This place stood out to us because it was particularly picturesque as if it was taken straight out of desperate housewives.
Not somewhere to necessarily stay, but drive though, chill out and grab some food.
It was really important to us that for any animal related activity we did, it was ethical and the right thing for the animals.
Cheetah Outreach was exactly this. We asked lots of questions and learnt about the positive work they were doing with the cheetahs and other animals on site. We even got to meet a serval which was an absolute privilege.
How to travel the Garden Route
Travelling the Garden Route is straightforward. The best option it’s always going to be a rental car.
The good news is that renting a car in South Africa is incredibly cheap, they have all the major rental companies and once out the city of Cape Town, most roads are wide and easy to drive.
Not only that, but we thoroughly enjoyed driving the Garden Route rather than being stuck in a bus where you don’t see anything!
We used Bidvest and had a great experience with them. They were particularly good at helping us choose the right car for 3 people with a lot of luggage and when checking in for the car found that unlike most car rental places, they were not pushy at all with all the extras!
We organised some preferential rates for our readers, click the logo below to go through and get a quote:
Practical tips for the Garden Route
Here are some practical tips for the Garden Route and in general for your time in South Africa:
- Here they drive on the left-hand side of the road.
- You can drink the tap water.
- The currency is South African Rand (ZAR).
- If you are concerned about safety read Cape Town Safety Tips: 12 Tips to keep you Safe
- Don’t go and explore a township alone.
- Ubers here are the safest and cheapest means of transport. Avoid walking around at night.
- Weather – most places get four seasons in one day, be prepared for everything.
- They have mosquitos – bring some bug spray for the evening.
- They call traffic lights robots.
We have absolutely no doubt you will have the most incredible time travelling the Garden Route and hope that this post helps you create your own perfect Garden Route itinerary.
People ask us time and time again where is the best place we have ever travelled to and we keep saying South Africa. We hope you end up saying the same!
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Note: Parts of our trip were complimentary. This post also has affiliate links. You won’t get charged any extra for using the link but we will receive a small commission for each referral. Please note, all opinions are still our own. You are not obligated to use the links but we appreciate it if you do. Thanks
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