South Africa itineraries & maps

South Africa is vast, but its excellent road network, breathtaking landscapes and numerous small towns make it an absolute treat to traverse. To make life even easier, the two main cities are well-situated departure points for some of the main South Africa itineraries: Cape Town for the Winelands and the Garden Route, and Johannesburg for the Panorama Route and Kruger. This means you can avoid excessively long drives and spend more time taking in the wildlife, culture, and laid-back vibe of this awesome nation. For anyone with more time, and a hunger to take in South Africa and its neighbouring countries, the great route to tackle is from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.
Addo Elephant National Park

1. Addo Elephant National Park

Just a short hop from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park offers all the adventure of an African safari – without the long drives, the remoteness or the malaria. Now a sanctuary for more than just elephants, Addo is home to the Big Five, and its family-friendly activities include horse riding, short hikes, and whale watching off the coast.
Battlefields of Anglo Zulu Wars

2. Battlefields of Anglo Zulu Wars

In 1879, the British army invaded Zululand and found themselves face to face with thousands of Zulu warriors. Today, the battlefields at Rorke’s Drift (where 140 British troops held off up to 4,000 Zulus) and Isandwana (where 1800 British solders were killed) set the stage for mesmerising tours, led by knowledgeable storytellers who bring the scenes to life.
Cape Peninsula & Boulder’s Beach

3. Cape Peninsula & Boulder’s Beach

This long, rocky peninsula juts out into the water from Table Mountain to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian Ocean is said to meet the Atlantic. There are safe beaches, warm waters for swimming and surfing, some of the world’s most scenic coastal drives, and even a colony of penguins at Boulders Beach – all just a short hop from Cape Town.
Cape Town

4. Cape Town

Cape Town’s spectacular setting, gentle climate and wonderful fusion of the urban and natural make it an easily lovable city. Away from the crowded Waterfront, there is a thriving culture – photograph rainbow-coloured Cape Malay houses, discover the dark past of District 6 and Robben Island, cycle through the township of Khayelitsha, relax on wave-battered beaches and enjoy the laid-back vibe of the Mother City.
Drakensberg Mountains

5. Drakensberg Mountains

An epic, 1,000km-long mountain chain, the Drakensberg’s jagged peaks give it its Zulu name: uKhahlamba, ‘Barrier of Spears.’ Almost 300 bird species live here, and it has fantastic hiking and scenic drives along hairpin passes, rivers and forests and rivers. Part of the range is protected by the Royal Natal National Park, including a 5km-long, 1.2km-high “amphitheatre”, and the Tugela Falls – at 948m, the second highest waterfall in the world.
Elephant Coast

6. Elephant Coast

The empty beaches and subtropical forests of northern KwaZulu-Natal are pristine and wild, with sea turtle nesting grounds and fish-filled seas ideal for scuba diving and fishing. If you want to see the creatures the region is named after, head to Tembe Elephant Park. The iSimangaliso Wetlands were the country’s first UNESCO site, and shelter over 500 bird species, swamp forests and 220km of beaches leading out to coral reefs.
Hermanus (Whale Route, near Grootbos Reserve)

7. Hermanus (Whale Route, near Grootbos Reserve)

South Africa’s whale watching capital has a quaint, fishing village feel, and the world’s only “Whale Crier” who uses his kelp horn to signal whale sightings in the bay, from July-December. Its museums have exhibits on the town's hostory and (now-banned) whaling industry. Come in September to join the Whale Festival.

8. Johannesburg

Johannesburg has superb restaurants, bars, contemporary African shops and the compelling Apartheid Museum – and the lack of tourists mean it remains unpretentious and unspoiled. Take a tour of Soweto with a local guide; the old apartheid “matchbox houses” still remain, along with sprawling slums, yet there are also growing middle class suburbs, boisterous shebeens, and friendly guesthouses.
Klein Karoo

9. Klein Karoo

This valley appears bleak and arid, but the Karoo is in fact one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The region also has a thriving wine industry, the fascinating bat-filled Cango Caves and traditional little towns. However, its most famous residents are its ostriches – thanks to its many farms, Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world.
Knysna & Plettenberg Bay

10. Knysna & Plettenberg Bay

Dramatic sandstone cliffs shield Knysna's picturesque lagoon from the Indian Ocean. Hike the Featherbed Nature Reserve, abseil down the cliffs or take a boat tour – then fill up on delicious seafood. Nearby Plettenberg Bay has kayaking and surfing, as well as whales, dolphins and seals. Alternatively, discover local Xhosa culture during a tour of Qolweni Township.
Kruger National Park

11. Kruger National Park

Kruger is the most famous gem in South Africa’s heavy tourism crown – and deservedly so. This 19,485km² park encompasses a vast array of habitats, over 500 species of birds, and more mammals than any other African game reserve – including, of course, the Big Five. Options ranging from luxury lodges and top-end safaris to campsites and self-drive tours mean that Kruger really is open to all.
Panorama Route

12. Panorama Route

This scenic trail includes the world's third largest canyon, and God’s Window, high in the clouds, overlooking indigenous forest 900m below. Bourke’s Luck Potholes were created by water sculpting rocks into weird and wonderful formations. Waterfalls and a historic gold mining town are also found along the route.

13. Swaziland

Though not part of South Africa, many tours pass through Swaziland, and with good reason. Squashed up against the Mozambique border, the attractions in this tiny, mountainous kingdom far outweigh its diminutive size. This is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, so there is a fantastic culture to discover, as well as national parks, game reserves and hiking trails.
Tsitsikamma National Park

14. Tsitsikamma National Park

This coastal forest was named “Tsitsikamma” - ”clear water” by the native Khoisan people. The park protects deep gorges, stunning waterfalls and 80km of rocky coastline. Visitors can do canopy tours, river tubing, ocean safaris to spot whales, dolphins and seals. Nearby are the Monkeyland primate rescue centre, and Birds of Eden – an enormous forest aviary.
Wild Coast

15. Wild Coast

This beautiful region – birthplace of Nelson Mandela – lives up to its name. Once designated as the homeland of the Xhosa people, the infrastructure remains sparse, resulting in untouched beaches, Milkwood forests, nature reserves and lagoons. Popular with surfers, hippies and mountain bikers, you can also hike the Wild Coast Trail, sleeping in simple huts and depending on freshwater streams and firewood.

16. Winelands

The majestic scenery and Mediterranean climate make this one of South Africa’s most picturesque destinations. Ride Franschhoek’s Wine Tram through the valley for a narrated tour with tastings, or, for a contemporary twist on this 18th century industry, visit one of the growing number of black-owned vineyards around Stellenbosch.

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South Africa itineraries

Here are three of our top South Africa itineraries, incorporating our favourite highlights.

Johannesburg to Cape Town

Johannesburg > Panorama Route > Kruger National Park > Hlane Game Reserve, Swaziland > St. Lucia (Elephant Coast) > Anglo-Zulu Battlefields > Drakensberg > Royal Natal National Park > Graaff-Reinet > Tsitsikamma National Park > Hermanus > Winelands > Cape Town > Cape Peninsula

Garden Route

Cape Town > Robben Island > Table Mountain National Park > Cape Peninsula > Winelands > Hermanus > Klein Karoo (Oudtshoorn) > Knysna > Plettenberg Bay > Tsitsikamma Forest > Port Elizabeth > Addo Elephant Park

KwaZulu Natal Circuit

Elephant Coast > Anglo-Zulu Battlefields > Drakensberg Mountains > Royal Natal National Park > Durban

South Africa Travel Times

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving times between the main attractions in South Africa.

    Cape Town - Winelands: 1 hour Cape Town – Hermanus: 5 hours Winelands – Hermanus: 4 hours Hermanus – Knysna: 4 hours Knysna – Oudtshoorn: 2 hours Knysna – Port Elizabeth: 2.5 hours Port Elizabeth – Johannesburg: 12 hours Johannesburg – Kruger National Park: 4.5 hours
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: bikeriderlondon] [Addo Elephant National Park: NJR ZA] [Battlefields of Anglo Zulu Wars: Rob] [Cape Peninsula & Boulder’s Beach: Victor Smits] [Cape Town: Marcelo Novais] [Drakensberg Mountains: Diriye Amey] [Elephant Coast: Darren Glanville] [Hermanus (Whale Route, near Grootbos Reserve): Christian Keller] [Johannesburg: Adamina] [Klein Karoo: Moongateclimber] [Knysna & Plettenberg Bay: Vaiz Ha] [Kruger National Park: Violator1] [Panorama Route: Yolanda] [Swaziland: Retlaw Snellac Photography] [Tsitsikamma National Park: Frans-Banja Mulder] [Wild Coast: Danie van der Merwe] [Winelands: miquitos] [Travel Times: Savannah Koomen]