Our 3-week South Africa itinerary explores the beauty of Cape Town, hikes stunning coastal paths, encounters the big 5 and uncovers the story of apartheid.

South Africa is a large country with many great places to visit. Cape Town is framed by mountains dropping into the sea and houses funky restaurants that fuse European and African flavours.

The hiking trails on the Garden Route wind their way around coastal peninsulas framed in lush green surroundings, which dissipate as you make your way into Little Karoo, a semi-arid landscape with a thriving food scene and some of the best wines in the country.

But it was Kruger National Park – one of the best, and cheapest, safari parks in the world – that really made us swoon.

And beneath this magnificent landscape, the recent story of apartheid, and its ongoing legacy, still shapes the discourse in many townships and the way they live.

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DAY 1 – 5 / CAPE TOWN

Our 3-week South Africa Itinerary begins in Cape Town. You can find all the details for this part of the trip in our Cape Town itinerary, including a very memorable day visiting Langa township.

On the final night instead of staying in Camps Bay, stay in Kalk Bay, making the drive on day 6 shorter.

The sweeping coastline of Cape Town backed by rugged mountains.

DAY 6 / KALK BAY TO HERMANUS

Spend the morning pottering around the coffee shops and boutiques of bohemian Kalk Bay. Next, jump in the car and drive to Hermanus. Ignore Google Maps and take the ocean road past Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay. This is a beautiful 2-hour drive along the sea that, from June to December, is home to Southern Right Whales.

Hermanus is beautifully perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea. For lunch drop down to Bientang’s Cave Restaurant and Wine Bar for superbly fresh fish and chips literally meters from the spray of crashing waves.

In the afternoon walk some of the coastal path that runs for about 10km from New Harbour to Grotto beach, while staring out at the ocean looking for blowholes and dorsal fins. End with sunset, parked on a bench, overlooking the sea.


StayHouse on Westcliff, Hermanus

Travel – 2 hours: Kalk Bay to Hermanus

3-week south africa itinerary

DAY 7 / THE GARDEN ROUTE

This morning join the Walker Bay Adventure for their whale spotting kayak tour. They are the only company permitted to provide kayaking tours in the area. If the whales don’t perform for you (and they did not for us), dolphins, seals, a variety of birdlife are compensation enough. The view over the coast help as well.

After the tour, head along the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay. Contrary to what you may have heard, this part of the Garden Route is a busy motorway tucked back from the coast. It’s best to get it done as quickly as possible.

If you fancy a break on the 5-hour drive stop for a coffee, sandwiches and cake at the funky Blue Shed Coffee Roastery in Mossel Bay. It serves great coffee in a rustic industrial old shed surrounded by burnt out tractors and cars.

In Plettenburg, stay at Milkwood Manor on Lookout beach. The hotel and beach were almost destroyed when the river that runs to the sea changed course a few years ago. It is a fascinating story, explained by pictures lined along the hotel’s walls.


StayMilkwood Manor, Plettenberg Bay

Travel – 4 hours, 50 minutes: Hermanus to Plettenberg

DAY 8 / ROBBERG PENINSULAR

This morning head for the Robberg Peninsular Walk, a spectacular cliff top walk that rates highly on our list of top day hikes around the world. From the nature reserve follow the signs which take you clockwise on a beautiful path that hugs the cliff tops.

The hike takes about 4 hours and towards the end, you will arrive at an untouched beach with large rolling sand dunes and pristine water. It’s the perfect way to cool off.

After the walk, drive back to Plettenberg and have lunch at the Lookout Deck. The food is average but the views of dolphins playing in the waves makes up for it. Spend the rest of the afternoon lazing on the beach.


StayMilkwood Manor, Plettenberg Bay

Travel – 30 minutes: Plettenberg to Robberg Peninsula return

DAY 9 / TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK

This morning, head to Monkeyland a free-roaming, multi-species primate sanctuary that rescues previously caged primates who would not make it in the wild. It’s an impressive operation and great fun photographing monkeys metres from you. After Monkeyland potter round the Birds of Eden, an aviary home to over 220 species of predominantly African birds.

Next, head up to Tsitsikamma National Park and join a kayak tour up the mouth of Storms River. It is an excellent way to head up the narrow gorge and get an impression of the power and swell of the sea.

After the kayaking, hike the Waterfall Trail – the start of the 43 km Otter Trail. The walk takes you along rugged coastline to a spectacular waterfall where, if brave enough, you can take a very refreshing swim. It’s around 3 hours return, the path is clearly marked, and relatively easy, although there is some light scrambling over rocks for part of the way.


StayMilkwood Manor, Plettenberg Bay

Travel – 2 hours: Plettenberg – Monkeyland – Tsitsikamma – Plettenberg

DAY 10 / LITTLE KAROO

This morning continue your 3-week South Africa itinerary by heading inland to Prince Albert in the semi-arid Little Karoo.

To fuel up for the journey grab breakfast or a coffee at East Head Café, an afro-retro chic hang-out with beautiful interiors and even better views over the ocean.

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Next head north, exchanging the cool, forested mountains for dry open plains, tumbleweed and flouring succulents. At Oudtshoorn stop off for lunch at Jemima’s, then have a quick coffee at Bean’s About Coffee.

Drive on to Prince Albert, via the magnificent Swartberg Pass, a windy gravel road that zigzags its way through red rock canyons. Keep an eye out for the children ready to greet you on the side of the road, your first sign that, despite appearances, the Karoo is not devoid of life.

Prince Albert is a vibrant desert community full of art, innovative restaurants and quirky shops. We stayed at the Dennehof Karoo Guesthouse and had dinner at the Gallery Café, both of which we highly recommend.


StayDennehof Karoo Guesthouse, Prince Albert

Travel – 3 hours, 45 minutes: Plettenberg to Prince Albert via Swartberg Pass (R328)

DAY 11 / WINELANDS

Begin today by driving 3 hours, 45 minute to Delaire Graff Estate for lunch. It has very impressive grounds, equally impressive views over the neighbouring wineries and food that is a tasty blend of local produce with an Asian influence.

After lunch, slowly meander the roads to Franschhoek stopping off at whichever wineries take your fancy. We enjoyed tasting in Tokara’s fabulous modern tasting hall and Boschendal’s relaxing garden.

Stay in Franschhoek a cute town in the centre of the Winelands to the east of Cape Town and the perfect place to settle down for a couple of days sampling the best food and wine South Africa has to offer.


StayRoundhouse Guest House, Franschhoek

Travel – 3 hours, 45 minutes: Prince Albert to Delaire; another 30 minutes back to Franschhoek.

DAY 12 / FRANSCHHOEK

Franschhoek has a Wine Tram that meanders around many of the wine farms in the area. Pick one of 8 routes and hop on and hop off at wine farms of your choice throughout the day. If you start at before 10 am you can get to about 6 wine farms.

It’s an excellent way to let someone else take the strain as you eat and drink your way around the area. By the mid-afternoon, the wine tram is a hubbub of chatter and before long, you will have made a number of friends for life, even if you can’t remember their names.


StayRoundhouse Guest House, Franschhoek

Travel – None

DAY 13 / FRANSCHHOEK TO GRASKOP

Today we head east on our 3-week South Africa itinerary. Drive to Cape Town International Airport and fly to Johannesburg. Pick up your hire car at the airport and drive to Graskop (4 hours).

With waiting times at the airport, queueing up for your hire car, then driving for 4 hours, there’s not much else you will achieve today. Unfortunately, the drive to Graskop is not that interesting, so best to just get it out of the way.


StayLaguna Lodge, Graskop

Travel – 5 hours: Franschhoek – Cape Town Airport, then Johannesburg Airport to Graskop.

DAY 14 / BLYDE RIVER CANYON

Wake up fresh and spritely to explore the Blyde River Canyon, a 25km long, 750m deep canyon which makes it into the record books and the third largest canyon on earth. If you’re out in the morning, you’ll probably be treated to beautiful views as the mist and clouds cling to the canyon creating very atmospheric photographs. Make your way from Graskop along the R532 stopping at God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and Three Rondavels, all of which provide beautiful viewpoints of the canyon.

Just a few minutes north of Three Rondavels, locate Forever Resort and pay the small fee to do some of the local walks around the canyon. You can walk up to the plateau (yellow leopard trail); down to the valley bottom to pools and waterfalls; or wind your way in and out of the jungle that clings to the canyon walls (blue grouse trail).


StayLaguna Lodge, Graskop

Travel – 2 hours: Loop around Blyde River Canyon

DAY 15 – 16 / KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

If you’ve never been on safari before, it’s hard to explain the sense of excitement you feel when you drive into the park and spot your first animal. There are so many African safari animals to see that we recommend two days self-driving in Kruger (one of the great safari parks in the world) and two days being guided around Sabi Sands, a private game reserve bordering Kruger to the west.

Leaving Graskop, enter Kruger through Orpen Gate, paying your fees and picking up a map. Kruger is huge with a large network of self-drive roads. But owing to its size you cannot hope to cover it all in a couple of days, so you need to pick where you want to go to give you the best chance of seeing the type of animals you want to see.

We recommend staying one night at Satara Rest Camp and the other at Olifants Rest Camp, 2 hours away. The first offers excellent cat viewing and the latter is better for hippos and crocodiles with fine views over the valley below.

Read our tips for a great self-driving Kruger experience.

KRUGER EXPLORER APP 

Looking to get the most out of your Kruger experience? Our friends at Kruger Explorer have developed a beautiful app with detailed information on a huge selection of species found in the park. With over 70 routes and beautiful maps, it’s a handy companion to your self-drive safari. Download the app here.


StayOlifants Rest Camp & Satara Rest Camp, Kruger National

Travel – 1 hour, 15 minutes: Graskop to Orpen Gate and then hours driving around the park.

DAY 17 – 18 / SABI SANDS

Spend the morning slowly making your way to Orpen gate, to exit Kruger and head to Nkorho lodge in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Nkorho is 5-star luxury game viewing, but it comes at a price, a price that we were happy to pay.

The day begins with a wake-up call and coffee at 5:00, before a 3-hour guided game drive. After breakfast, there is time to laze by the pool and watch giraffe and elephants gather around the watering hole a hundred meters away.

Lunch can be followed by your choice of a swim, or a snooze, or some reading, before the evening game drive explores more of the reserve. Dinner is waiting for your return and is spent communally chatting to the rangers about what you saw. The day ends around the campfire staring up at the stars.


StayNkorho Bush Lodge, Sabi Sands National Park

Travel – 1 hour 45 minutes: Satara to Nkorho

DAY 19 / DRIVE TO JOHANNESBURG

Today leave Nkorho and make your way to Johannesburg via Dullstroom. At an altitude of 2100m above sea level, it has the honour of being the highest village in South Africa, and is a conveniently located stop for lunch. It’s a very cute town with lots of good food options. We ate at the humbly named Art of Food and it was, deliciously arty.

Despite its size, Johannesburg is a relatively easy city to drive through. We stayed in Melville, the cool, bohemian side of town. With a large student population, it’s home to a number of funky bars and cafe and a selection of decent restaurants nearby.


StayMotel Mi Pi Chi, Melville, Johannesburg

Travel – Guided morning drive then 6 hours, 30 minutes: Kruger to Johannesburg.

DAY 20 / JOHANNESBURG

This morning, take a cycling tour through Soweto with Soweto Backpackers and understand more about the history of the township and the famous uprising. The knowledgeable guides explain how the struggle against apartheid played out in this important area and introduces you to welcoming locals.

After the tour, take a walk around the Hector Pieterson museum, which commemorates the role the countries children took in the struggle against apartheid. In particular, the tragic protests of 1976 which saw many people shot by police while protesting against the substandard education in black schools.

In the afternoon, visit the Apartheid Museum near the centre of Johannesburg, an excellent museum telling the story of the rise and fall of apartheid across 22 exhibition areas. Using a variety of audio-visual mediums, it’s both chilling and inspiring to hear first-hand accounts of the struggle towards democracy. Allow plenty of time to see everything.


StayMotel Mi Pi Chi, Melville, Johannesburg

Travel – 1 hour, 10 minutes to Soweto, Apartheid Museum and back.

GETTING AROUND SOUTH AFRICA

To do this itinerary, fly into Cape Town, hire a car to explore the Western Cape, take an internal flight to Johannesburg, then hire another car for Kruger. Fly home from Johannesburg.

All roads on the itinerary can be driven in a normal 2WD car, but you may want a higher clearance vehicle at Johannesburg, for slightly better game viewing in Kruger. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could consider cycling South Africa to really experience what this amazing country has to offer.

We use rentalcars.com for booking hire cars. They compare prices from all major car rental companies.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


BEST TIME TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA

Cape Town can be visited all year, but it is best to avoid the wet colder months of July and August. For spending time on the beaches and hiking along the Garden Route then the summer months of December to March delivers better temperatures but bigger crowds.

Whales come to Hermanus from June to December and the best game viewing time in Kruger is from May to October. We chose to go in November, and with the rains coming late to Kruger that year, had a great time.

For more comprehensive information when to travel, read our best time to visit South Africa article.

BOOKING YOUR 3-WEEK SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

Most travellers will not need an entry visa for South Africa. The list of countries whose citizens are exempt can be found here.

We strongly advise booking accommodation in advance, especially for Kruger and Sabi Sands that can get booked up a long time in advance.

For all our tips on spotting game and having an incredible experience at Kruger, see our post here.

Book Robben Island TourSiviwe Township tour and Table Mountain Cableway at least a week before arriving in Cape Town. Book Walker Bay Adventures kayaking in Hermanus and Soweto Cycling Tour in Johannesburg at least a couple of days ahead.

Want to know what to take with you to prepare for everything this incredible destination has to offer, have a look at this complete packing list for South Africa.

3 week south africa itinerary

WHERE NEXT?

As one of our favourite places to visit for winter sun, great hiking and incredible wildlife opportunities, we’ve been to South Africa several times. Here’s some more reading you might find useful.

ALL SOUTH AFRICA GUIDES


TRAVEL TIPS

How to design your own South Africa itinerary

When to visit South Africa

5-day Cape Town itinerary

DRAKENSBERG REGION

10 reasons to visit the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains

Hiking to the stunning Tugela Falls

Hiking to the top of the Tugela Gorge

WILDLIFE

27 incredible African safari animals and where to see them

10 tips for seeing the most animals on a self-drive Kruger safari


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Our 3-week South Africa itinerary, from Cape Town to Kruger.





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